Curtis LeMay

American general and politician
Every soldier thinks something of the moral aspects of what he is doing. But all war is immoral and if you let that bother you, you're not a good soldier.

Curtis LeMay (November 15, 1906October 3, 1990) was a general in the United States Air Force and the vice presidential running mate of American Independent Party candidate George Wallace in the 1968 presidential election. During World War II, he was known for planning and executing a massive bombing campaign against cities in Japan and a crippling minelaying campaign in Japan's internal waterways. After the war, he initiated the Berlin airlift, then reorganized the Strategic Air Command (SAC) into an effective instrument of nuclear war. He served as Chief of Staff of the U.S. Air Force from 1961 until his retirement in 1965.

QuotesEdit

 
A weapon is a weapon and it really doesn't make much difference how you kill a man. If you have to kill him, well, that's the evil to start with and how you do it becomes pretty secondary. I think your choice should be which weapon is the most efficient and most likely to get the whole mess over with as early as possible.
  • There are no innocent civilians. It is their government and you are fighting a people, you are not trying to fight an armed force anymore. So it doesn't bother me so much to be killing the so-called innocent bystanders.
    • Sherry, Michael (September 10, 1989). The Rise of American Air Power: The Creation of Armageddon, p. 287 (from "LeMay's interview with Sherry," interview "after the war," p. 408 n. 108). Yale University Press. ISBN-13: 978-0300044140.
  • My solution to the problem would be to tell [the North Vietnamese Communists] frankly that they've got to draw in their horns and stop their aggression or we're going to bomb them into the Stone Age. And we would shove them back into the Stone Age with Air power or Naval power—not with ground forces.
    • Mission With LeMay: My Story (1965), p. 565. In an interview two years after the publication of this book, General LeMay said, "I never said we should bomb them back to the Stone Age. I said we had the capability to do it. I want to save lives on both sides"; reported in The Washington Post (October 4, 1968), p. A8. Many years later LeMay would claim that this was his ghost writer's overwriting.
  • Killing Japanese didn't bother me very much at that time... I suppose if I had lost the war, I would have been tried as a war criminal.... Every soldier thinks something of the moral aspects of what he is doing. But all war is immoral and if you let that bother you, you're not a good soldier.
    • On the morality of the firebombing campaign [1])
  • I'd like to see a more aggressive attitude on the part of the United States. That doesn't mean launching an immediate preventive war...
    • Mission with LeMay: My Story (1965), p. 559.
  • ...Native annalists may look sadly back from the future on that period when we had the atomic bomb and the Russians didn't. Or when the Russians had aquired (through connivance and treachery of Westerns with warped minds) the atomic bomb - and yet still didn't have any stockpile of the weapons. That was the era when we might have destroyed Russia completely and not even skinned our elbows doing it.
    • Mission with LeMay: My Story (1965), p. 560-561.
  • China has The Bomb. [...] Sometime in the future--25, 50, 75 years hence--what will the situation be like then? By that time the Chinese will have the capability of delivery too. That's the reason some schools of thinking don't rule out a destruction of the Chinese military potential before the situation grows worse than it is today. It's bad enough now.
    • Mission with LeMay: My Story (1965), p. 561.
  • We went over there and fought the war and eventually burned down every town in North Korea anyway, someway or another, and some in South Korea too.… Over a period of three years or so, we killed off — what — twenty percent of the population of Korea as direct casualties of war, or from starvation and exposure?
    • Strategic Air Warfare: An Interview with Generals (1988), p. 88.
  • If I see that the Russians are amassing their planes for an attack, I'm going to knock the shit out of them before they take off the ground.
    • Conversation with presidential commissioner Robert Sprague (September 1957), quoted in Kaplan, F. (1991). The Wizards of Armageddon. Stanford University Press. Page 134.
  • We’re at war with Japan. We were attacked by Japan. Do you want to kill Japanese, or would you rather have Americans killed?
    • From his autobiography, also requoted in Rhodes, 'The Making of the Atomic Bomb', p. 596
  • She [America] escaped the ruin visited upon other nations because she was given time to prepare and because of distance. [In the next war] distance will be academic [and no preparation time, too].
    • November 19th 1945 New York speech, as quoted in 'Dark Sun' p.227 (sadly, direct link to the page to read was denied by Wikipedia).
  • As far as casualties were concerned I think there were more casualties in the first attack on Tokyo with incendiaries than there were with the first use of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. The fact that it's done instantaneously, maybe that's more humane than incendiary attacks, if you can call any war act humane. I don't, particularly, so to me there wasn't much difference. A weapon is a weapon and it really doesn't make much difference how you kill a man. If you have to kill him, well, that's the evil to start with and how you do it becomes pretty secondary. I think your choice should be which weapon is the most efficient and most likely to get the whole mess over with as early as possible.
    • The World at War: the Landmark Oral History from the Classic TV Series, p. 574
  • Apply whatever force it is necessary to employ, to stop things quickly. The main thing is stop it. The quicker you stop it, the more lives you save.
    • Mission with LeMay: My Story (1965), p. 565.
  • Actually, I think it's more immoral to use less force than necessary, than it is to use more. if you use less force, you kill off more of humanity in the long run, because you are merely protracting the struggle.
    • Mission with LeMay: My Story (1965), p. 382.

