tokyo firebombing death toll


Required fields are marked *. In my view, the SBS estimates both exaggerate the killed to injured ratio and understate the numbers killed in the Tokyo raid. Sorry, your blog cannot share posts by email. The most devastating bombing campaign in all of the war in the Pacific. With area bombing at the core of its strategic agenda, US attacks on cities and noncombatants would run the gamut from firebombing, napalming, and cluster bombing to the use of chemical defoliants and depleted uranium weapons and bunker buster bombs in an ever expanding circle of destruction.19. Robert Guillain was a French reporter assigned to Japan in 1938. Estimates of the death toll range from about 83,000 to nearly 200,000, with most coming in at about 100,000. Their 500-gpm pumps were therefore largely useless.”. What was banned under the occupation were close-up images of victims whether of the firebombing or the atomic bombing captured on film by Japanese photographers, that is, the human face of the atomic holocaust that was captured on film in iconic photographs of Hiroshima, Nagasaki and Tokyo by Japanese photographers. An insightful discussion of Japanese war crimes in the Pacific, locating the issues within a comparative context of atrocities committed by the US, Germany, and other powers, is Yuki Tanaka’s Hidden Horrors: Japanese Crimes in World War II. An estimated 1.5 million people lived in the burned out areas. A small number of works have problematized the good war narrative by drawing attention to US atrocities in the Asia-Pacific War, typically centering on the torture, killing and desecration of captured Japanese soldiers. . While firebombing never emerged as a major subject of American reflection or self-criticism, the atomic bombing eventually did. Moreover, Japanese authorities preferred to emphasize the atomic bomb over the fire bombing for at least two reasons. 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. 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. 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. 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. The Tokyo … In just two days, more than 100,000 people were killed, a million were … 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. World War II was a landmark in the development and deployment of technologies of mass destruction associated with air power, notably the B-29 bomber, napalm, fire bombing, and the atomic bomb. Michael Sherry, “The United States and Strategic Bombing: From Prophecy to Memory,” in Yuki Tanaka and Marilyn B. "They set to work at once sowing the sky with fire." Barrett Tillman, Whirlwind, pp. In Year 501: The Conquest Continues (Boston: South End Press, 1993) and many other works, Noam Chomsky emphasizes the continuities in Western ideologies that undergird practices leading to the annihilation of entire populations in the course of colonial and expansionist wars over half a millennium and more. The Tokyo raid was followed by similar bombings of Nagoya (March 11), Osaka (March 13), and Kobe (March 16). The Tokyo firestorming, code-named “Operation Meetinghouse”, was the single deadliest air raid of World War II by quite some distance. Geoffrey Best, War and Law Since 1945. Targeting for the most part then and subsequently essentially defenseless populations, it was an approach that combined technological predominance and allocation of vast financial resources with a priority on minimization of US casualties and maximization of enemy civilian casualties. The firebombing of Tokyo is often overshadowed by the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The firebombing, by contrast raised uncomfortable issues about the government’s decision to perpetuate the war through six months of punishing bombing with no alternative except defeat. Estimates for the death toll in the firebombing of Tokyo range from 70,000 to almost 200,000, with most historians settling for around 130,000. Although estimates vary, between 80,000-130,000 Japanese civilians were killed in the worst single firestorm in recorded history. In the space of a few hours, they dropped 1,667 tons of napalm-filled incendiary bombs on the Japanese capital, killing more than 100,000 people in a single strike, and injuring several times that number. They include the fact that the dominant victimization narrative associated with an all-powerful atomic bomb was preferable to having to engage war issues centered on Japanese aggression and war atrocities. Under US censorship, Matsushige’s photos could not be published until 1952 following the end of the occupation. David Fedman and Cary Karacas. Although the precise death toll is unknown, conservative estimates suggest that the firestorm caused by incendiary bombs killed at least 80,000 people, and likely more than 100,000, in a single night; some one million people were left homeless. Notify me of follow-up comments by email. We have received $8,500 toward our $12,000 goal. 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. By dawn, more than 100,000 people were dead, a million were homeless, and 40 square kilometers of Tokyo were burned to the ground. I US Firebombing and Atomic Bombing of Japan. Matthew Jones, After Hiroshima. 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. In contrast to the monitoring of atomic bomb deaths over the subsequent six decades, the Tokyo casualty figures at best record deaths and injuries within days of the bombing at a time when the capacity of the Tokyo military and police to compile records had been overwhelmed. 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. Japanese ideological mobilization and control was such that there are no signs of resistance to the government’s suicidal perpetuation of the war at any time during the bombing campaign. If you value the Journal, please go to the Subscription page and contribute. Mark Selden, “String of Pearls: The Archipelago of Bases, Military Colonization, and the Making of the American Empire in the Pacific,” International Journal of Okinawan Studies, Vol 3 No 1, June 2012 (Special Issue on Islands) pp. A.C. Grayling explains the different responses to firebombing and atomic bombing this way: “. The point is not to separate the political-moral calculus of the United States from other participants in World War II, but to suggest that there is more common ground in the war policies of Japan, Germany, Britain and the United States in their disregard of citizen victims than is normally recognized in the annals of American history and journalism. It is, however, to suggest new perspectives on our nuclear age and the nature of warfare in the long twentieth century and into the new millennium. Estimates of the number of people killed in the bombing of Tokyo on 10 March differ. . 