The Japanese People and World War II, (New York: WW Norton 1978), p. 163, puts the number of urban residents evacuated to the countryside overall at 10 million. Thank you for your support. The Strategic Bombing Survey estimated that 87,793 people died in the raid, 40,918 were injured, and 1,008,005 people lost their homes. The 1945 bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were definitely among the worst atrocities committed during the World War II. Comments, contributions, corrections, and suggestions are always welcome: Your email address will not be published. Casualty statistics were suppressed. Sherry, Air Power, p. 276. The US has not unleashed an atomic bomb in the decades since the end of World War II, although it has repeatedly threatened their use in Korea, in Vietnam and elsewhere. It has been overshadowed by the atomic bombing and by heroic narratives of American conduct in the “Good War” that has been and remains at the center of American national consciousness.2 Arguably, however, the central breakthroughs that would characterize the American way of war subsequently occurred in area bombing of noncombatants that built on German, Japanese and British bombing of cities prior to the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The death toll was higher than the 70,000 people that died in … US National Archives, The survey concluded—plausibly, but only for events prior to August 6, 1945—that “probably more persons lost their lives by fire at Tokyo in a 6-hour period than at any time in the history of man. See the special issue of the Asia-Pacific Journal edited by Bret Fisk and Cary Karacas, The Firebombing of Tokyo: Views from the Ground,The Asia-Pacific Journal Vol 9, Issue 3 No 1, January 17, 2011. 596-97; Wesley Frank Craven and James Lea Gate, The Pacific: Matterhorn to Nagasaki June 1944 to August 1945. Estimates of the number of people killed in the bombing of Tokyo on 10 March differ. It was also, of course, a war that catapulted the United States to global supremacy, and established the institutional foundations for the projection of American power in the form of a vast array of insular territories and a network of permanent and ever growing military bases as well as unrivaled technological supremacy and military power.23 Against these factors we turn to a consideration of the US firebombing and atomic bombing of Japan in history, memory, and commemoration. For US tax payers, donations are tax-deductible. Under US censorship, Matsushige’s photos could not be published until 1952 following the end of the occupation. The death toll of the Tokyo raid was the highest of any air raid during the entire war, including Hiroshima (estimated 70-80,000 deaths) and Nagasaki (estimated 60,000 deaths). This included prohibition of publication of photographic and artistic images of the effects of the bombing or criticism of it. Jones emphasizes factors of race, but not racism in the Pacific War, the atomic bombing (there is no mention of the firebombing) and the Korean and Vietnam Wars. Notify me of follow-up comments by email. Aerial photo of Tokyo after the bombing of March 9-10. It was a language that elided state terrorism, notably the systematic killing of civilian populations that was a hallmark of US warfare from 1944 to the present, while focusing attention on non-state actors such as al-Qaeda and ISIS. Jones, After Hiroshima, pp. Firebombing of Tokyo On the night of March 9, 1945, U.S. warplanes launch a new bombing offensive against Japan, dropping 2,000 tons of incendiary bombs on Tokyo over the course of the next 48 hours. . On March 9, 1945, with the code name “Operation Meetinghouse,” 334 B-29 bombers under the command of Colonel Curtis LeMay, took off from USAAF bases in the Mariana Islands. Bombers over Japan during World War II (Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1996) pp. But the critical moment in US bombing and napalming of cities came with the firebombing and nuclear attacks that obliterated large areas of Japanese cities between February and August 1945, leaving an indelible imprint not only on the urban landscape but also on subsequent U.S. war making. "They set to work at once sowing the sky with fire." . Atomic Bomb survivors at Miyuki Bridge, Hiroshima, two kilometers from Ground Zero. 134-73; Kenneth P. Werrell, Blankets of Fire. How many people died on the night of March 9-10 in what flight commander Gen. Thomas Power termed “the greatest single disaster incurred by any enemy in military history?” The Strategic Bombing Survey estimated that 87,793 people died in the raid, 40,918 were injured, and 1,008,005 people lost their homes. A detailed photographic record, including images of scores of the dead, some burnt to a crisp and distorted beyond recognition, others apparently serene in death, and of acres of the city flattened as if by an immense tornado, is found in Ishikawa Koyo, Tokyo daikushu no zenkiroku (Complete Record of the Great Tokyo Air Attack) (Tokyo, 1992); Tokyo kushu o kiroku suru kai ed., Tokyo daikushu no kiroku (Record of the Great Tokyo Air Attack) (Tokyo: Sanseido, 1982), and Dokyumento: Tokyo daikushu (Document: The Great Tokyo Air Attack) (Tokyo: Yukeisha, 1968). Although estimates vary, between 80,000-130,000 Japanese civilians were killed in the worst single firestorm in recorded history. As Tony documents in his Postwar. of War Henry Stimson would worry about the “growing feeling of apprehension and misgiving as to the effect of the atomic bomb even in our own country”24 and take the lead in defending the US atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The fact of the matter, however, is that, with the exception of a group of atomic scientists, these criticisms were raised only in the postwar. If you value the Journal, please go to the Subscription page and contribute. Asia-Pacific Journal Subscription Drive December 2020. On 10 March, 1945, American B-29 planes rained down bombs destroying large parts of Tokyo. The firebombing raids on Tokyo, codenamed Operation Meetinghouse, were low