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Books in Review

Panacea for Victory

(October 1942)

From The New International, Vol. VIII No. 9, October 1942, pp. 283–285.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Victory Through Airpower
by Major Alexander P. de Seversky
Simon & Schuster, Inc., New York, N.Y., 1942

There are now 5,000,000 American youth and young workers, an entire generation, in the armed forces of the United States. According to Assistant Secretary of War McCloy, 600,000 are already overseas, and the armed forces will total close to 10,000,000 by the end of 1943. Clearly, the militarization of American imperialism is proceeding at a rapid rate. And since American imperialism cannot fight on its own shores, but must meet its rivals in foreign lands, these ten millions of armed forces are destined to fight on the continents of Europe, Africa, Asia and Australia.

A book by a bourgeois specialist has caused a national sensation in America, and is still hotly debated. It is a fascinating book, well worth reading by any socialist, particularly with the above in mind. The fact that Walt Disney is planning a super-technicolor production based upon this book, and showing world victory by America through its air arm, should not repel the reader, even though the transformation of America’s most enjoyable cultural contribution (Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse) into a pictorial projection of organised destruction and horror illustrates well what is happening to our nation under present conditions. This fact, rather, reflects upon some of the more fantastic and unreal characteristics of de Seversky’s sensational book!

The book is a compilation of various articles written and published by the author over a period covering the early years of the war, before American entrance, when the world was first attempting to grasp the shocking revelation of what a Luftwaffe blitzkrieg could do. The book suffers stylistically and technically from a vast amount of repetition and padding placed at various points to give the articles some sense of continuity and form, as well as to blow it up to book size. Actually, its central theme could be stated in a few paragraphs and defended in a single long article.

What de Seversky Offers Through Airpower

This theme is as follows: We of the United States wish to win the war in the shortest, cheapest and easiest way. Here is the way to do it: We will build a gigantic fleet of super-bombing planes, with a flight radius of 6,000 miles and return. This radius will enable them to bomb and blast to kingdom come every major city, base and strategic location in the world. With this air arm we shall rule the world by (1) wiping out those nations that dare oppose us; or (2) wiping out threatened opposition by the threat to use our air arm. de Seversky does not propose military conquest by armies and by occupation, he proposes the physical destruction of our enemies from the air. “... British aims must be to wreck German economy rather than to take it over” (page 103). Extended to America, de Seversky’s thesis is American mastery of the world by control and patrol of the skies, as once the British controlled the world market with their navy.

To give another concrete illustration of de Seversky’s method: his idea is that we should have planned a completely aerial warfare against Japan, planning to destroy its cities and industries from huge air bases located in the Aleutians, Hawaii, Guam, Midway, etc.

In the author’s scheme of things, airpower is the sine qua non, the common denominator of all military action. He ridicules navies as outmoded and also the traditional imperialist method of launching huge land armies into motion for purposes of territorial conquest. There is no place in his plan for such proposals and military conceptions as the Air-Navy-Army team combination of Hanson Baldwin, wherein all the branches of modern militarism are trained and prepared to stride offensively in a coordinated, integrated manner. de Seversky is a fanatic on the subject of the airplane and its potentialities against rival forces. He subordinates every other military weapon to the plane.

Before we consider some of the rather obvious flaws in the schema of de Seversky, it is worth dwelling upon the meaning of his book. It is, probably, an expression of one of the most cold-blooded and ruthless militarists who ever existed. de Seversky can wipe out a nation and its economy with his adumbrated air force with the same ease and sangfroid that a Potsdam general wipes out a Polish, Czech or Russian village. A Russian White Guardist by birth and experience, an aristocratic specialist of an extremely developed type, de Seversky is as fascist-minded an individual as one is likely to find in the war today. His projected plan of American world aerial mastery is, of course, but the latest and most fantastic in various schemes for American world empire. That is why all bourgeois critics have attacked him only with regard to the possibility of his plan’s realization, and not its aims or objectives, with which they are in accord. de Seversky is welcomed more by the “far-sighted” militarist-minded section of the American army officers’ corps for this reason than by the conservative bureaucrats and brass-hat functionaries, whom he ridicules over and over again.

