How Effective Is Strategic Bombing? Lessons Learned from World War II to Kosovo

Article excerpt

By Gian P. Gentile. New York: New York University Press, 2001. 280 pages. $36.00.

Does one airplane, one bomb, one target represent strategic air power or tactical employment of aviation? One could argue that the Enola Gay with its atomic payload had a strategic effect. An F-16 Viper with a conventional 500-pound bomb "plinking" a tank on the plain of Kosovo is not an example of strategic air power, but rather tactical bombing. Ask yourself what you expect of strategic bombing, or more specifically, what is strategic bombing? Today the term strategic bombing is seemingly used as a reference for anything that flies in conflict. Get your frame of reference, and then read this book. How Effective is Strategic Bombing is a thought-provoking analysis on the subject of air power and bombing and the use of surveys to explain the effects of air power on the enemy in conflict.

Gentile, an active-duty Army officer and educated historian, presents a thorough study of the United States Strategic Bombing Survey (USSBS) following World War II and the Gulf War Air Power Survey (GWAPS) after the Gulf War of 1991. The last section of the book takes a quick look at the Kosovo conflict of 1999 and the use of air power in Operation Allied Force.

The airplane and air power had a profound effect on the conduct and outcome of World War II--or did it? The USSBS was commissioned to measure the effect of air power in that conflict. Gentile discusses the politics behind the formation of the charter for the survey and the people responsible for its execution. In the end, the USSBS proved to be an advocate for air power and was used to shape the future rather than to assess the past. Gentile presents the thesis that the USSBS formed the framework of today's air power doctrine and spawned the need for an independent air force. He concludes that a truly impartial and unbiased report was never a possibility in this case, or in any case, because of the established political agenda for a survey. In reading this book, I could not divorce myself from the thought that the author also had a political agenda in his assessment of air power and the independent air force.

In comparison, the GWAPS did not have so much of a focused political agenda, but represented a shift from air power advocacy to more air power assessment. …