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Contemporary Americans have never seen such pictures. The spectacle of the skyscraper district invited them to see themselves as part of a nation whose scientific, technological, and industrial power was enabling mankind to realise its potential on a world scale.

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Britain does it her way


The development of aerial bombardment took off on both sides of the Atlantic shortly after the First World War. As with most weapons or weapon systems, the drive behind their emergence is some individual’s enthusiasm/obsession and commercial interests.

In July 1921 General Mitchell of the US Army Air Service led a force of bombers from Virginia to New York. After flying down Broadway to the tip of Manhattan island, where the World Trade Center later stood and fell, the bombers picked landmark buildings as their targets - and proceeded to pulverise the city in a simulated bombing raid. Afterwards Mitchell in a briefing to the press corps estimated that the twenty-one tons of bombs his bombers had pretended to drop would have completely paralysed the city. Next day the New York Herald ran a banner headline:


The sun rose today on a city whose tallest tower lay scattered in crumbled bits of stone. . . Bridges did not exist. . . The sun saw, when its light penetrated the ruins, hordes of people on foot, working their way very slowly and painfully up the island. A few started with automobiles but the masses of stone buildings barricading the avenues soon halted their vehicles. Rich and poor alike, welded together in a real democracy of misery, headed northward. They carried babies, jewel cases, bits of furniture, bags, joints of meat and canned goods made into rough packs.
Always they looked fearfully upwards at the sky. . . bodies lay like revellers overcome in grotesque attitudes. . . The majority had died swiftly of poison gas.

By ‘bombing’ Manhattan, Mitchell enabled New Yorkers to witness with their own eyes the devastating power of the bomber. This was part of a larger campaign by the Army Air Service and aircraft manufacturers to persuade Americans that they had to support the rapid development of aviation or face disaster. Shortly after this Mitchell lead mock bombing attacks on other cities, activities which resulted in a storm of publicity in which the press sought to outdo each other with accounts of the projected utter destruction of these cities. Mitchell had a grand vision and the aircraft manufacturers were right behind him with albeit more mundane interests: 'If a nation ambitious for universal conquest gets off to a "flying start" in a war of the future, it may be able to control the whole world more easily than a nation has controlled a continent in the past.

The advent of air power has made every country and the world smaller. We do not measure distances by the unit of miles, but by the unit of hours. Communications all over the world today are instantaneous. . . Airplanes can be talked to while in flight anywhere. The airship or Zeppelin can cross any ocean. Should a nation, therefore, attain complete control of the air, it could more nearly master the earth than has ever been the case in the past.'

Mitchell's simulated attack promoted a fiction. There was no possibility that any European power could cross the Atlantic with a bomber force sufficiently large to carry out anything more than a superficial gas attack on New York. As such the media blitz that followed his mock attacks on America's cities stands in stark contrast to the brief mention received by an actual air attack against the inhabitants of an American city some months earlier. In May 1921 a mob of 10,000 whites invaded the black part of Tulsa, Oklahoma. As they advanced, they looted small businesses and shops and set homes on fire. Armed blacks defended their homes.

To overcome the unexpectedly fierce resistance the white mob enlisted the help of eight planes, some manned by police, and rapidly improvised dynamite bombs, which were dropped on black neighbourhoods which the mob had already set alight using oil and gasoline. Most of the black ghetto was burnt to the ground and between 150 and 200 black people, the majority of whom were women and children, along with 50 of the white invaders, lost their lives.

:: Mitchell's fiction made real by Britain