The International Aeronautical Foundation, (I.A.F.) ca. 1923


The International Aeronautical Foundation, (I.A.F.)

By William Knight, M.E.

THE outstanding feature of the great war was undoubtedly the development of the flying machine which made its appearance, at that time, as a new and powerful weapon capable of bringing death and misery into thousands of homes far behind the fighting lines.

Since the end of the war we have further developed the rather crude and primitive instrument of destruction from the air that we had known during the war and we have made of it a deciding factor in both military and naval tactics, an almost perfect instrument possessing all the requirements for destroying in an hour a stupendous amount of lives and property. Furthermore we have transformed the war time flying machine into the peace time commercial aircraft which is probably the only blessing that the war has brought upon mankind.

As the situation stands now, we have a variety of types of military aircraft and each one of them is an almost perfect type of war engine well adapted to the service required of it in time of war. We have also a variety of types of commercial aircraft all representing more or less of a compromise between military and commercial requirements. ... with the results that everybody knows.

What Did We Learn from the Last War?

The great war, apparently, has not taught us any lasting moral lesson. We are now as much at the eve of a new conflagration as we were on the fateful days of 1914. Governments of all nations, not excluding our own, are just as blind to the impending signs of the storm which is coming, and shall be just as powerless to avoid its destructive effects as it was the case of a few years ago. Militarism which was blamed for bringing about the war scourge of 1914 is a good deal more powerful [today] in every country than it was ever in the past. What did we fight the last war for? What have we accomplished? What shall we accomplish in the next war? How long will it be before the people of all nations shall refuse to kill each other?

These perplexing questions have been asked by all of us time and again during the last three years and we have reached the point when we have given up the attempt to answer them and we are more or less unresistingly drifting along in the eternal stream of the history of mankind.

I think however that if we are inclined to shrink from answering general questions dealing with somewhat [intangible] elements, we cannot avoid answering pertinent questions dealing with realities and cold facts.

Next War Shall Be Decided in the Air

A most important reality born out of the war is the airplane. A cold fact, and not a very encouraging one by any means, is that the next war shall be decided in the air, in a very short time, and with such appalling losses which are without precedent in the history of the world, by aircraft dropping bombs, liquid fire and poisonous gases on defenseless cities far behind the battlefields. These are not dreams, these are facts which would become dreadful realities [today] if a new war should suddenly start once more, and we might as well face them.

On the other hand we have the unlimited commercial possibilities offered by the flying machines as a new means of transportation. I think it is safe to predict that the effects of aerial navigation upon the international commerce of the world shall be so far reaching that the flying machine shall become another turning point in the evolution of mankind unequalled by any other previous invention, not even by the invention of the steam engine.

In the meantime, however, commercial aviation is yet at the experimental stage and it will take years and hard work before it will become a profitable business proposition, while instead military and naval aeronautics are [today] the most practical means of offense and defense which have been devised so far.

Commercial Aviation as a Business Proposition

We all know what is going on in civil aviation in the world and, most naturally we measure its success, or its lack of success, in terms of dollars and cents, which is the proper thing to do. The present success or lack of success of civil aviation is contingent on a number of factors: mostly technical, economical and legislative. Commercial aviation needs commercial airplanes, money, laws and regulations. Before, however, money is invested to any large extent in commercial aviation developments, the matter of fair returns for the capital invested receives first consideration. On the other hand, the matter of financial returns from aeronautical investments cannot be separated from the political and legislative aspect of aeronautics (both national and international) and must be considered in its proper order of relation with other existing means of transportation. Commercial aviation cannot be created over night, the same as we created a military aeronautic organization during the war. The problems involved are entirely different and no amount of skillful propaganda boosting aeronautics will succeed in coaxing hard headed business men into aeronautical investments, unless the necessary conditions are first created whereby aerial navigation can become within reasonable limits of time a good field of investment of capital, although aeronautical propaganda is very effective in creating a good deal of public interest in aeronautical activities, and this is very important indeed. If you tell the people that aerial navigation has opened up new fields of peaceful activities whereby happiness and civilization shall be enhanced in this world they will be mildly interested and the public press will be willing to exert enough pressure upon the government to bring about the enactment of proper laws and regulations making it possible to give a start to commercial aeronautical activities. Before, however, we, as individuals give a dollar for aviation, before we entrust our lives and property to aerial transports we want to be shown that it is safe and that it pays dividends. It is quite natural that it should be so, and it is not surprising at all to see that commercial aviation is progressing slowly. Commercial aviation is advancing in a most logical way and, in spite of the fact that it is losing money [today], there are no limits to its financial possibilities in a few years from now. In the meantime, however, the task of putting it over is left to a limited number of pioneers and farseeing business men who are willing to discount their losses of [today] because they have faith in [tomorrow]. It is the same old story of the steam engine and the automobile industry which repeats itself. It is the same old reproof of the fact that, after all, the foundations of any business enterprise are: ideals and faith.

