year is 1937. The United States has shattered under the combined weight
of the Great Depression, regional Prohibition and mounting isolationism. The transcontinental
railroad and the budding highway system have become useless as they now cross hostile
borders. Commerce and trade leave the ground as air travel now becomes a vital lifeline
connecting allied countries -- and a national obsession -- while daring air pirates
and valiant air militias battle for control of the skies. Giant zeppelins crisscross
the skies, carrying both passengers and cargo. It is a time of gunship diplomacy
and airship piracy. It is the age of the fighter pilot and a time of daredevil adventure
and sinister intrigue. It is the world of Crimson Skies…
Crimson Skies Over North America
A Brief History
By Prof. Warren Gilmont, Harvard University (1938)
There was no single warning sign that pointed to the breakup of the United States
of America. The American Civil War in 1860 may have played a part, say some, while
others blame the so-called Founding Fathers, who failed to predict the collapse
of the nation. Regardless of the root cause, the result is the same: the United
States of America, that great experiment in Democracy, crumbled in the late 1920s.
The first signs of the coming collapse became apparent in 1920, in the aftermath
of the post-War influenza epidemic. Many isolationist movements – already convinced
that America’s involvement in Europe’s troubles – were only strengthened after so
many citizens fell to a disease brought back by returning servicemen.
President Wilson's push to form the League of Nations drew increasing fire from
U.S. citizens, allowing Warren G. Harding's "New Independence from Europe" campaign
to gain momentum. Harding called for greater separation from the world in general,
and the Regionalist party adopted it as part of their platform. Many Regionalists
who won office in 1920 used their new power to push forward their own programs –
most notably, Prohibition (which failed ratification as a Constitutional amendment
Prohibition consumed the political scene for the next three years, splitting
its supporters and detractors across regional lines. Its political power undercut
by the Regionalists, Washington's indecisiveness forced politicians to support efforts
to sign Prohibition into law, or to reject it, for their own states.
The death of President Harding in 1923 handed the Presidency to Calvin Coolidge,
who refused to get behind the wavering Federal Prohibition Bill. Without Presidential
support, the bill quickly died in committee.
The Prohibition issue that had polarized the country became a battle between
regions that supported it, and those that did not. Checkpoints appeared on state
borders as authorities tried to restrict the flow of alcohol into "dry" regions.
Many states also used these checkpoints to levy unofficial – and highly illegal
The election campaigns of 1924 illustrated the growing shift in power from Washington
to the statehouses. States demanded more authority, and state governments seized
greater powers. Despite Federal efforts to reverse the tide, the states continued
to appropriate more power. The result – stronger states and a weak central government
– is exemplified by the 1924 Bluefield Incident.
Kentucky and West Virginia began armed conflict with the Virginia and North
Carolina for control of the Appalachians, source of a large percentage of illegal
alcohol that was smuggled north. The Virginia National Guard captured a large Kentucky
convoy outside the town of Bluefield, only to discover that their prize was a Kentucky
guard unit running alcohol out of the Appalachians toward the West Virginia border.
Though jurisdiction clearly belonged to Kentucky, the men were tried in Virginia
on vague charges and jailed. Virginia refused Kentucky's request to transfer the
men back to their home state, and later rejected a similar "suggestion" from Washington
D.C. Only under the threat of U.S. Army intervention did Virginia finally release
the prisoners to federal authorities, almost two years after their capture.
Except for the Bluefield Incident (and a few other isolated flashpoints in the
United States and Mexico), the period from 1924 to 1927 were among the best the
United States had known, as Regionalists backed off. The elections were over, the
Prohibition issue was largely settled, at least within individual states, and the
country had a brief respite from the growing political unrest. Unemployment dropped
dramatically as states employed their own people to maintain growing state infrastructures
(even as the national infrastructure began to show the strain of severe regulation).
Per capita income increased, and more people began investing in the stock market
– in most cases foolishly.
The federal government might have reclaimed its authority then, but chose to
wait for the next major election year to increase its power base and avoid reawakening
Regionalist opposition. Washington waited too long.
