Victory Through Air Power
SIMON & SCHUSTER
THE convictions not merely of the author but of tens of thousands of airmen have been concentrated and expressed with violence and clarity in Victory through Air Power, by Major Alexander P. de Seversky. The result is probably the most important book bearing on the war that has yet been published. An outstanding authority on his subject, de Seversky is second to none as a brilliant and constructive exponent of air power.
Victory through Air Power is nowhere technical. It is crystal dear and treats its whole ambitious subject in a manner that few air writers have dared to attempt—that is, from the standpoint of downright common sense. There is nothing in the book which cannot be understood by any intelligent reader willing to give the subject a little thought. Indeed, the reader may well dig deeply into it, since the time has already arrived when our whole existence depends upon whether we use our air power to destroy the enemy before he uses his own to destroy us. The book makes it uncomfortably plain why many prevalent conceptions of distance and geographical immunity are already obsolete. The author describes in detail the kind of air power which in his opinion is necessary for the safety of the United States, how much of it is needed, and what it should be expected to do. With his usual causticity, he dwells on the difference between quantity and quality — a most valuable distinction, for the United States, prior to the present big bomber program, had lulled itself almost to the brink of disaster with the safety-in-numbers philosophy, regardless of the fact that there is no safety in numbers when the wrong type of plane is employed.
Describing the future réle ot air power, de Seversky predicts that American production can be made to rule the world. Any common-sense examination of the facts must reveal that this is patently true. The wildest reach of Nazi preparation has never even approached our present production setup either in quality or quantity; furthermore, we can increase it five or ten times if and when we get around to dropping nonessential production. Developing these incontrovertible facts, de Seversky gives chapter and verse of the Nazi failure to subdue England from the air. This is one of the most important parts ot the book, for it refutes once and for all that recurrent and stupid argument that, because air power has been indecisive in the past, it must of necessity be indecisive in the future.
fhe message in the book, the facts presented, and prophecies made by the author are all so violent that the lay reader, unaccustomed to thinking in terms of the air, may wonder how much of it is true and how much fanaticism. De Seversky himself may qualify as a fanatic; but when a man sees a series of vital truths quite clearly, and keeps on putting them out equally clearly, it is an honor to be a fanatic. From the technical point of view, one can only say that de Seversky’s proposals are entirely practicable, and that a tremendous body of aviation men are solidly behind him. The planes can be built. They can do what he says they will do.
From the administrative or from the actual working point of view, one has to dissent from the author in certain particulars. The day to day conduct of a war, as in politics, is the art of the possible. There is no absolute power in the setup of our democracy by which we may press a button and the thing is done; and the evolution of a new plan as ambitious as that of de Seversky is of necessity a painful business. De Seversky attacks a number of high officers by name. I think this is unfortunate. For one thing, they are debarred from replying. What is more important, they represent an essential principle to which perhaps insufficient weight may have been given in the book. It is the principle that the leaders have to bear responsibility today, tomorrow, every day, for actual hour-to-hour actions of the war; they have to work with the tools at hand; they inherit departments filled with prejudices and jealousies; they work in an atmosphere of incessant backbiting, intrigue, and political pressure. To accomplish anything at all, head men must support other head men whether they like it or not; yet their organizations are so vast that they are powerless to prevent the incessant sniping and obstruction, domestic and foreign, that permeates the whole war effort. It is an atmosphere of compromise; and this, as a matter of practical expediency, is the atmosphere in which de Seversky’s proposals have to be considered.
Nothing excuses the incredible short-sightedness of our past thinking about air power, and nothing should detract from the horse sense of de Seversky’s fundamental long-range plans. They must be strongly pursued if we are not to go under; but in the meantime it is definitely important that we make the utmost use of what we’ve got now, that we concentrate it now upon the enemy’s vital points, that we accept any workable method of utilizing concentrated air power this month, this year, against an enemy who is at present overextended and fearfully vulnerable. F. V. D.