Monday, June 12, 2006

Great Tokyo Air Raid

(1) "I suppose if I had lost the war, I would have been tried as a war criminal. Fortunately we were on the winning side."

This remark, made years after World War II, is attributed to Gen. Curtis LeMay (1906-90), a U.S. Air Force commander who directed a massive incendiary attack on Tokyo in the predawn hours of March 10, 1945, scorching a good portion of the city's eastern shitamachi, a low-lying area with many small independent shops and factories.

(2) The Great Tokyo Air Raid should be regarded as a genocidal attack that mainly targeted civilians in obvious violation of international law. The aerial bombing came after the U.S. Air Force had failed to achieve much in its intermittent pinpoint bombing of military-related facilities in Japan. The United States was shifting the focus of its military campaign against this country to firebombing and scorching urban areas as a means of sapping the people's will to continue fighting.

The air raid turned crowded blocks of wooden houses in Tokyo into a sea of fire, claiming about 100,000 lives. The figure exceeded the death toll from the bombing of Dresden, Germany, by the U.S. and British air forces in February 1945, one of the largest air raids carried out in Europe during World War II.

(3) After successfully accomplishing its military aim in the Tokyo air raid, the United States expanded its list of indiscriminate bombing targets to launch an air attack on Nagoya on March 12 and Osaka on March 13-14. By the end of war, the United States had bombed about 150 Japanese cities, killing an estimated 500,000 people.

LeMay is not the only one to acknowledge the Great Tokyo Air Raid as a war crime. "LeMay said, 'If we'd lost the war, we'd all have been prosecuted as war criminals.' And I think he's right. He---and I'd say I--were behaving as war criminals," former U.S. Defense Secretary Robert McNamara said in "The Fog of War," a U.S. documentary movie produced in 2003 and released in Japan last year. McNamara was one of the U.S. officials who played a major role in the deepening military involvement of the United States in Vietnam.

(5) In 1992, the German government raised a strong objection when a bronze statue of Arthur Harris, a British general who had directed the Dresden bombing, was erected in central London.

This is in stark contrast to the attitude taken by the Japanese government toward LeMay after the war. In 1964, he was awarded the Grand Cordon of the Order of the Rising Sun for his "cooperation in the development of the Air Self-Defense Force.yomiuri on line


I told him I was busy considering our conduct of the war, against Japan and I told him how I was trying to hold the Air Force down to to precision bombing but that with the Japanese method of scattering its manufacture it was rather difficult to prevent the area bombing. I told him I was anxious about this feature of the war for two reason ;first , I didn't want to have the Untited States get the reputation in outdoing Hitler in atrocities. Second, I was little fearful we could get ready the airforce might have Japan so thoroughly bombed out that a new weapon would not have a fair background to show its strengh . He laughed and said he understood.Memorandum of Conference with the President, June 6, 1945, Top Secret
Source: Manuscripts and Archives, Yale University Library, Henry Lewis Stimson Papers (microfilm at Library of Congress)


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