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Billy Mitchell

James J. Cooke
Billy Mitchell
ISBN: 978-1-58826-082-6
2002/305 pages/LC: 2002018899
Art of War

"A sad but compelling story of a man of brilliant talent and exceptional foresight destroyed by overweening ambition and egotism."—Braham Myers, Everyone's War

"What emerges from the pages of this outstanding biography is a complete picture, or as complete as we will probably ever get, of the man Billy Mitchell. And it is in those personal details that we see some of the character traits—indeed, some would say character flaws—that made Mitchell such a lightning-rod for controversy."—Michael Huebner, Quarterly Journal of the Great War Society

"James Cooke has done an excellent job of portraying the foibles, strengths, and failings of the first American prophet for airpower in a most evenhanded fashion.... This is an immensely readable book and the most balance[d] portrayal of Mitchell I have seen to date."—Dr. Douglas V. Johnson II (LTC, USA Ret.)

"A good read that raises the art of military biography to a new level."—Stand To! The Journal of the Western Front Association

"[Cooke] draws the richest picture of Mitchell yet seen....Brings to life a man often called a founder of the modern U.S. Air Force."—William Jeanes, Smithsonian

"Unlike almost all other books about Mitchell, Cooke's treatment is balanced, critical, and thorough.... A splendid job of correcting a distortion of history."—Kenneth P. Werrell, Journal of Military History

"Cooke's comprehensive reevaluation of the still-controversial life and career of Billy Mitchell is a welcome breath of fresh air."—Dennis Showalter


This compelling chronicle of a controversial figure—a man who could be charming, fanatical, arrogant, and confrontational—places Billy Mitchell in the context of the great debates over U.S. air power between the world wars. Mitchell demonstrated during WWI that massive air power could decisively affect combat operations on the ground, and he argued vehemently to anyone who would listen that air power would be the decisive factor in the next war—a war that he was certain would be fought with Japan. But his brilliance was often overshadowed by his personal failings: typically, he alienated those in power who could act on his ideas.

In a highly publicized trial, Mitchell was court-martialed and found guilty, ostensibly for openly attacking the Navy and the War Department over the fatal crash of the airship Shenandoah, but primarily for making public his warnings about U.S. weaknesses in the air. Although the air attack on Pearl Harbor made Mitchell look to some like a prophet martyred for his integrity, Cooke revises that portrait to reveal a character fatally flawed by consuming ambition and a man who was a victim only of circumstances of his own creation.


James J. Cooke was professor emeritus of history at the University of Mississippi. His publications include All-Americans at War, Pershing and His Generals, and The U.S. Air Service in the Great War.


  • Introduction.
  • Young Willie.
  • From the Philippines to Alaska.
  • The Great War, 1917.
  • The Western Front.
  • Victory, 1918.
  • Return to Washington.
  • The Ostfriesland.
  • Pacific Tour.
  • Glory, Glory, Billy Mitchell.
  • Damned Rot.
  • Resignation and Crusade.
  • Politics and Decline.
  • The Last Flight.
  • Mitchell Revived.