altitude incendiary bombing raids ordered by General Curtis LeMay. The Strategic Bombing Survey provided a technical description of the firestorm and its effects on Tokyo: The chief characteristic of the conflagration . The single effective Japanese government measure taken to reduce the slaughter of US bombing was the 1944 evacuation to the countryside of 400,000 third to sixth grade children from major cities, 225,000 of them from Tokyo, followed by 300,000 first to third graders in early 1945.11 In the absence of the evacuations, the carnage would have been far greater. Ian Buruma, “Expect to be Lied to in Japan,” New York Review of Books, November 8, 2012. That is the most important technological change of the postwar era: the use by (above all) the United States of drones to map and bomb on a world scale. Bodies of people trapped and burned as they fled through a street during the attack on Tokyo on the night of March 9-10. John W. Dower, “Sensational Rumors, Seditious Graffiti, and the Nightmares of the Thought Police,” in Japan in War and Peace (New York: The New Press, 1993), p. 117. Fisk and Karacas draw on Overall Report of Damage Sustained by the Nation During the Pacific War, Economic Stabilization Agency, Planning Department, Office of the Secretary General, 1949, which may be viewed here. The March 10 1945 attack on Tokyo killed more people than the August 9 atomic bombing of Nagasaki. From the Iliad to Iraq (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), chapters 5-7. Could be interpreted . United States Strategic Bombing Survey, Summary Report, Vol I, pp. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994) pp. pp. Prior to the raid, U.S. Army engineers at the Dugway Proving Ground in Utah had tested the firebombing technique on a mock-Japanese village constructed of wooden houses. Washington immediately announced the atomic bomb’s destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and released the iconic photographs of the mushroom cloud. See See also, Monica Braw, The Atomic Bomb Suppressed. 1947), p. 8, observes that Japanese police estimates make no mention of the numbers of people missing. The firebombing of Tokyo is often overshadowed by the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Film shot by Japanese cameramen in Hiroshima and Nagasaki after the bombings was confiscated. Tokyo firebombing This week marks the 60th anniversary of a March 9-10, 1945, air raid that killed an estimated 100,000 people in Tokyo. If this is true, the number was very small.". Several times that number of civilians were injured and more than a million people were left homeless. . Germany and Japan took the lead in the terror bombing of cities during World War II, acts that sparked outrage from President Roosevelt and many others. Quoting Gen. Leslie Groves, director of the atom bomb project and the point man on radiation denial: "The Japanese claim that people died from radiation. A History of Europe Since 1945, the destruction of cities and civilian populations was by no means limited to Germany and Japan but extended all across Eastern and Western Europe to the Soviet Union and China exacting a terrible toll in lives. The full fury of firebombing and napalm was unleashed on the night of March 9-10, 1945 when LeMay sent 334 B-29s low over Tokyo from the Marianas.5 In contrast to earlier US tactical bombing strategies emphasizing military targets, their mission was to reduce much of the city to rubble, kill its citizens, force survivors to flee, and instill terror in the survivors. Grayling goes on to note the different experiences of survivors of the two types of bombing, particularly as a result of radiation symptoms from the atomic bomb, with added dread in the case of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki hibakusha, not only for themselves but also for future generations. This is one reason why, six decades on, World War II retains its aura for Americans as the “Good War”, a conception that renders it difficult to come to terms with the massive bombing of civilians in the final year of the war. In drawing attention to US bombing strategies deploying “conventional weapons” while keeping nuclear weapons in reserve since 1945, the point is not to deny the critical importance of the latter in shaping the global balance of power/balance of terror. American Soldiers in Asia and the Pacific During World War II (New York: NYU Press, 2002) and John Dower, War Without Mercy: Race and Power in the Pacific War (New York: Pantheon, 1986). Mark Selden is a Senior Research Associate in the East Asia Program at Cornell University, a Visiting Researcher at the Asian/Pacific/American Studies Institute at NYU and Professor Emeritus of Sociology at Binghamton University. If area bombing remained controversial, indeed, fiercely debated within military circles throughout much of World War II, by the end it would become the acknowledged centerpiece of war making, emblematic above all of the American way of war. More people were killed in the Tokyo firebombing of March 9-10 than in the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki five months later. Although many people today are more aware of the bombing of Dresden than Tokyo, the bombing of Dresden a month earlier resulted in an estimated 18- 25,000 deaths. We invite your support at a time when the Asia-Pacific and our world are being turned upside down by the combination of US-China conflict in the era of the Coronavirus pandemic and economic, political, climate and nuclear crisis. It is widely considered to be the most devastating air raid in history. While the atomic bomb has overshadowed the firebombing in most realms in the nearly seven decades since 1945, notably as a major factor in assessing US-Soviet conflict and explaining the structure of a “Cold War” in world politics, we have shown not only that the firebombing took a greater cumulative toll in human life than the atomic bombs, but importantly that it became the core of US bombing strategy from that time forward. Young, eds., Bombing Civilians: A twentieth century history (New York: The New Press, 2009), pp. This investigation reported that the death toll from the atomic bombing of Hiroshima was 260,000, but the figure was adjusted to an estimated 140,000, following a United Nations report in 1976. 