Tuesday, November 25, 2014

A brief history of aerial bombing in the United States of America

We fought gladly and to the last drop of blood for America
-WEB Dubois

  The history of aerial bombing in the United States of America is a history of racial tension and class struggle, like many of our histories. It is also filled with rumor and myth, another trait of American history.

The first incident occurred just months before the second in the year 1921. Aerial bombing had been invented just years before, in the rush of invention to create new technologies for slaughtering people, in what was then  referred to as the Great War or the war to end all wars. Left over armaments from that conflict played a role in both the first two incidents.  The first incident is what is called the Tulsa race riot. This incident at the end of May of that year resembled the “race riots” of two summers before, the “red summer” where murderous racial violence exploded across the country. The Chicago riot of “red summer” occurred the same week a dirigible exploded over the city, raining fire and bodies on office buildings below, but this similarity is accidental. But like many of the race riots before, a simple incident between a black male and white woman  got out of hand and fueled local racial tensions leading to a larger gathering of armed white men who assaulted the Greenwood district in Tulsa, then the richest black neighborhood in America sometimes called the “Black Wall Street”.  Both the besieged and the attackers were well armed, but the blacks were at the disadvantage as their businesses and homes were set on fire, devastating the district. Six biplanes left over from the world war were dispatched to fly over the conflict. White officials claimed these were merely spotter planes there to prevent a wider uprising. Eyewitnesses reported the planes were employed to drop firebombs on the district and to snipe at the besieged.

The catastrophe of the First World War and the extraordinary spiritual malaise that came afterwards were needed to arouse a doubt as to whether all was well with the white man’s mind.
-Carl Jung

The second incident was mere months later in West Virginia. This almost mythic event called the battle of Blair Mountain has been regarded as one of the largest armed civil conflicts in the United States since the Civil War. The United Mine Workers fought a pitched battle with local lawmen and Baldwin Felts strikebreakers for five days. This episode was one of many incidents in the bloody “Coal wars” of the previous decades. The strikebreakers hired private planes to drop bombs left over from the world war on the strikers, sometimes indiscriminately releasing them on villages.  When the army arrived to conclude the hostilities in the favor of the mine owners they also employed bombers as surveillance planes and some said intimidation. The miners captured one of the unexploded bombs the strikebreakers had engaged and later displayed it at a trial.

I do not know if all cops are poets, but I know all cops carry guns with triggers
-Ralph Ellison

The third major known incident of aerial bombing in the United States of America took place some six decades later. This third and final event under discussion involves the conflict between the city of Philadelphia and the organization known as MOVE. MOVE, a black liberation organization with back to the land overtones started by John Africa (all members of the group employed the surname Africa) had a previous violent conflict with the city in 1978 where the unsanitary nature of their compound and incidents with police led to a raid. A policeman died in the firefight under unclear circumstances and several of the members of the group were charged with his death. The even more embattled organization (as the founder John Africa insisted they be considered. Many argued convincingly that MOVE was a cult, some called them a terrorist organization) moved to a working class black neighborhood which they came in conflict with, setting up two bunkers on the roof of their house, occasionally gesturing with weapons, and blaring profane political speeches through loudspeakers at all hours of the day. This mixed with compost, feces, gathered wood that filled the compound, alongside concern for the treatment of the numerous children that MOVE had, all lead inevitably to another conflict with the city in 1985. The police moved in (many of who had been involved in the previous confrontation) and surrounded the house and then evacuated the area. They issued a communique to MOVE that had curious language.

Attention MOVE, this is America.

Soon tear gas and two high powered water jets were turned on the compound. At some point heavy gunfire started. There is been much debate which side did most of the firing, though the police at one point ran out of ammo. The police commissioner citing the tactical advantage MOVE had with the two bunkers on the roof decided to employ a drastic measure. He had a police helicopter drop a satchel bomb on the roof of the house. It failed to destroy the bunkers but started a fire.  A decision was made to let the fire burn. The water jets were turned off. The fire destroyed the compound; only two people left it and survived an adult and a child, five other children and six other adults died including John Africa. There were rumors that the police fired on anyone trying to leave the fire. One adult was seen by witnesses leaving and then running back in for an unknown reason. The ensuing blaze also destroyed three blocks of the neighborhood.
This for the moment is what we know of aerial bombing in America by Americans.

If this is Peace, it is peace with gothic undertones, as if the ghosts of the past might be appeased for a moment but never exorcised in their entirety
-Max Roach

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