"No One Comes Close": US Airmen and their Technological Paradigm
Type of DegreePhD Dissertation
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“No one comes close” is a recent US Air Force (USAF) mantra, developed as both a recruiting slogan and service motto. It reflects both the physical altitude of their domain (sky and space) and conveys a sense of operational dominance. The saying also applies to the distinctive way the institution is shaped by technology. When it comes to descriptions of this culture, the same line is apropos: no one has come close to fully appreciating what it means for Airmen to have a technological mindset. The relationship between the organization’s culture and technology is not as simple as commonly asserted. Airmen may “worship at the altar of technology,” but that does not necessarily mean they pathologically “substitute technology for strategy.” To understand why, it is necessary to apply insights from the history of technology. Scholars in this field demonstrate the need to understand technology from the perspective of users, the stories they tell about their technical artifacts, and the rational and non-rational elements of those experiences. Even the word’s origins reveal that, since the time of the ancient poet Homer, technology is not just material, mechanical, or measurable. Indeed, the Promethean myth Homer and others crafted to explain how humans first became “technological” reveals its subjective, social, strategic, and even spiritual connotations. This dual nature is reflected in Airmen, despite the obvious fact their profession is based on advanced weapons systems. To represent the dynamism of this balance, it is helpful to enlist contrasting pairs of mythological characters familiar to Homer’s contemporaries: Apollo and Dionysius, Daedalus and Icarus, and, lastly, Bia and Metis. The creative tension of each metaphorical pair is evident in a particular period of USAF history, specifically the social life of early aviators, the cultural response to aviation between the world wars, and the theories of air power developed by Airmen. This analysis challenges the orthodox, one-dimensional assessments of USAF culture, revealing a cyclical vacillation between political, pragmatic forces and its more inspirational – even playful – tendencies. Thus, to prevail in a dangerous and disorderly world the institution must realize and embrace the full spectrum of its technological paradigm.