In 1927, a new and deadly strain of the influenza that ravaged the country in
1918 appeared, delivering a crippling blow to national morale. States – and even
many cities – closed their borders and converted their liquor checkpoints into quarantine-enforcement
sites. Necessary border crossings were made under armed supervision with strict
controls. Smugglers and raiders began adopting the airplane as their primary method
of border-jumping, avoiding the limitations of the ground-based automobile.
The election of 1928 suffered from poor voter turnout, as most people avoided
large groups (for fear of contracting influenza). Capitalizing on this, the Regionalists
launched various "Strong State" platforms, effectively curtailing the federal government's
remaining power. Governors negotiated with their neighbors to establish interstate
alliances, formalizing the segregated regions that had grown out of the preceding
decade's isolationist policies. In many cases, these new alliances merely reinforced
divisions that had existed from the United States' founding days.
In early 1929, Utah enacted the Smith Law, which made Mormonism the state's
official religion, with state government support. With the federal government's
impotence and Utah's isolation, cries to heed the traditional "separation of Church
and State" were largely ignored. Fearing similar measures, strongly anti-Mormon
states such as Pennsylvania and Massachusetts began to discriminate against the
Mormons, driving many toward Utah.
In October of 1929, the stock market crash sounded the death knell for the United
States. Regionalism had decimated the national economy and Washington D.C.'s call
for financial assistance from state governments was roundly rejected. President
Hoover called out the military to keep D.C. from slipping into lawlessness, further
damaging the reputation of the central government.
On January 1, 1930, Texas seceded from the United States, with California, the
Carolinas, Utah and New York following suit almost immediately afterwards. Each
state formed new nations, much as the Confederacy had done in the 1800s. Unable
to mount the political and military campaign necessary to hold the United States
together, Washington was now powerless.
This new period of extreme Regionalism created turmoil on a grand scale. Quebec
broke away from Canada, as well. Mexico moved against Texas, and a minor shooting
war erupted. In the ten months following Texas’ secession, California, The Carolinas,
Utah, and New York withdrew from the Union, forming independent nation-states.
North America’s love of airplanes – once rooted in the exotic, adventurous mystique
surrounding them – became a necessity, as commerce between the new North American
independent nations ground to a halt. Various brushfire wares demolished the intercontinental
railway system at national borders, and the few large highway systems built or under
construction quickly fell into disrepair or were sabotaged. The automobile, once
thought destined to become the national shipping vehicle, gave way to gyrotaxis,
aerobuses and the large cargo zeppelins that commanded the skylines and made trade
possible between friendly nations.
The first "air pirates" began capturing the public eye during this period of
chaos. Generally small, disorganized bands of thrill-seekers and publicity hounds,
these pirates began crime sprees that would inspire others to follow in their footsteps
in later years.
As the Federal Government in Washington, D.C. crumbled, a vast segment of the
nation’s military began to desert. The soldiers’ pay was slow in coming, and many
were starving. Many returned to their home states, while others began selling their
skills as mercenaries or bandits. A few thousand troops remained loyal, relocating
to Washington, D.C. to defend the capital.
The political geography continued shifting throughout the year: the short-lived
Outer Banks nation of Virginia and the Carolinas quickly folded itself into the
rest of the Southern states, giving rise to the new Confederation of Dixie throughout
the South. Samuel Morrow formed the People’s Collective in the Midwest (abrogating
all loans and mortgages among its citizens, a move that angered outside financial
interests but kept the new nation from drowning in the Great Depression).
The formation of the People’s Republic also led to one of the last major engagements
of the Federalist armed forces; on Presidential orders, the Army moved to retake
the People’s Collective, but were roundly defeated.
Like dominos falling, various new nation states began to form quickly; the Industrial
States of America (formed around the industrial centers of the Great Lakes); Appalachia
formed in the South; the Maritime Provinces and Atlantic Coalition declared independence
in the Northeast.
The first serious pirate threat manifested in mid-1931. Jonathan "Ghengis" Kahn
– a former businessman from Chicago – formed the infamous Red Skull Legion. The
Skulls moved into Utah (posing as People’s Collective militia) and stole a military
zeppelin, nearly starting a Utah-Collective war in the process. The age of the air
pirates had begun.
