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Aiko
Thursday, May 6th, 2004, 09:17 PM
The Agenda

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Firebombs Over Tokyo

America's 1945 attack on Japan's capital remains undeservedly obscure alongside Hiroshima and Nagasaki

by Jonathan Rauch

.....


In 1990, when I was traveling in Japan, my friend Masayuki introduced me to his mother, Mrs. Tadokoro. One night, as the three of us sat together after dinner in her apartment in Osaka, she told me of the firebombing of Tokyo. She was nineteen when the American bombers came, just after midnight on March 10, 1945. Hearing the air-raid sirens, she ran to Kinshi Park. As she ran, she saw an electrical pole glow hot in the flames and then crash down. In the park many people, most with suitcases, waited through the night as sixteen square miles of the city burned. Nothing remained of her house the next morning but some stones. Still, she was lucky. The dead from that one night's bombing numbered 80,000 to 100,000—more than later died in Nagasaki (70,000 to 80,000), and more than half the number who died in Hiroshima (120,000 to 150,000).

August brings the fifty-seventh anniversary of the two famous atomic bombings, justification for which is still a matter of debate. The conventional wisdom that the Hiroshima bomb saved 500,000 or a million American lives is wrong; according to the historian Gar Alperovitz, modern scholarship and also government estimates at the time put likely U.S. casualties from an invasion of Japan, had one been necessary, in the range of 20,000 to 50,000—which is, of course, still a lot. Nor is it the case that Hiroshima was targeted for its military installations; it had some modest military value but was targeted mainly for psychological effect. Yet the bombing clearly did hasten Japan's surrender, and thus saved many American lives (and possibly, on balance, Japanese lives). The much harder question is why the United States rushed—and it did rush—to bomb Nagasaki only three days later. Neither President Harry Truman nor anyone since has provided a compelling answer. In his 1988 history of the nuclear age, McGeorge Bundy, who served as National Security Advisor to Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, wrote, "Hiroshima alone was enough to bring the Russians in; these two events together brought the crucial imperial decision for surrender, just before the second bomb was dropped."

Alongside the two atomic bombings, the firebombing of Tokyo remains obscure. Few Americans have even heard of it, and few Japanese like to dwell on it. When I listened to Mrs. Tadokoro's account, I was struck by her matter-of-fact, detached manner. What happened happened, and war is always bad, and 1945 is ancient history: that was her practical, forward-looking attitude, and I admired her for it. Yet the Tokyo attack deserves the most introspection of all, even as it receives the least.

In the 1930s, as today, Americans set great store by the principle that civilian populations should not be targeted for bombing. "Inhuman barbarism," President Roosevelt called civilian bombing in 1939. Indeed, that was one reason to fight the Japanese: they targeted civilians, we didn't. By 1945, however, the precision bombing of Japan had proved frustrating. "This outfit has been getting a lot of publicity without having really accomplished a hell of a lot in bombing results," Major General Curtis LeMay groused on March 6. So he loaded more than 300 B-29 Superfortress bombers with napalm incendiaries and, on the evening of March 9, ordered them emptied over central Tokyo. LeMay made no attempt to focus on military targets, nor could he have done so with napalm, whose effect that windy night was to burn wooden Japanese dwellings with spectacular efficiency. The victims were "scorched and boiled and baked to death," LeMay later said. Over the next few months the United States dealt with more than sixty smaller Japanese cities in like fashion.

The rationale was that Japan's industrial capability needed to be destroyed and the country's will broken. In fact, however, the Japanese maintained the ability to fight, although they probably lost the capacity to mount any large offensive. In any case, even supposing that the Tokyo firebombing was a success on its own terms, did that justify the targeting of tens of thousands of civilians, with weapons designed to melt them in their homes? If so, what sort of action would not have been justified on grounds of helping to end the war (that is, winning)? In June of 1945, as the historian John W. Dower notes, a military aide to General Douglas MacArthur described the American firebombing campaign as "one of the most ruthless and barbaric killings of non-combatants in all history." It is hard to disagree.

I believe the firebombing of Tokyo should be considered a war crime, a terror bombing, if those terms are to have any meaning at all. It is true that the United States in 1945, in marked and important contrast with, say, al Qaeda in 2001, viewed the targeting of civilians as a last rather than a first resort; and it is true that throughout history even the virtuous have wound up fighting dirty if fighting clean failed; and it is true that sometimes the good must do terrible things to destroy a great evil. But it is also true that if the good find themselves driven to barbarism, they own up afterward and search their souls.

America is better at reforming than at repenting, which is probably just as well. Perhaps America's quiet way of paying its debt to the dead of Tokyo has been to take unprecedented pains, far beyond anything done by any other great power, to design and deploy weapons and tactics that spare civilian lives. A lot of innocent people in Yugoslavia and Afghanistan are alive today as a result. Still, the erasure of the Tokyo firebombing from Americans' collective memory is not a noble thing.