Aeronautical Preparations for Next War

While this is true of commercial aeronautics, almost the contrary is true of military and naval aeronautics. Aeronautical propaganda which cannot succeed in squeezing a dollar out of the pocket of the public, before it has been fairly conclusively demonstrated that, sooner or later, commercial aviation will pay adequate dividends, when it comes to the point of obtaining money for military or naval aeronautics, we usually start by systematically opposing all requests for increased expenditures in the costly and unproductive business of preparing for future wars.

As individuals, we are more or less mildly interested in this war business (although it is very much our own business to pay taxes for military armaments and to fight when it comes to the point where we have to fight). As a rule, we all are peaceful and we all hate wars, unless we have some old score to settle with neighboring nations. We all hate to pay taxes for military and naval armaments but, if it is proved that we have to do it (and it is always proved sooner or later), if it is proved that we are dropping behind other nations in properly providing for the national defense, why, of course we are willing to give what is needed, because we want to be protected, and as long as there is no [page 2] other way out, we have to prepare for war the same as the other nations in the world are doing.

This is what has happened in Aeronautics. We have spent during the war and since the war hundreds of millions of dollars for developing aircraft for military uses and we have now some of the best aerial types of fighting machines. The government has not spent a cent for developing commercial aircraft and whatever we have [today] in commercial aviation is due to the initiative of a few individuals.

Scrapping Battleships and Submarines and Building Aircraft

As a matter of fact, when we review what has been accomplished in aviation in this country by individual initiative, with very little money, without government subsidies and, without aeronautical laws, we cannot help comparing the results of individual business initiative with what has been accomplished by military and naval aeronautics, figure out how much we have paid for the latter, and wistfully wonder how much it would have meant to this nation and to the world if we had spent that much money in developing a new means of transportation instead of perfecting a new powerful means of destruction.

A few years ago (or was it centuries ago?) an American had the courage of opposing a set of moral principles (we call them [today] "the fourteen points") to a world in arms. He dreamed of the establishment of a moral super-government which we remember now as a so-called League of Nations and which was supposed to make the world safe for democracy.

A few months ago the American Government startled the world with a bold program of drastic reductions of naval armaments (battleships by the way, have been subsequently proved to be practically obsolete since the development of the aircraft). The submarine was tabooed (which is almost harmless in the presence of an adequate aerial defense) but aircraft, aerial bombs and poisonous gases were left to the various democracies of the world as a means of either enforcing or defending their right of self-determination, or whatever this means.

This Nation Must Be Prepared for Another War

As I said before, we cannot deal with [intangible] elements such as right or wrong in any discussion involving the many complicated problems issuing from the war, and hope to solve them with the enunciation of principles. This was tried once by Woodrow Wilson, the most respected man in the world, a few years ago, and, [today], the most respectable and the most abused man in the world who is blamed for almost anything.

We must have ideals. We must have faith in the inherent goodness of any human being. We must try to develop the spirit of brotherhood in the community in which we live and between all nations and all races of the world. In the meantime, however, we must be practical, we cannot help having nationalistic interest to defend and to fight for. We cannot rely on the moral strength of a League of Nations or on gentlemanly agreements between governments, to protect our shores, our land and our lives. We must prepare for war, and therefore we must have aircraft, aerial bombs, liquid fires and poisonous gases, same as any other nation, until such a time when the human relationship existing between nations shall have the same meaning as that which prevails among the people of any one nation.

Until such time comes we must take the world as it is and the only way we can develop a better sense of international responsibility between governments is by taking our own share of responsibility in the work involved. So far we have been primarily concerned with national policies, and our interest in international political events has been generally limited to that extent to which our own nationalistic interests were concerned. The matter of peace and war, and the conditions which are fatally bound to bring about either peace or war, are always brought about by a few. If errors are made by the representatives of the people in domestic politics we can always correct them. If errors are made in foreign politics, we cannot always correct them and if that means war, all we can do is to fight.

