The first signs of change started with the post World War I influenza epidemic. Isolationism grew in popularity as many fell to a disease brought back from Europe by returning servicemen. President Woodrow Wilson’s push to form a League of Nations outraged U.S. citizens and allowed Warren G. Harding’s “New Independence from Europe” campaign to flourish. Harding called for greater separation from the world, and his Regionalist party adopted this as its platform’s theme. When the Regionalists won office in 1920, they used their new power to promote Prohibition.
In 1923, however, President Harding died. His successor, Calvin Coolidge, refused to support Prohibition and the Federal bill languished in congressional committees.
Meanwhile, Prohibition became a battle between ideologically distinct regions in America. Checkpoints appeared on state borders as authorities tried to restrict the flow of alcohol. Many states used these checkpoints to levy unofficial—and highly illegal—tariffs.
In 1927, a new and deadly strain of influenza ravaged the country. States closed their borders and converted their liquor checkpoints into quarantine-en-forcement sites. Smugglers and raiders adopted the airplane to avoid the limitations of ground-based transportation.
The election of 1928 suffered from low voter turn out, as most people avoided large groups for fear of contracting influenza. The Regionalists launched their “Strong State” platforms and effectively curtailed the Federal government’s power.
In October of 1929, the stock market crash was the final blow to the United States. Regionalism had decimated the national economy and Washington D.C.’s call for financial assistance from state governments was universally rejected.
On January 1, 1930, Texas seceded from the United States, with California, the Carolinas, Utah, and New York quickly following their lead. Unable to mount the political and military campaign necessary to hold the United States together, Washington was now powerless.
As the Federal government crumbled, the vast majority of the nation’s military deserted or swore allegiance to their native states. Many sold their skills as mercenaries or bandits.
North America’s fascination with airplanes now became a necessity, as commerce between the new independent nations ground to a halt. Brushfire wars demolished the intercontinental railway system, and the highways quickly fell into disrepair or were sabotaged. The automobile, once destined to become the national shipping vehicle, gave way to gyrotaxis, aerobuses, and the large cargo zeppelins that commanded the skylines.
“Air pirates” captured the public eye during this period of turmoil. Small, disorganized bands of thrill-seekers and publicity hounds, these pirates began crime sprees that would inspire others. The first serious pirate threat came in 1931. Jonathan “Genghis” Kahn—a former businessman from Chicago—created the infamous Red Skull Legion. The Skulls moved into Utah (posing as People’s Collective militia) where they stole a military zeppelin. Low-intensity border skirmishes between the new nation-states continued through 1935. Amidst the chaos, bootleggers and pirates thrived. Scores of new militias, most determined to defend their states, battled increasingly colorful and flamboyant raiders. The Redmann Gang, the Red Skull Legion, the Black Swans, and other pirate groups pillaged across national boundaries. The nation-states continued to subsidize their air wings but also began offering Letters of Marque to pirates, allowing them to legally attack the nation’s rivals.
Today, North America is a continent politely at war with itself. Rival militias fall on each other in defense of their own national interests. Pirates and privateers challenge these militias for control of the skies, and they are often victorious. The air lanes are the new frontier, where a single individual with skill and nerve can make all the difference. Today’s flyers are men and women to be applauded, feared, but above all respected, for as long as they can push the envelope and maintain their hold on the skies. We have given them this power.
The sky is the limit—but five thousand feet up makes for a long fall from glory