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.
Although the Air Force regularly boasted of the tonage of bombs its planes dropped over Nazi Germany, 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.
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.
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.
Now, with forces of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) launching a blitzkreig throughout Iraq, President Barack Obama seems to have caught the “Victory Through Airpower” disease.
ISIS has thrown the American-trained Iraqi Army into a panic, with soldiers dropping their rifles and running for their lives.
This has led Republicans to accuse the President of being about to “lose” Iraq.
As a result, since September, 2014, he has ordered massive bombing of ISIS targets in Iraq and Syria.
Yet that has not altered the balance of power in Iraq.
As political columnist Mark Shields observed on the May 22 edition of the PBS Newshour, this has only led to greater Republican demands for “boots on the ground”:
“Now, there are 60 nations in this coalition. I haven’t seen people lining up to join this fight. I mean, in a proxy war, you are dependent upon your proxies. And the Iraqis turn out to be not particularly engaged, divided, not unified, not committed the same way….
“Get tough, get tough, swagger. [Senator] Lindsey Graham wants to put in [10,000 troops]….
“George Pataki said, put in as many as you need, and kill everybody you can and get out. Now, getting out, I think, was the question and it remains the dilemma to this moment.
“And…anybody who walks around with a flag pin in his lapel now who is running for president or running for Congress and says let’s go in and let’s kick some tail and let’s take some numbers and bomb some people, that takes no courage at all, because it’s not their blood they’re talking about, and it’s not their children’s blood.”
Once again, the United States has bought into the lie of “victory through air power.” And, as a result, the nation stands poised to once again sacrifice billions of dollars and thousands of lives in a worthless cause.