Monday, August 08, 2005

Tokyo Fire-Bombing: Were Hiroshima-Nagasaki required?

60-years back, this week, the then-US President Truman announced to the world:

    "The world will note that the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, a military base. That was because we wished in this first attack to avoid, in so far as possible, the killing of civilians."

(well, that is what he said!)
We know now that this bombing of a "military base" caused deaths of "about 90,000 people (who) were killed immediately; another 40,000 were injured, many of whom died in protracted agony from radiation sickness. Three days later, a second atomic strike on the city of Nagasaki killed some 37,000 people and injured another 43,000. Together the two bombs eventually killed an estimated 200,000 Japanese civilians."

The current myth is that, but for these atomic bombs, Japan would not have surrendered.... was it so?

Hidden in the history of that time, is an unnoticed footnote - the "Tokyo Fire-Bombing", which the Western press would not touch, and the Japanese survivors would not like to dwell upon... An event which happened months before the atom-bombs and with far more lethal consequences:

The Tokyo Fire-Bombing:
"The night of March 9, 1945, began typically enough for war-weary Tokyo residents. They went to bed hungry, the distant wailing of air-raid sirens lulling them to sleep.

But World War II was about to rouse them violently from their fitful dreams into a waking nightmare. Before the new day dawned, a United States air-raid killed or injured as many as 200,000 people. It obliterated a quarter of all Tokyo's buildings, leaving more than a million people homeless.

The Americans dispatched the first wave of more than 300 bombers from Guam, Saipan and the Tinian Islands, 2,500 kilometres south of Tokyo. Each plane dropped 180 oil-gel sticks, less than a metre long, on the tightly knit neighbourhoods of wooden houses. Then two waves of planes emptied their bays of a lethal cargo: napalm. The resulting inferno unleashed hell on earth.

Kiyoko Kawasaki, then a 36-year-old mother, remembers running into the street with two buckets on her head for protection, walking into a sea of fire and seeing burning bodies floating in the Sumida River. "The prostitutes who hung out by the riverbank jumped into a nearby pond," she recalled. "But the pond was boiling so they all died."

Kyoko Arai was just a middle-school student when she witnessed her neighbourhood burn to the ground in the firebombing. She watched people perish when dancing fireballs set their hair alight. Worse, she remembers mothers running into the air-raid shelters with babies in their arms. "They would try to breast-feed the babies, but actually the babies were dead," Arai said. "Some of the mothers went crazy from the shock."

For survivors, the misery was just beginning. Takae Fujiki, then a 15-year-old high-school student, recalls being "chased" by the bombers. She says they hunted down fleeing civilians to deliberately drop bombs on them. And they napalmed the rivers to cut off an escape route, Fujiki says. "It was obvious they were trying to kill as many of us as possible.""

11 weeks later, on May 23, 520 giant B-29 "Superfortress" bombers unleashed another 4,500 tons of bombs on Tokyo obliterating Tokyo's commercial center and railway yards, and the Ginza entertainment district. Two days later, on May 25, a second strike of 502 "Superfortress" planes rained down some 4,000 tons of explosives. Together these two B-29 raids destroyed 56 square miles of the Japanese capital.

Tokyo Fire-Bombing killed many more people than did the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Even before the Hiroshima-Nagasaki bombing, American air force General Curtis LeMay boasted that American bombers were "driving them [Japanese] back to the stone age."

[Note: In a bizzare act of recognition, in 1964, the Japanese government conferred the First Order of Merit with the Grand Cordon of the Rising Sun upon Gen. Curtis LeMay (the father of Strategic Bombing) - the same general who, less than 20 years earlier, had incinerated "well over half a million Japanese civilians, perhaps nearly a million"... And who as the Chief of Staff of US Air Force in 1964, had warned Vietnam that "we're going to bomb them back into the Stone Age."... A phrase repeated again recently during the bombing of Afghanistan]

Gen. Douglas MacArthur's aide, Brigadier Gen. Bonner Fellers, called Tokyo-Bombings "one of the most ruthless and barbaric killings of noncombatants in all history."

