COL William “Billy” Mitchell resigned from the US Army in 1926. His rank was not commensurate with his courage and impact on the history of the US military and the United States, especially on World War 2. Enlisting as a private in 1899 in the Spanish-American War, he soon earned a commission. After serving in Cuba and the Philippines, he was stationed in Alaska where he began his lifelong love affair with aviation. A signal officer, he took private flying lessons in 1916 and soon became a leader among early Army aviators. In 1918, he commanded all American aviation assets at St Mihiel and led his 1,400+ airplane crews to victory in the air and additionally demonstrated how air power can decimate ground forces. After the war, he continued to clamor for rapid expansion of the size and capability of the air service, convinced that air power would be key to victory in the next world war. In the early 1920s, he sank a captured German battleship with American bombers during naval exercises. Instead of being hailed as a revolutionary and promoted, he was vilified as a heretic by short sighted Army and Navy commanders. He left service in 1926 but continued his public crusade to promote American military air power. Although he died in 1936, his predictions came to pass, and US military air power was undoubtedly decisive in winning World War 2. Tragically, his courage was not recognized until after his death.
Today’s military is facing a very different crisis. Throughout history it has been shown that great military leaders in any venue can carry the day. Mitchell was unafraid to risk his reputation and career for the good of the military and the nation. Today’s DoD has no such hero amongst the ranks of its senior leaders on active duty. Some lower ranking generals bravely spoke out during the debacles in OEF and Afghanistan and were fired. There were no senior generals and admirals willing to make a similar stand on the status and prosecution of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. The result was predictable and unfortunate.
Post-war DoD is failing due to self-inflicted mandates and social misadventures that are destroying recruiting and morale. As a profession, it should be expected to fix itself from within, but this would assume that military leaders have the backbone to take such action. Instead, the overturning of the ill-advised vaccine mandate only happened because politicians forced SECDEF Austin to end it. One general’s protest won’t right the ship. However, if enough generals and admirals collectively protested the politically engineered destruction of the best military the world has ever known, change would be forced. Unfortunately, brave creatures would have to be willing to sacrifice their careers for the greater good.
There are 620 active-duty flag officers authorized in the DoD. Since 2021 the number of active-duty flag officers willing to show such courage is 0. Billy Mitchell must be rolling over in his grave. Thank God it is not 1939. The second half of the 20th century would have turned out more darkly given the character of modern US generals.
John Hughes, MD
Veteran of Iraq, Afghanistan