Bookmarks Issue: 

Gen. Billy Mitchell and the Court-Martial That Gripped the Nation

A-QuestionLoyaltyGen. William "Billy" Mitchell was a pioneering aviator celebrated for his exploits as a U.S. Army Air Service pilot during World War I. Many consider Mitchell, to be the father of the U.S. Air Force; he was the first to demonstrate that airplanes could sink a battleship. How, then, did he wind up on the wrong end of a court-martial in 1925? In answering that question, Time magazine senior correspondent Waller traces Mitchell’s transformation from rising star to rebel. Angered by his superiors’ failure to consider airpower critical to national defense, he publicly accused the military establishment—and, by extension, President Calvin Coolidge—of incompetence and negligence. He was then prosecuted for insubordination in a highly publicized trial.
HarperCollins. 439 pages. $26.95.
ISBN: 0060505478

Chicago Tribune 4 of 5 Stars
"Waller provides a balanced portrayal of the court-martial and Mitchell’s life, and keeps both firmly in perspective. … [He] gives Mitchell his due but is aware of his flaws and that his prophecy about war in the air did not materialize."
Edward M. Coffman

Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel 4 of 5 Stars
"His well-researched, clearly written book comes at a time when the military is playing a bigger role than usual in American life, thanks to the continuing military presence in Afghanistan and Iraq. … One of the greatest benefits of Mitchell’s relative obscurity—outside, of course, of military aviation circles, where he remains something of a hero—is that his story unfolds with a surprising freshness, especially as Waller tells it." Tim Cuprisin

San Antonio Express-News 4 of 5 Stars
"Almost 80 years after his sensational court-martial, two questions linger about Gen. Billy Mitchell. Was he a far-seeing aviation visionary and the father of modern air power? Was he an insubordinate, arrogant paranoid who made more enemies than supporters? The answer to both questions is yes. Douglas Waller makes this clear in this exceptional new look at a man who lived and died in controversy." Sterlin Holmesly

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"As Congress debates intelligence reform, this fascinating book reminds us of Harry Truman’s dictum that the only thing new in the world is the history you don’t know." John Lehman [former Secretary of the U.S. Navy]

Wall Street Journal 3.5 of 5 Stars
"A Question of Loyalty has a Scott Turow-like title and a trial at the heart of it, but no reader should expect a page-turner. … [The book] is a must-read for anyone who wants to understand how the military polices itself, contending with the rogues, dissenters, or outspoken mavericks in its midst." Mark Yost

Critical Summary

As detailed in Waller’s exhaustively researched book, Mitchell’s 1925 court-martial remains a riveting saga nearly 80 years after the fact. By weaving together biography, courtroom drama, and early 20th-century political and military history, Waller rescues from obscurity both the sensational 34-day trial and its larger-than-life star. Under the author’s even-handed treatment, Mitchell emerges as a complex character memorable for his many personal failings as well as for his achievements in combat and aviation. Ultimately, A Question of Loyalty succeeds not only because it provides an engaging and authoritative look back at an interesting chapter in history, but because it touches on important defense-related questions in contemporary American society as well.