Malcolm Gladwell on the ‘extraordinary’ history of The Bomber Mafia and the ‘absurdity of war’

Virgin Radio

18 Jul 2022, 10:26

Chris Evans and Malcolm Gladwell

Journalist, author and public speaker Malcolm Gladwell is diving into one of the more unknown parts of war history in his seventh book, The Bomber Mafia: A Tale of Innovation and Obsession, which is out now in paperback. While on The Chris Evans Breakfast Show with Sky, Malcolm explained the interesting story behind the technological innovation, how the ‘Bomber Mafia’ thought they could reinvent conflict and how their dream ‘failed’ in the worst way. 

As described by Malcolm, the Bomber Mafia were “this little band of zealots in the middle of Alabama in the 1930s who thought they could reinvent war. They're off by themselves in the woods and dreaming about aeroplanes.”

On what the book explores, the bestselling author said: “Airpower was an afterthought. Even at the outbreak of the Second World War people, it took a long time for people in positions of military leadership to understand how central air power could be in World War. 

“It was this little group called the Bomber Mafia, who pressed the case for a greatly expanded role. And they were wrong. But they were wrong in the most kind of interesting and heartbreaking way. And that's what the book is about - their failed dream.”

The group decided the come together to discover a way of fighting a war while also limiting the number of casualties on the ground, and they believed dropping bombs on ‘choke points’, such as aqueducts, power plants and bridges, could be the key to bringing a country to its knees without sacrificing human lives.

The Bomber Mafia made their plans far away from the Air Force Base in Virgina, and headed south to Alabama, where they felt safe to carry out their planning. 

On the reason behind their name, Malcolm added: “Back in the day, Mafia was a term of disdain, of course, because this is the 1930s when the mafia was a real thing. So to call them, the vulnerable people, is to say, this is a group of disreputable people flouting the rules off in Alabama. Now they owned it. They would proudly think of them call themselves members.”

Malcolm also admitted that his belief of war being ‘absurd’ was something the Bomber Mafia had in common. 

He went on to explain: “It's the dilemma of the Bomber Mafia group of deeply thoughtful moral, technologically forward young men, who are trying to bring sense to a deeply senseless activity .You could argue that wars are sometimes necessary or sometimes inevitable, but they are always absurd. The idea that we should have to slaughter each other in order to resolve our conflicts.

“The thing I was struggling with that fascinated me in writing the book was, can you bring order to the absurdity? Can you make an ethical version of a deeply troubling and unethical practice?”

Malcolm’s book, The Bomber Mafia: A Tale of Innovation and Obsession, is out now in paperback.

For more great interviews listen to  The Chris Evans Breakfast Show with Sky, weekdays from 6:30am on Virgin Radio, or  catch up on-demand here.