“But everything changed when the fire nation attacked…”. That line is about as iconic as any other in the history of television. Why? Because it signals the beginning of a story that pretty much means the world to any fan of the Avatar: The Last Airbender series. But aside all the fanfare, one quick question that has never really been answered pops its head; “why did Avatar Fire Nation attack?
It’s a question that requires a second look at the entire series. Particularly because it involved the complete annihilation of an entire people; the air nomads.
It all began with Fire Lord Sozin, but to accurately guess his motives is a tall order. That is, without proper research of course. And we’ve got plenty of those.
The series begins in a world that is already war torn, and under the control of the avatar fire nation. We come to see that the Hundred Year War, as it is so called; can only be ended by the Avatar. This incarnation of the bridge between the human and spirit worlds is Aang; a young Airbender that has been frozen in an iceberg for a century. He is the only one who can drive the avatar fire nation back. We learn the origins of the war as well, but that doesn’t happen much until the final and third book of the series; the book of fire.
Let’s take a look at Fire Lord Sozin’s quest to see the world under the Avatar Fire Nation’s control.
The Beginning: The Avatar Fire Nation Genocide of The Air Nomads
When Aang woke up from his hundred-year hibernation inside the iceberg, the world he awakened to was completely different from the one he had left behind. Instead, he was shocked to find out that the Avatar Fire Nation had made him the last Airbender.
The other Air Nomads, including his beloved mentor Monk Gyatso, had been massacred at the start of the Hundred Year War. The Avatar Fire Nation had drawn upon the power of Sozin’s comet to command unstoppable strength and firebending. Against the rather pacifist Air Nomads, they were no match.
There was a good reason why Fire Lord Sozin targeted the remote nation of peace-loving monks before taking on bigger enemies like the Earth Kingdom or the Water Tribes. And that was because he was determined to find the next Avatar, and destroy them before they could thwart his plans.Of course thanks to the Avatar Cycle, the next Avatar would have come from the Air Nomads.
Avatar Fire Nation Firelord Sozin and Avatar Roku Were Best Of Friends
When they were still young, Roku and Sozin were the best of friends. Matter of fact, they could have passed as brothers. They were so close that there was no resentment or jealousy from Sozin when Roku was revealed as the new Avatar by the Avatar Fire Nation Fire Sages. In fact, when Roku left the Fire Nation to embark on his training in the other elements, Sozin gave him the parting gift of his own headpiece, a royal artefact meant to be worn only by the Crown Prince.
The two men remained best friends even when Roku returned from his training, and Sozin had become the Fire Lord. Sozin was even the best man at Roku’s wedding. But things started to change for the bad shortly after. On this same wedding day, Sozin called Roku aside, and revealed a secret ambition; one that Roku did not find pleasing in the least.
Fire Lord Sozin Wanted To Expand The Avatar Fire Nation’s Empire
Before the Hundred Year War started, the Avatar Fire Nation was at the peak of its power. In fact, the only nation that could rival them in military strength and size was the Earth Kingdom; and even then, there was still a gap.
Sozin saw that his friendship with the Avatar and his status as the Fire Lord were a sign that they had a great destiny. What this great destiny meant, was that the Avatar Fire Nation should share its prosperity with the rest of the world; by expanding its empire. Sozin thought of himself as the hero of the story – the great leader who would turn the Four Nations into a single united empire.
Unfortunately for him, Roku found the plan of this great destiny rather disgusting. He saw the Avatar’s role as maintaining the balance between the human and spirit worlds; as well as among the four nations. It didn’t matter which nation the Avatar was born into, what was important was that they were not supposed to take sides in politics or war.
This was something we would eventually see Korra struggle with some two centuries later. In lieu of this, Roku simply refuted Sozin’s plans, warning him against attempting to execute his plans. Roku would eventually find that Sozin went on to create Avatar Fire Nation colonies despite his warnings; he took on the Fire Lord and deftly defeated him. He spared his life, but also warned him not to try anything like it again.
Sozin did not return the favor when he had Roku at his mercy. When a volcano on Roku’s home island erupted, he stayed behind as his wife and the other inhabitants of the island escaped; trying to use his bending abilities to try and hold back the lava.
Sozin arrived to help, but after Roku was hit by a blast of poisonous volcanic gases, Sozin left him to die; realising that so long as he lived, he would be a barrier to Sozin’s plans for the Avatar Fire Nation’s expansion. Roku and his dragon, Fang, were consumed by the volcano, and Sozin was finally free to pursue his ambitions.
The (Avatar) Fire Nation Destroyed The Air Nomads In Their Search For The Next Avatar
Sozin was still very much afraid of the Avatar, even after Roku’s death. He bided his time for about 12 years after the incident; and then a once in a lifetime opportunity present itself. It was a comet; would greatly amplify the powers of all the firebenders.
They would become nearly unstoppable. This comet would eventually become known as Sozin’s comet, as it was just what the Avatar Fire Nation needed to finalize their blow on the world. But Sozin had other ideas than a full-blown onslaught on the Earth Kingdom; which was the only nation that could match them. Instead, he carried out a genocidal onslaught on the Air Nomads.
Since he already knew the Avatar cycle would produce the next Avatar from the Air Nomads, he decided to nip the cycle in the bud. The cycle had already seen Roku come from the Avatar Fire Nation, preceded by Kyoshi from the Earth Kingdom; preceded by Kuruk of the Northern Water Tribe, whose predecessor was Yangchen from the Air Nomads. In order to avoid the Avatar interfering with his plans, Sozin decided to kill him. True to his fears, the Air Nomads had planned to accelerate Aang’s training due to the signs of a coming war.
Despite believing he had wiped out all the Airebenders, Sozin had been unlucky. Aang, had already run away from the Southern Air Temple before the attack. Sozin would spend the rest of his life searching for the Avatar.
The End Of The Hundred Year War
Sozin’s anxiety would be proven true, as in the end it would be Aang that put an eventual end to the Hundred Year War. Aang ended the Avatar Fire Nation’s century old conquest, defeated his grandson Ozai, and restored balance to the world. However, just as Roku had shown mercy to Sozin, Aang showed mercy to Ozai, letting him live; but stripping him of his bending.