The Billy Mitchell Affair
with a special intro by Alan Dershowitz
Brigadier General William Mitchell (1879-1936) has been the subject of a number of books. Burke Davis’s Billy Mitchell Affair (1967), is the first to rely on the full transcript of the court-martial and other previously classified documents.
Mitchell was charged in 1925 with insubordination and “conduct of a nature to bring discredit upon the military service.” The court-martial of this much decorated veteran of World War I opened October 28, 1925. Arrogant, steadfast, and startlingly right, Billy Mitchell had spoken loud and clear to any who would listen of the urgent need for the United States to develop air power and of the “incompetency, the criminal negligence, and the almost treasonable administration of our national defense by the Navy and War Departments.”
Military leaders convinced that battleships remained “the backbone of the fleet” and deeming change unnecessary, were outraged by Mitchell’s outspokenness. Mitchell, a pilot in the Great War, held to his vision. In 1923, he even predicted, in detail, Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor. The long court-martial brought to the forefront the crusade for a strong, independent air force that he continued until his death.
Davis’s book shows why defense counsel Frank R. Reid said of its complex hero: “Rome endured as long as there were Romans. America will endure as long as there are Billy Mitchells.”