Next War Shall Be Fought Against Women and Children

There seems to be something fundamentally wrong in such a state of affairs which, however, we cannot change over night -- changes will take place in time through a slow but steady progress of evolution of government functions which shall, however, always be induced by the evolution of our own individual sense of obligation to our own people and to the people of other nations.

In the meantime, considering the fact that, judging from all indications, the great European War is not going to be, by any means, the last war in the history of mankind, we must prepare ourselves to see another war which, however, will be the most barbarous war ever fought and the most shameful prostitution of American genius which gave the flying machine to the world.

The next war will be fought and decided in the air, and the trend of evolution of present day military aircraft points out the undeniable fact that long distance bombing machines intended to operate at hundreds of miles behind the fighting lines against thickly populated cities, will enforce peace among the men at the front by killing the women and the children of the cities in the rear.

The war game, [hélas], has lost the charm and the poetry of the days when knighthood was in flower. In this highly developed industrial civilization of ours, war involves the use of powerful engines for the destruction on a large scale of human lives and property.

At the beginning of the last war, the airplane almost revived the gallant individual fights of [medieval] knights. The aviators of those days were the heroes of the blue sky who fought Homeric single handed combats in crudely made flying machines and died like men under the sun and over the battlefield before the eyes of two opposite armies. During the war, however, the use of the airplane changed. No more blue sky and face to face combats for the heroes of the air, but the cover of darkness and the raids over Paris, London, and over dozens of cities in France, England, Belgium and Germany wrote with bombs the first pages of the history of the engineering and military developments of the aircraft.

Since that time other pages have been written and the aircraft of [today], as I said before, is an almost perfect war engine and we must pray God that we may never fully know how efficient it is.

Should We Disarm in the Air? -- No --

Should we take upon ourselves in this country the task of condemning the airplane same as we did condemn the submarine? Should we deny to our Army and Navy the appropriations that they need in order to build and to maintain our air forces up to the strength which is consistent with the safety of the nation under any conceivable emergency which may arise in the future? Should we rely on future agreements between nations, regulating the use of aircraft during the war?

To any and all of the above questions I answer most emphatically: NO. We cannot wipe out of our civilization the most efficient means of transportation which has been first created by American intellects and which represents the only objective lesson in internationalism which has been taught to the world by the war, when the commercial aircraft was born. We cannot, without being traitors to our country, refuse millions or even billions of dollars needed for the national defense when other nations between the prospect of bankruptcy and armaments are choosing bankruptcy. Finally we cannot rely on international treaties regulating the use of aircraft in time of war and on gentlemanly agreements between nations to be respected by all nations in time of war. We have seen in the last war how international treaties became scraps of paper, and humanitarian sentiments have no meaning at all in a twentieth century war which is fought with aerial bombs, poisonous gases and deadly [bacteria].

Will the citizens of this country and the citizens of the world view with indifference the raising or rather the lowering of the [page 3] aircraft, from the ranks of a most wonderful potential carrier of the commerce of the world, into the ranks of the most powerful destructive machine far exceeding the power of guns, battleships and submarines? I hope not.

How Can We Protect Ourselves Against Military Aircraft?

What can we do? What force can we oppose to the destructive force of the aircraft in time of war? How can we kill the military aircraft without at the same time killing the commercial aircraft?

There is a force in the world which is stronger than any other force in nature and this force is the spark of the divine within ourselves which manifests itself through any human intellect each time that we perceive the divine relationship existing between all creatures of God. Unfortunately, however, the human race has not progressed yet far enough along the path of spiritual development and we are unable to perceive at all times and in all cases such a relationship.

Human nature, however, is fundamentally good at any time and in any circumstance and is wonderfully responsive to any appeal which is made to this sense of humanity when such an appeal is not motivated by a selfish purpose. The fact that after two thousand years the teachings of Christ are yet the foundation of our present day civilization is a proof of such a contention. The fact that the fourteen points enunciated by Wilson during the war were accepted by the people of all nations is another illustration of this fundamental truth.

