Double Victory: Minorities and Women During World War II
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Douhet, Giulio (1869–1930)

Italian air force general and pioneer of strategic air doctrine. Born on 30 May 1869 in Caserta, Italy, Giulio Douhet was commissioned in the Italian Army in 1892. An early advocate of military aviation, he led Italy's first air bombardment unit during the Italo-Turkish War (1911–1912). During World War I, his unbridled criticism of Italy's General Staff led to Douhet's court-martial and dismissal. Recalled to active service after the defeat at Caporetto, which vindicated much of his comment, he took charge of the Central Aeronautical Bureau (1918). After the war he retired and in 1921 he wrote Il dominio dell'aria (Command of the Air), a seminal work on airpower strategy. That same year he became a brigadier general. A strong supporter of fascism, Douhet won appointment in 1922 from Benito Mussolini as chief of Italy's aviation program.

Having witnessed Italy's costly and futile World War I campaigns on the Isonzo and the bitterness of land combat in the Alps, Douhet argued that strategic bombing attacks by heavily armed and armored "battleplanes" promised quick and decisive victories in future wars. Such a thrusting and offensive-minded approach conformed well to fascist beliefs. The fascist Douhet believed that civilian populations would panic under sustained attack; the seemingly inherent fragility of democracies proved a seductive chimera to him.

Disregarding the legality and morality of sneak attacks or the utility of graduated approaches to warfare, Douhet called for all-out preemptive air strikes to destroy an enemy's air force and bases, followed by concerted attacks on industry and civilians. A combination of high-explosive, incendiary, and poison-gas bombs, Douhet concluded, would generate psychological uproar and social chaos, fatally weakening the enemy's will to resist.

In arguing that airpower was inherently offensive and uniquely efficacious, Douhet dismissed friendly escort planes as superfluous, enemy interceptors as ineffectual, and interservice cooperation as unnecessary since battleplanes would render navies and armies obsolete. Results of the Allied Combined Bomber Offensive, however, proved Douhet wrong. He had exaggerated the destructive power and accuracy of bombing, the ability of bombers to fight their way unescorted to targets, and the fragility of democratic populations, who proved resilient under attack. Nevertheless, Douhet's call for independent air forces and offensive-minded strategic bombing proved influential, especially in Britain and the United States.

Douhet died in Rome on 15 February 1930.

William J. Astore


Further Reading
Cappelluti, Frank J. "The Life and Thought of Giulio Douhet." Doctoral dissertation, Rutgers University, 1967.; Douhet, Giulio. The Command of the Air. Trans. Dino Ferrari. Washington, DC: Office of Air Force History, 1983.; MacIsaac, David. "Voices from the Central Blue: The Air Power Theorists." In Peter Paret, ed., Makers of Modern Strategy: Machiavelli to the Nuclear Age, 624–647. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1986.; Segrè, Claudio G. "Giulio Douhet: Strategist, Theorist, Prophet?" Journal of Strategic Studies 15 (September 1992), 351–366.
 

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