We’ve been hearing a lot about whistle blowers lately, particularly Edward Snowden, the NSA contractor who ignited the U.S. surveillance program scandal. There are also the whistle blowers involved with the Benghazi scandal and the IRS intimidation program. Whistle blowers have actually been with us a long time. In my life, it goes back to Daniel Ellsberg who in 1969 released the “Pentagon Papers” to the “New York Times,” detailing the military activity in Viet Nam under LBJ and Nixon. This, of course, ultimately triggered Watergate. However, let’s go a little further back in time to 1925 when the Army instigated a court-martial against Colonel Billy Mitchell, an episode which has quickly been forgotten in history, but has an important bearing on the whistle blowers of today.
Although Mitchell is primarily credited for building Air Power in this country, his military history goes as far back as the Spanish-American War where he served as the youngest Army officer (at age 18). Mitchell’s notoriety though began during “The Great War” (WWI) where, as Major, he became the first American officer to come under fire in the trenches of France. During the war, he earned several decorations and citations. More importantly, it was in France where he developed his fascination and passion for the airplane as a military weapon.
Mitchell understood the potential of the airplane. His superiors did not, and saw it as nothing more than a trivial instrument for observing enemy forces. They laughed at him when he claimed airplanes could sink a ship by dropping bombs on it. At the time, battleships were considered invincible. He finally got an opportunity to prove his claims and sank the German battleship “Ostfriesland” which was to be scuttled following the war. Nonetheless, the military was unimpressed. Following the war, in peacetime, there was an emphasis on shrinking the military. Even though Mitchell begged for money for research and development, he was ignored. He even urged the military to form a separate branch dedicated to an air service, but was denied. Consequently, American Air Power diminished almost to obscurity. The English, French, Italians, even the Germans had far superior airships than the Americans, and Mitchell made sure the newspapers knew about it.
Knowing Mitchell’s image was growing larger in the press, the military sent him on assignments in order to make him disappear. In 1924 he was sent to study military defenses in the Pacific. During this time, he visited Japan and witnessed firsthand how the Japanese were embracing Air Power and realized America was far behind their counterparts. Following his tour he produced an extensive 323 page report on his assessment of American defenses in the Pacific. It was in this prophetic report that he predicted how Japan would attack Pearl Harbor with remarkable accuracy. Even though the military dismissed his report as ridiculous, Mitchell’s predictions would come true 17 years later. Nonetheless, he was buried again by the military.
One year later, in 1925, the Navy dirigible “Shenandoah” was destroyed in …