Captain Edward V. Rickenbacker, American World War I flying ace. CREDIT: <a href="">U.S. Air Force</a>
Captain Edward V. Rickenbacker, American World War I flying ace. CREDIT: U.S. Air Force

The Living Legacy of WWI: Airpower During the First World War, with Philip Caruso

Apr 10, 2018

"World War I was the beginning of what we now consider to be one of the cornerstones of the ways in which we engage in war," says Major Caruso. "At that time air power was relatively new, it was a nascent technology, but now most countries have some form of air force. There are recent conflicts that have been fought almost entirely via air power." He goes on to discuss the evolution of international humanitarian law with respect to air power.

REED BONADONNA: This is Reed Bonadonna speaking. I am talking to Philip Caruso, who is one of the selected fellows for the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs' First World War legacy project. His subject is air power.

It is the 8th of March. I am speaking from the Carnegie Council building in New York City. Where are you talking from, Philip?

PHILIP CARUSO: I am at the Harvard Law School in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

REED BONADONNA: Do you want to start off by introducing yourself and your military background and how you have come to where you are now, both as a Carnegie Council Fellow and at the Harvard Law School?

PHILIP CARUSO: Yes. My name is Phil Caruso. I am currently wrapping up my law and business degrees at Harvard, speaking from Harvard Law School today. Prior to matriculation here, I served on active duty in the U.S. Air Force for seven years and have continued my service as a reservist since then.

I did Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) in college, and prior to that what spurred my decision to join was in high school I was a sophomore on September 11, 2001, and that was of course a very pivotal time for the United States and for the world more broadly. I was just reaching that age—15, 16 years old—where I was thinking more about what I wanted to be and what I wanted to do in my life.

At that particular moment in time, the way that the people of the United States united and the patriotism that was in the air and the role models that we saw making decisions to serve, for example, Pat Tillman, who turned down a multimillion-dollar National Football League (NFL) contract to join the Army in 2002, was a really motivating factor for someone like me who thought that was a great thing. Patriotism was something that I always kind of felt. I did not have parents who were in the military, but trying to find something that I was really interested in and meant a lot to me was certainly on my mind at that point, and the military seemed like a great opportunity to really find fulfillment and do something that I thought mattered, that I thought was going to be important.

At that point, I talked to my parents, told them I wanted to join the military. They had some reservations at first and certainly wanted me to go to college. What we ended up compromising on was that I would apply to college and try to take advantage of the hard work I had put in in high school, but I would also do ROTC with the goal of eventually commissioning as an officer in the U.S. military.

I originally wanted to be a Marine and applied for Navy ROTC. My parents had convinced me initially to apply for the Air Force as a backup, to make sure I had a scholarship. I think they were hoping that by joining the Air Force I could find a job or position in the military that might expose me to less harm, considering at that point—this is 2003—we had just launched the invasion of Iraq; obviously, the war in Afghanistan had picked up as well.

What ended up happening was is when I was in my medical clearance process, the Marine Corps came back and said my vision was too bad. The Air Force did not have a problem with it, and I scratched my head and was puzzled with that, but I said, "Okay, we'll take it and press on."

I ended up enrolling in Air Force ROTC at Cornell as an undergrad. I spent four years there. I initially went in thinking I wanted to do some sort of engineering. I had really enjoyed my math and science classes in high school and thought I wanted to be an engineer, so I majored in that in college.

While I was in college, 2004−2008, the ground wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan were picking up significantly. I came to the conclusion that if I really felt like I was going to do my part and get the full experience, that I wanted to do something that would let me participate in those operations. Because my vision was not great, I was never going to be a pilot even if I wanted to be. I had a family friend who worked in the part of the Air Force that did human intelligence/ground intelligence-type roles, and also in a deployed environment in a conflict zone, was focused on air base defense. I thought that seemed like a great opportunity and applied for that job and got it.

I went into the Air Force on active duty in 2008. I spent, as I mentioned before, seven years on active duty, deployed twice to Afghanistan, once in 2011 and once in 2014. I was able to experience what I had signed up for, I think, and had some great leadership experiences as well, and developed a lot along the way as a person and certainly as somebody who is interested in leadership and in learning.

I had always wanted to go to grad school. After seven years, I realized it was going to be now or never, and decided to apply to business schools and law schools and see—I threw a lot of things at the wall and saw what stuck. As it turned out, I was very fortunately accepted to Harvard. I accepted those admissions and, four or five years later, here I am.

