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Lesson 4 Korean War: Air Power in a Straitjacket (Robert Osgood, Limited War: The Challenge to American Security--pp. 13-27; Conrad Crane, American Airpower Strategy in Korea, 1950-1953)

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Limited War: The Challenge to American Security (pp. 13-27) -Robert Osgood


The Osgood article described a theory of limited war. The article is extremely dense and includes numerous nuggets of wisdom for consideration when considering how to conduct a limited war. Among these is the relationship between military and political leaders. He contends that civilian control of the military is inherent to our belief system and that it carries with it numerous realities. One of these is the idea that the civilian political leaders shouldn’t ask the military to do something it can’t do while at the same time military leaders shouldn’t use means disproportionate to the limited ends sought. Although this article was written in 1950 it contains numerous ideas that directly apply to ongoing operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.


American Airpower Strategy in Korea, 1950-1953 -Conrad Crane


About the Author:

?


Synopsis:

This book describes the struggle to find the best way to use air power in the Korean conflict. Beginning at the end of WWII, it highlights the way military strategists viewed air power before, during and after Korea. While Crane doesn’t suggest air power won the Korean conflict, he does conclude that it was a significant factor and that it eventually helped bring the armistice about.


Main argument:

Determining the right way to use air power’s lethal effects is difficult in a limited war.


Evidence used:

Crane uses numerous primary sources to glean information about the way air power was employed, and its effects, in Korea. Additionally, he includes numerous quotes from major players and leaders in the conflict that suggest their views of air power’s use.


Strengths/weaknesses:

Although this book highlights the difficulties with finding the “best” way to use air power, Crane doesn’t stick closely to a chronological timeline in his book and that makes it difficult to understand what part of the numerous phases of the war he is talking about at any particular time. Additionally, his book deals almost exclusively with air power and doesn’t bring into the lens of perspective numerous other considerations with bearing on the conflict’s outcome (e.g. MacArthur’s leadership traits/style, the US Marine Corps’ fight for survival/relevance, the effects of the military decisions of the ground commanders, including Almond and Ridgeway). Additionally, Crane seems to go down multiple rabbit holes (e.g. the entire section dedicated to the USAF’s recruiting difficulties) without a lot of direction or a sense of overarching purpose to his discussion. For all these reasons, and although there are numerous important chunks of information, his argument and conclusions are difficult to discern.


Synthesis:

The story in Korea highlights the difficulties, not only of limited war, but also of fighting a war with severely limited resources based on severely limited political constraints. Some of these concepts tie back in to the “Revolt of the Admirals” and the fight for budget share after the end of WWII. Also, like the Berlin Airlift, much of what took place in Korea wasn’t learned or based on numerous pre-war exercises…it was learned by trial and error and continuing to search for anything that would work. In neither case did American leaders accurately predict how the conflict would go or what the political constraints would be in order to “adequately” prepare for these problems before the conflict began. Also, like the Berlin Airlift, much of Korea was fought to avoid war (not win it) with the large power near the country in which the conflict takes place. In Korea, the idea is to prevent war with China; in Berlin, the idea is to prevent war with the Soviets. In both cases, America’s leaders appeared ill-equipped to determine solutions based on doctrine or prior experience.


Overall impression:

In my opinion, Crane’s account of air power strategy in Korea leaves much to be desired because it is too exclusive in its examination of the relevant events that bear on the subject. Although there are numerous concepts of value, the erratic timeline and lack of greater context make this book difficult to follow and force me to question its accuracy.


Value:

The value of the book lies in the story of how USAF strategists and leaders had to adapt and overcome in unfamiliar circumstances. Although we will never know the true impact of the bombing campaigns there, this book highlights the struggle to find better ways to use the means of air power at the disposal of the leaders while at the same time trying not to step outside the political constraints placed on the military during the conflict. This book provides several examples of times the lack of agreement or direction requires a military leader to ask the right questions and examine the evidence with a shrewd eye toward finding the leverage necessary to achieve the desired end state.


Class Notes:

Strategy is inherently "circumstantial" thinking...as opposed to doctrine that assumes all things are equal.

The AF struggles with how to relate war's product (destruction) with war's goal (political end state).

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