DREAM OF CIVILIZED WARFARE: World War I Flying Aces and the American Imagination
LINDA R. ROBERTSON, Professor of Media & Society
Linda R. Robertson argues that the development of the United States as a global military power arose from the influence of an image of air combat carefully constructed during World War I to mask the sordid realities of modern ground warfare. The Dream of Civilized Warfare carries this trajectory to its logical end, tracing the long history of the American desire to exert the nation's will throughout the world without having to risk the lives of ground soldiers-a theme that continues to reverberate in public discussions, media portrayals, and policy decisions today.
Histories of American air power usually focus on World War II, when the air force became the foundation for the military strength of the United States. The equally fascinating story of World War I air combat is often relegated to a footnote, but it was the earlier war that first inspired the vision of the United States attaining dominance in world affairs through a massive air force. In The Dream of Civilized Warfare, Robertson presents the compelling story of the creation of the first American air force-and how, through the propaganda of the flying ace, a vision of "clean" or civilized combat was sold to politicians and the public.
During World War I, air combat came to epitomize American ingenuity, technological superiority, adventure, leadership, and teamwork. Robertson reveals how the romantic and chivalric imagery associated with flying aces was a product of intentional propaganda and popular culture. Examining aviation history, military battles, films, literature, and political events, she looks at how the American public's imagination was shaped-how flying aces offered not only a symbol of warfare in stark contrast to the muddy, brutal world of the trenches, but also a distraction to an American public resistant to both intervention in a European conflict and the new practice of conscription.