While I have been here at Harvard Law School thinking about what kind of law I found particularly interesting, as you can imagine, national security law and international law broadly very much appealed to me as an area that I could focus on and study and structure my classes around at least, and get to know those professors, etc. At the same time, I also thought quite a bit about what my future career might hold and what I would like to do. While I am no longer on active duty in the military, I still very much believe in public service and am very much interested in pursuing future work in the national security field.

Through that I thought about what would prepare me better for that and how I would be able to reach like-minded people who are thinking very hard about the problems that we as a country and as a world are going to face, and through that I started getting involved in groups and meeting people from think tanks and organizations like the Carnegie Council.

What ended up happening was I met someone named Devin Stewart, who is one of the senior fellows at the Carnegie Council, who was planning an Asia Dialogues program last year and was looking for interested researchers to go on a trip with him to Indonesia to focus on religious intolerance in Indonesia. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to go with him and do some research on specifically religion and counterterrorism in Indonesia.

Through that whole experience, I got better affiliated and acquainted with the Carnegie Council, and when I saw this program announced it seemed like an amazing opportunity as well. It is certainly a great venue for me to focus on some of my interests in things like air power and international law.

I think going forward, while the laws of armed conflict or what we call international humanitarian law are fairly well-established at this point, as technology develops and improves, we are constantly finding—I don't want to say loopholes, but things where the very clean legal lines that had been drawn in the past do not look as clean anymore for decision-making. At the same time, we found, certainly in the military and in the intelligence community, that the law influences the things that we do and the operational decisions that are made on a daily basis. So getting a better understanding and exploring the future of international law and how it applies specifically to air power, I think is going to be a very interesting and dynamic field to come. This project was a great way for me to pursue that.

REED BONADONNA: Wow. That's great.

The World War I project you are working on now, had you been interested in World War I aviation specifically before you saw the Carnegie Council announcement, or when you saw that we were looking for work on the First World War you thought, Oh, World War I and air power would be an interesting topic, and that is when it kicked off?

PHILIP CARUSO: When I took my first international law class here at Harvard, one of the things that was impressed upon me was the relatively nascent extent of international law and how it relates to armed conflict. As a civilization and a world, we have only broached this topic very seriously over the last 100, 120 years or so. The things that we consider to be old and established, things like the Hague Convention and the Geneva Conventions, are actually relatively new in the long history of warfare.

As a young Air Force officer, and certainly somebody who as a student here is thinking about how the laws change and evolve and where the future of the legal profession is going to be in terms of examining these issues, it occurred to me very early on that World War I was sort of a defining moment, I think, for international humanitarian law broadly. It was one of the first incredibly disastrous wars that the developed world, the civilized world, at that point was obviously dramatically affected by. Europe was still one of the major powers of the world, the countries in Europe, as well as the United States, and the war was so broad in scope and so costly in lives and destruction that international law, and certainly how we think about war worldwide, was changed forever.

One of the most interesting things to me about World War I, and something that I have thought about for a while, is that at the same time, in addition to how we as a world were learning about the rules by which we engage in warfare and the laws that we seek to uphold, it was also the birth of air power. World War I was the beginning of what we now consider to be one of the cornerstones of the ways in which we engage in war. At that time air power was relatively new, it was a nascent technology, but now most countries have some form of air force. There are recent conflicts that have been fought almost entirely via air power. Certainly, there are examples from the 1990s where the United States was engaged in operations with NATO in Bosnia and Kosovo where air power played a decisive role, despite the fact that there was engagement happening on the ground.

All of that, I think, has contributed to my interest in this area. I think, as technology evolves with regard to the types of weapons that we have, the types of aircraft that we are using these days, not only in the United States but around the world, are really pushing the limits faster than, I think, a lot of other types of military hardware technology.

I would argue that international law and legal doctrine broadly is also very much trying to evolve, with things like electronic surveillance and cybersecurity as well, and those are also, I think, really important emerging areas for international law and national security topics. But I think air power and the technology and the advances that have occurred over the last hundred years, and will continue to occur, are a really fascinating, rapidly evolving, dynamic area, and I am thrilled to have the opportunity to study it with the Carnegie Council.

REED BONADONNA: So are we, that we are able to grant you this opportunity and some support from us.

As you are getting into your research, anything unexpected in terms of obstacles or support, or things you have learned as you have delved into this topic and are preparing to write about it?