In March, on the fifty-seventh otherwise unmarked anniversary of the attack on Tokyo, a handful of survivors opened a small museum there to memorialize the firebombing. They used private contributions totaling $800,000, which is less than one percent of what Mount Vernon plans to spend on its new museum and visitors' center. Well, it was a start. The next step should be an official museum or memorial—not in Tokyo but in Washington.


http://www.theatlantic.com/issues/2002/07/rauch.htm

Newgrange
Sunday, May 9th, 2004, 09:47 PM
here is an example of Japanese treatment of a civilian population Nanjing Massacre (http://skycitygallery.com/japan/japan.html)
"The international community estimated that approx. 200,000 - 300,000 Chinese were killed, and 20,000 - 60,000 women were raped within 2 - 3 months of continuous Rape and Massacre"

Dr. Solar Wolff
Monday, May 10th, 2004, 02:39 AM
Because of this firebombing, General Curtis LeMay was promoted to head the Strategic Air Command, in charge of B-52 bombers during the cold war. Everyone in government during those years recognized that he was a complete bastard, along the lines of Ariel Sharon, but they wanted a tough bastard in this position and one who could kill if necessary.

ogenoct
Monday, May 10th, 2004, 09:23 AM
here is an example of Japanese treatment of a civilian population Nanjing Massacre (http://skycitygallery.com/japan/japan.html)
"The international community estimated that approx. 200,000 - 300,000 Chinese were killed, and 20,000 - 60,000 women were raped within 2 - 3 months of continuous Rape and Massacre"
So? What has this to do with the firebombing of Tokyo? The Americans started the war with their blockade of Japan (Pearl Harbor was a justified reaction)! Besides, the Nanking "massacre" is a hoax. Check out:

http://www.nsjap.com/axis/nanking.html

C.

Newgrange
Monday, May 10th, 2004, 05:40 PM
So? What has this to do with the firebombing of Tokyo?
I take it that Aiko's thread was started here
to invoke sympathy for the Japanese people of that era.
If they had the capicty, they would have bombed American
cities without any concern for civilian casualties either,
I mentioned the Nanking Massacre as just one example,
of WW2 Japan having no respect for the international
rules of war conduct.
If you chose to go to war against a nation then you have
to expect retaliation. She should blame the Japanese
war policies for the suffering of that period,
not the United States.


the Nanking "massacre" is a hoax. http://www.nsjap.com/axis/nanking.html
Sixty years later, with the help of the internet
it's easy to create your own reality,
because everything you read on the internet is
genuine journalism :D

kinvolk
Monday, May 10th, 2004, 06:28 PM
If the Japanese had been allowed to turn the Pacific into a Japanese lake, and been allowed to run rampant on the asian mainland, The world might be thiers today. And not a single white person would be here.

Dr. Solar Wolff
Thursday, July 1st, 2004, 07:09 AM
The issue of the US-Japanese war is related to the larger WW2, but shouldn't be. War between the Japanese and the Americans was coming, for sure. The Pacific Basin wasn't big enough for them both. Unfortunately, I don't think there is anything which could have been done to prevent this war, given the position of both countries. I do not feel bad about this war in the same way as I do about the war in Europe. The war in Europe could have been prevented, at least America's involvement could and should have been prevented. Hitler entered into a treaty with Japan thinking Japan would aid him against the Soviets. Japan entered into a treaty with Hilter thinking Germany would aid Japan against America as they had fought America in WWI. Hitler really didn't want war with America, at least in 1942. Japan played their card, Hitler was bound by treaty and declared war on America.

Rodskarl Dubhgall
Friday, September 3rd, 2004, 04:13 AM
I think that we should have made a wasteland of Japan and China. We knew China was working with Russia and should have taken a firm stance then. My great grandfather fought in the war and I'm not about to curse his efforts for some lowlifes.

Verslingen
Saturday, September 18th, 2004, 04:05 PM
I think the Japanese should of focused less on china and more on the conquest of the US. Had Japan been more successful in their operations the US would not have been able to pose a threat to the reich and we would be sprechen sie deutsch now!

88 to the Japanese
they were truly worthy allies of the reich not like those dog eating gooks of china and the rest of asia


V.

Deling
Saturday, September 18th, 2004, 04:14 PM
"If the Japanese had been allowed to turn the Pacific into a Japanese lake, and been allowed to run rampant on the asian mainland, The world might be thiers today. And not a single white person would be here."

Well well...Americans are so hysterical. Japan wanted to become the super-power of East Asia. They didn't want to invade USA, and wouldn't have the ability either. America's fleets were many times more advanced and larger than Japan's.
They wouldn't have conquered the world, except in the nightmare scenarios of fabulative yankee minds.

"I think that we should have made a wasteland of Japan and China. We knew China was working with Russia and should have taken a firm stance then. My great grandfather fought in the war and I'm not about to curse his efforts for some lowlifes."

Too bad the Japanese didn't have the ability to make Pearl Harbor a wasteland, I must sadly say, and too bad German bombers didn't attack New York and Washington through the Azores. Too bad America isn't "Morgenthauised"... :(