General Curtis LeMay is perhaps the most misunderstood general of the 20th century, despite the fact that he played a major role in so many important military events of the last century: he turned the air war in Europe from a dismal failure to a great success, he helped defeat Japan without a costly land invasion, he commanded the start of Berlin Air Lift, and he was on the Joint Chiefs during the Cuban Missile Crisis. However, the LeMay legacy that has survived into the 21st century paints LeMay as a crude, trigger-happy, cigar-chomping general who joined political forces with one of the most famous racists in American history, George Wallace.

Today’s guest Warren Kozak argues that Lemay was an overlooked general who made the difficult but necessary decisions that eventually helped the United States win World War II and the Cold War, as well as strengthen our military forces when we needed them most.

LeMay is most often remembered for two minor marks in his life: a statement he did not actually make (about bombing North Vietnam back to the Stone Age) and a brief political affiliation with George Wallace despite their deep disagreements over racial politics. Unfortunately, these parts of Curtis LeMay’s life have overshadowed many more years of military success. According to Kozak, these accomplishments include:

  • LeMay devised the plan to use incendiary bombs over Japan that, while killing hundreds of thousands, saved millions from an impending ground invasion of Japan

  • LeMay turned the air war over Europe around and he was the only general to lead his troops, insisting on flying the lead bomber on every dangerous mission.

  • He championed the creation of an independent Air Force, as well as the improvement of American military planes

  • He turned the Strategic Air Command from a dismal failure into the deadliest fighting force in history

RESOURCES MENTIONED IN THIS EPISODE

Curtis LeMay: Strategist and Tactician

ABOUT WARREN

Warren Kozak is an author and journalist who has written for television’s most respected news anchors. Winner of the prestigious Benton Fellowship at the University of Chicago in 1993, he was an on-air reporter for NPR and his work has appeared on PBS and in the Washington Post, the New York Sun and The Wall Street Journal as well as other newspapers and magazines. Warren Kozak was born and raised in Wisconsin and lives in New York City with his wife and daughter.

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