Academic journal article Independent Review

Promoting Air Power: The Influence of the U.S. Air Force on the Creation of the National Security State

Academic journal article Independent Review

Promoting Air Power: The Influence of the U.S. Air Force on the Creation of the National Security State

Article excerpt

After nearly four years of global war, Americans yearned for a reversion to normality, but the years immediately following World War II brought instead a permanent state of crisis and a perceived need for continual preparedness. This mood led to the creation of a national-security state concerned essentially with the threat from Soviet communism. The United States assumed new responsibilities for the containment of communism in Europe and Asia as well as leadership of the "free world." The pragmatic consequences of a strategy of continual preparedness and an interest in maintaining a preponderance of U.S. global power were increased budgetary and military obligations (Leffler 1992, 13-15; Sherry 1995, 130). The broader consequences influenced public perceptions and U.S. foreign policy.

The limited funds available to the military dictated that in these early Cold War years, each military service would seek to enhance its prominence in the postwar defense establishment, influence the pattern of defense budgets, and determine how best to provide defense and deterrence. Impatient to succeed in the bureaucratic contest with other military services, the United States Air Force influenced the discourse and the political culture of the national-security state in the early Cold War years. It persuaded the American public that creating air supremacy would be the least costly and most effective strategy in the face of a Soviet threat that the air force itself helped to overstate. When combined with forces that focused on an assumed internal communist threat, the debate over air power matched the wartime home-front mentality that had been part of World War II and was becoming institutionalized in American society. My focus in this article is the air force's attempts to sway public opinion to make air power the cornerstone of national security.

The result of this air force strategy was a budgetary and public-relations controversy that influenced public thinking about military security. The budgetary dilemma developed when President Harry S Truman, who was determined to maintain a balanced budget, confronted dissension within his administration, especially from a secretary of the air force intent on creating parity status for the air force with the older services. The air force had been created as an independent service, with a status equal to that of the army or the navy, by the National Defense Act of 1947, which also created a unified service under the secretary of defense. Interservice rivalry, competition, and quarrels over functions grew out of the unification debate (Huntington 1961, 41; Call 1997, 4). Demands for military demobilization and Truman's objective of controlling federal spending clashed with the nation's growing global responsibilities, dissent within the administration, and the military's persistent demands for increased funding.

The air force argued that funding for additional personnel and planes, especially more sophisticated bombers, at the expense of appropriations for the army and the navy, would limit the number of armed forces personnel required to serve around the world and would best safeguard the United States. A capital-intensive military that favored air power over the other, more labor-intensive armed forces had definite public appeal. These efforts continued until the Korean War generated an immediate requirement for increased funding. At that point, Truman submitted a supplemental request for appropriations that included a substantial amount for the air force (Truman 1948-50, 724). The air force had succeeded in laying the groundwork that justified this increase.

These budget debates were intertwined with Cold War considerations in the early years of tense U.S.-Soviet relations, years in which it was accepted that any gain in the world for the Soviets would be a loss for the United States. Much of this friction was part of a public discourse that took place between 1947 and 1950 over the future of U. …

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