TOKYO BOMBING--60TH ANNIVERSARY
The Tokyo firebombing has long been overshadowed by the U.S. atomic attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which preceded the Japanese surrender that ended World War II the following August. But the burning of the capital, which resulted in more immediate deaths than either of the nuclear bombings, stands as a landmark in the history of warfare on noncombatants.
More than 300 B-29"Superfortress" bombers dropped nearly a half-million M-69 incendiary cylinders over Tokyo that night and early morning, annihilating some 16 square miles of the city's densely populated east.
The attack, coming a month after a similar raid on Dresden, Germany, brought the mass incineration of civilians to a new level in a conflict already characterized by unprecedented bloodshed.
As Mickey Z, in CounterPunch said said of one of the great mass-murderers of the past century:
General Curtis LeMay, head of the Twenty-first US Bomber Command, brought his brand of hell into the Pacific theater.
Acting upon General George C. Marshall's 1941 idea of torching the poorer areas of Japan's cities, on the night of March 9-10, 1945, LeMay's bombers laid siege on Tokyo. Tightly packed wooden buildings were assaulted by 1,665 tons of incendiaries. LeMay later recalled that a few explosives had been mixed in with the incendiaries to demoralize firefighters (96 fire engines burned to ashes and 88 firemen died).
One Japanese doctor recalled" countless bodies" floating in the Sumida River. These bodies were"as black as charcoal" and indistinguishable as men or women. The total dead for one night was an estimated 85,000, with 40,000 injured and one million left homeless. This was only the first strike in a firebombing campaign that dropped 250 tons of bombs per square mile, destroying 40 percent of the surface area in 66 death-list cities (including Hiroshima and Nagasaki). The attack area was 87.4 percent residential.
It is believed that more people died from fire in a six-hour time period than ever before in the history of mankind. At ground zero, the temperature reached 1,800° Fahrenheit. Flames from the ensuing inferno were visible for 200 miles. Due to the intense heat, canals boiled over, metals melted, and human beings burst spontaneously into flames.
By May 1945, 75 percent of the bombs being dropped on Japan were incendiaries. Cheered on by the likes of Time magazine-who explained that"properly kindled, Japanese cities will burn like autumn leaves"-LeMay's campaign took an estimated 672,000 lives.
Radio Tokyo, on the other hand, termed LeMay's tactics"slaughter bombing" and the Japanese press declared that through the fire raids,"America has revealed her barbaric character... It was an attempt at mass murder of women and children... The action of the Americans is all the more despicable because of the noisy pretensions they constantly make about their humanity and idealism... No one expects war to be anything but a brutal business, but it remains for the Americans to make it systematically and unnecessarily a wholesale horror for innocent victims."
Rather than denying this, a spokesman for the Fifth Air Force categorized"the entire population of Japan [as] a proper military target." Colonel Harry F. Cunningham explained the US policy in no uncertain terms:"We military men do not pull punches or put on Sunday School picnics. We are making War and making it in the all-out fashion which saves American lives, shortens the agony which War is and seeks to bring about an enduring Peace. We intend to seek out and destroy the enemy wherever he or she is, in the greatest possible numbers, in the shortest possible time. For us, THERE ARE NO CIVILIANS IN JAPAN."
On the morning of August 6, 1945, before the Hiroshima story broke, a page-one headline in the Atlanta Constitution read: 580 B-29s RAIN FIRE ON 4 MORE DEATH-LIST CITIES. Ironically, the success of LeMay's firebombing raids had effectively eliminated Tokyo from the list of possible A-bomb targets. There was nothing left to bomb.
LeMay's was later US Air Force chief of staff from 1961 to 1965 when he immortalized himself by declaring his desire to"bomb [the North Vietnamese] back into the Stone Age." LeMay also served as vice presidential candidate on George Wallace's 1968 ticket.
When asked about his role in the Tokyo firebombing, he remarked:"I suppose if I had lost the war, I would have been tried as a war criminal. Fortunately, we were on the winning side."
comments powered by Disqus
Kenneth R Gregg - 3/11/2005
LeMay's actions were those of a killer, a mass-murderer. I've known liberventionists who are non-plussed when this event is raised. Either they don't see a relationship between this action and what they are defending or just don't care.
It is events like this that we must consider and evaluate because this is the direction that war takes--either all or nothing. For some reason, there are libertarians who think that war can be contained and supported because somebody did something terrible somewhere.
War is never contained. Innocents are killed, unexpected events occur which change the direction of war--secret treaties, hidden motives, killers unleashed. War is hell.
A lesson which it is incumbent upon libertarians, certainly, to learn.
Just a thought.
David Timothy Beito - 3/11/2005
Ken, thanks for blogging on this. In age when conservatives, and some libertarians, believe the U.S. can do no wrong, we need to be constantly reminded of incidents like this.
As to LeMay, he may not be too popular in Japan, but apparently he was quite well liked by his men who believed that he "always looked out for them."
- Robert Dallek: “The fish rots from the head”
- It’s Been 3 Decades Since There Were So Few Jobs for History Ph.D.s
- Former Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks returns to campus as a member of the history department
- Conservatives attack Garry Wills’s book on the Quran
- The Scholars Behind the Quest for Reparations