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Rhetoric and Reality in Air Warfare:
The Evolution of British and American Ideas about Strategic Bombing, 1914-1945
Tami Davis Biddle

One of Choice's Outstanding Academic Titles for 2002

Paperback | 2004 | $47.95 | £39.95 | ISBN: 9780691120102
416 pp. | 6 x 9 1/4
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A major revision of our understanding of long-range bombing, this book examines how Anglo-American ideas about "strategic" bombing were formed and implemented. It argues that ideas about bombing civilian targets rested on--and gained validity from--widespread but substantially erroneous assumptions about the nature of modern industrial societies and their vulnerability to aerial bombardment. These assumptions were derived from the social and political context of the day and were maintained largely through cognitive error and bias. Tami Davis Biddle explains how air theorists, and those influenced by them, came to believe that strategic bombing would be an especially effective coercive tool and how they responded when their assumptions were challenged.

Biddle analyzes how a particular interpretation of the World War I experience, together with airmen's organizational interests, shaped interwar debates about strategic bombing and preserved conceptions of its potentially revolutionary character. This flawed interpretation as well as a failure to anticipate implementation problems were revealed as World War II commenced. By then, the British and Americans had invested heavily in strategic bombing. They saw little choice but to try to solve the problems in real time and make long-range bombing as effective as possible.

Combining narrative with analysis, this book presents the first-ever comparative history of British and American strategic bombing from its origins through 1945. In examining the ideas and rhetoric on which strategic bombing depended, it offers critical insights into the validity and robustness of those ideas--not only as they applied to World War II but as they apply to contemporary warfare.


"Well written, full of nuance and detail, and solidly researched. Biddle has done a thorough job of cutting through the thicket of contradictions and fantasies that surround the strategic bombing debate from 1914 to 1945."--Dominick A. Pisano, Military History

"There are books about military ideas and books about military practice. This work by a talented young historian integrates the two forms. In addition to a deft pen and an eye for wry anecdote, Biddle possesses an instinct for the ways in which ideas about new forms of warfare germinate, spread, and are adopted in the absence of good data. The importance of this book therefore not only stems from what it tells the reader about how the two great air powers of the first half of the twentieth century thought about this new instrument of war. It also offers cautionary lessons in an age of radical military change. Sleek and dazzling new technology is one thing; sensible doctrine for its use in war is another."--Foreign Affairs

"This is one of the most cogent, in-depth analyses of an important international historical controversy. Biddle's insight into the persistence of cognitive structures and processes serves as a model for future historical inquiry."--Choice

"An extremely well-crafted history. . . . [It] can now be recommended as the best treatment of its subject matter in a single volume."--John Gooch, International History Review

"Tami Davis Biddle . . . has set air power into its widest historical contexts yet and, while many of her arguments are not entirely new, has advanced the field considerably with a well-researched and carefully thought-out book."--Michael S. Neiberg, American Historical Review

"By synthesizing so many complex issues, Biddle offers a landmark piece of scholarship that should appeal to both experts and history enthusiasts through its balance, lucidity, and clarity."--Guillaume de Syon, Air Power History

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Table of Contents:

Acknowledgments vii
Introduction 1
Chapter One
The Beginning: Strategic Bombing in the First World War 11
Chapter Two
Britain in the Interwar Years 69
Chapter Three
The United States in the Interwar Years 128
Chapter Four
Rhetoric and Reality, 1939-1942 176
Chapter Five
The Combined Bomber Offensive, 1943-1945 214
Conclusion 289
Notes 303
Bibliography of Archival Sources 387
Index 391



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