Curtis LeMay

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Curtis LeMay

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.


  • 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 LeMay[edit]

  • 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

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