Quotes about LeMayEdit

 
No other U.S. military force commander so imprinted his personality and ideals upon his organization as did LeMay. SAC became LeMay personified- but only after tremendous effort on his part. There were no criticisms of his intellect or industry, nor any suggestion of patronage, but the hard, and often seemingly cold, manner in which he drove SAC gave rise to many stories about him, most of them apocryphal. ~ Walter J. Boyne
 
When the author joined the Strategic Air Command in January 1953, as a green second lieutenant freshly graduated from flying school, he was puzzled by the flying club atmosphere. Flying the big Boeing B-50s was done as a sport, radar bombing, navigation, and gunnery scores were fudged, and the principle occupation seemed to be playing hearts in the briefing room. Then one bright day Lemay's inspection team came in. Heads rolled, rigorous standards were introduced and enforced, and reporting became squeaky clean. Oddly enough, everyone still retaining his head was happier with the new system. ~ Walter J. Boyne
  • No other U.S. military force commander so imprinted his personality and ideals upon his organization as did LeMay. SAC became LeMay personified- but only after tremendous effort on his part. There were no criticisms of his intellect or industry, nor any suggestion of patronage, but the hard, and often seemingly cold, manner in which he drove SAC gave rise to many stories about him, most of them apocryphal. In 1951, at the age of forty-six, he was confirmed as a full four-star general, the youngest since Ulysses S. Grant. LeMay was "the Iron Eagle" to his admirers, and simply "Iron Ass" to detractors who feared him. Some of his seemingly tough demeanor probably stemmed from a deadened nerve that left his face immobile and unsmiling. In practice, LeMay took better care of his troops than anyone else in the Air Force, and his tenure at SAC was filled with achievements such as improved housing, pay, recreation, promotion, medical care, and other vital personnel requirements. The most important assessment of LeMay was defined by the loyalty and the high morale of the people he commanded.
    • Walter J. Boyne, Beyond the Wild Blue: A History of the U.S. Air Force 1947-1997 (1997), p. 99
  • After his retirement in 1965, LeMay ran as a Vice Presidential candidate in George Wallace's 1968 third-party bid, a move that tarnished his reputation in the eyes of many. One time, later in his life, he was in the company of several other retired four-star generals, including his former aide David C. Jones, himself a former Chief of Staff of the Air Force and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The evening had been mellowed with some drinks, and the conversation took a daring turn- for retired or not, LeMay was still LeMay- to the question of why the general had supported Wallace. Jones recalls LeMay saying that he had not run because of political ambition- he had none, and knew that Wallace could only lose- but because he feared the direction the country would take if the Democratic candidate won. LeMay told the little group of intimates, friends for many long years, "Don't tell me about George Wallace. I know all about George Wallace. I knew he had no chance of winning. But I ran with him anyway because I thought he could take enough votes away from Humphrey. Humphrey would have been a disaster for this country as President." Always the strategist, LeMay wanted to add enough strength to Wallace's ticket to split the Democratic vote and thus defeat Humphrey. In essence, LeMay was making a last great sacrifice, his political reputation, to serve his country's cause as he saw it.
    • Walter J. Boyne, Beyond the Wild Blue: A History of the U.S. Air Force 1947-1997 (1997), p. 99-100
  • If his politics offended some, there could be no censure of his military record. No one, friend or foe, doubted for a moment that he made SAC into an elite force, capable of strategic operations on a scale never before conceived and conducted at a level of proficiency that became the standard for the USAF. Inevitably the USAF became the benchmark to which the Army and the Navy, not to mention many foreign armed forces around the world, would aspire... LeMay was a genius at organization, and the Management Control System (MCS) he installed at SAC Headquarters (and which was replicated at lower levels of command) is but one example of his style. The MCS gave LeMay the capability to spot every breakdown or potential breakdown within the SAC system, and because lower-echelon commanders were aware of his system and used it themselves, potential breakdowns were usually detected and corrected before they occurred. LeMay also had the capacity for choosing good subordinates, delegating authority to them and letting them do their job. Not all of his choices were popular. His deputy and later successor at SAC, General Thomas S. Power, had a reputation for cold-hearted efficiency that many considered bordering on sadism. LeMay knew that Power was tough- but he also knew that he got his job done, and that was what counted.
    • Walter J. Boyne, Beyond the Wild Blue: A History of the U.S. Air Force 1947-1997 (1997), p. 100
