Is This Space’s ‘Billy Mitchell Moment’? Let’s Hope Not

Some proponents of a separate U.S. Space Force compare today’s situation to the interwar years, when Brig. Gen. Billy Mitchell risked his career to promote military aviation despite an obstinate Army and Navy. But Mitchell’s divisive advocacy tactics and corrosive view of inter-service cooperation would erode the sentiments of interdependence, collaboration, and trust that today’s U.S. military must rely on as it looks to transform military spacepower.

Mitchell is rightfully lauded for his vision as an airpower theorist, but he must also be scrutinized for the divisive tactics he employed to advance his views. Thomas Wildenberg’s book Billy Mitchell’s War with the Navy demonstrates how Mitchell deliberately enflamed interservice rivalries to advance an independent air force. As Wildenberg shows, Mitchell’s willingness to use divisive tactics manifested just one year after the Great War drew to a close. Testifying before the Senate Committee on Military Affairs in 1919, Mitchell accused the Navy of refusing to embrace airpower, which he predicted would ultimately “carry the war to such an extent in the air as to almost make navies useless on the surface of the waters.” Two months later, he returned to Congress to declare that “I think the flying personnel of Naval Aviation are really in favor of [a separate air service] but hesitate to express their opinions because they are all junior officers and because the senior officers are against it largely, I believe, from lack of familiarity of the subject.”

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