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Monday, January 16, 2012

LeMay: The Life and Wars of General Curtis LeMay by Warren Kozak

Very readable history

Paperback edition published in October 2011 by Regnery History
392 pages of text. 434 pages total.

Kozak was inspired to write this book by a quote from a college lecturer: "You might not agree with his politics, but if you have a son serving in combat, you want him serving under someone like LeMay." (p. 389) Personally, LeMay has always been a caricature of a general in the periphery of the story the World War II histories and pieces of historical fiction I have read. Kozak does a masterful job of dragging LeMay into the spotlight and showing us the man, not just a caricature or a non-entity on the sidelines.

General Curtis LeMay (1906-1990)
Kozak tells of LeMay's hardscrabble childhood, his determination and his ability to maneuver in an impersonal bureaucracy, be it Ohio State University or the United States Army - he could always find the way up. In a way, the story of LeMay in the Air Force is the story of the Air Force itself. He joined long before it split from the Army, he learned to fly in a bi-plane and ended up promoting the construction of supersonic jet bombers while advising the President. Along the way, he pioneered the bombing methods used by America against Germany and Japan. He also participated in the Berlin Air Lift, strengthened the Strategic Air Command and in a limited way he participated in the Korean War, the Bay of Pigs, the Cuban Missle Crisis and the Vietnam War.

As a devotee of the Bomber, LeMay advocated mass bombings under the theory that says: "If you kill enough of them, they stop fighting." Hard to argue with that blunt logic. And, blunt is exactly the word to describe LeMay - almost completely lacking in social graces, but willing to be the lead pilot in a bombing raid in order to convince his men that his plan would work (only after he had done the math, however).

Kozak is clearly a fan of LeMay (Now, I am a fan of his simple military philosophies) but that does not stop him from being critical, especially of his decision to run for president with George Wallace in 1968 as a Dixiecrat. He explores it all and leaves the reader impressed. LeMay, coming from nothing to command a vast armada of bombers. A man without nuance or subtlety who mastered America's most complex weapons systems and helped to create the Air Force and the Strategic Air Command.

I give this enjoyable, very readable biography 5 stars out of 5.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: LeMay.

Reviewed on January 16, 2012.

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