Aviation and Asian Modernity 1900–1950
- Alan BaumlerAlan BaumlerDepartment of History, Indiana University of Pennsylvania
Between 1903 and 1950, aviation technology was spread around the world and became a key concern of governments and a cultural marker of modernity. After 1903, Asia had to be explored again. Almost as soon as heavier than air flight became possible, French and British fliers began pioneering new routes to Asian cities and developing new maps and new airports along the way. With these new forms of knowledge, the colonial powers quickly moved to tie together their empires. New mapping techniques allowed for new forms of control, including what the British called “air policing,” the idea that judicious use of aircraft, and in some cases bombs and poison gas, could cheaply pacify far-flung colonial populations.
Aviation was one field, however, where the Europeans did not have a long lead on Asians. Just as Europeans were using aviation to express their dominance, Asians were using it to express their modernity. Feng Ru was making and flying his own planes in San Francisco by 1912, and Siam had an air force by 1913. Asian social and political elites, who had once traveled by rail and steamship, now preferred to fly instead. “Air-mindedness” became a marker of global citizenship.
Japan was the first Asian country to have an aviation industry. They proved their technological prowess to the rest of the world when they entered World War II. Their pilots bombed cities and fleets across Asia between 1937and 1945. The experience of being bombed as well as the drills and community organizations that grew out of experience ushered in a societal awareness of the military power of airplanes. The war culminated with two atomic air raids and was followed by a scramble to occupy and connect the newly liberated and independent parts of Asia. The post–World War II period led to an intensified effort to tie Asia together with faster transportation