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Peaceful Air Warfare: The United States, Britain, and the Politics of International Aviation.

It is surprising but still true to remark that the study of international air transport and civil aviation remains outside the mainstream of political historiography despite the revolutionary impact of global air communications in the twentieth century. One can also note that however esoteric the field might be to some, it has an impressive pedigree of scholarship dating back at least to 1942 with the publication of Oliver Lissitzyn's classic study, International Air Transport and National Policy. He rightly first identified the critical relationship of politics and airline operations, a theme pursued more recently in studies by Gidwitz (1980), Sampson (1984), and Mackenzie on the Canadian experience (1987). Peaceful Air Warfare, the title an oxymoron rather too contrived, is of this tradition, adding a new chapter with its focus on the air dimension of the special relationship long thought to characterize Anglo-American affairs over the past many years. Given the troubled state of international air transport everywhere in the 1990s, this is an especially welcome and timely contribution to our understanding of the politics of aviation.

Dobson, a political scientist at University College, Swansea, covers a lengthy period in considerable detail, from the first stirrings of international air transport in the 1920s to the troubled years of the late 1980s. However, he makes clear from the start that this is not a mere account of British and American civil aviation, but rather a political analysis of British and American international air policies. His interest lies in showing how "their respective policies were moulded and how they interacted diplomatically" (p. vii). He is concerned as well to document the intense rivalry which emerged from this interaction as Britain and America schemed to build the air world in quite differing ways. Unlike conventional air transport history, Dobson's study is not much concerned in operational matters or technology, nor with the everyday preoccupations of the airlines, ministries, and departments of civil aviation involved. His aim is to explore policy formulation and development at the highest levels of state, to the very desks of Roosevelt and Churchill in one instance, for it is his basic contention that air transport was politicized from the outset, quite unlike other commercial enterprises, and the real decisions on the perennial questions of "routes, rates, and rights" were political decisions made in cabinets, not departments. This approach is reflected in the research base of the study. In the case of Britain, for example, Dobson ignores the civil aviation archives, and looks instead into the foreign office and cabinet records.

There is little to disagree with his second major point that Britain and America together have dominated international aviation for most of its history, however different their aims and perspectives. Many factors promoted this pre-eminence, including Britain's pioneering role in building long distance air routes across the empire, America's access to the Pacific and Latin America, and its advanced technology. Both powers emerged as victors from World War II in a position to dominate world air affairs. For Dobson, these and other reasons enabled Britain and America to shape the character of the world's air transport system, and the arrangements by which international air transport is governed. Nonetheless, the key to this Anglo-American triumph was diplomacy, no mean effort given the contrary air views held in London and Washington. After the failure of the 1944 Chicago air conference, the Americans pressed for a liberal air world wherein the so-called "five freedoms" would open the skies to all, while Britain, properly fearful of American's resources and wealth, urged a regulated environment under international authority and characterized by multilateral agreement. In the end, neither view quite prevailed for the first significant air agreement signed after the war was the 1947 Bermuda agreement, a bilateral resolution to Anglo-American differences, particularly on questions of traffic-sharing matters on the lucrative trans-Atlantic air route. For Dobson, this was "the firm cornerstone of the aviation relationship between the two countries" (p. 209). Important in itself, the agreement became the universal model of bilateral air accords in the dramatic growth years of the 1950s and 1960s. A second Bermuda agreement was signed in 1977 but it was in a very changed air world and harmony with Britain was no longer America!s first air priority.

This is a study of the political side of aviation history and as such it is a commendable piece of work. This brief review cannot do justice to the complexity of the issues raised nor the details which fill the work, but it should command the attention of scholars and students of history and politics alike. Peaceful Air Warfare is not without fault. To this reviewer, too little is said of how the rise of other air powers affected the Anglo-American entente. Dobson's handling of the most recent years studied is weakened in so far as he has not had access to archives and has to rely on published materials and oral testimony, the latter including interviews with those bothersome "unnamed foreign office officials." Finally, it seems that Dobson is more at home dealing with the British side, but that is no more than a subjective observation.

There is one last matter over which the author has no control. The price of over $116.00, P.S.T. and G.S.T. included, is prohibitive and shameful.
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Author:McCormack, Robert
Publication:Canadian Journal of History
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Apr 1, 1993
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