PHILIP CARUSO: I think what I find the most challenging, and perhaps even the most fascinating, about this research is just really trying to identify the areas where international humanitarian law is evolving, the areas where there will be more analysis and doctrinal change in the coming years. It is really hard to identify what that is.

In a sense, one of the things that I do, obviously step one in this sort of project, is to understand the history of what has happened, the history of air power, the history of air power in the United States, which of course is my focus, and then international law, and how those things have all meshed together.

One of the things that I have found—and I think many people would agree with this—is that the law tends to lag the reality of what is happening. The law ends up evolving to practical problems and situations that are happening in the air, so to speak, or on the ground, or whatever it may be, in terms of conflict. What ends up happening is that there are some sort of loopholes or areas of the law that really do not address something that is happening in warfare on a day-to-day basis around the world, and eventually, because of the effects of the fact that there is no legal rule or regime that addresses that, the world comes together in one way or another, or a norm is developed by countries that are leaders in this space, like the United States, that ends up evolving into customary international law.

When I try to think about where international humanitarian law is headed with respect to air power, essentially the question that I am asking is: What are the things that we do not know or the problems that we have not faced that we are going to face in the future? The corollary to that is: What is the law going to be to address that, or where should it be headed? Ultimately, while there is a lot of strength and utility in retroactive legal analysis and coming up with a rule that best addresses what is happening, in a perfect world, I think, we would also see these sorts of problems develop and have a law in place to face them.

Just to give you a quick example that is historical in nature but at the time was very much one of these loopholes, was between World War I and World War II—and I think in World War II it was particularly acute—is how countries should treat downed pilots or somebody who had bailed out of an aircraft and was parachuting to the ground. On the ground, when soldiers would engage each other, whether a soldier intended to surrender or was surrendering or was rendered out of the action for one reason or another is relatively transparent. There would be a face-to-face interaction, a soldier's ability to detect what an enemy soldier was doing would be pretty straightforward. However, from the perspective of pilots who are engaged in aerial combat, there really was no rule, especially all the way up through World War II, about how pilots should treat enemies that had bailed out.

What ended up happening was different countries adopted different rules. The Japanese Air Force and Navy, for example, during World War II was known to typically shoot at and try to kill parachuting U.S. or allied pilots if they had been shot down. Their perspective on it was that those pilots were still combatants at that time, were not surrendering, or were not rendered out of action for purposes of the battle. In addition, there was a perception that they might return to battle, they might be rescued, and they might become combatants again, and so they were not off limits, so to speak, for engagement, even though they were relatively defenseless as parachutists.

There were other theories. The Germans, for example, also targeted enemy pilots, but typically targeted them more when they were parachuting over enemy territory, where it was clear that they would be able to return to action. For example, a German pilot shoots down a Royal Air Force pilot during the Battle of Britain over Great Britain. The German pilot was more likely—and again, like I said, there was no established law at this time that those pilots were adhering to or were focused on—to try to shoot at the parachuting British pilot, knowing that he or she would return to combat in the near future.

Whereas, if that enemy pilot, Allied pilot, was parachuting over Germany, the likelihood that that pilot would be captured immediately upon hitting the ground was much higher. Some German pilots were known to essentially refrain from targeting Allied air crews that were parachuting down over Germany, knowing that they would be captured and would be interrogated and would have intelligence value, etc.

These types of things had not been resolved, or even really considered, certainly during World War I. They were initially considered in 1922 by a commission of jurists that met at The Hague to discuss some draft rules of air warfare, but they ended up never coming into force.

It really was not formally until 1977, when Additional Protocol I of the Geneva Conventions was signed, that addressing this issue of parachutists, for example, air crews that were parachuting, was formally addressed. At that point, Article 42 was passed that said: "No person parachuting from an aircraft in distress shall be made the object of attack during his descent."

All the while, while interpreting the combatant status or surrender status of enemy air crews was dealt with differently by different countries, airborne soldiers, insertions—for example, the assault on Normandy on D-Day or Operation Market Garden—parachutists were completely excluded from any of these considerations and were free to be targeted as combatants, even while descending and relatively defenseless in their parachutes. So there was a distinction between somebody parachuting in terms of an airborne assault versus a downed air crew that had parachuted out of an aircraft.

It really was not until (1) that you have those technologies; (2) that you have a strategic military doctrine, tactical doctrine, that makes use of those technologies, like parachutes; and then (3) actual warfare, actual combat, where the situation comes up where the legal distinction of how to marry the realities of all that to the existing laws of armed conflict becomes a question. As I just mentioned, ultimately that question was not formally resolved until 1977, almost 70 years after what we consider to be the first use of American air power in combat.

