Comment Of The Day: “Captain Crozier And The Ghost Of Billy Mitchell”

Eddie Rickenbacker

We have a lot of Michaels commenting here, and one of them, plain old Michael, I have had the honor and pleasure of knowing personally. In this fascinating Comment of the Day, he provides some fascinating details regarding Billy Mitchell’s trial, and some other perspective as well. The post immediately expanded by reading list.

Here is Michael’s Comment of the Day on the post, “Captain Crozier And The Ghost Of Billy Mitchell“:

As a cadet at the USAF Academy (class of 1969) I had Billy Mitchell  among my pantheon of heroes. Nonetheless, my philosophy professor, Col Malcolm Wakin, had us debate the ethics of the Billy Mitchell trial. He was not trying to get us to “an answer” (although it seemed pretty clear that the members of the Court were biased, and our debate centered more on Mitchell’s actions); rather, to engage in debate. It was one of the reasons he was my favorite Academy professors. Always probing. Always promoting open debate. This is a rather long intro, but I wanted the background of my own “ethics awakening” known.

Wakin was a major when he started promoting the idea that military academies should include philosophy departments. Other officers denigrated the idea, but the USAF decided to establish an Academy philosophy department and selected Major Wakin as its first department head. At the time, that meant a “temporary” promotion directly to full colonel! Therefore, not long after being called “silly” by many other officers, he outranked them. He was department head for many years, eventually retiring as a Brig General and being sought by many companies and the US Olympic Committee to provide ethics advice.

Beside the ethics debate we, of course, learned the history of the Mitchell trial. Jack, you noted some of the most pertinent facts. Douglas MacArthur (whom I hold in low regard for some of his WWII and Korea actions) was a courageous outlier on the Court. He was the court’s youngest member and the only vote against conviction.

Testifying on behalf of Mitchell , in addition to LaGuardia, were more icons for Air Force cadets: Eddie Rickenbacker, Hap Arnold, Carl Spaatz, Ira Eaker. Less known to many who were not at the USAF Academy in my era  was Robert Olds. Olds was a strategic thinker who eventually retired as a Major General, shortly before he died at age 46. If you don’t know his story, you should read about him. One of his sons was Robin Olds, who was in a West Point class that graduated early to join WWII. General Robin Olds created many fighter tactics (such as the move used by Tom Cruise in “Top Gun”). He was an ace in WWII and again in Vietnam, where he and his wing man, Chappie James, were known as “Black man and Robin.” Chappie became the first African American 4 star general. Robin Olds was our Commandant of Cadets during my final years at the Academy. Bigger than life. You can read about him in a decent book, “Fighter Pilot”.

4 thoughts on “Comment Of The Day: “Captain Crozier And The Ghost Of Billy Mitchell”

  1. I appreciate the education on these American icons from people who have a personal relationship with their history.

    Great essay.

  2. Great comment.

    I just finished listening to the latest episode of the podcast “The Cold War: What We Saw” and the last few episodes were had extensive discussions about Olds, Chappie James and also John Boyd.

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