air power

Victory Through Air Power

Victory Through Air Power is a 1942 book by Alexander P. de Seversky, and a 1943 Walt Disney Technicolor animated feature film based on the book.

The film received an Academy Award nomination for Best Music Score of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture, but lost to "The Song of Bernadette".

The book

Appearing less than six months after the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 and the United States' entry into World War II, the book was extremely popular, influential, and controversial. Seversky advocated the formation of an independent air force, the development of long-range bombers (meaning an intercontinental range of 3,000 miles or more) and a commitment to strategic use of air power (as opposed to its then-traditional use as cover or support for ground-based operations). His plans implicitly involved diversion of resources away from current war operations.

Author background

Alexander P. de Seversky began his military life at a young age. After serving in the Imperial Russian Navy, he received high honors and was the ace in the Navy after engaging in over 57 aerial combats. Seversky released "Victory Through Air Power" in 1942, and explained his theories of aviation and long-range bombing as influenced by General Billy Mitchell.

Seversky argued that:

  1. "The rapid expansion of the range and striking power of military aviation makes it certain that the United States will be as exposed to destruction from the air, within a predictable period, as are the British Isles today;"
  2. Those who deny this possibility are exhibiting something like a "Maginot line mentality;"
  3. The U. S. must begin preparing immediately for "an interhemispheric war direct across oceans;"
  4. The U. S. must become the dominant air-power nation, "even as England in its prime was the dominant sea-power nation of the world."

On May 3, 1942, Fletcher Pratt reviewed the book, saying:

"No one has produced a more intelligent and comprehensive analysis of any feature of the world struggle. Probably nobody has written anything more truly prophetic; and no one is more wrongheaded."

On May 4, 1942 it appeared on the New York Times bestseller list, reaching No. 1 on the list in mid-August and staying there for four weeks. In the May 10 "Speaking of Books" column, J. D. A. bracketed it with Mein Kampf and Lieut. Col. Kernan's Defense Will Not Win the War to illustrate his point that

"In no other war have books played such an important part… Books are not only supplying information. They are furnishing weapons for the successful prosecution of the war."

The film

The popular film maker Walt Disney read the book and felt that its message was so important that he personally financed the animated production of "Victory Through Air Power." The film was primarily created to express Seversky’s theories to government officials and the public. Movie critic Richard Schickel says that Disney "pushed the film out in a hurry, even setting aside his distrust of limited animation under the impulses of urgency." (The only obvious use of limited animation, however, is in diagrammatic illustrations of Seversky's talking points. These illustrations often feature continuous flowing streams of iconic aircraft, forming bridges or shields, or war material moving continuously along assembly lines.) It was not until 1945 Disney was able to pay off his 1.2 million dollar war film deficit.

On July 11, 1943 the New York Times devoted a half page, "Victory from the Air," to a feature consisting of pictures of scenes from the film with short captions. This was possibly the first time that such skilled use of visual description had been placed at the service of an abstract political argument.

It is one thing to hear someone say that against modern bombers, "bristling with armament… small single-seater fighters will find themselves helpless, for their guns are not maneuverable—they are fixed and can only fire forward." It is quite another to have this accompanied by vivid animations of swastika-tailed fighters jockeying for position and being shot down by beam-like animated blasts of fire from a bomber whose guns are "always in firing position."

One of the counter-arguments to air-power advocacy was the vastly inferior firepower of aircraft compared with, say, battleships. Seversky implicitly counters this by predicting the appearance of, or advocating the development of a number of advanced weapons that would make air-based weaponry as effective as land- or sea-based weaponry. His depiction how bombs could be used to destroy dams was either prophetic or well-informed. In general, Seversky asserts that bombs carried by aircraft will increase rapidly in size and destructive power. One diagram shows a man standing next to a 2000-pound bomb; they are about equally tall. As the narrator talks, the field of view widens to show 4000, 6000, 8000, and 10000-pound bombs, each taller than the last, ultimately dwarfing the human. (If Seversky had any inkling of the possibility of nuclear weapons, he did not reveal it).

Schickel quotes film critic James Agee as hoping that

The closing sequence of the film contains some technically impressive animation sequences of airmen scrambling their intercontinental bombers from an Alaskan airfield. They take off under a darkened sky in pouring rain; their landing gear splashes through puddles. A Tlingit totem pole that is (somehow) in the foreground seems to resemble an American eagle. A map shows the destination to be Japan, airmen are seen using navigational instruments, the streets of a city pass beneath the bomb bay doors, and bombs are dropped. There are scenes of dramatic explosions destroying industrial buildings and machines, but, as James Agee commented, no human beings are shown, even in close views of the interiors of levelled factories. The scene then fades into images of the globe of the world with an eagle repeatedly plunging its talons into an octopus, whose body centered on Japan and whose tentacles reach out across nearby territory. After a struggle, the sky clears, the music softens, and the light of a beautiful sunrise shows us a dead octopus and an eagle soaring gracefully. The eagle lands on top of a mast bearing a forty-eight-star American flag, waving realistically in the wind as the movie ends.

In addition to "Victory Through Air Power," Disney created “Donald Gets Drafted,” “Der Fuehrer’s Face,” and various training videos for the military.

Impact of the film

On December 8th, 1941, Disney studios were essentially converted into a propaganda machine for the United States government. While most World War II films were created for training purposes, films such as “Victory Through Air Power” were created to catch the attention of government officials and to build public morale among the U.S. and allied powers. Among the notables who decided after seeing the film that Seversky and Disney knew what they were talking about were Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt. The Disney studio sent a print for them to view when they were attending the Quebec Conference. According to Leonard Maltin, "it changed FDR's way of thinking—he agreed that Seversky was right." Maltin also adds that "it was only after Roosevelt saw Victory Through Air Power that our country made the commitment to long-range bombing. Roosevelt recognized that film was an effective way to teach and Disney could provide Washington with high quality information. The American people were becoming united and Disney was able to inform them of the situation without presenting excessive chaos, as cartoons often do. The animation was popular among soldiers and was superior to other documentary films and written instructions at the time. Throughout the rest of WWII, the Disney characters effectively acted as ambassadors to the world.

“Victory Through Air Power” played a significant role for the Disney Corporation because it was the true beginning of educational films. The educational films would be, and still are, continually produced and used for the military, schools, and factory instruction. The company learned how to effectively communicate their ideas and efficiently produce the films while introducing the Disney characters to millions of people worldwide.

After its release and re-release in 1943 and 1944, the film received no theatrical release for sixty years, perhaps because it was blatant propaganda, or perhaps because it was deemed offensive to Germans and Japanese. (It was, however, available in 16 mm prints and occasionally screened in film history retrospectives. Additionally, the introductory "history-of-aviation" scene was excerpted in various episodes of the Disney anthology series on TV). In 2004 the Disney Studios released it on DVD as part of a Wartime collection in the Walt Disney Treasures DVD series. Somewhat ironically, after the war, Disney's characters, especially Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck, were enthusiastically received in Japan and Germany, where they remain immensely popular today. In the beginning of the Bugs Bunny cartoon with Falling Hare, Bugs is reading "Victory Thru Hare Power," where he reads about the gremlins.


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  • John Bear, (1992). The #1 New York Times Best Seller: intriguing facts about the 484 books that have been #1 New York Times bestsellers since the first list, 50 years ago, Berkeley: Ten Speed Press.

See also

External links

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