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Wings of Judgment: American Bombing in World War II Paperback – September 29, 1988

ISBN-13: 978-0195056402 ISBN-10: 019505640X

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press (September 29, 1988)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 019505640X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195056402
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.6 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,439,769 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"Disturbing, sad, and filled with the vexations of good men doing their best in the midst of the greatest immorality--war."--Kirkus Reviews

"Wings of Judgement is a most important book....Professor Schaffer has rewritten the record in devastating fashion."--Max Hastings, author of Military Anecdotes.

"[An] excellent comprehensive analysis....Sure to become essential reading for anyone who is seriously interested in strategic bombing and morality in warfare. Very highly recommended for all college and public libraries"--Choice

"An excellent supplemental book for undergraduates. A lucid discussion of the way war corrodes the ethical standards of decent men and brings them to do indecent things."--Daniel Beaver, University of Cincinnati

"A major addition to the literature of World War II and aviation history."--ALA Booklist

About the Author

Professor of History at California State University

Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

29 of 30 people found the following review helpful By B.V.R. on August 12, 2006
Format: Paperback
This is a very good book. If you are looking for riveting first hand accounts of bombing missions flown over Germany or Japan, this is not your book. This book is a very readable and well researched study of the who/how/why of American bombing strategy in WWII. The last line of the previous reviewer's comments suggesting that this book takes glamor away from WWII veterans or somehow tarnishes the reputaion of the "greatest generation" is frankly offensive. Anyone who fought in that war or knows someone who fought knows glamor has nothing to do with it. The book takes you into the decision making process that the nation went through on many different levels in formulating our air strategy against the axis powers. The amount of research Mr Schaffer did using personal diaries, interviews, memos, official histories, and more really digs deep into who these men were. Some people forget that the this war was viewed, at the time, as a battle to preserve civilization itself. And the men, from Roosevelt to Churchill to Truman on down the chain were trying to figure out how best to win this thing. Can you imagine what it was like to be the commanding general of the 8th Air Force in late 1943? You are ordering raids in which thousands will die at a time when it appears Germany is going to roll over at least continental and eastern Europe, and oh by the way, the men in your bomber commmand, statisticly, will all die beofore ever completeing the required number of missions? This book helps you understand. War is horrific and often demands humans do horrible things. The decisions are never easy or clear, made so much more so by the nature of war. Mr Schaffer does an admirable job of remaining impartial.Read more ›
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14 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Matthew Smith on November 16, 2008
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The author has given readers a valuable insight into the making of U.S. air strategy during WWII. The author does an excellent job with not taking sides, or imposing his own moral judgements onto the men who created and implemented the U.S. air war against Germany and Japan. While there is an unfortunate lack of first hand accounts from these men about how they looked at the moral issues involved with this war, the author does well with what he had, and does a good job extrapolating where warranted.

This book discusses in detail how the air strategy was developed. What is somewhat surprising is the fact that so few of these men even seemed to contemplate the real impact of the air war on the people of Japan and Germany. So often the discussion about what was happening remained on pragmatic issues of strategy and the nuts and bolts of implementing that strategy. Very little discussion took place over the impact of that strategy, and how that strategy was going to affect the post war world.

The most alarming aspect is just how easily the war degenerated into area bombing sometimes at the expense of tactical bombing high priority targets. Even though area bombing had very little impact on the Axis powers ability to continue the war the U.S. air forces continued to employ this strategy. This is the most puzzling aspect of the air war during WWII. Area bombing had not had a major impact on Germany's ability to prosecute the war, and it wasn't until basically all of Germany was overran by ground forces that they finally surrendered. There was ample evidence available to show that area bombing cost much more than was ever gained by the method. With Japan it seemed as though area bombing was eventually employed from its own momentum. As the U.S.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 25, 1999
Format: Paperback
An excellent in depth analysis of American Strategic bombing policy in World Waar II, including formation in the pre war years, foreign influence, political considerations, and cultural factors. It is equally useful for the political, cultural, or military historian, as well as for political scientists. One of my very favorites!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Andy in Washington TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on August 28, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
As a Monday-Morning General, I have re-fought many of history's great battles, and I usually do quite well. But this was the first time I have read a detailed account of the strategy behind the WWII air wars, and all I can say is I still don't know what the right answers were. I am just glad I never had to make these kinds of decisions.

---The Good Points---

* Schaffer does a marvelous job of telling the story without letting his own opinions get in the way. By its very nature, the material presented offers some harsh moral choices, and while the author's opinion does sometimes leak out, for the most part he relates the tale with a minimum of preaching or slant.

* The process of selecting targets and bombing strategy is amazingly complicated, full of guess work and assumptions, and has tremendous consequences. Is the life of an enemy civilian worth less than a US soldier? How about 10 civilians? A hundred? A thousand? Does the same tradeoff apply to a civilian in occupied France? Even more interesting, is there value in bombing Nazi Germany to the point where its citizens have no doubt that they have been defeated? Sure, you can burn 90% of the housing in major cities and make sure that the conquered know they have been conquered...but since you are going to occupy and eventually rebuild that city, you will soon own the problem. And in 1944 it didn't take too much imagination to realize that the US/Britain would want Germany as an ally against the USSR-so you didn't want the population any more hostile or defeated than necessary.

* In the final sections of the book, Schaffer applies some of the lessons/dilemmas of WWII targeting to later wars, such as Korea, Vietnam and the cold-war nuclear arms race.
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