University of Exeter
“We were very young in those days” is the most weighty phrase near the beginning of The Case of the Constant Suicides, a novel by the Anglo-American detective writer John Dickson Carr. Published in 1941, this novel begins in London on September 1 1940, just before the heavy German air attacks on the city had started: “An air-raid alert meant merely inconvenience, with perhaps one lone raider droning somewhere.” By 1941, as today, the experience of bombing was very different, although not as different as it was to be by the end of the war in 1945. Bombing by 1945 had become a key experience of urban life, both in Europe and in East Asia. Refracted through the media and the arts, the civilian experience has to be remembered as a human backdrop to the discussions about effectiveness and practicality.
Air power has played a key role in the military history of the last century, both independently and within land and sea conflicts. Air power has been particularly important at the tactical and operational levels. It has also been seen as a strategic tool, even if bringing this element to fruition has proved very difficult; and difficult, moreover, for the range of states that have sought to pursue this means. The debates about what air power can provide have taken considerably different directions based on whether the army was the dominant service and the degree to which the air force was independent. These issues raise questions not only about how best to present the history of air power, but also concerning its past and present rationale and relevance. Continue reading “Air Power and the Modern World”