Men, however, who in their individual relations with other men are regulated by their own finer nature (more or less modified by education and by the surroundings in which they live), in their collective relations with other groups of men are influenced by the mentality of the particular group to which they belong and which is to a great extent directed by a limited number of men possessing the power for good or for evil to shape public opinion and to create public sentiment -- I think that the presidential campaign in this country in 1916, the election of Woodrow Wilson on a platform of "We are too proud to fight" and the subsequent change of a few months later shows the power of leadership over the [molding] of public opinion and public sentiment.

The International Aeronautical Foundation (I.A.F.)

Why not make use of these two tremendous forces in order to curb the evil power of military aeronautics: The inherent goodness of human nature in the individual and the organized power of mass psychology artificially created for an unselfish motive? It is with this view in mind that the idea of the International Aeronautical Foundation was born.

What is the International Aeronautical Foundation? It is an idea [today], which shall become a powerful force [tomorrow] under the able leadership of a small group of women and men animated by the unselfish desire to serve the cause of their country and of humanity. It is the beginning of a movement which carries within itself enough force to stop war forever. It is the blossom of a seed sown by the first citizen of the Confederation of Nations: Woodrow Wilson, the greatest veteran of the late war and the leader of a movement who can be judged only by history.

I shall try to outline briefly the proposed object of the International Aeronautical Foundation (I.A.F.) -- The purpose of this projected organization is to enlist in its membership individuals and organizations of all countries in the world who are prepared to endorse the first fundamental principle of the I.A.F. -- FIRST: TO RESPECT, TO UPHOLD AND TO HELP TO ENFORCE ANY INTERNATIONAL LAWS AND REGULATIONS AGREED UPON BY CIVILIZED NATIONS REGARDING THE USE OF AIRCRAFT IN TIME OF WAR, AND IN NO CASE TO USE OR TO CONCUR IN ANY WAY IN THE USE OF AIRCRAFT IN TIME OF WAR FOR THE PURPOSE OF DESTROYING HUMAN LIVES AND PROPERTY BEHIND THE ZONE  OF OPERATION OF THE ARMIES.

Any individual and any organization of any country in the world who can take the pledge to live up to the first fundamental principle advocated by the I.A.F. can become a member of the Foundation.

The Second fundamental principle of the foundation, the acceptance of which is optional, is as follows: Second: -- To help furthering the advance of aeronautics and to encourage the use of Commercial aircraft along both national and international lines.

The Purpose of the I.A.F.

This organization should be [nonpolitical], [nonsectarian] and truly international in spirit and in actions. Its main purposes being: --

1) To create in this country, a popular educational movement leading to the condemnation of the barbarous warfare tactics, inaugurated in the late war, when, through the use of aircraft and poisonous gases, the military operations at the front were extended behind the zone of the armies against civilian populations.

2) To concur to the establishment of local groups in foreign countries for the extension of the work of the I.A.F. in every civilized nation, such as to create an international movement sufficiently strong to force the adoption of international laws and regulations and to bring about in all countries appropriate reduction of aerial armaments which shall sufficiently guarantee that, as long as wars shall have to be fought between civilized countries, time honored respect for the rights of [noncombatants] and for the sacredness of international treaties shall not be trampled upon again.

3) To create in this country and to concur to the creation in other countries of a sense of international responsibility between scientists and technical men engaged in advancing the progress of aeronautics and sciences thereto allied, in the final use of their inventions. To offset any unfair use of such inventions and to help to disseminate knowledge in aeronautics, in the interest of the commerce of the world, a cordial exchange of information and technical data between scientists and technical men in the world should be established through the I.A.F. and the knowledge thereby acquired should be disseminated among the members of the federation through publications edited by the foundation.

4) To encourage scientific research work in aeronautics and to promote the study of international problems involved in the political and the business aspect of international aerial navigation.

5) To promote a spirit of international [cooperation] and a sense of class responsibility among members of aeronautical clubs and associations of all countries in the world which are in any way concerned with aeronautical activities.

These are briefly the main objects of the I.A.F.

I have been informed by a number of perfectly honest and well meaning people possessing the gift of a critical mind that my project is not practical because it is very much in advance of our times, but is otherwise a very beautiful and realistic dream which everybody should be glad to see become a reality.

I consider such a comment as a great compliment and I see once more in this comment a proof of the eternal struggle between the spirit and the critical mind, between the natural creature of God and the artificial product of education and surroundings and I bless the Lord for preserving my power to dream, without impairing my facility to deal with realities (which has been my lot during twenty-two years of successful work as an engineer and as a business executive).

