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Updated 31 May 2007

Brigadier General Billy Mitchell
Prophet Without Honor

General Billy Mitchell was the first prominent American to publicly support a vision that strategic air power could dominate future warfare.

His court martial was a pointed example of the dangers of group (Authoritarian) thinking. eg: You must "Go with the herd because the herd can do no wrong." America has never shaken the mind set, witness Abu Ghraib and the predictive tendency so well illustrated in Zimbardo's Stanford Prison Experiment. To be sure, radical Islam today is also caught in this very same trap!

Adorno studied the German people after WWII and described the personality type that supported Hitler so blindly, even to the death. Milgram showed that most Americans share that very personality type. Altemeyer found that most American, Canadian and many European politicians share the Authoritarian trait. Finally, John Dean relates what happened when the trait co-opted the Republican party, the Grand Old Party of Teddy Roosevelt and Lincoln.

To some, John Dean is a snitch. To others he is a patriot of the first order. Think about that. To sanctify conspiracy (jail all snitches, always and without regard to the issues as the authoritarians are want), is to sanctify censureship and dictatorship. Like Mr, Nixon, Mr. Bush did not get away with it, even though he got ever so much closer, to the very precipice in fact. We may still be in danger if bin Laden, or someone of his ilk, pulls off another trick that scares the American public out of its wits and votes in a Bush III of whichever party.

Mitchell's case put the danger of the Authoritarian Personality in sharp relief; his case foreshadowed events in the Bush Adminstration.

Mitchell was outspoken in support of air power, waging a war throughout his career against his superiors who believed that the airplane was best suited for observation. Mitchell had led the Army Signal Corps (forerunner of the Air Force) during World War I. He saw and understood the power of military aviation first hand. In 1921, Mitchell persuaded the Army and the Navy to allow him to demonstrate the capabilities of air warfare by attempting to sink captured German warships. His "bombs" sent the Ostfriesland and other ships to the bottom. This maddened his authoritarian superiors.

Mitchell's continued criticism eventually pushed the military to court-martial him for insubordination in 1925. He resigned his commission rather than accept the terms of the court-marshal. His outspokenness was the issue, not his ideas or whether he was right. The US Air Force did acknowledge the role of aircraft during the ensuing decade.

To add an exclamation point, the Japanese drove home his view on 7 December 1941, at Pearl Harbor when they they used carrier based aircraft to sink a large fraction of America's Pacific fleet. Mitchell was posthumously awarded a special Congressional medal in 1946.

The Mitchell case illustrates the downside of authoritarianism. His superiors, steeped in tradition, could not see the future as well as he could. As a direct result, America was not prepared as well as it should have been in 1941.

Unfortunately, the authoritarian personality includes 65-80% of all of us [ Milgram]. Most are not as radical as the al Qa'ida cadres. Nevertheless, as the Mitchell case shows, authoritarians more often than not impede progress.

Some marks of the authoritarian personality are that rarely is there any looking back, introspection, or learning from examples (even from outright failure.) In a typical authoritarian response, Mitchell was court marshaled for his "insubordination."

An authoritarian personality would also behave as President Bush appears to--serene in making decisions that others in his place had to mull over extensively before acting. His approach to the Iraq War is just one example. A true authoritarian feels little remorse for his/her mistakes. His postwar justification for going to war boiled down to: "We got rid of a despot." If this is really true, is he ready to take on the world's remaining ruling despots? Of course not. In true authoritarian style, he will make no apology for leading us all astray going into Iraq.

From the perspective of terrorism, 65-80% of all kids have a built-in vulnerability, which, if the mullahs can catch them early enough, can be molded into robotic terrorist personalities instead of productive doctors, accountants, tradespeople, citizens, and bureaucrats for example. This has nothing to do with language, ethnicity, economics, or national origin. It has everything to do with a religion that is authoritarian by nature that reinforces a genetic predisposition. But religion is not necessary either, it is just that many religious leaders of whatever sect can be obsessed over their own righteousness. Some may not even know that. Some of them are the most dangerous--the Sociopaths.

Islam has its back against the wall of modernization. Viewed from a detached distance and with a lot of hindsight, one could logically expect Islam to resort to terror as their last and only weapon.

Now comes a crucial point. Authoritarians rarely learn much from their mistakes. This is one reason why history tends to repeat itself in principle, leading to similar events, sequences, and consequences. Do we have an authoritarian in each room of the White House? Is each secretary, except possibly Powell, also an authoritarian? What about the VP and other key players? The neoconservatives, with their "America-first-and-only" world view, wear the trappings for authoritarian personalities.

Terrorism is an "asymmetric war", but only on the face of it. Underneath, it is like the blind "A" fighting the blind "B" where "A" is naive, poor, weak, while "B" is also naive but rich and strong. It is not too late to absorb this experience as a lesson. Will we as a nation? Not soon, we fear!

Having absorbed all this, what can we do as individuals and as a nation? This question is our imperative. Certainly a new approach will be needed if we are to avoid endless cycles of grave and catastrophic consequences for too many people on earth.

What about early education that teaches thinking, using natural history, psychology, sociology, and anthropology as backdrops for arts, sciences, literature, world history, philosophy, and the world's great religions? Too many students in the world gain knowledge by rote, even in the best of societies.

Are you up to running for your local school board?

For more on Brigidier General Billy Mitchell see: Billy Mitchell

Interestingly, this web site concludes with the following disclaimer:

"The conclusions and opinions expressed in this document are those of the author cultivated in the freedom of expression, academic environment of Air University (sic). They do not reflect the official position of the US Government, Department of Defense, the United States Air Force or the Air University."

This is, of course, common practice and salutes the First Amendment. It also somewhat protects the writer from possible retribution. These are both good things. Unfortunately, disclaimers are also tacit acknowledgments that we in America live in an authoritarian world. Disclaimers, while protecting the writers, are too often bows to higher powers where money and influence buy almost anything.


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