REED BONADONNA: This is an example of the next question I was going to ask, which is: A hundred years ago, people are confronted with this new phenomenon, the airplane, in warfare, air power, bombing, particularly that—maybe of course planes also fight each other—but, for some reason, the ethical and legal problems seem to be a bit less besetting when they do that than when they engage targets on the ground.

In what other ways—and, I think, in a sense, you have already described one—can a consideration of the example of people being confronted with this new thing, air power, a hundred years ago inform us?

Here we are today, and we seem to be going through a very significant change in air power. The biggest news of all may be the unmanned aircraft, but the precision with which munitions, steel on target, can be delivered from the air is also something new, and maybe has its good and bad aspects. So a hundred years later we are going through another kind of revolutionary period, another Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA), because of the changes in air power, maybe the most significant one that we have seen since the first advent of air power.

How does studying World War I air power help us to resolve some of the doctrinal and legal problems that you have alluded to in our own time that could be considered part of the legacy of World War I?

PHILIP CARUSO: Essentially, the way the international humanitarian law has evolved had a lot to think about the use of air power. Especially early on, during World War I, essentially how the belligerents approached it was trying to apply existing laws of war. At that point, after 1899 there was the Hague Conference, so there was a framework in place of how war should be waged, at least under customary law. The way the belligerents for the most part thought of air power in the case of a combat environment was really applying the laws of war on land and the laws of war in the sea and trying to draw comparisons to those realms of combat.

The challenges that air power in World War I initially presented—World War I had been prefaced with similar challenges involving balloons. World War I was obviously the dawn of fixed-wing aircraft in combat, and I would say they shared similar types of concerns that the balloons had brought up.

But essentially, let's just take [two of] the four most basic important characteristics of a kinetic attack or attacking the enemy under international humanitarian law: (1) we have the doctrine of necessity, that if a target is going to be struck, it is a valid and necessary military target versus civilian target; (2) the doctrine of discrimination or distinction, that military targets and civilian targets are going to be identified separately and, if there is going to be a strike, that that strike is capable of hitting the military target versus the civilian target. This one was probably key to the development of aircraft and trying to figure out for legal purposes what types of weapons were legal under the laws of war at that time.

Really the first international law that dealt with air power was at the first Hague Conference in 1899, in which the parties that were there were at that time focused on balloons but recognized the challenge of distinction and being able to target a specific military target from the air with a weapon. As I said, that was with balloons, but the same applied to aircraft. They identified a series of challenges that made that nearly impossible at the time.

The first would be the fact that launching any kind of projectile from the air was highly risky and inaccurate for the purposes of discriminating between civilian targets and military targets. Weapons at that point did not technically have propulsion, so they were gravity weapons that would fall. Of course, weapons that were falling were not being guided after they were launched, so the risk of human error in assessing the distance and the weather conditions, etc., meant that the odds of striking a civilian target that may have had a legitimate military target mixed in were relatively low, so the risk to civilians was extremely high.

So at that Hague Conference in 1899 the first restrictions on air power were emplaced. That was a restriction that was temporary—it lasted only five years—on the use of any kind of projectiles or explosives from balloons. Eventually it became customary international law. But the problem persisted into World War I, where the weapons—there was some advancement in weapons, in the sense that, for example, fixed-wing aircraft in World War I had machine guns mounted on them, and machine guns fired bullets, projectiles that could be aimed with more accuracy than just a bomb or a projectile.

But World War I also brought the advent of the bomber. There were aircraft that were designed to be bombers and that saw significant combat, day and night combat, and dropped unguided projectiles without propulsion, and there were significant civilian casualties, especially in the context of what was called the "Great War." It was considered a total war, and there were egregious violations of what was even then international law, because civilian and military targets were typically not discriminated against and distinguished between each other in the way that they are today.

Going forward, I think what we learned from that, or one of the key things that we learned from World War I, was the need to develop weapons and technology in a way that allowed us—and by "us" I mean the United States but also the other militaries in other countries around the world—more broadly to employ weapons consistently with the law of armed conflict, with international humanitarian law. While there are certainly exceptions, and there were certainly problems discriminating between civilian and military targets in World War II, I think that has improved dramatically over time, and I think that has also been a key consideration in the types of technologies and the types of weapons that we have sought to develop.

