Monday, June 22, 2009

In World War II Japan built bombs tied on to balloons that they released into the jet stream in hopes of bombing forests and cities from across the ocean. They launched 9,000 of them, and about 300 were found or seen in North America, although they were hoping to land about 900 of them. (The rest, I suppose, were eaten by whales or sank all the way to the bottom of the water to give the Kraken a nice massage.)

They were assembled out of mulberry paper and edible paste, which the young girls putting them together frequently stole to eat, and their bombs were set to be lit and dropped after three days in the air. The balloons made it as far as Detroit, some of them, exploding all over the West coast and even short circuiting the power at the Hanford nuclear site.

The balloon bombs didn't do a lot of damage, except for the day that one killed six people in Oregon during a church picnic, while they were trying to pull the balloon from a tree. There had been a media blackout about the bombs, because no one wanted Japan to know if any of them were reaching land, so none of the people in the cities where they were landing had any idea that they should stay away.

The rest of them could still be out there, somewhere, in forests or ponds or trees, waiting. Maybe they're all corroded and unexplodable, all of the cracks in their metal pieces exploited by the plants, covered over, disconnected. Future archaeologists will find them someday, faded bits of parachute coated in muck and haphazardly preserved, attached to those sad lumps of metal by the impression of strings. They will look just like planters or lawn ornaments, as whimsical as gnomes and flamingos, stripped of their danger and therefore unrelated to bombs.

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