In early 1932, the Native American Navajo and Lakota tribes took up arms and
seized a large portion of territory in the American West. With little Federal opposition,
the Natives managed to secure a fairly broad section of territory before closing
their borders to outsiders. Particularly scornful of bootleggers, the Navajo and
Lakota – never the greatest of allies – still band together to fight off any incursion
by pirates, outsider militia forces, or anything deemed a threat to the tribes.
Free Colorado, in contrast, formed for entirely different reasons, becoming
a haven for pirates, bootleggers and the other, more-anarchistic elements. In light
of the lawless freehold’s formation, President Coolidge ordered troops to seize
the lands near Washington, D.C. (including parts of Maryland and Delaware) and declared
a "state of emergency"; the nation of Columbia was born.
Louisiana seceded from Dixie soon afterward, requesting support from France
for its independence. Ill-prepared to go it alone, the Midwestern states sank deep
into the Depression and then resurrected themselves as a Christian Communist nation,
the People’s Collective. The relatively strong Lakota and Navajo Native American
tribes founded their own nations as well, carving territory out of the nearly defunct
Dakotas and the barren deserts and plateau country of the American southwest.
Even worse, as national borders continued to form, conflict became inevitable.
The first serious conflict occurred near the end of 1932, as ISA forces clashed
with People’s Collective militia. The source of the conflict is hazy; some claim
it is a natural battle between capitalists and socialists, while others believe
that the ISA thought that their technological superiority would allow them to capture
the territory - and therefore the natural resources - of the Collective. Whatever
the case, through the rest of 1932 and into 1933, the conflict continued.
The political destabilization and shifting of borders continued throughout 1933;
small brushfire conflicts between ground and air militias forged new national boundaries,
fueled by the continuing conflict between the ISA and People’s Collective. In light
of the hostilities that seemed to be on the verge of blowing up into full-scale
war, the Outer Banks nations (formerly the Carolinas and Virginia) formed an alliance
with Dixie, becoming a Protectorate of the Confederacy, and fueling conflict between
Appalachia, Dixie and the Outer Banks.
1934 - 1935
The low-intensity border skirmishes between these new nations continued to flare
up, and amidst the chaos, the bootleggers and pirates thrived. Scores of new militias
- most determined to defend their hometown or state - formed to battle increasingly
colorful and flamboyant raiders. The Redmann Gang, the Red Skull Legion, the Black
Swans, and hosts of other pirate groups continued to raid across national boundaries
(sparking additional conflicts as overzealous militia pilots strayed across borders
into unfriendly territory in pursuit of the raiders).
The borders and politics of the North American nation-states solidified in 1936.
Combined Navajo and Utah forces allied long enough to fight off incursions by pirates
based in Free Colorado; the Broadway Bombers (the premier Empire State militia)
decimated the Hell’s Henchmen pirate gang in the Alleghenies; ISA and the Peoples’
Collective conflict flared up yet again, though this time the Collective fared far
better than in previous engagements, retaking small parcels of their territory.
Sky pirates have prompted the rise of air militias to protect the shipping lanes.
The pirates maintained an edge, however, and their early successes gave way to today's
large and numerous pirate groups. Piracy got another boost when militias began raiding
rival shipping, often receiving bonuses from their employers that reflected the
value of the cargo taken or destroyed. As pirate and militia raids cut deeper into
national economies, the various governments began subsidizing air wings.
Piracy actually lessened in the face of this organized response, though only
briefly; the pirates adapted to the changing times by forming larger, better-armed
gangs. From there, it was only a matter of time before nations began to subsidize
pirates as well, handing out letters of marque in order to direct pirate activities
away from their own zeppelin fleets and toward those of their enemies.
Today, North America is a hotbed of conflict: rival militias prey on each other
at well, striking in defense of their nations’ interests; pirates and privateers
battle the militias for control of the skies, and are too often victorious. The
skies above North America are the new frontier, where a single individual with skill
and nerve can make the difference between victory and defeat.