Monday, August 3, 2015

Learning about Japanese balloon bombs with Ross Coen

In June, historian Ross Coen came to the Alaska State Library to present a lecture on fu-go, Japanese balloon bombs used in a strange and little-known campaign during the end of World War II. The lecture was based on research for Coen's new book, Fu-Go: The Curious History of Japan's Balloon Bomb Attack on America, published last year by University of Nebraska Press, and included many historic photographs that were once considered highly classified.

The Japanese hoped that the balloon bombs would start wildfires and terrorize Americans by raining fire from the sky. However, several factors contributed to the overall failure of the campaign. First, due to seasonal winds, the balloons could only survive the trans-Pacific flight during the winter, when Pacific forests were the least susceptible to fires. Second, the U.S. military requested media silence on all stories concerning the balloons, and although the order was not mandatory, most news outlets complied. Thus, although hundreds of the balloons reached North America, the Japanese had no way of knowing if the balloons were surviving the oceanic flight, and eventually the lack of discernible results and resource shortages led to the termination of the campaign.

This balloon, recovered at Alturas, California, on January 10, 1945, was reinflated for testing by the U.S. military. U.S. Army Air Corps (Air Force) photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives.
We shared Ross' presentation on the Alaska Online With Libraries (OWL) videoconferencing network, and were joined by participants from Craig, Ketchikan, Skagway, Sitka, Fairbanks, and Haines. If you missed the presentation, you can watch the archived videoconference recording online. Sharing a program like this on OWL was a new endeavor for us, so please excuse the screen sharing difficulties during the first few minutes of the video.

Ross' book is available at many local libraries, including the Alaska State Library, and as an e-book on ListenAlaska.

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