Beneficial Bombing: The Progressive Foundations of American Air Power, 1917-1945. By Mark Clodfelter. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2010. Photographs. Notes. Bibliography. Index. Pp. xii, 347 pages. $40.00 ISBN: 978-0803233980
Mark Clodfelter is a leading air power historian, most noted for his trailblazing book Limits of Air Power (1989) and also for his numerous, well-received articles on the subject. With a Ph.D. from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and teaching experience at the USAF Academy, Air University's School of Advanced Air and Space Studies, and the National War College, he is well qualified to deal with this subject.
Clodfelter narrates the history of strategic bombardment theory and practice beginning in World War I, through the course of World War II, up through the present conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Although his focus is at the top military level, he does not neglect the tactical aspects. He shows how airmen fought for independence and how they shifted during World War II from their prewar theory of precision bombing toward area bombing. His emphasis is on how the pressure on the air leaders of timetables to end the war as quickly as possible with the fewest American casualties had an adverse impact on both the air crews delivering the bombs and the civilians being bombed.
While there is little new here, Clodfelter adds detail and brings together material derived from both primary and secondary sources. His writing is lively, making some of the less exciting (although important) material easier to deal with. The brief biographies of leading participants are quite good: Clodfelter covers all major, and many minor figures with vivid and concise sketches. Most significantly, he lays out a reasoned, sharp, and balanced critique of the airmen's theory and operations. Little is missing. His overall assessment of the use of bombing is skeptical, summed up by his comment that...