‘We Hated What We Were Doing’: Veterans Recall Firebombing JapanHistorians in the News
tags: Japan, civilians, World War 2, Pacific Theater, air war, Geneva Conventions, Curtis LeMay
Just past midnight, hundreds of B-29 Superfortress bombers arrived over Tokyo, having launched from the Mariana Islands, which the United States had recently captured from the Imperial Japanese Army at great human cost. The aircraft had largely been stripped of their armaments so that they could carry even more clusters of small incendiary munitions. Young American officers in the sky dropped hundreds of thousands of bomblets on the working-class section of the city, with its densely packed wooden dwellings mainly inhabited at the time by women, children and men too old to fight.
Before that March 10, 1945, assault, named Operation Meetinghouse, the Army Air Forces had been conducting high-altitude, high-explosive “precision” attacks during the day on military sites and factories in Japan, with limited success. So Maj. Gen. Curtis E. LeMay, the officer in charge of strategic bombing from the Marianas, drew upon years of U.S. military research on the flammability of Japanese buildings to usher in a more aggressive tactic: dropping firebombs (also known as incendiary bombs) at night on population centers. If they couldn’t take out the factories, they could kill the people who worked in them....
“We hated what we were doing,” said Jim Marich, one of the airmen who flew over Tokyo that night as part of the B-29 aircrews. “But we thought we had to do it. We thought that raid might cause the Japanese to surrender.” Marich’s somber account of his role in the missions is a grim reminder of the indelible scars left on both the survivors of the attack and those who conducted it.