Okay so I’ve long held a theory that the Airbenders survived the 100 year war because Fire Nation children are clearly taught such blatant propaganda as
- "Airbenders had an army" and
- The Fire Nation fought an entire war against them
- Aang says Airbenders had no army and
- The only air temple with any evidence of battle is the one closest to the Fire Nation and the Fire Nation would not develop/discover/steal flight technology until one hundred years later.
It seems very unlikely that the Fire Nation could actually be successful in destroying a tribe of flying nomads who, when they lived in any one place at all, lived in four difficult to access temples at all corners of the earth.
So what if the Air Turtle showed up and was like hey want to live on me again bring those bison they seem like cool cats and the Air Benders were like Shit Yes These Fools Be Crazy and they just peaced out for a couple centuries or so.
The day the Airbenders were eradicated was the day of Sozin’s Comet… They didn’t need the technology, they just burned everything the fuck down.
Well, I’m not saying airbenders definitely survived, I just have a head canon that I particularly enjoy. But I feel like the series has dropped enough details for me to comfortably enjoy it until something definitive happens. And besides, if they actually did burn everything the fuck down, why doesn’t everything look, you know, burnt?
Why are the only Air Bender remains we see in the entire series Monk Gyatzo’s? If his skeleton is still around, where are the numerous people and bison who must have been inhabiting the Western and Eastern air temples? (Easy enough to posit that the folks living in the Northern temple would have cleaned it out.) The Fire Nation war with the Earth Kingdom has been one of colonization and settlement, of towns razed and monuments raised, but apparently not so with the Air Temples. Understandable, since they’re kinda really remote. So why would the Fire Nation clear the remains of dead Air Benders if they weren’t going to settle there? Why not destroy monuments like the statue of Gyatzo (especially if the dude had just singlehandedly slaughtered dozens of them) or force their way through/destroy doors like the one to the Avatar Statue Chamber (which is made of wood) looking for survivors? Why would they leave behind dozens of their comrades’ bodies in the Southern Air Temple? Why are the metal shutters in the Western Air Temple completely intact and working one hundred years after the Fire Nation supposedly routed the place to destroy the Air Nomad presence there? (As far as accessibility from the Fire Nation, the Western Air Temple is also in a mountain range inside the Earth Kingdom and would have to be traveled to overland since the Fire Nation had not yet developed flight technology.)
Furthermore, the Air Benders weren’t Sozin’s easiest target. The easy target would be the isolated Southern Water Tribe, just a quick hop from the Fire Nation using the advanced navy of an island civilization. He attacked the Air Nomads because they were raising the Avatar in the Southern Air Temple, the place where, historically, all young air benders were trained. That temple is the only one where we are ever shown any evidence that the Air Nation and Fire Nation clashed. Unlike the other temples, where we never see even a hint of Fire Nation presence, Katara and Sokka literally stumble over a discarded helmet while they aren’t even looking. And still: the remains we’re shown at the Southern Temple only definitively indicate that Monk Gyatzo killed dozens of Fire Nation soldiers before dying himself. There are no other Air Bender remains in the whole place. The hallways are fine, the Avatar chamber is fine, the outdoor wooden playing field is fine.
So say you’re the Fire Lord and you’re pushing your people to the idea that they have a superior society to the other nations and that they have a Fire Nation’s Burden to conquer their lessors and bring a glorious peace to them. You’ve been manipulating your country to xenophobia and militarism for your entire rule, but quietly, under the constant threat of the Avatar shutting you down. Now he/she is at his/her weakest, reincarnated in the body of an underage child. The comet is coming, but even its power isn’t enough to let you simultaneously destroy all three nations. You have to choose, and you know where you have to strike first: the Southern Air Temple. Kill the Avatar again, before your plans for world domination are known and they are put into hiding, buy yourself another decade or two before a fully realized Avatar has a chance to put you down, get the Avatar one step closer to reincarnating in the Fire Nation again so you can raise them to be your pawn.
So you strike at the most accessible (from the Fire Nation) Air Temple, where you know the Avatar is, and even with the help of a celestial event that magnifies your powers tenfold, a single aged monk kills dozens of your soldiers, and on top of that, the Avatar wasn’t even there. Your people are frustrated with this misstep on the path to their grand destiny that you said they would claim so easily, as reports start coming in: the Air Nomads have disappeared and nobody knows where the Avatar is.
And you see an opportunity to turn all of this around. You’re the Fire Lord after all, total ruler of the Fire Nation. If you say that your armies have gloriously wiped out every last member of a race of flying nomads despite your complete lack of aircraft, then it becomes history. Who was going to go look through those nigh-inaccessible temples? Without airships, who was going to search the sky? I mean, what other explanation was there? Everybody knew lion turtles were a myth.
In the meantime, isolate the two water tribes and if possible kill every single water bender and destroy all knowledge of the skill, because if the Avatar is dead, they’re going to reincarnate there and it’d be much better for your plans if they have absolutely no one to teach them.
Where have the Airbenders been all this time? Why didn’t they come out of hiding when Aang restored balance to the Four Nations? I have no idea, but I think it’s a question that could have a really interesting answer.