A more recent example, which I would trace all the way back to this experience in World War I, is the development of the small-diameter bomb, the 250-pound bomb. Previously the United States had not developed bombs that small. It developed weapons that were guided by multiple means—such as laser guided, optically guided, Global Positioning System (GPS) guided, etc.—but the small size of the bomb, in addition to the guidance capabilities that had been developed over time, allowed U.S. aircraft and Allied aircraft to target with pinpoint accuracy military targets to minimize the risks of collateral damage or civilian casualties.

The same goes for missile technology as well, and certainly in the example that you mentioned of unmanned aircraft, such as remotely piloted aircraft that the U.S. military uses. They are armed exclusively with precision weapons, Hellfire missiles for example, that are precision-guided missiles. They also carry a limited warhead that can target even individuals in some cases without creating collateral damage or civilian casualties if civilians are nearby, as well as gravity bombs that have similar guidance capabilities.

That is just one example, but I think that characteristic has been incredibly important over time. I think it says a lot about the way that the United States, and other countries as well, have chosen to evolve their doctrines of air power. In a sense, the laws of war and the requirements of international humanitarian law have played a significant role, if not a decisive role, in the development of the technologies that we use today.

REED BONADONNA: Interesting. Maybe I am getting this wrong, but it sounds like there is kind of a leapfrog effect because the technology creates ethical and legal challenges for the use of force, but then sometimes the technology as it develops can also help to address some of those problems, to make the use of force more doable within the context of law and military ethics.

PHILIP CARUSO: Yes. I think when you think about the development of technology and the examples I just gave, the way that they have responded to the laws of war, at the same time, very frequently they often create new questions, and I think that is what we have seen. A lot of the disputes about the use of remotely piloted aircraft and targeted strikes and the debate about those weapons in international law have pivoted for the most part away from the actual characteristics of conducting an armed conflict legally, in terms of the kinetic strikes for example, and have shifted very much to discussions of whether or not those strikes are valid under international law in the first place. What I mean by that is any strike, whether it is a drone, as they are typically called in the media, or a fixed-wing aircraft or a missile strike or whatever it may be.

There is a lot of controversy over targeting non-state actors that are within the sovereign territory of states.

In addition to international humanitarian law and the specific laws that address the conduct of armed conflict, we have added additional layers of law. We have added the UN Charter, for example, which is customary international law in the sense that almost everything that the United Nations has passed over time or that was written into the original Charter is bona fide international law. One of those things that is typically debated hotly over when you talk about targeted strikes is whether the use of force is justified under the UN Charter.

The UN Charter, under Article 2(4), basically says that use of force is not justified. But there are two exceptions to that: the first is the UN's Chapter 7 authority, in which the Security Council by resolution can authorize use of force; the second is Article 51, which is self-defense and collective self-defense, which allows sovereign states to defend themselves if attacked, even though that attack may be itself illegal under international law. The interpretation of Article 51 and the degree to which Article 51 under international law authorizes or allows legally targeted strikes against non-state actors like terrorists is very much a hotly debated topic. Unfortunately, I think it has played out specifically with respect to the use of remotely piloted aircraft by the United States and other countries.

I would point out, though, that, regardless of the type of technology used, I think that debate is ongoing, important, and relevant. Technology, I think, certainly creates opportunities to conduct those types of operations that were not necessarily envisioned at the time. But those issues are different from the types of weapons that we are using and the extent to which there are civilian casualties and whether a conflict itself is being conducted within the limits of the law of armed conflict.

REED BONADONNA: Good answer.

Have you heard of this book? It is called The American Way of Bombing: Changing Ethical and Legal Norms from Flying Fortresses to Drones. Have you come across that?

PHILIP CARUSO: I have not come across that book specifically, but there is no shortage of discussion on these issues. It really is one of the most hotly debated topics in international law today.

REED BONADONNA: This one was actually put out by Cornell University Press, your alma mater. One of the editors is a Cornell professor named Matthew Evangelista. The first article is by a scholar named Tami Davis Biddle. She teaches at the Army War College. Her article is specifically about the early genesis of doctrine on air power, legal norms, etc., going back to the very early 20th century. It might be of some interest to you, although you are obviously extremely well-informed about the subject already.

As you are going back to your research, I am looking for maybe some vivid impressions, if there are any scenes or images, sense impressions, maybe particularly vivid or interesting human figures who are on this stage that you have encountered? Getting away a little bit from the facts of legal discourse and arms conferences and so on, anything like that that gives some additional color and humanity to the topic?

