So, I presented a paper at AAS in San Diego. Obviously the high points were meeting Konrad Lawson in person and eating really good fish tacos, so I could taunt the kids when I got back. The paper was on air-mindedness in China. Air-mindedness was the interwar idea that aircraft were about to lead to a transformation of human affairs. This was a big deal in Europe, the U.S. and Soviet Russia, among other places. I dealt a little with how the idea was imported into China before the war, especially after the bombing of Shanghai in 1932. While there were some air-minded writers who talked about how air travel would lead to universal peace, China was more influenced by those who foresaw a new form technological warfare that a modern nation would have to learn how to cope with. My paper mostly looked at wartime efforts to deal with air-raids, but the best reactions I got came from some of the pre-war pictures. If you are the type who only reads scholarly journals for the pictures this post is a good substitute for going to AAS.
Here is a map showing the WWI bombing of London, superimposed on the city of Shanghai, to give the Chinese people an idea of the scale of modern war. In 1932 only a handful of places in Shanghai had been bombed, and part of the purpose of pre-war propaganda was to convince Chinese that they needed to be ready for a new type of war.
How do you prepare? Well, you have to become a different sort of person, as the picture below suggests. I’ve seen this reproduced in a few places. It shows how, based on American experiments, you can tell what size bomb made the crater you are looking at. Your natural reaction to seeing the building next to you turned into a smoking crater might be to panic, but the air-minded citizen will climb into the hole and report the event to the proper authorities
You also have to become a different sort of society. Here is a map, based on European models, that shows a proper modern air defence net for a city, going from the observers far away (all linked by modern communications) to the layers of defence of the city.
How well did the Chinese do at all this? Well, as the picture of an air defence net below, taken from a wartime journal, suggests, they had the idea, but the execution was lacking, at least in the early part of the war.
A lot of the pre-war modernity was pretty vague, like these fliers urging the Chinese people to pay attention to air defence, but not really explaining what that might mean
Modernity was also not very evenly distributed in the pre-war period, with most of what was being done happening in Nanjing. That changed during the war of course. It was not much of a paper, but I did like digging around and finding some of this pre-war stuff on air-mindedness and tying it into the more familiar narrative of the wartime bombings.