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When Two Centers of Gravity Don't Collide: The Divergence of Clausewitz's Theory and Air Power's Reality in the Strategic Bombing Campaign of World War II

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Military thinkers have searched the theoretical battlefield for a center of gravity which, if successfully attacked, would lead to a decisive end to war. A trio of air power theorists -- Guilio Douhet, Hugh Trenchard, and Billy Mitchell -- inspired strategic bombing as a means to achieve Clausewitzian decisive victory because it could be brought to bear on an opponents center of gravity in a way land or sea attack could not duplicate, They looked at the conduct of war in Clausewitzian terms, with what this essay will later explain as a linear analytical framework. But the world of the 1940s was vastly different from the world Clausewitz knew. His concept of decisive center of gravity was theoretically insightful, and provided Douhet, Trenchard, and Mitchell with a powerful paradigm for explaining strategic bombing. But their linear analytical framework had lost its currency, and the theoretical foundation of strategic bombings decisiveness in the sense Clausewitz explained it was bankrupt. This essay proposes that the strategic bombing campaign in World War II failed to be decisive because its theoretical and doctrinal foundation -- firmly rooted in the Clausewitzian concept of center of gravity -- was based on a dated view of power relationships in the world. Like Clausewitz, the author is not concerned about the individual military instrument in battle -- cavalry versus foot soldier or tank versus artillery. The central issue in this essay is theory, with the Combined Bomber Offensive in World War II as a case study. After outlining Clausewitzs concept of center of gravity and briefly summarizing the theoretical foundation of strategic bombing, he explores how and why the center of gravity theory and reality of the air campaign diverged. Finally, hell comment on the relevance of Clausewitzs center of gravity in formulating national security strategy in the future.

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  • Humanities and History
  • Military Operations, Strategy and Tactics
  • Fire Control and Bombing Systems

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