The United States in the Interwar Years
THIS chapter traces the intellectual progress of American airmen during the interwar years. It examines how theories about long-range bombing developed, gained influence, and established themselves in the organizational mind of what ultimately became the United States Army Air Corps (and later Army Air Forces). It points out parallels and contrasts between the American experience and the British experience. Though there are clear and important similarities in the way ideas evolved in the two nations, there are also some notable differences. The Americans, like the British, would rest their ideas about long-range bombing on assumptions about the complexity and vulnerability of modern industrial societies, but they would take a particular interest in what they believed to be the inherent weaknesses of interdependent, interlocking national economic systems.
In comparing the British and American interwar experiences, several issues must be acknowledged from the start. First, American interwar air doctrine was not formulated by an independent service. While the Royal Air Force came into existence as a separate organization in 1918, American airmen required nearly thirty more years to achieve such standing. The U.S. Army was not willing to condone any statement that implied a revolutionary role for long-range bombers based on their ability to impose, independently, a shattering blow on the enemy. In an attempt to make itself very clear on the subject in 1934, the War Plans Division of the War Department argued, “The effectiveness of aviation to break the will of a well-organized nation is claimed by some; but this has never been demonstrated and is not accepted by members of the armed services of our nation.” 1 The latter clause was untrue: members of the U.S. Air Corps were among the “some” making strong claims for aviation. Indeed, a 1928 document from the Office of the Chief of the Air Corps had argued, “It is not hard to visualize a situation in which the destructive power of the air force will be adequate to subdue the enemy's will and in which both the Army and Navy would operate in support.” 2 Thoughout the interwar years a debate raged inside the U.S. military—sometimes quietly and sometimes openly—about the degree to which an air force could and should act independently in war. A desire for greater autonomy naturally inclined the airmen to focus their