To Rule the Skies

General Thomas S. Power and the Rise of Strategic Air Command in the Cold War

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To Rule the Skies: General Thomas S. Power and the Rise of Strategic Air Command in the Cold War fills a critical gap in Cold War and Air Force history by telling the story of General Thomas S. Power for the first time. Thomas Power was second only to Curtis LeMay in forming the Strategic Air Command (SAC), one of the premier combat organizations of the twentieth century, but he is rarely mentioned today. What little is written about Power describes him as LeMay’s willing hatchet man—uneducated, unimaginative, autocratic, and sadistic. Based on extensive archival research, To Rule the Skies seeks to overturn this appraisal.

Brent D. Ziarnick covers the span of both Power’s personal and professional life and challenges many of the myths of conventional knowledge about him. Denied college because his middle-class immigrant family imploded while he was still in school, Power worked in New York City construction while studying for the Flying Cadet examination at night in the New York Public Library. As a young pilot, Power participated in some of the Army Air Corps’ most storied operations. In the interwar years, his family connections allowed Power to interact with American Wall Street millionaires and the British aristocracy. Confined to training combat aircrews in the United States for most of World War II, Power proved his combat leadership as a bombing wing commander by planning and leading the firebombing of Tokyo for Gen. Curtis LeMay. After the war, Power helped LeMay transform the Air Force into the aerospace force America needed during the Cold War. A master of strategic air warfare, he aided in establishing SAC as the Free World’s “Big Stick” against Soviet aggression. Far from being unimaginative, Power led the incorporation of the nuclear weapon, the intercontinental ballistic missile, the airborne alert, and the Single Integrated Operational Plan into America’s deterrent posture as Air Research and Development Command commander and both the vice commander and commander-in-chief of SAC. Most importantly, Power led SAC through the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. Even after retirement, Power as a New York Times bestselling author brought his message of deterrence through strength to the nation.

Ziarnick points out how Power’s impact may continue in the future. Power’s peerless, but suppressed, vision of the Air Force and the nation in space is recounted in detail, placing Power firmly as a forgotten space visionary and role model for both the Air Force and the new Space Force. To Rule the Skies is an important contribution to the history of the Cold War and beyond.  


About the Author

Editorial Reviews

“Brent Ziarnick’s study of General Tommy Power provides the first substantial academic coverage of a key military commander who was effective at the operational level during World War II and then provided strong strategic leadership in the development of aerospace forces during the early Cold War years. This work helps rescue General Tommy Power from relative obscurity and also from a standard mischaracterization of his role that is based on his aggressive personality and his clashes with the intellectual elites of the 1960s.” —Jerome V. Martin, PhD, Retired Command Historian for US Strategic Command
“Brent Ziarnick paints a vivid and compelling portrait of a fascinating but forgotten Cold War American hero. More importantly, he introduces a much needed new space leader, his vision to dominate space for free nations, how it failed, and most importantly, how today’s Space Force can succeed in the future by following General Power’s example.” —Lt. Gen. Steven L. Kwast (Ret.), USAF, former commander, Air Education and Training Command
“Brent Ziarnick’s To Rule the Skies brings to light a key figure in the development of the nation’s strategic deterrent who is often cast in the shadow of Gen Curtis LeMay. Through archival research and a gripping narrative, Ziarnick adds depth and context to someone the nation must thank for making ‘peace his profession.” —Melvin Deaile, author of Always At War, Director of the School for Advanced Nuclear Deterrence Studies
“Dr. Ziarnick provides us a well-researched and timely re-look at an important and too-often caricatured figure in our nation’s Cold War history – one who in many ways was ahead of his time in thinking on strategic deterrence and stability, and particularly the role space can play in that arena. If Gen Power were with us today, we could glean much from his experience and strategic thought!” —Lt. Gen John Shaw, U.S. Space Force, Deputy Commander of U.S. Space Command

“This book is a must-read for Cold War history as well as Strategic Air Command history. Ziarnick has provides readers with a plethora of citations and endnotes to satisfy deeper questions or further research. It is a pleasant read and the author has an ease of explaining his depth of knowledge that comes with his years of experience and practice as a lecturing professor at a top school.” —Seattle Pi

To Rule the Skies is a remarkable and sensitive biography of a man who commanded the Strategic Air Command in its most critical years. Power’s story has relevance today.” —Richochet
To Rule the Skies in an engaging read. Dr. Ziarnick brings the story of Thomas S. Power from shadows of history and places that story into a modern context…. It is a book that’s more than a biography. It’s also a mirror on which to view how earlier challenges shaped our current geopolitical landscape and a lens through which to view current choices and decisions regarding access to and control of the expanding aerospace frontier.” —Armchair General
To Rule the Skies adds a refreshing nuance to our understanding of Power as both military leader and aerospace theorist; it is a significant contribution to the history of the Cold War, addressing a hitherto unexamined gap in the literature with incredible insight and finesse.” —New Books Network
“This book is an illuminating ... look into one man’s life, as well as a review of the politics of nuclear deterrence in the Cold War era…. Readers will learn a lot from Ziarnick’s investigation of this leader’s life.” —The Journal of America’s Military Past
To Rule the Skies illuminates one of the more important figures in the history of the U.S. Air Force.” —Aviation History
To Rule the Skies is a respectable history of Power and his contributions to the evolution of Cold War nuclear power. It [should] be the go-to reference on Power.” —Aerospace


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