PHILIP CARUSO: Yes. I think the American experience with air power, just stepping aside from how the law has developed, is a very fascinating story that most people do not know. We think of aircraft and air power as central to our military today. I think a lot of people are aware, they think of biplanes in World War I and the first fighter aces and things like that, but they do not know the whole story of how the United States military came to embrace air power. What I think is really tragic about that story is the fact that the real leaders and key thinkers, I think, who brought air power to the forefront suffered for most of their careers because they were very much fighting against very rigid forces within the military that did not believe that air power was going to be what it became, did not believe it was going to revolutionize warfare the way that these visionaries felt.

Specifically—and certainly this is a figure who is revered within the Air Force—Billy Mitchell I think is very well known for this whole situation. The story goes—obviously, people are familiar with the Wright brothers' first flight, and many Americans are proud to be associated with the birth of the airplane. But, in reality, it was European militaries that really embraced the use of the airplane in a military role before the United States did.

By the time the United States entered the war in 1917, the European militaries, the belligerents in that conflict, had full-fledged air forces and had learned very much the value of air power in conflict and had developed new ways and new applications of the airplane. So they had developed the idea of pursuit fighters that were designed to achieve air superiority; they had developed the bomber and the value of bombing; they had developed the real value of using aircraft for reconnaissance in ways that the U.S. military at that point had not yet fully contemplated.

When aircraft entered the U.S. military, they were part of the Signal Corps in the U.S. Army. As you can imagine, the reason why they were embedded in the Signal Corps is because they were viewed as a means of communicating, of transporting information, of transporting plans, and of conducting reconnaissance as well. At that point, the very entrenched views on military doctrine that were embodied in the U.S. Army and the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps at that time did not particularly contemplate using air power in many of the roles that it ended up coming to define warfare. So the United States was late to the party in that sense, in World War I, and was forced to catch up very quickly, and did.

What ended up happening was within the context of the American Expeditionary Forces in World War I the United States ended up building a very sizable Air Service that was at that point limited to the forces that were in Europe but later became institutionalized. By the end of the war the Air Service had grown from a handful of men with obsolete aircraft to a full Air Service that had 14 different groups: there were seven observation or reconnaissance groups, five pursuit groups which were fighter aircraft, and two bombardment groups. Including what had been built up in terms of training assets in the United States, the Air Service had grown up to almost 200,000 men and 11,000 aircraft, which was revolutionary for the U.S. military and for a war of that duration that ended up being relatively short for the United States compared to some of the other conflicts that the United States has engaged in.

Tragically, despite all that success and the many courageous stories and the aces like Eddie Rickenbacker and a lot of the things that history has come to address very fondly, when Billy Mitchell, who led the Air Service in Europe, came back from the war he remained an outspoken advocate for the use of air power. Even though he was an Army officer, part of the Army Air Service, he was actually one of the leading proponents for naval aviation, believe it or not.

Because of the, I would say, relative entrenchment of existing military leadership, who viewed air power as encroaching upon the established military doctrines that they had become extremely proficient and professionalized in over the course of time, they short-shrifted the opportunity and the promise that air power had. As a result, while the Air Service ended up being formalized and becoming an important part of the Army, and later the Navy, that was driven primarily by Congress and by the American public than it was by military officers inside the military.

The American public was fascinated with aviation broadly. Billy Mitchell went on a campaign in Congress to seek additional funding and additional authority within the military to build out air capability. He started a series of trials that were designed to prove that naval aviation was going to be an incredibly useful weapon of war. There is a story about a captured German ship, called the Ostfriesland, that Billy Mitchell adapted aircraft to target with bombs to prove that you could sink a major enemy naval combatant ship with aircraft, and that was a revolutionary development.

Now, there was a lot of controversy over whether the tests really captured all the challenges of actually doing that, whether they were controlled too much, but Mitchell at that time faced opposition at almost every level inside the system. In fact, one of his early opponents, who was, I believe, assistant secretary of the navy at the time, was Franklin Delano Roosevelt. It was very unfortunate, because Mitchell was a visionary in the sense that he knew how air power was going to revolutionize all types of warfare—ground warfare, naval warfare, and its own domain, air warfare. But, regrettably, he was ostracized inside the military establishment, and eventually was court-martialed and had, unfortunately, an unceremonious ending to his career.

