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Rhetoric and Reality in Air Warfare: The Evolution of British and American Ideas about Strategic Bombing, 1914-1945 (Princeton Studies in International History and Politics) Paperback – September 19, 2004

ISBN-13: 978-0691120102 ISBN-10: 0691120102

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Rhetoric and Reality in Air Warfare: The Evolution of British and American Ideas about Strategic Bombing, 1914-1945 (Princeton Studies in International History and Politics) + Why Air Forces Fail: The Anatomy of Defeat + Airpower in Small Wars: Fighting Insurgents and Terrorists (Modern War Studies)
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Product Details

  • Series: Princeton Studies in International History and Politics
  • Paperback: 406 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (September 19, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691120102
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691120102
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.1 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,292,370 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


One of Choice's Outstanding Academic Titles for 2002

"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

"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

"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

"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

"Anyone interested in understanding the United States Air Force's bombing operations in Iraq, Bosnia, Kosovo, and Afghanistan over the past decade should begin by reading this book. Today's aircraft and weapons differ dramatically from those used over the western front in World War I, but--as Tami Davis Biddle points out--ideas about strategic bombing from that era have remained remarkably resilient. . . . Biddle's work should be read by anyone interested in understanding the shaping of ideas behind the use of military force and how these ideas ultimately affect political decisions."--Thomas E. Griffith, Jr., American Diplomacy

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One of Choice's Outstanding Academic Titles for 2002

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

26 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Ariel on September 23, 2005
Format: Paperback
The title explains the book. It is intended as a detailed investigation of the evolution of both British and American ideas on strategic bombing in the first half of the twentieth century. It succeeds admirably.

It is, in fact, an extremely thoughtful and perceptive analysis and one which any modern warrior struggling with buzz-words such as "transformational warfare", "network centric", or "Revolution in Military Affairs", could and should read with profit. All these jargon-laden phrases come down in the end to how the military marries new technologies and the opportunites they present, with the conceptual framework necessary to utilise them properly. This book is concerned with how US and British airmen addressed these conceptual difficulties following the inception of military air power in the First World War.

The author shows very clearly how rhetoric too often exceeded reality, and how doctrine was too often allowed to degenerate into dogma. The causes are many and varied, and in the British case at least had nothing to do with Army control, since the RAF had been independent since 1 April 1918. The book makes clear the unwisdom of simply debating original and revolutionary concepts, whilst ignoring the need to develop essential training programmes and the equipment to support them. The RAF in the inter-war years could "talk the talk", but in 1939 it could not "walk the walk". Specifically it had neglected the primary art of navigation. The USAAF fared little better when its rhetoric was exposed to the fires of war. Both Air Forces eventually modified both their rhetoric and, as the author makes clear, once the neglected fundamentals were addressed, air power proved of decisive importance in winning the war.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Mark Jacobsen on September 20, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition
Biddle argues that British and American airpower pioneers vastly oversold the potential of strategic bombing, culminating in the disastrous initial experience of the Combined Bomber Offensive in World War II. Cognitive and organizational biases contributed to this gap between rhetoric and reality. These biases were so strong that strategic bombing advocates ignored or downplayed clear evidence, and clung to their theories long past the point of rationality. This is a good book, meticulously researched, but is determined to prove its central hypothesis. It should be read in conjunction with other books before making up one's mind about the efficacy of strategic bombing in World War II. Tooze's "Wages of Destruction", for example, suggests that even the cruder forms of area bombing may have taken a larger toll on the German war economy than many historians acknowledge.
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10 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Retired Reader on April 12, 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This appears to be a meticulously researched book that has been carefully compiled. Yet is this enough to produce a really good history? Perhaps it is not. This book is virtually devoid of any real analysis. It could have, for example, compared, not just identified, the similarities and differences between the U.S. Army Air Corps and the Royal Air Force (RAF) that in the end produced remarkably similar ideas about the use of air power. In reading the chronology presented in this book one would think each service operated in a vacuum, never influencing the other. A little more thought on the author's part would have also revealed that although official doctrine emphasized the role of air power in the tactical support of infantry, the Air Corps was a pretty independent institution. Its budget through the fiscally lean inter-war years usually took a disproportionate amount of the funds appropriated for the army as a whole. In point of fact the Air Corps very much was able to pursue the development of heavy bombers for strategic bombardment in the face of official doctrine. The author hints at this, but appears reluctant to really investigate why this was so. The author could have also investigated more insightfully, in the face of the general failure of strategic bombing to crush civilian morale in the UK, Germany or Japan, why the doctrine of strategic bombing persists to this day. Finally the book is filled with missed opportunities to connect the dots so to speak. For example after WWI, the RAF with the encouragement of Winston Churchill, in the colonel office, undertook to police both Iraq and Trans-Jordan using what was called `air control'. In practice it was really air-armored control since in addition to aircraft the RAF used armored cars extensively to supplement its aircraft.Read more ›
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14 of 29 people found the following review helpful By Charles I. Stubbart on June 23, 2003
Format: Hardcover
.... RHETORIC AND REALITY does not really deliver on the promise in the title, as academic work or as popular writing.
As an academic work, it does not really involve what I would call empirical research. Sure, she scrutinized tons of documents and R&R contains 1000 references. Stunning to me, book has notes but no bibliography.
What is really proven by this book? OK. the early advocates of air power oversold their promises. No one, especially during 1920s or 1930s could really predict what air power could, or could not, accomplish. Although TBD states in the intro that she will show how "psychology" can explain the weird behavior of air power advocates, no evidence is shown. No psychological explanations are used. A better explanation for the overselling of early Air zealots is institutional. The air power people found themselves under the oppressive thumb of armies, who initially had little sympathy for wild airpower theories (as Mitchell). The air power people needed an institutional framework of their own, they needed resources, they did not need the army. They wanted to do their own thing. Naturally and logically they chafed under the army so they oversold their promises in a blatant attempt to obtain the independence they wanted, needed, dreamed of. None of this is really newsworthy.
To sum up, Ms Biddle's book does not really explain anything that is not already known. Therefore, it does not make solid research. As popular writing, it makes for a dry, fact-filled read. If you want to read the history of strategic bombing, it is already there in the Journal Air Power History, the Strategic Bombing Survey, Neillands, many more. search Amazon, etc.
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