The Influence of Airpower upon History: Statemanship, Diplomacy, and Foreign Policy since 1903

  • Published

The Influence of Airpower upon History: Statemanship, Diplomacy, and Foreign Policy since 1903 edted by Robin Higham and Mark Parillo. University Press of Kentucky, 2012, 328 pp.

The Influence of Airpower upon History is an aggressive attempt to present the reader with a panoramic view of the use of airpower as an instrument of national power. Editors Robin Higham and Mark Parillo illustrate airpower’s significance by examining civil, commercial, and military aviation from 1903 through the early twenty-first century. The book contains nine articles from scholars in the fields of aviation and military history as well as a foreword by retired Air Force general Richard B. Myers, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Higham and Parillo, both of whom teach military history at Kansas State University, are recognized airpower scholars, and this volume will only add to their credentials. Coeditor of Why Air Forces Fail: The Anatomy of Defeat, Robin Higham has demonstrated that he is no airpower zealot. He and Parillo treat airpower as a subject worthy of serious study and reflection—not as a panacea that any statesman can use to solve problems on the world stage. They bring this viewpoint to The Influence of Airpower upon History, and General Myers lends credibility to their approach with his statement in the foreword that the book “highlights the capabilities and limitation of the air domain.”

The nine authors chosen to contribute to the book present essays that could be expanded into stand-alone studies. Their chapters examine often-overlooked aspects of airpower’s employment in the twentieth century—for example, French aviation in the interwar years, Stalin’s use of airpower, the growth of airpower in Latin America from 1945 to the end of the last century, and a welcome look at China’s development of airpower. The chapters address the impact that political personalities and different political systems have had on decisions to employ, or not to employ, airpower as an instrument of national power. Furthermore, the contributors thoroughly cover the role that technology has played in shaping military airpower and the advantages that come with advances in airframes and weaponry. As technological development renders some aircraft obsolete, many of those platforms have gone on to play important roles in other nations’ arsenals. For example, the British Sea Fury and the American F-51 were put to use in the struggle for Cuba long after their utility in the Second World War had passed and they had been replaced by more advanced weapons. Also of great interest is the chapter entitled “Gunboat Diplomacy” although these gunboats refer to US aircraft carriers and their use by different presidential administrations in pursuit of national security objectives—a topic especially worthy of consideration in our current geopolitical environment.

Although the book is ostensibly an examination of the synergistic effects of civil, commercial, and military aviation on a nation’s airpower, civil aviation gets very little treatment. The various chapters discuss commercial aviation to some extent, but the introduction states that the American airline company Pan Am played a role in the successful exclusion of German interests in Colombia and Latin America in the 1930s. However, no chapter examines this very interesting historical episode—only a few sentences in the chapter on Latin America. Including an expanded account of this subject would have bolstered the editors’ claim that commercial aviation has in fact played a role in diplomatic affairs and has made significant contributions to airpower in general.

Regardless of the editors’ coverage of civil and commercial aviation, the contributors’ treatment of the military component of a nation’s airpower makes The Influence of Airpower upon History an invaluable reference. This sweeping survey of the age of manned flight is timely and appropriate, especially as we head deeper into the unheroic age of satellites and remotely piloted vehicles. Higham and Parillo deliver a fitting epilogue to a passing era. After reading this cautionary tale that outlines the advantages nations stand to gain through the proper employment of airpower, one hopes that current and future statesmen will heed its advice, even as remotely piloted vehicles change the cost-risk calculus upon which the decision to employ airpower traditionally rested. This book is highly recommended to airpower enthusiasts, scholars, statesmen, and general readers alike.

Jeffrey M. Shaw, PhD
Exeter, Rhode Island

"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."