1) How Effective Was Strategic Bombing (pp. 1-103) –Gian P. Gentile

2) "The Search for a Science of Strategy" --Stephen M. Walt

3) Strategic Bombing in WWII (Excerpts) –David MacIssac


1) Gentile describes the USSBS as a biased survey and suggests its conclusions were tainted by the AF/Civilian members of the team who conducted the survey and the AF leadership who guided their inquiry.

2) Walt describes the reasons why it is difficult to discern concrete answers to questions of strategy.

3) McIssac basically provides a documentary of the way the main players went about their attempt to conduct the USSBS.

Main argument:

1) Despite the study’s conclusion that air power was decisive in WWII, its inherent bias suggests an attempt by the Air Force to justify its bid to become a separate service and colors the entire survey to the point where it is useful for little more than AF propaganda.

2) For several reasons, the US military has a difficult time discerning lessons learned to inform present/future strategic thought.

3) Not an argument as much as it was a documentary.

Evidence used:

1) The AF’s reliance on civilians to do their targeting and then also to conduct the survey to show bias. Spaatz’s comments about doing a separate survey from the Brits suggest the AF had a purpose for the survey beyond “fact-finding.” Maj Gen Anderson’s (one of Billy Mitchell’s supporters) desire for the survey to suggest future possibilities for the use of air power colored its “objective” intentions. Finally, the fact that the civilians were forced to work with the AF meant their perspective was colored by the AF’s take on the topic and inherently distorted the findings.

2) Walt analyzes the numerous essays/chapters written for the book “Makers of Modern Strategy” to suggest they were not thoughtfully enough crafted to answer the larger questions of strategy suggested by the title of the book. These works omitted significant pieces of history necessary to form conclusions about strategy’s truths for the modern day warrior-leader. He also highlights the two main barriers to learning lessons of strategy: secrecy and the political nature of the subject.

3) McIssac is the only true outside “subject matter expert” on the USSBS given his extensive research on the survey that generated a 10 volume series on its contents. He takes his evidence from the primary sources of the survey itself.


1) Although the attempt to cast doubt on some of the conclusions of the survey is legitimate, Gentile’s argument is undermined by his own conjecture and inferences he makes to draw conclusions that aren’t supported by his evidence. If he had stopped at just raising the issue of bias and not essentially accused the AF and several of its leaders of deliberately skewing the conclusions to support their agendas, it would have been a stronger argument. However, I do think he raises some significant issues about any organization’s ability to analyze itself and correctly points out the fact that the biases in the AF’s survey should have been pointed out and acknowledged when it was released.

2) Walt succinctly makes his argument and clearly illustrates his main points. His list of the politicization of strategy is excellent.

3) Although he does a good job telling the story of the USSBS, his lack of motivation to ask deeper questions in order to reveal its weaknesses allows future authors to question the survey’s meaningfulness.


1/3) Putting both of these works together paints a clearer picture of the strengths and weaknesses of the USSBS and helps a reader to focus the use of its findings to more aptly benefit from them. Further, examining the issues under Walt’s microscope of issues with developing a “science of strategy” suggests the difficulties inherent in the quest for answers to future military dilemmas.

Overall impression:

The two main writings for this class day provided an outstanding example of how the purpose of the writing can color its conclusions. For those looking for loopholes in the USSBS conclusion that air power was “decisive” in Western Europe, Gentile provides ammunition. For those seeking to defend the importance of the air arm’s contribution to the joint fight, MacIssac’s book provides ammunition. Understanding the motivations and interests of the author certainly adds a deeper level of understanding to the subject matter.


If nothing else, these writings highlight the importance in asking meaningful questions and understanding the interests of the players involved in providing the answers.

Class Notes:

History is not the is memory...and it is memory that is affected by the present and the future as well as the past.

If history can't be unbiased, neither can strategy...but that doesn't mean it's not important to do.

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