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The Origins of American Strategic Bombing Theory: Transforming Technology into Military Doctrine




Morris, Craig

Type of Degree





Perhaps no other technology changed how Americans viewed warfare in the twentieth century more than the airplane. In the minds of forward thinking aerial theorists this new technology removed the limitations of geography, defenses, and operational reach that had restricted ground and naval forces since the dawn of human conflict. With aviation, a nation could avoid costly traditional military campaigns and attack the industrial heart of an enemy using long-range bombers. Yet, the acceptance of strategic bombing doctrine proved a long and hard-fought process that required the combination of individual efforts, technological developments, organizational factors, and political and economic context to transform the technology of flying into an accepted military strategy. In this way, the story of strategic bombing is not that of any one person or any one causal factor. Instead, it is a twisting tale of individual efforts, competing priorities, organizational infighting, budget limitations and most important technological integration. At no point was strategic bombing preordained or destined to succeed. In every era, the theory had to survive critical challenges. By tracing the complex interrelationships of these four causal factors, this study provides a greater understanding of the origins and rise to dominance of American strategic bombing theory. Thus, it aids in understanding the process of how new technologies spur fresh thinking that offer potentially revolutionary new strategies.