In This Review

Fast Tanks and Heavy Bombers: Innovation in the U.S. Army, 1917-1945
Fast Tanks and Heavy Bombers: Innovation in the U.S. Army, 1917-1945
By David E. Johnson
Cornell University Press, 1998, 256 pp

This powerful work by a colonel with ample military and scholarly credentials demolishes a popular myth within the U.S. defense community. Since the end of the Cold War, American military officials have argued that abrupt demobilization, congressional stinginess, and popular indifference in the 1920s and 1930s all enfeebled the U.S. military -- ultimately at an unnecessarily high price in blood and treasure in World War II. For their part, historians considered this rendition of the past a gross oversimplification. Now Johnson bolsters the historians' case and contends that the interwar military culture -- its insularity, its anti-intellectualism, and its commitment to personal loyalty -- created an army that required a drastic organizational overhaul in 1940-41. Even so, American troops were often sent into battle with faulty doctrine, inferior weapons, and scant regard for human life. Johnson convincingly takes aim at the current wishful thinking that a sound defense depends merely on money spent, and that only politicians, not soldiers, are responsible for their lack of preparedness. His powerful and convincing historical analysis offers profound implications for today. Ultimately, the quality of military thought and the openness of military organizations to change will determine its ability to innovate.