Was Bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki Necessary?
Apparently not. In early 1945, Japanese govennment had sent feelers to find honorable terms of surrender. After the Tokyo-Bombings, these attempts became more overt. As a report mentions:

"In April and May 1945, Japan made three attempts through neutral Sweden and Portugal to bring the war to a peaceful end. On April 7, acting Foreign Minister Mamoru Shigemitsu met with Swedish ambassador Widon Bagge in Tokyo, asking him "to ascertain what peace terms the United States and Britain had in mind." But he emphasized that unconditional surrender was unacceptable, and that "the Emperor must not be touched."... By early July the US had intercepted messages from Togo to the Japanese ambassador in Moscow, Naotake Sato, showing that the Emperor himself was taking a personal hand in the peace effort, and had directed that the Soviet Union be asked to help end the war. US officials also knew that the key obstacle to ending the war was American insistence on "unconditional surrender," a demand that precluded any negotiations. The Japanese were willing to accept nearly everything, except turning over their semi-divine Emperor. Heir of a 2,600-year-old dynasty, Hirohito was regarded by his people as a "living god" who personified the nation."

In 1963, US General Dwight Eisenhower wrote in his memoirs:

"I had been conscious of a feeling of depression and so I voiced to him my grave misgivings, first on the basis of my belief that Japan was already defeated and that dropping the bomb was completely unnecessary, and secondly because I thought that our country should avoid shocking world opinion by the use of a weapon whose employment was, I thought, no longer mandatory as a measure to save American lives. It was my belief that Japan was, at that very moment, seeking some way to surrender with a minimum loss of "face.".... The Japanese were ready to surrender and it wasn't necessary to hit them with that awful thing ... I hated to see our country be the first to use such a weapon."

OK!!!... All this is history. Long forgoten, often justified as the act of one man ("a few rotten apples"). In contrast, Samuel Huntington (of "Clash of Civilisation" fame) wrote:

"...the West won the world not by the superiority of its ideas or values or religion but rather by its superiority in applying organized violence. Westerners often forget this fact, non-Westerners never do."

It is worth a hypothesis to look at present world fromthis light...
....just a thought!



marine4life27 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
marine4life27 said...

so apparently you havent heard that after the second bomb was dropped and japan surrendered we searched a japanese ship that had plutonium on it and was headed for hiroshima. they had plans that were found in japan for an atomic bomb that the germans had helped them build and were planning on using it on us. so if we hadnt dropped those bombs what do you think would have happened?

Madhukar said...


No, I haven't heard/read about any such thing.. do you have a reference/URL to share?

David said...

I'm reading a book called "Downfall" which contradicts your idea that the Japanese were ready to accept peace, the only condition being that they keep their emperor. In fact, they had other conditions, such as all the colonies they occupied be granted independence first, and that Japan not be occupied. Moreover, the army was not in agreement with accepting peace even with those condidtions.

Madhukar said...


If you are refering to Richard Frank's book,... yes, he has justified the USA's "humanitarian" initiative to bring "peace" by bombing Hiroshima-Nagasaki and Tokyo fire-bombing...

US had put the same conditions for "peace" as it has been putting with other countries (including Iraq) since then - as you mentioned it "...that Japan not be occupied" (that is a tough condition to accept for any self-respecting nation to accept!)

I have given the urls to documents I have used in the mail.... please do have a look at them before taking "Downfall" as the only truth...

David said...


I didn't draw any inferences about humanitarianism from Japan's refusal to accept occupation, rather, I just brought it up as a point of fact.

I wrote a paper in prep school about the interesting (if very morbid) decision to use atomic weapons on Japan. My thoughts went something like this:

1) Britain used "area" (i.e. terror) bombing against Germany because:
a) daylight bombing brought unacceptable losses of bombers
b) a city was the only target big enough to hit at night with the technology available at that point.
c) the only alternatve was to do nothing to fight the Nazis, which the British felt would lead to "peace" negotiations.
2) The USA resisted area bombing of Germany until the use of radar bombing and choices targets in congested urban areas (e.g. rail yards) with very poor accuracy became only a moral "fig leaf." Indeed, by 1944 the USA was terror bombing Germany and only calling it "industrial" bombing for propaganda purposes.
3) By the time Germany surrendered, terror bombing was acceptable, especially after the attrocities commited by the Germans were revealed, and compared to what the Japanese were doing. When one reads about what the Japanese were doing to the Chinese and Koreans, let alone American POW's, it staggers the imagination.
3) Once terror bombing became acceptable, atomic weapons were seen as nothing more than a more efficient way to achieve the same objective.

