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Proclaiming Airpower: Air Force Narratives and American Public Opinion from 1917 to 2014

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This report examines the evolution and interaction of U.S. Air Force narratives and popular attitudes toward civil and military aviation over the past century from the golden age of aviation in the first half of the 20th century, when flight and airpower captured the American public s imagination, to 2014, when aviation had long since become taken for granted. The study first examines the social currency of aviation and airpower, drawing on a historical review, the frequency with which airmen appeared on the cover of Time magazine during the period, and the frequency with which airpower and aviation concepts appeared in books. It then examines Air Force narratives, including the Air Force s origin story as well as the dominant ideas uniting the organization at various points in its history. Finally, drawing on polling data from more than 50 opinion surveys conducted over the past 80 years, the study traces the evolution of the American public s attitudes toward the Air Force since 1935. The American public today does not view airpower or the Air Force with the same fascination and enthusiasm that it did during the golden age of aviation, but the report concludes that shortcomings in Air Force narratives are not to blame Airpower s enormous social currency during the first half of the 20th century was due to real-world events and technological advances, not narratives. However, the report emphasizes that an effective narrative is still important as a means to help the public and key decisionmakers understand the contributions that airpower makes to U.S. national security today, and offers recommendations for the Air Force in this regard.

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  • Sociology and Law
  • Humanities and History
  • Military Operations, Strategy and Tactics

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