The fundamental mistake that makes de Seversky’s thesis a fantasy and Utopian imperialist pipe dream is that it lacks any material basis while possessing only the crudest and most over-simplified political basis. His plan is an abstraction, based upon desire and dreams conjured up from his wish to see America master of the world. Thus, the task of building the huge air force he envisages is never even considered. The problems of production, labor, raw materials, relation between capitalism and the all-dominant aircraft industry he proposes – these and a host of other material problems are simply ignored by de Seversky. He reduces the task to the simple one of constructing 100,000 or 200,000 long-range bombers and then going out to smash up everything! The productive limitations of America, its isolation from the world market as a result of war defeats, the capitalization of such a huge industry – such questions do not concern him.

Secondly, the sort of war he pictures (great armadas of planes flying out to lay waste the enemy territory) conflicts with the aims and objectives of imperialist warfare. Why wipe out your rival’s industry and physically destroy his economy when expanding capitalism demands that you seize it for exploitation and use? Even if you destroy and paralyze your enemy from the air, you must still occupy and attempt to organize his territory. This can only be done by armies, still the backbone of imperialism. Besides, the history of capitalist warfare proves the impossibility of completely nullifying the effect of your imperialist rival, except for a short period. Defeat of an imperialist power inevitably sets other forces in operation, forces that (given the continuation of world capitalism) inevitably bring back the defeated power as a new challenger. Germany and the Versailles experiences are the classic illustration of this. To achieve de Seversky’s goal, America would have to systematically annihilate every rival or potential rival. Then it would sit – master of a world of ruins!

Explanations of Other Things

De Seversky is a political ignoramus and displays his simple, brute-force mentality each time he touches a political question. There is, for example, his proposal about war with Japan that we have already cited. From the imperialist standpoint it sounds wonderful. But then, why wasn’t it done? Because the imperialist world isn’t so simple and American policy vis-à-vis Japanese imperialism has, since the Russo-Japanese War of 1905, been one of compromise and agreement if possible. How could gigantic air bases be built against Japan when the first Roosevelt sided with Japan in its first expansionist war against Russia; when large sections of American capitalists helped arm Japan to the teeth and gave open support to its predatory war against China? de Seversky does not realize that military preparations and plans must be subordinated to the broader, long-range strategic aims of the imperialist power; that military strategy must give the right of way to imperialist (political) strategy.

His explanation of the collapse of France is, of course, a purely military one in which he takes advantage of the opportunity to emphasize the superior organization and strength of the Nazi Luftwaffe. He credits the Germans with being the first to understand the possibilities of air power. Naturally, there are the usual stupid cracks at French labor and the Popular Front regime. de Seversky’s knowledge of French politics is, to say the least, limited.

But when he writes of aircraft, its power, comparisons of different types and styles of planes, bombing tactics and protection of air armadas, etc., then we recognize a voice of authority from whom the layman can learn a good deal. His description of the various shortcomings of American aircraft models seems to be borne out in the various complaints that come in from Britain, where the American planes are getting their first serious test. His blasting of the conservative army bureaucracy (de Seversky took an important part in the famous “Billy” Mitchell vs. “brass hats” controversy), is a delight to read and emphasizes the Marxist point about the backward and lagging technological methods employed by all reactionary cliques and army corps. De Seversky has apparently had plenty of first-hand experience in the rejection of new designs, models and ideas! De Seversky further blasts the ridiculous method by which the imperialists run their war with separate air forces, under separate commands, for the various branches of military service. There are Army planes, Navy planes, Marine planes, Coast Guard planes, etc. – all without coordination, all functioning independently of one another, if they so choosel It is in the technical and critical parts of his book that we have something to learn, something that makes Victory Through Airpower worth reading, despite its various fantasies. A first step to understanding the meaning of modern warfare and the tools it employs could well be a study of the Second World War’s greatest innovation – the use of airpower.

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