Thus, there was no "moral" consideration at all about whether to use the A bomb.

Right or wrong, I still feel that this was essentially the course of events.

ahannanismail said...

Has anybody mentioned that the reason for a-bombing Hiroshima and Nagasaki was not to defeat the Japanese, but to send a signal to Stalin that this is what the Americans would do if he tried to take western Europe?

Steve said...

I thought that it was common knowledge that Hiroshima and Nagasaki was to stop Stalin to come further into Japan and infitrate Europe.

Steve said...

Also a great site:

Steve said...

I hope that after reading these quotes in the link below, that the reader can tell the difference between the actual motive of the war crimes in Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the subsequent propaganda. I agree that Japan had committed war crimes in Asia and to Allied POW's. But to answer a crime with crime and hate with fate? Especially with a weapon which is so destructive, which only involves a flick of a finger to bring such suffering, cannot be justified. Two wrongs never make a right, especially if the second wrong is not necessary and is an overkill, which would mage the second wrong, just more wrong. That said, in the end it may have been a blessing that Russia did not enter Hokkaido, which would have certainly complicated the Japanese reconstruction and also probably produced a much different outcome in the Cold War era. Korean War would have been different for sure. I wonder what had been actually discussed/decided in Yalta as to how much of Japan USSR was to occupy.

Mark said...

It's great that the Tokyo Firebombing was mention, that bombing raid never gets the attention that the A-bombs got, but were much more deadly. Not exactly great links though, it is the unregulated internet. And not sure about the logic, it true that the firebombing was worse than the a-bombs, but it almost proves that the a-bombs were necessary since the Japanese military hadn't surrendered yet.

Mike Dearing said...

If the Japanese were given a nazi atombomb, how could they have delivered it? Their baloon bombs had range enugh (Farmington Michigan), but the payload and accuracy counts them out. A super long range one way trip aircraft ? It seems to me, we had nothing of that magnitude to even remotely worry about. The commander in chief who ordered it droped was not even elected @ the time. I don't believe a republican president would have ever considered using such a thing.

pbwct22 said...

In 1937 in China, the Japanese military carried out some of the most barbaric acts against civilians that the world has ever seen. To suggest that the West was somehow better at organized violence is simply wrong. World War 2 was an all out global war that killed more than 20 million civilians by some estimates. all sides mut bear that responsibility.However, in this case, the aggressors in the conflict, Germany and Japan suffered terribly for the arrogance and brutality of their leaders.All sides had the blood of innocents on their hands.It was a dark period in history and we can only hope that it will not be repeated,as there will likely be no one left to argue the morality of it.

Robert F. Dorr said...

This narrative might be more credible if it were not filled with so many inaccuracies. LeMay never uttered the "stone age" quote attributed to him. It is usually attributed to him (inaccurately) in the early Vietnam era when he was Air Force chief of staff and not in the context of the March 9-10 firebomb mission to Tokyo. Also prominently missing from this narrative is the courage of the American aircrews who took the war to the Japanese home islands. Some of them died that night.

I'm the author of the book "MISSION TO BERLIN." The book is primarily about bomber crews and their experience but it includes a discussion of city bombing.

Rog said...

I think we are sometimes guilty of hindsight, especially in the age of the internet and instant information. As now, no-one knew the future. Intelligence was patchy and not altogether unreliable. Stories were coming in about the Jewish atrocities in Europe as well as the infamous prison camps of the Japanese. Somewhere between and emotional reaction to an apalling realization of the horrors visited upon us by the enemy and a practical notion that nothing less than unconditional surrender would ensure the safety of the world after a long and bloody conflict meant that in the minds of the people at the time, both the firebombing and the atomic bombing were a necessity. Looking at the situation through modern eyes does not appreciate the situation the world was in at the time.