But, thankfully, Mitchell lived to see, I think, the validation of all of his work and his efforts, because in the lead-up to World War II the role that air power was going to play, not only in that war but in all future conflicts, I think was strongly evident. The Navy, for example, did invest to a limited extent in developing aircraft carriers in the 1920s and 1930s; air power became a larger component of the U.S. Army in having an established separate Air Service that was part of the Army; and of course, as we know, after World War II it eventually became a completely separate department of the Department of Defense as the Air Force itself.

Billy Mitchell is, I think, viewed by many as the father of American air power, and to a certain extent a tragic figure in that history, but one whose effects and lasting contributions to military air power really cannot be overstated.

REED BONADONNA: It really seems to me that your story has a lot to do with change and adaptation, with people trying to adjust themselves to new realities, some of them brought about by technology, and also trying to hang onto certain kinds of not only traditional ways of doing things—infantry combat and things like that—but also traditional values in some cases, like the kinds of protections against harm to civilians, which, with the advent of air power, become a bit more challenging to enforce. People are very upset when the Germans shell Paris in the Franco-German War in 1871, but of course the kind of damage that their siege artillery could do to a city was much, much less than what was placed into the hands of soldiers and airmen by heavy bombers 50 and 75 years later.

On that note, you and I have both been deployed on the ground. It sounds like you were kind of an Air Force grunt, and I was an infantryman in the Marine Corps. People in that situation sort of have the dignity of being exposed to the evil that they are helping to create. Whatever else can be said for us on those occasions, we were levying force, we were helping to put steel on target maybe, or at least part of our country's war machine, but we were doing so at the risk of our own lives and under conditions of considerable restraint and arduous, spartan conditions.

With the advent of the drone, it seems that some of the connectedness of the military professional, the member of the profession of arms, from the realities of the battlefield, I won't say it has been lost, but it has been changed. I wonder sometimes what are the implications for the profession of arms for this kind of development, that the distance between shooter and target, which has been growing ever since David and Goliath, has gotten so great now that they are on different continents, as a matter of routine, the way some people go to work every day. What do we think about that as soldiers and as citizens? Is there a way to reconcile that?

PHILIP CARUSO: It is interesting that you mention it. My first assignment was in Las Vegas. There are a few Air Force bases in the area, but at the time that I was there a lot of the remotely piloted aircraft were flown out of a base near there. I had a close friend who was flying one of those aircraft. It was, like you said, certainly a much different experience than I think a lot of military personnel have in their own combat experiences, whether somebody on the ground or even another pilot.

I would actually point out that historically, going all the way back to the initial use of air power in military conflict, the risk of hitting civilians, or even of targeting military folks, but being sort of detached, I think, has existed. In that sense, when you are flying, let's say, a fixed-wing aircraft, a manned aircraft, over a target, and you drop a bomb, you are aware of the destruction and harm that might be caused on the ground, and maybe you might even see it from however many thousand feet you are in the air.

What I think remotely piloted aircraft has done kind of differently is that air crews who are, as you mentioned, getting farther and farther away from their targets, are actually experiencing the impact of their actions viscerally using remotely powered aircraft, in the sense that, instead of watching, for example, a bomb explode from 30,000 feet or 10,000 feet or whatever it may be, they are seeing it kind of up close, but through a screen, through a camera.

In some cases, when you think about the dual nature of remotely piloted aircraft, in the sense that, yes, they are used for targeted strikes or close air support because they are armed in that sense, they are also very much focused on—and I would say this is their primary mission, generally speaking—intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance. This means that the air crews that are operating these types of weapons systems may be staring at somebody for days or hours, learning their pattern of life, watching them spend time with their family, go places, do X, Y, or Z, and at some point the order may be given to conduct a targeted strike.

Then, as you said, the fact that the distance between them and the target is so far, where they are not even in a conflict zone or combat zone, where they lay down their heads at night still very much immersed in that environment or feeling the impact of the threat. Instead, they are living what we would consider a normal civilian-style life garrisoned here in the United States or somewhere else. I think that poses a different type of challenge for air power and for our Air Force and for our soldiers, sailors, Marines, and airmen.

