The interbellum, or interwar, period between the end of World War I and the beginning of World War II is one of the most significant periods in our world’s history and has many lessons for us today.
One of the ironies from this period is how the conditions at the end of World War I actually kept the victors from needed military change while helping the losers innovate and accelerate a revolution in military thought. For example, the Germans were deprived of their weapons by the Versailles Peace Treaty of 1919 and this enabled them to start fresh. In part, this explained the Germans early tactical success because they were able to experiment and train with their new tanks and vehicles – unlike the British and the French forces which had few modern weapons until the eve of World War II.
It was a period of stark contrast. While we had a desperately underfunded US military, this was also considered the Golden Age of Aviation. Pioneers such as Charles Lindbergh, Amelia Earhart, and Howard Hughes transformed aviation from a side-show of barnstorming and wing-walkers into a dependable form of transportation and reconnaissance. General Patton actually had a pilot’s license and used it to observe an exercise from the air where he moved 1,000 tanks and vehicles from Ft. Benning, GA to Panama City, FL and back in December 1940 – one year before Pearl Harbor.
Today we see many similarities to this interbellum period. We are seeing a rapid demobilization of our military along with extraordinary innovation and advances in space technology and telecommunications. Small mobile terminal applications are changing the way the world communicates and connecting people globally in broadband. Cloud technology, the Internet of Things, and greater processing power are transforming science fiction into reality.
So what must we do to avoid the mistakes of the interbellum period?
The US Government and Department of Defense (DoD) must be the thought leaders shaping this revolution in military thought and change the way that we do business. We must depart from the idea that our government must do everything themselves – especially in space. Industry, in partnership with our government, can take on many tasks, freeing scarce military personnel and resources to focus on inherently military tasks.
There have been many promising signs from our senior government and military leaders supporting this change. But the real challenge will be convincing those within the DoD and government to support this change. The detractors of the tank, the airplane, and the aircraft carrier did not come from foreign shores but from within our own organizations.
This change in how we approach space must occur not because we would like it to happen but because our military and our nation need us to be prepared. There is much to do and the challenge can appear daunting but the greatest journey begins with a single step. Let’s keep moving forward!