521–37. See Fred A. Wilcox, Scorched Earth. Two recent works closely assess the bombing of noncombatants in both Japan and Germany, and the ravaging of nature and society as a result of strategic bombing that has been ignored in much of the literature. See the extensive discussion of censorship in Takemae Eiji, Inside GHQ: The Allied Occupation of Japan and Its Legacy (London: Continuum, 2002), espec. These bombings often overshadow the Firebombing in Tokyo that claimed the lives of over 100,000 Japanese, an equitable number to the death toll of the Atomic bombing of Hiroshima. 382-404, and John W. Dower, Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II, espec. It was also seen as payback for the Pearl Harbour attacks and the mistreatment of Allied prisoners of war. Less noted then and since in the United States and internationally were the systematic barbarities perpetrated by Japanese forces against resistant villagers, though this produced the largest number of the estimated ten to thirty million Chinese who lost their lives in the war, a number that far surpasses the half million or more Japanese noncombatants who died at the hands of US bombing, and may have exceeded Soviet losses to Nazi invasion conventionally estimated at 20 million lives.22 In that and subsequent wars, it would be the signature barbarities such as the Nanjing Massacre, the Bataan Death March, and the massacres at Nogunri and My Lai rather than the quotidian events that defined the systematic daily and hourly killing, which would attract sustained attention, spark bitter controversy, and shape historical memory. This would become a hallmark of the American way of war, notably in campaigns from Korea and Indochina in the 1950s to 1975, but with new approaches that also took a devastating toll on civilians during the Gulf and Iraq Wars and throughout the Middle East in the new millennium. What was new was both the scale of killing made possible by the new technologies and the routinization of mass killing of non-combatants, or state terrorism. . 24-25. The Air War Against Japan, 1942-1945, (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2010) pp. 420-21; Cf. 80,000-130,000 Japanese civilians were killed, http://www.eyewitnesstohistory.com/tokyo.htm. Far from it. Indeed, under US censorship, there would be no Japanese public criticism of either the firebombing or the atomic bombing. The human toll that night exceeded that of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki later that year, where the initial blasts killed about 70,000 people and … The largest number of victims were the most vulnerable: women, children and the elderly.”. We can view this from another angle. John Dower’s nuanced historical perspective on war and racism in American thought and praxis in War Without Mercy: Race and Power in the Pacific War (New York: Pantheon Books, 1986). Robert Rhodes, The Making of the Atomic Bomb (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1986), pp. Each of these, in different ways, highlights the possibilities of bombing independent of nuclear weapons but also with greater precision than in the heyday of area bombing. Part one provides an overview of US bombing strategies culminating in the final year of the war in US prioritization for the first time on the bombing of civilians and assesses its impact in shaping the postwar global order and military strategy. Estimates of the death toll range from about 83,000 to nearly 200,000, with most coming in at about 100,000. Part two examines the bombing in Japanese and American historical memory including history, literature, commemoration and education. 88-110. Following the March 9-10 raid, the firebombing was extended nationwide. Sorry, your blog cannot share posts by email. pp. The Tokyo Air Raid started as a high altitude level carpet bombing over the main cities of Japan. Fighting ended August 15, 1945. Why, then, is the atom bombing demonized when the March 9, 1945, firebombing of Tokyo, which killed 85,000 Japanese in one night, is not? 1946), pp. The targeting for destruction of entire populations, whether indigenous peoples, religious infidels, or others deemed inferior, threatening or evil, may be as old as human history, but the forms it takes are as new as the latest technologies of destruction and strategic innovation, of which firebombing and nuclear weapons are particularly notable in defining the nature of war and power in the long twentieth century.16 The most important way in which World War II shaped the moral and technological tenor of mass destruction was the erosion in the course of war of the stigma associated with the systematic targeting of civilian populations from the air, and elimination of the constraints, which for some years had restrained certain air powers from area bombing. Photograph by Ishikawa Koyo. It soon made available images of the total devastation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki depicting the ravages of cities reduced to rubble and devoid of human life, thereby demonstrating the Promethean power of the victor. He is the editor of The Asia-Pacific Journal. the frisson of dread created by the thought of what atomic weaponry can do affects those who contemplate it more than those who actually suffer from it; for whether it is an atom bomb rather than tons of high explosives and incendiaries that does the damage, not a jot of suffering is added to its victims that the burned and buried, the dismembered and blinded, the dying and bereaved of Dresden or Hamburg did not feel.”3. Sharpe, 1991). The first wave of planes was followed by a procession of bombers sowing death until dawn, touching off devastating firestorms: almost 17 square miles of the city were reduced to ashes. 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