Victory Through Air Power is a 1943 Walt Disney animated Technocolor feature film released during World War II. It’s based on the book–of the same title–by Alexander P. de Seversky.
Its thesis is summed up in its title: That by using bombers and fighter aircraft, the United States can attain swift, stunning victory over its Axis enemies: Germany, Italy and Japan.
Although it’s not explicitly stated, the overall impression given is that, through the use of air power, America can defeat its enemies without deploying millions of ground troops.
The movie has long since been forgotten except by film buffs, but its message has not. Especially by the highest officials within the U.S. Air Force.
The Air Force regularly boasted of the tonage of bombs its planes dropped over Nazi Germany, but it failed to attain its primary goal: Break the will of the Germans to resist.
On the contrary: Just as the German bombings of England had solidified the will of the British people to resist, so, too, did Allied bombing increase the determination of the Germans to fight on.
Nor did the failure of air power end there.
On June 6, 1944–D-Day–the Allies launched their invasion of Nazi-occupied France.
It opened shortly after midnight, with an airborne assault of 24,000 American, British, Canadian and Free French troops. This was followed at 6:30 a.m. by an amphibious landing of Allied infantry and armored divisions on the French coast.
The operation was the largest amphibious invasion in history. More than 160,000 troops landed–73,000 Americans, 61,715 British and 21,400 Canadians.
Allied air power bombed and strafed German troops out in the open. But it couldn’t dislodge soldiers barricaded in steel-and-concrete-reinforced bunkers or pillboxes. Those had to be dislodged, one group at a time, by Allied soldiers armed with rifles, dynamite and flamethrowers.
American soldier using flamethrower
This situation proved true throughout the rest of the war.
Then, starting in 1964, the theory of “Victory Through Air Power” once again proved a dud–in Vietnam.
Air Force General Curtis E. LeMay said, “We should bomb Vietnam back into the Stone Age.” And the bombers under his command did their best to achieve this.
From 1964 to 1975, 7 million tons of bombs were dropped on Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia–more than twice the amount of bombs dropped on Europe and Asia in World War II.
Yet the result proved exactly the same as it had in World War II: The bombing enraged the North Vietnamese and steeled their resolve to fight on to the end.
American bomber dropping its cargo over North Vietnam
The belief that victory could be achieved primarily–if not entirely–through air power had another unforeseen result during the Vietnam war. It gradually sucked the United States ever deeper into the conflict.
To bomb North Vietnam, the United States needed air force bases in South Vietnam. This required that those bombers and fighters be protected.
So a force to provide round-the-clock security had to be maintained. But there weren’t enough guards to defend themselves against a major attack by North Vietnamese forces.
So more American troops were needed–to guard the guards.
North Vietnam continued to press greater numbers of its soldiers into attacks on American bases. This forced America to provide greater numbers of its own soldiers to defend against such attacks.
Eventually, the United States had more than 500,000 ground troops fighting in Vietnam–with no end in sight to the conflict.
Then, in 2014, with forces of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) launching a blitzkreig throughout Iraq, President Barack Obama caught the “Victory Through Airpower” disease.
ISIS had thrown the American-trained Iraqi Army into a panic, with soldiers dropping their rifles and running for their lives.
This led Republicans to accuse the President of being about to “lose” Iraq.
As a result, he shipped at least 300 American “advisors” to Iraq, to provide support and security for U.S. personnel and the American Embassy in Baghdad.
And he authorized American Predator drones to traverse Iraq, keeping tabs on the advancing ISIS forces.
Then, in September, 2014, Obama ordered airstrikes against ISIS in Syria.
Yet that didn’t alter the balance of power in Iraq. Nor had it worked for America in the 1991 and 2003 wars against Iraq.
Both wars opened with massive barrages of American missiles and bombs. The 1991 war saw the first use of the vaunted “stealth bomber,” which could avoid detection by enemy radar.
The 2003 war opened with an even greater bombardment intended to “shock and awe” the Iraqis into surrendering. They didn’t.
Baghdad under “shock and awe” bombardment
Nor did air power prove effective on the Iraqi insurgency that erupted after American forces occupied Baghdad and much of the rest of the country.
That war had to be fought by U.S. Army regulars and Special Operations soldiers–especially Navy SEALS. It was a dirty and private effort, marked by nightly kidnappings of suspected Iraqi insurgents.
Finally, on February 11, 2015, Obama called on Congress to formally authorize the use of ground forces against ISIS. This would include supporting and training Iraqi forces and Syrian insurgents on the ground
Obama stressed that his request for authorization does not call for deploying American ground troops in Syria or Iraq.
The rerun of the Vietnam/Iraq experience will begin showing in the months ahead.