The brigadier's star of General Billy Mitchel must be shining brightly indeed somewhere high in the heavens he loved and understood so well. The reactionary forces of General Mitchel's day broke a brave soldier, tarnished his proud star. They could not and did not succeed in silencing this prophetic airman. An entire freedom-loving world can be thankful.
As a separate air-force, finally freed from the brass bound ropes of the army and navy hierarchy, struggles now for equal footing, it is well to renew some of the things for which General Mitchel was court-martialled. For it was the same hierocracy then as now, that prefers money for silver service on battleship dinner tables. The same reactionary kind of thinking, then as now, is putting up a last ditch fight against appropriation for a mighty air force, a healthy aircraft industry--one that is capable on short notice of building planes and more planes as fast as we may need them.
My friend Roy Bowen handed me two yellowed copies of the National Geographic. One dated 1918, begs for air power then to help fight World War I. Even this authoritative magazine, however, contains this naive quotation: "The most dreaded Nemesis of the aviator is a dead hole in the air. When a plane reaches these spots, it drops like a plummet. Dead holes abound in the summertime up to a height of 1,000 feet." first grade prittle-prattle!
Every school-child now knows that nature abhors a vacuum. That there are not and cannot be "holes" in the air. there are most certainly upward and downward currents of air, due to heating and cooling of air masses unevenly by radiation and convection. These are annoying. But that is all.
Congressmen as uninformed as that believe that we can decimate our air-force--as we have done--starve the air-craft building industry--as we are doing--and still be able to defend ourselves against an aerial-borne atomic attacked. We couldn't start today and build ourselves back to a first-class air force within two years, yes three!
We must build a sane program of replacement aircraft around a large air-force. the replacement program must be large enough to keep, plane building facilities and trained workmen busily employed--as against the day that we need them. It's actually cheaper that way--and in this day and age a darn sight safer!
Back to billy Mitchel, let's listen to some of his words of 1921. They sound absurdly simple now. But there is a lesson for us in them.
This one earned him the undying enmity of the admirals. "One of our present bombs dropped upon a battleship from an airplane would wreck the ship to such an extent as to put her completely out of action and end her usefulness as a war vessel" ... "a single battleship costs $45,000,000, requires 1,000 men to man ... an airplane comparatively many times cheaper can destroy it: ... This statement fixed General Mitchel up just fine with both army and navy brass; "Slow as the old services, both army and navy were to recognize the power of this new arm, it was forced upon them ..."
And you would have thought General Mitchel was speaking as and of today when he declared, "The only defense against an air force is another air force!" for this he was called insubordinate. Events have since proved Billy Mitchel right on every count.
It is a tragedy of democracy that we continue to make the same old errors, over and over again. Instead of catching up with events, there will come the day when events will catch up with us, I fear. The frenzied rush of industry to prepare, the strong right arm of labor, the valor of our youth, may be too little and too late the next time.
For the next war we will come in the night, swift as a rocket with all the devastating horror of the atomic bomb. Congress may not even have time to change the tune as it fiddles.
It is up to you and me, I think to prod and push and urge unceasing vigilance--and the tools to be vigilant with.
Now that is awful serious stuff. I would much rather close the column today with another paragraph found in this old Geographic which I like and gratefully pass on to you. It beautifully describes peace-time aviation.
The air has a call of its own that few can resist. It runs through a man's veins like flame and whispers courage and defiance into his year. It invites his sympathy, love and esteem. Every known sensation is experienced in flying; joy--the joy of youth astride the dull old world, accomplishing what previous generations dared not attempt; excitement--a feeling that comes from the cool air flying past one's face and whistling by one's ears; also fear, danger, hope, despair, and elation--all these are crowded into one brief hour."
Is it not so?
Warsaw Daily Times, Sat. Jan. 17, 1948