A Dream and a Practical Reality

I shall try now to outline briefly how, in my estimation, the beautiful dream could become a practical reality.

Let us assume that an organization committee is formed, composed of a dozen or so of representative men possessing the gift of leadership and who have been fortunate enough to go through life, fighting all its hard battles, without losing confidence in the goodness of human nature (and there are thousands of such men in this country and in every other country in the world). [page 4]

Let us also assume that enough money is collected among people who are fortunate enough to be able to give, and that a well organized educational and membership campaign is started in this country.

The first move in this campaign, in my estimation, should be to interest the women of this country, through their many organizations and I think that the American Gold Star Mothers organization should have the privilege of being the first member association of the I.A.F. -- Women, unlike men, have been endowed by nature with a keen sense of justice which is not obscured by their highly developed mental powers, and is never submerged in the mass psychology which dominated men. Women were intended by nature to bear children who are the nearest to God that we can conceive of, and it was for the grace of the Lord that they received a higher soul than man. Women in this country are one of the most powerful social factors and with their support and their active collaboration, the I.A.F. can and must be organized.

The second move should be to enlist in the membership of the I.A.F. educational institutions. Let all the children, young girls and young men in the country know that their school has endorsed the first fundamental principle of the I.A.F.

After this is done go after the American Legion, the Association of War Veterans, the Red Cross, the Y.M.C.A., the Y.W.C.A., the Churches of all denominations, the Labor Unions, go after every Association, Club, or congregation of men and women in this country which is willing to pledge its allegiance to the first fundamental principle of the I.A.F.

When this is done, start an individual membership campaign and start it from top -- enroll the President of the United States and the members of the Cabinet. Enroll every member of Congress and every member of the Air Service of the Army and Navy.

By the time that this is done in this country a similar movement will be well under way in all other countries in the world and it will only be a matter of skillful organization to create a single powerful international [nonpolitical] and [nonsectarian] organization with far reaching possibilities for the future and possessing the two irresistible forces which I have mentioned before: -- THE APPEAL TO THE INHERENT GOODNESS OF HUMAN NATURE AND THE ORGANIZED POWER OF MASS PSYCHOLOGY ARTIFICIALLY CREATED FOR UNSELFISH MOTIVES BY A FEW LEADERS POSSESSING IMAGINATION AND CRITICAL POWERS.

But let us go still further with the beautiful realistic dream:

Membership Organization of the I.A.F.

The way I consider the practical membership organization of the I.A.F. is as follows: --

Membership in the I.A.F. should be divided into three classes: Honorary members, Active members and Inactive members.

Inactive members should be requested to pledge their allegiance to the first fundamental principle of the foundation and to contribute to its financial support with voluntary donations only. This grade of membership to be open to individuals and organizations not directly engaged in aeronautical work.

Active members in the I.A.F. to be divided into five grades:

1 -- Fellow member

2 -- Senior [member]

3 -- Associate [member]

4 -- Junior [member]

5 -- Candidate [member]

The five grades of membership as mentioned above from number one, which is the highest, to number five, which is the lowest, to be open to individuals actively engaged in aeronautical work graded according to the importance of the work that they are performing.

Grade three, associate membership, to be open to both individuals and organizations engaged in the performance of aeronautical work. All other grades of membership to be open to individuals only.

Honorary Membership to the I.A.F. to be open to individuals and organizations: --

First -- who have made exceptionally important contributions to the work of the I.A.F.

Second -- who have made exceptionally important contributions to the development of aeronautics and sciences thereto allied.

Third -- who have made exceptionally important contributions towards the establishment of better relations between nations and between fellow men in the interest of peace and progress.

This is, briefly, the outline of that beautiful dream which I have called the International Aeronautical Foundation and which could have almost any other title from the most conservative and dignified: "League of Humanity for the sake of Humanity" to the futuristic title: "Aeronautical League of Nations" or the revolutionary title: "International of the Air."

I have tried very hard to convince myself of the [impracticability] of realizing this dream, but I must confess that I cannot see it that way.

Where are the ten or twenty leading men and women who will compose the organization committee of the I.A.F?

Where are the champions of a beautiful dream, who have the gift of being able to dream and to act?