Always at War

Organizational Culture in Strategic Air Command, 1946-62

This is a story of Strategic Air Command (SAC) during the early decades of the Cold War. One that tells more than a simple history; it describes how an organization dominated by World War II experienced airmen developed a unique culture. Les mer
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This is a story of Strategic Air Command (SAC) during the early decades of the Cold War. One that tells more than a simple history; it describes how an organization dominated by World War II experienced airmen developed a unique culture. In the aftermath of World War II and the creation of an independent air service, the Air Force formed SAC because of a belief in the military potential of strategic bombing centralized under one commander. As the Cold War intensified, so did SAC's mission. Its resources, political influence, and manning grew as did its "culture" until reaching its peak during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Following the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Kennedy administration adopted a `Flexible Response' strategy, which placed less emphasis on SAC. By that time, however, the organization's culture and influence had left an indelible mark on the Air Force that would continue to the present day.

The narrative begins with the origins of powered flight, and describes how pilots developed their own culture and shared beliefs rooted in the promise of air power. Since airplanes and airmen were initially part of the Army, they decided to form an independent force, develop a doctrine, and conduct training that would put distance, geographically and literally, between the Army and airmen. During World War II, this group of airmen put their ideas into practice, but felt that the lack of American preparedness, the limitations of new technology, and the politics of a war run by Army generals, prevented them from demonstrating the true potential of strategic bombing. After World War II ended, the Air Force became an independent organization and these `bomber generals' created an organization, Strategic Air Command, they hoped would prove the validity of their assertions. These bomber generals saw how unprepared America was for World War II and vowed that America's Air Force would `never again' be that ill equipped to go to war. To that end, SAC culture emphasized realistic training, standard operating procedures, and no-notice inspections. The realities of Cold War only intensified SAC culture.

Strategic Air Command began because of the Air Force's internal beliefs but theorganization evolved as it responded to the external environment created by the Cold War. When America realized that keeping pace with a growing Soviet army might mean increased defense spending and possible universal military training, it turned to strategic bombers and nuclear weapons to act as the deterrent to the growing Sovietthreat. SAC's mission, resources, and strength became tied to the Cold War. It evolved as the external environment changed; as the Cold War intensified, SAC grew. The organization had to make decisions on how to prepare and train its airmen to `fight' the Cold War. In order to prepare SAC's `warriors' to daily fight an enemy they did not see, as well as to handle the world's most dangerous arsenal, the command emphasized security, personal responsibility, and competition among the command. Being a command `at war' had its benefits, SAC rewarded its members with special promotions and awards not seen in other military commands. SAC becamesynonymous with the Cold War and its culture forever changed the Air Force as well as those who served.

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