Date Thesis Awarded

4-2014

Document Type

Honors Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelors of Arts (BA)

Department

History

Advisor

Hiroshi Kitamura

Committee Member

Eric Han

Committee Member

Beverly Peterson

Abstract

By the end of the Second World War, America possessed a superior air force and integrated technology as part of its military strategy. US air power and the bombing of cities were developed, perfected, and utilized to bring Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan to their knees. This success led to the creation of the US Air Force (USAF) as an independent branch from the Army, which suggested that military and political leaders acknowledged not only the advantages of air power but also the “American way of war”: a military strategy emphasizing on finesse, sophistication, and efficiency in the post-war world. However, during the Korean War, the US unexpectedly struggled to handle the complex challenges in regional conflicts. This thesis will examine these complexities by understanding how and why there was a discrepancy between popular belief in the superior capability of air power and the USAF’s actual performance against the Chinese.

Although a great number of scholars have written about and shed enormous insight on the war, there are still unanswered questions. Why did US policymakers consider air power such an attractive solution for its military interventions in foreign countries? Did air power actually escalate rather than diffuse the hostilities between China and the US? What is the significance of air power, and more broadly, technology in relation to the larger debates on how the US decides its level of military interventions in foreign countries?

Questions like these are not unique to the Korean War but are still relevant in our time. This thesis will contribute to the existing literature by presenting a framework through which to analyze how and why technological advantages were not sufficient in consolidating and defending US gains during the Korean War. More specifically, I will argue that US military technology alone failed to prevent Chinese successes because of three interrelated factors: technology, politics, and the will to make necessary sacrifices. This thesis will analyze the interrelationships of these three factors in order to understand how their dynamics conflicted or cooperated with one another. Furthermore, by examining why the US aerial bombing effort failed to prevent China’s counterattack, the framework will attempt to explain how and why this particular air campaign during the Korean War is a clear example of the challenges the US faces when it involves itself in subsequent regional conflicts. Finally, the thesis will highlight the dangers of a technologically driven military strategy and dispel any illusion that waging war is easy and straightforward.

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