Date of Award

Spring 2013

Project Type


Program or Major


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Siobhan Senier


This project interrogates the tension between the military discourse of air war in the twentieth century and the literature that challenged that discourse. Situated within the broader study of war literature, the project moves beyond traditional studies of soldiers fighting ground wars, to explore instead the dynamics of war in the skies above. I examine the paradoxical representation of aerial warfare that has allowed airpower advocates to propose, and conduct, massive airstrikes on cities and civilians, while promising a "cleaner" method of waging war. Suggested in the writings of military theorists Giulio Douhet, Billy Mitchell, and B.H. Liddell Hart, this notion of a clean air war---one that would save lives through its speed and precision---proved seductive throughout the century to politicians, military leaders, aircrews, and the general public. I argue that writers of the twentieth century, and beyond, challenge the assumptions that support this discourse, showing aerial warfare that is messy, prolonged, and imprecise, and that saves lives of privileged populations only by sacrificing those of marginalized peoples.

The air war is perceived as clean, I suggest, when we see neither the aviator nor the targeted populations in this dynamic. Strong forces of spatial and discursive distancing, produced by the verticality of the air war and the rhetoric of chivalry, machine war, or patriotism, combine to hide the aviators' damaged bodies and psyches. Targeted populations also disappear, cloaked in misrepresentation, displaced by precision discourse, or lost in the unreliability of the aerial perspective. The writers in this study challenge this rhetorical disappearance through poetry, fiction, reportage, and memoir, sketching credible counternarratives by making visible both aviators and targeted populations. The primarily, though not exclusively, American writers examined here aim to expose the complexities of the air war to an audience that may never otherwise see it somewhere "over there." By depicting both aviators and target populations, and the rhetorical devices used to obscure them, these writers present powerful counternarratives to a discourse of airpower as a cleaner and more desirable method of waging war.

Available for download on Monday, January 01, 2120