Pax Aeronautica

Tagged: Theme

The sense that air Transportation must dramatically change the tactics and strategy of Future War was articulated in the eighteenth century by Samuel Johnson in his Proto SF Rasselas (1759):

Against an army sailing through the clouds neither walls, nor mountains, nor seas, could afford any security ... Even this valley, the retreat of princes, the abode of happiness, might be violated by the sudden descent of some of the naked nations that swarm on the coast of the southern sea.

That, conversely, peace could be imposed or maintained through air power is also a old notion. The first notable Pax Aeronautica appears in Jean-Baptiste Cousin de Grainville's Le Dernier Homme, ouvrage posthume (1805; trans as The Last Man: or, Omegarus and Syderia: A Romance in Futurity 1806 2vols UK; new trans as The Last Man 2002). Herrmann Lang's The Air Battle: A Vision of the Future (ostensibly trans 1859) may be the first novel to show the Pax as a consequence of victory in a great aerial War. George Griffith's The Angel of the Revolution (21 January-14 October 1893 Pearson's Weekly; cut 1893) dramatically imposes Pax Aeronautica through the agency of a fleet of flying warships. Simon Newcomb's His Wisdom, the Defender: A Story (1900) is the first twentieth-century example of the theme. Rudyard Kipling's Aerial Board of Control stories – particularly the second, "As Easy as A.B.C." (March-April 1912 The London Magazine) – show a world that has wearied of Politics and is only too glad for the international A.B.C. to maintain its benevolent rule. John Stewart Barney's L.P.M.: The End of the Great War (1915) introduces an Airship-backed "Aristocracy of Intelligence" to rule the world; Victor MacClure offers a similar outcome of initially pacifist action in The Ark of the Covenant: A Romance of the Air and of Science (1924; vt Ultimatum: A Romance of the Air 1924). H G Wells had suggested that a Pax Aeronautica could follow the violence of The War in the Air (January-December 1908 Pall Mall Magazine; 1908), and depicted just such a rule – the troublingly named Air Dictatorship – in The Shape of Things to Come (portions only 25 June-11 September 1933 Sunday Express; 1933). The same year saw a less optimistic vision in Michael Arlen's sf novel Man's Mortality (1933). L E O Charlton, whose Children's SF is consistent with the principle, advocated the Pax Aeronautica at greatest length in the nonfiction Menace from the Clouds (1937), whose short fictional epilogue, dated 2000, describes the ending of World War Two in 1942 through the agency of an airborne International Strategic Reserve. Mention should be made at this point of "Journal of an Airman" (in The Orators, coll 1932) by W H Auden, whose glamorized airman carries a faint whiff of Fascism; and of Rex Warner's menacing allegory The Aerodrome (1941).

During the 1920s, particularly in America, as airplane Technology rapidly opened the skies to commerce, business-oriented visions of something like a Pax Aeronautica began to gain influence. In the journalism he published between his solo flight across the Atlantic on 20 May 1927 and the beginning of the Great Depression, Charles A Lindbergh (1902-1974), prophesied that flight would bring the world together in "a victory of man, in harmony with himself", as he put it in "He Sees Air Mail as Unifying the People and the Nation" (28 October 1928 New York Times) (for background see Airplane Boys). But the Pax Aeronautica could not easily be viewed as an unalloyed Utopian prospect by the time the term was used in a post-Nagasaki speech by Eugene Wilson, President of the US Aircraft Industries Association, who stated that a "trinity of air force, air commerce, and aircraft industry had proven itself the decisive factor in future world security" – as quoted in Roger W Lotchin's Fortress California, 1910-1961: From Warfare to Welfare (1992). The subsequent Cold War and arms race left such imaginings as Kipling's and Wells's hopelessly stranded in the past. Michael Moorcock's Colonel Pyat sequence (1981-2006) relegates the Pax Aeronautica to the dreams of its despicable and self-deluding eponym. It is a vision that no longer seems (as it once did) a Near Future possibility.

Yet the Pax can still plausibly occupy other sf niches, most notably the retro setting of Steampunk, as seen in numerous works from Michael Moorcock's The Warlord of the Air (1971) to Stephen Hunt's The Court of the Air (2007). Post-Holocaust scenarios show a kind of order maintained by the great flying head of Zardoz (1974) or by England's futile airborne defenders in Keith Roberts's Kiteworld (fixup 1985). It is one of the many genre themes touched upon in Thomas Pynchon's maverick Against the Day (2006). [DRL]

see also: Edwin Balmer; Hamish Blair; E Keble Chatterton; Walther Eidlitz; George Allan England; Charles J Finger; F.P.1 Antwortet Nicht; George Glendon; W Holt-White; Rev T McGrady; Geoffrey Meredith; Vincent Mills-Malet; Cora Minnett; G Read Murphy; Roy Norton; Standish James O'Grady; Roger Pocock; E J Rath.

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