In 1908 H G Wells published the very first work of fiction to anticipate that aircraft would play a major role in future conflicts. His novel The War in the Air depicted German airships terrorising American cities: ‘Nation rose against nation and air-fleet grappled air-fleet, cities blazed and men died in multitudes.’ No one described man-made catastrophes as well as Wells. He was the master of the doomsday moment, when people stare into the abyss and blink. In a short story of 1895, ‘The Stolen Bacillus’, he looked even further into the future without knowing it, describing how a suicide terrorist infects himself with a deadly virus so that he can spread the disease in an overcrowded city.
What’s interesting about The War in the Air, writes Lawrence Freedman, is that Wells was able to appreciate two essential features of air power. The first was the ‘unequal fight between the airmen and their victims’: ‘men who were neither