  • When LeMay arrived to take over command, he was disappointed but not surprised at what he found- senior Air Force officers were aware that the Strategic Air Command in 1948 was woefully lacking in proficiency, discipline, and professionalism. He went to work immediately to correct things, using on-the-spot leadership to do so.
    • Walter J. Boyne, Beyond the Wild Blue: A History of the U.S. Air Force 1947-1997 (1997), p. 101
  • Lemay's style was to have his best crews set the highest standards, then provide more than adequate training and flying time for other crews to reach those standards of proficiency. He also insisted on scrupulously accurate records and very demanding evaluation procedures, knowing that he had inherited an air force that had reflexively gone from the rigors of war to the pleasures of a really well equipped flying club, one that paid you for belonging. It was a long process, for SAC was expanding rapidly. When the author joined the Strategic Air Command in January 1953, as a green second lieutenant freshly graduated from flying school, he was puzzled by the flying club atmosphere. Flying the big Boeing B-50s was done as a sport, radar bombing, navigation, and gunnery scores were fudged, and the principle occupation seemed to be playing hearts in the briefing room. Then one bright day Lemay's inspection team came in. Heads rolled, rigorous standards were introduced and enforced, and reporting became squeaky clean. Oddly enough, everyone still retaining his head was happier with the new system.
    • Walter J. Boyne, Beyond the Wild Blue: A History of the U.S. Air Force 1947-1997 (1997), p. 102
  • After the first International Days of Protest in October, 1965, Senator Mansfield criticized the "sense of utter irresponsibility" shown by the demonstrators. He had nothing to say then, nor has he since, about the "sense of utter irresponsibility" shown by Senator Mansfield and others who stand by quietly and vote appropriations as the cities and villages of North Vietnam are demolished, as millions of refugees in the South are driven from their homes by American bombardment. He has nothing to say about the moral standards or the respect for international law of those who have permitted this tragedy. I speak of Senator Mansfield precisely because he is not a breast-beating superpatriot who wants America to rule the world, but is rather an American intellectual in the best sense, a scholarly and reasonable man -- the kind of man who is the terror of our age. Perhaps this is merely a personal reaction, but when I look at what is happening to our country, what I find most terrifying is not Curtis LeMay, with his cheerful suggestion that we bomb everybody back into the stone age, but rather the calm disquisitions of the political scientists on just how much force will be necessary to achieve our ends, or just what form of government will be acceptable to us in Vietnam. What I find terrifying is the detachment and equanimity with which we view and discuss an unbearable tragedy. We all know that if Russia or China were guilty of what we have done in Vietnam, we would be exploding with moral indignation at these monstrous crimes.
  • I used to receive a hundred calls a year from people who wanted me to get into the Green Room at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, because that's where the Air Force stored all the material gathered on UFOs. I once asked Curtis LeMay if I could get in that room, and he just gave me holy hell. He said, 'Not only can't you get into it but don't you ever mention it to me again.'
  • An excellent pilot and officer equally capable in both combat and staff, LeMay was typical of the bomber-minded generals who emerged from World War II to dominate the Air Force during the Cold War.
    • James F. Dunnigan & Albert A. Nofi, The Pacific War Encyclopedia, Volume 1: A-L (1998), p. 363
  • Eventually the decision was reached to accept the armed chopper as an essential part of the air mobility concept but not to allow the Army to use the Mohawk as an attack aircraft, confining it to a reconnaissance role. Both were wise decisions. But prior to these decisions there were some hot and emotional sessions of the JCS. One concerned the armed Huey, which as then being used successfully in Vietnam to support ARVN operations, but which was considered by the Air Force as illegal poaching on their roles and missions. This was in the midsummer of 1964. General LeMay suddenly took his cigar out of his mouth and, gesticulating wildly, challenged General Johnson to an aerial duel. He screamed, "Johnson, you fly one of those damned Huey's and I'll fly an F-105, and we'll see who survives. I'll shoot you down and scatter your peashooter all over the goddamn ground." I was eager to defend my chief, both verbally and physically (LeMay would have made two Johnsons in body weight, if not in mental poundage) but Johnson motioned to me to keep quiet and responded quietly: "I'm not a flier, but I will be happy to get qualified and take you on- we can agree on a time and place later. But let's not waste the valuable time of our colleagues on such a trivial matter."
    • Bruce Palmer, Jr., in his book The 25-Year War: America's Military Role in Vietnam (1984), p. 27

See alsoEdit

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