Based on what I saw engaging my friend, I think that some of the characteristics of that type of warfare that I have seen alleged in the press—that it is like a video game, and it is very dispassionate, and people do not care, etc.—does not square with my own anecdotal experience. Even medically speaking, how we think about post-traumatic stress and how combat affects our military personnel, I think this is a unique sort of problem. I think it is going to be challenging for the government, for the military, and for the American people to reconcile this kind of warfare, where we have people among us on a day-to-day basis, living otherwise normal lives, who are expected to make life-and-death decisions, maybe not for themselves but for other people, on a daily basis perhaps, and to deal with those consequences, honestly, more upfront and personally and viscerally, than your average pilot might be, even deployed to a conflict zone.

That is a challenge I think we are going to face going forward and that we have to think very critically about if we are going to do right by our air crews and our military folks.

REED BONADONNA: That is a great answer.

I saw a very interesting one-woman show here in the city a couple of years ago, called Grounded, about a female Air Force pilot who had her airplane taken away, and now she was piloting drones from a base out West, and the problems she was dealing with seeing these things happening on her screen and stalking people for days and days and getting to know them and then being there at the kill, and going home to her family just a few miles away at the end of a long day.

We have been talking for close to an hour. What question were you hoping that I would ask, or you would have liked me to ask if I had thought of it, that you would like to pose to yourself now? Anything like that, ground you particularly wanted to cover, as we are getting close to the end?

PHILIP CARUSO: I would just point out one of the things that I do not want to say keeps me up at night but that I find a really challenging question on this topic, and certainly one that I am going to look at through my research going forward, is trying to see the big picture of not only what have we learned from the use of air power and international law thus far and the U.S. experience with it, but what that means for conflict in the future, especially considering that the United States, especially with regard to this type of technology, with air power broadly, and with its very significant respect for the rule of law, what does that mean for the United States as a norm-setter, as a leader in the world, as a critical player in establishing the world order that we have, the international infrastructure that we have, which includes, as you know, international law?

For example, the doctrines that we have developed in how we apply air power, our invocation of Article 51 under the UN Charter for self-defense or collective self-defense, and what we call "unable and unwilling" doctrine, which is that the United States views military action justified if a sovereign state on whose territory non-state actors are operating against the United States—and most recently it has been al-Qaeda and associated terrorist groups—if that sovereign state is unable and unwilling to address that threat, then the United States views itself as having a legal basis in conducting military operations.

That precedent and what that means for other countries, including America's enemies, in using air power on their own concerns me, especially as we are starting to see the rise of enemy air power for the first time on a peer-to-peer basis, I think, since the end of the Cold War. That air power will play a significant role in some of the most challenging hot spots going forward. I think of the South China Sea and the land reclamation that the People's Liberation Army and Chinese government have conducted, the air bases that are being built, and how that same type of legal rationale could be used to destabilize the world order that we have.

The United States, for example, has invoked that doctrine primarily to engage terrorists in countries that suffer from various stages of chaos or poor government or anarchy in one way or another, but what if that same justification was used against what we consider to be a developed country, a key player in the international world order? That to me is a very challenging question.

It troubles me that, as a norm-setter, there might be precedents that are going to change how we view international law and the use of air power. Those are areas that I would like to explore with my research and, hopefully, I can make some contributions to our dialogue about.

REED BONADONNA: There have always been nightmare predictions about the use of air power, and I suppose some of them have come true.

For some reason, I was thinking of H. G. Wells' The Shape of Things to Come as you were talking. Maybe these nightmare scenarios are things we durst not ignore completely because they are still out there. And more and more people are getting the capacity to use air power in an unbridled way if they choose, or, as you say, we will have to bear the consequences of our own example, depending on what courses we choose.

Is it Major or Captain Caruso?

PHILIP CARUSO: I am a major in the Reserve.


Major Caruso, any last words? That was a great summation, I think, of the significance of your project today and looking forward too—which is another set of questions I ask sometimes, but I think you have already answered that one. Anything else you wanted to say before we wrap it up?

PHILIP CARUSO: I just wanted to say thank you to you and to the Carnegie Council for giving me this fantastic opportunity, and I am looking forward to continuing to stay engaged and crack emerging and important topics in this area.

REED BONADONNA: Our pleasure. We are not going anywhere. Program assistant Billy Pickett and I are here to stay and we are here to help. Anything we can do in terms of support, just give us a call.

Maybe we will wrap it up then. I am getting a thumb's up from the man in the booth.

It has been a pleasure talking with you, Major Caruso. You made my job easy. It certainly appears that you have no problem talking with considerable eloquence about your topic, even at this early stage.

I will say goodbye, but we will certainly be in touch.

PHILIP CARUSO: Thank you very much, sir.

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