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Beneficial Bombing

The Progressive Foundations of American Air Power, 1917-1945

Mark Clodfelter

Publication Year: 2010

The Progressive Era, marked by a desire for economic, political, and social reform, ended for most Americans with the ugly reality and devastation of World War I. Yet for Army Air Service officers, the carnage and waste witnessed on the western front only served to spark a new progressive movement—to reform war by relying on destructive technology as the instrument of change. In Beneficial Bombing Mark Clodfelter describes how American airmen, horrified by World War I’s trench warfare, turned to the progressive ideas of efficiency and economy in an effort to reform war itself, with the heavy bomber as their solution to limiting the bloodshed. They were convinced that the airplane, used as a bombing platform, offered the means to make wars less lethal than conflicts waged by armies or navies. Clodfelter examines the progressive idealism that led to the creation of the U.S. Air Force and its doctrine that the finite destruction of precision bombing would end wars more quickly and with less suffering for each belligerent. What is more, his work shows how these progressive ideas emerged intact after World War II to become the foundation of modern U.S. Air Force doctrine. Drawing on a wealth of archival material, including critical documents unavailable to previous researchers, Clodfelter presents the most complete analysis ever of the doctrinal development underpinning current U.S. Air Force notions about strategic bombing.

Published by: University of Nebraska Press

Series: Studies in War, Society, & the Military


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Title Page

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Copyright Page

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Table of Contents

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List of Illustrations

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pp. vii-x


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pp. ix-xii

Source Acknowledgments

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pp. xiii-xvi

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pp. 1-6

In October 1910, former president Theodore Roosevelt was in St. Louis campaigning for the Republican governor of Missouri, Herbert Hadley. Upon learning of an “International Aeronautic Tournament” outside the city, the energetic and always inquisitive Roosevelt demanded to see it. “TR” and Hadley arrived at Kinloch...

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1. Genesis in the Great War

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pp. 7-34

On a warm Sunday morning, U.S. Military Academy cadets assembled at Trophy Point to witness a spectacular event. Aviation pioneer Glenn Curtiss had announced that he would pilot his thirty-foot-long biplane from Albany to New York and claim the New York World’s prize of ten thousand dollars for making ...

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2. Progressive Prophecy

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pp. 35-66

For Billy Mitchell, the final attack on a relic of the Kaiser’s navy was as important as any he had directed on the Western Front. One by one, the six Martin MB-2 bombers and a single Handley- Page flew past Mitchell’s Osprey, a blue and white DH-4 with a blue command pennant flapping from the rudder. The dualengine...

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3. From Prophecy to Plan

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pp. 67-102

Army Air Corps First Lieutenant Curtis LeMay felt his stomach churning as he trudged through a heavy morning downpour toward the B-17 bomber designated “Number 80” and parked at Mitchel Field, Long Island. LeMay was a handpicked member of three B-17 crews who would fly their bombers as “blue force” aircraft...

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4. Breaching Fortress Europe, 1942–43

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pp. 103-147

Thirteen minutes after the last of 139 B-17s from Eighth Air Force’s Fourth Bomb Wing had crossed the Dutch coast, the first German fighters appeared. Instantly, the bomber crews knew that their misgivings about the mission against the sprawling Messerschmitt factory at Regensburg were justified. The daylight raid would ...

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5. Bludgeoning with Bombs

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pp. 148-183

As the crews of 311 B-17s approached their target, a smoky black haze arose from the city surrounding it and mingled with dense clouds. Dresden, the medieval capital of Saxony, was in ruins. More than 750 RAF Lancasters had dropped 1,471 tons of high explosive bombs and 1,175 tons of incendiaries on the refugee-filled ...

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6. Fire from the Sky

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pp. 184-234

As midnight on 9 March passed into the wee hours of the next day, Major General Curtis LeMay could not sleep. Instead, he paced back and forth through the Quonset hut that served as the operations control room of Headquarters XXI Bomber Command on Guam, nervously smoking his trademark cigars....

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7. Progressive Legacies

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pp. 235-256

Tooey Spaatz stood on the deck of the USS Missouri and watched a seemingly endless stream of B-29s pass low overhead. The spectacle, which also included vast formations of Army Air Forces and Navy fighters, was an awesome display of American air power following the formal Japanese surrender in Tokyo Bay. Spaatz was...


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pp. 257-320


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pp. 321-334


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pp. 335-349

E-ISBN-13: 9780803234499
E-ISBN-10: 080323449X
Print-ISBN-13: 9780803233980
Print-ISBN-10: 0803233981

Page Count: 392
Illustrations: 34 illustrations
Publication Year: 2010

Series Title: Studies in War, Society, & the Military
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OCLC Number: 704517542
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Beneficial Bombing

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Bombing, Aerial -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
  • Air power -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
  • Precision bombing -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
  • World War, 1914-1918 -- Aerial operations.
  • World War, 1939-1945 -- Aerial operations.
  • Progressivism (United States politics) -- History -- 20th century.
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