Air Power, by Stephen Budiansky
(Viking, £20. ISBN 0670912514)
The timing of this book is apt, following the
centenary year of first powered flight. Yet
the Wright brothers could hardly have
envisaged the military ramifications that
their remarkable achievement in 1903
would bring. Within months of their
invention, politicians and Generals alike
were beginning to formulate plans to utilise
air power in combat.
It seems hard to imagine now that for
much of the 20th century, planes were not
so much vehicles for fare-paying passengers
but vehicles to win wars. This very fact
alone played a major part in developing
aviation to the supersonic dimensions it has
achieved today. Developing technology
costs money, and governments, realising the
potential of air power, were only too eager
to provide the funds.
It wasn’t long before machine guns were
attached to the flimsy post-Wright bi-planes
and the advent of the First World War
brought with it legends such as the German
Red Baron. Yet the more sinister side to air
power was revealed with the Zeppelin and
Gotha raids, which killed 1,400 Britons.
It was clear that military aviation was no
respecter of prior definition of combatants.
Civilians were now in the front line. Air
power brought total war, and Blitzkrieg in
1939 showed just how far developments had
come since 1903.
Strategic bombing became
commonplace. For example, the RAF and
USAAF campaign on Germany killed
600,000 civilians, but perhaps as remarkably,
resulted in the loss of 75,000 aircrew.
Budiansky highlights the incompetence of
the men who directed air power operations
during the last century. In Vietnam, General
Curtis LeMay made it clear that success
would come by ‘bombing them back into
the Stone Age’, while a few years later,
General Thomas Power spoke against
restraint in a nuclear exchange with the
words, ‘If at the end of the war, there are
two Americans and one Russian, we win!’
Thankfully, while technology continues
to create terror weapons, it has also provided
pinpoint accuracy, as witnessed in Kosovo
and the Gulf Wars. In the process, aviation
has proved itself able to shorten wars and at
less cost to human life. As Budiansky skilfully
recounts, the same could not be said for air
power during much of the 20th century.
GERALD SEYMOUR –|
AUTHOR OF THE QUARTER
What prompted you to first write a novel?
In some ways, I was born into it. My
father was a good poet and writer; my
mother wrote 40 novels; and my
Godfather was James Hilton, who wrote
Goodbye, Mr. Chips. My younger years
were therefore spent with my mother
sitting with cat on lap writing shorthand,
while my father was upstairs tapping
away on his typewriter. I managed to
suppress my desire to write a novel for
the first ten years at ITN before finally
succumbing to it.
How do you research for your books?
I use libraries for basic research, but it is
people who provide the brilliant
anecdotes and excellent research
material. I look for people at the sharp
end, such as sergeants and corporals
rather than high-ranking officers. A
number of my books have been based
on areas where I worked as a reporter.
I virtually lived in Northern Ireland for
a number of years, which helped with
Harry’s Game, my first novel.
When writing a book, have you got a
preferred place of work and a favoured
It is terribly boring for my wife because
I find myself going into ‘hermit mode’.
I put the blind down and shut myself
away where I won’t be disturbed. My
one respite is an hour’s walk in the
morning with my Labrador. The poor
dog has to listen to that day’s dialogue!
How do you relax?
It’s often hard to relax while writing a
novel as storylines churn in your mind.
However, I love watching Bath Rugby
club play on Saturdays. I am not mad
on travel now, as I filled three passports
working for ITN, but my key holiday is
going to North-West Scotland in the
Spring, and watching golden eagles
Are you currently working on a project?
I often get the jitters once I have finished
a novel, as there is always the insecurity
of whether I’ll develop a storyline to
match or better the last. I am, however,
beginning to formulate a plan for a new
Who is your favorite author?
John Le Carré.
Which book are you reading at present?
An excellent book on the Battle of Monte
Cassino by Matthew Parker. I visited the
place 20 years ago, but had no idea of
the scale of the battle. It really was our
‘Stalingrad’ and makes extraordinary
Gerald Seymour’s new book The
Unknown Soldier, published by Bantam
Press, £12.99 was released on 4th