The Legend of the Privateer Airship and the Currents that Lifted It


The United States last issued a letter of marque in 1942. It authorized the Goodyear Company to deploy a helium filled blimp to hunt Japanese submarines off the Pacific coast. At least, that is the story reported in newspapers in the 1940s and embellished in books and articles over the following decades. But the story is not true–there were no letters of marque issued in World War II. The legend seems to have emerged from journalistic confusions, spawned by larger wartime controversies over legal limits on private involvement in military operations. The debates of that era have reemerged in our time–along with the notion of using letters of marque to unleash high tech combatants.