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The Seduction of Airpower

June 20, 2008

I’d like to close this week out with a final article on the woes of airpower, with this from FrontPage Mag. Somewhat differently I will start my posting with the author, Dr. Earl Tilford’s conclusion:

If history is any harbinger, in the aftermath of the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, land forces will again be cut to sustain expensive weapons acquisition programs for the Air Force and Navy in anticipation of future confrontations with China, a resurgent Russia or with petro-fascist regimes in Iran and Venezuela.

Tilford provides numerous examples of this recurring phenomena in America, but we will choose only one nearest our own time, Vietnam:

In 1964, faced with a growing insurgency in South Vietnam supported and manipulated by communist leaders in Hanoi, President Lyndon Johnson turned to his Joint Chiefs for their strategic assessments. Army and Marine Corps leaders warned any war in Indochina might last 10 years or more, entail troop commitments of half-a-million and result in 50,000 combat deaths. Air-power advocates scoffed. The Air Force touted a 28-day bombing campaign taking out 94 targets in North Vietnam as sufficient for ending further “aggression” against the South. Johnson, seduced by the promise of high gains for low costs, launched Operation Rolling Thunder in March 1965, a bombing campaign against North Vietnam that lasted until November 1968 … accomplishing nothing. The southern insurgents, meanwhile, responded by attacking American airfields in South Vietnam, necessitating the deployment of U.S. ground forces to protect these bases. The Vietnam quagmire resulted from the failed promises of air-power enthusiasts.

And of course we all know how that turned out. America and Britain and their similar type cultures and government have historically been fearful of standing armies. England has its own bias from from its Civil War, after which Oliver Cromwell who was supposed to be defending democracy, sent Parliament packing and ruled as dictator. For America, they had their fill of armies when the British forced them to pay for their own protection, and housed Redcoats in colonial homes without permission.

For the West to survive in this new era of globalization, where liberal immigration laws has invited a mass invasion into our prosperous and fertile lands from the Third World, neglecting our standing armies is suicidal. When Britain was just an island, and America far from  the woes of the world in her continental empire, navies and later airpower was sufficient to guard our democracies and ensure the growth of capitalism.

Unless we find a perfect system of border and airport security, only armies with their ability to perform “cop on the beat” tactics, can remind anyone who crosses our frontiers who they would answer to for considering disorder and mayhem. Likewise our allies must feel secure in the knowledge that our landpower presence will react immediately to stand with them against potential aggressors, not ready to evacuate our embassies with helicopters from aircraft carriers in case of trouble.

I am not so skeptical as Dr. Tilford in thinking we will repeat the mistakes of the past. I see from Iraq we might possibly have learned our lesson, that if we ignore failed states with their tendency toward radicalism, there is a real possibility proved by 9/11 that WMDs might be used against us. Only through physical occupation of such weak and infant democracies of the Middle East and elsewhere with landpower can we insure our citizenry the safety and prosperity of former generations.

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