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. but at the Tokyo Trials, defense attempts to raise the issue of American firebombing and the atomic bombing were ruled out by the court. Young, eds., Bombing Civilians: A twentieth century history (New York: The New Press, 2009), pp. 405-40. U.S. bombing, by contrast, hewed to strategic targets, prioritizing military installations and factories until 1944, when it supported Britain in the wholesale bombing of German cities. pp. . Following the March 9-10 raid, the firebombing was extended nationwide. 175-90; Cary Karacas, “Imagining Air Raids on Tokyo, 1930-1945,” paper presented at the Association for Asian Studies annual meeting, Boston, March 23, 2007. The view from the ground. Legacies of Chemical Warfare in Vietnam (New York: Seven Stories Press, 2011). It appears that in the squaring off of the two superpowers, mutual targeting with atomic weapons was the centerpiece of direct conflict, while proxy fights, as in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan, were fought with bombs ranging from firebombs to cluster bombs to defoliants. Bodies of people trapped and burned as they fled through a street during the attack on Tokyo on the night of March 9-10. While the war in Europe was concluded with the Nazi Germany surrender May 7, 1945, the Japanese continually refused and ignored the Allies demands of unconditional surrender. Aerial photo of Tokyo after the bombing of March 9-10. The death toll of that air raid alone was higher than the total number of people killed by all the other 92 urban firebombing raids on Japan during the war. Curtis LeMay was appointed commander of the 21st Bomber Command in the Pacific on January 20, 1945. World War II remains indelibly engraved in American memory as the “Good War” and indeed, in confronting the war machines of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, the United States, together with the resistance in China and other colonial nations, played a critical role in defeating aggressors and opening the way for a wave of decolonization that swept the globe in subsequent decades. Given the near total inability to fight fires of the magnitude produced that night10, it is possible, given the interest of the authorities in minimizing the scale of death and injury and the total inability of the civil defense efforts to respond usefully to the firestorm, to imagine that casualties may have been several times higher, more likely in the range of 200,000 than 100,000: this is an issue that merits the attention of researchers, beginning with the unpublished records of the US Strategic Bombing Survey which are now available for researchers. “A Cartographic Fade to Black: Mapping the Destruction of Urban Japan During World War II.” Journal of Historical Geography 36, no. 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 … 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. Cary Karacas, “Place, Public Memory, and the Tokyo Air Raids.” Geographical Review 100, no. Second, as Cary Karacas has argued, Japan’s bombing of Chongqing and other Chinese cities, including the use of Unit 731’s bio-weapons, raised uncomfortable questions about its own bombing.27. Of particular interest is conservative and military criticism of the atomic bombing, including that of Navy Secretary James Forrestal, and Gen. Dwight Eisenhower, John Foster Dulles and a range of Christian thinkers such as Reinhold Niebuhr . Air raids over Tokyo continued in the period afterward, and the death toll perhaps reached 200,000 civilian deaths alone. Nagasaki mushroom cloud. 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. . US National Archives. The bottom photo, taken on March 7, … 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. 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). It may be tempting to consider whether the US willingness to kill such massive numbers of Japanese civilians can be understood in terms of racism, a suggestion sometimes applied to the atomic bomb. If accurate, it is indicative of the immense difficulty in escaping for those near the center of the Tokyo firestorm on that windswept night. The Committee for the Compilation of Materials on Damage Caused by the Atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Hiroshima and Nagasaki: The Physical, Medical and Social Effects of the Atomic Bombing (New York: Basic Books, 1991), pp. There is a second major change in the international landscape of military conflict. The firebombing raids on Tokyo, codenamed Operation Meetinghouse, were low altitude incendiary bombing raids ordered by General Curtis LeMay. Several times that number of civilians were injured and more than a million people were left homeless. 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 result everywhere would be the decimation of noncombatant populations and extraordinary “kill ratios” favoring the US military. 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). . 180-81. American Censorship in Occupied Japan (Armonk: M.E. . to our semi-monthly Newsletter to learn and link to the content of each issue. 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. Comments, contributions, corrections, and suggestions are always welcome: Your email address will not be published. Aerial surveys revealed at least 60% of the city’s “built-up areas” were destroyed, leading to the conclusion that perhaps “as many as 200,000 of Hiroshima’s 340,000 residents perished or were injured,” as one United Press story put it. Robert Rhodes, The Making of the Atomic Bomb (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1986), pp. 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. Sahr Conway-Lanz, Collateral Damage, p. 1. Capture of the Marianas, including Guam, Tinian and Saipan in summer 1944 had placed Japanese cities within effective range of the B-29 “Superfortress” bombers, while Japan’s depleted air and naval power and a blockade that cut off oil supplies left it virtually defenseless against sustained air attack. The US also stood by official denial of the ravages associated with radiation.26 Finally, not only was the press tightly censored on atomic issues, but literature and the arts were also subject to rigorous control prior. The largest number of victims were the most vulnerable: women, children and the elderly.”. Post was not sent - check your email addresses! The firebombing raids on Tokyo, codenamed Operation Meetinghouse, were low altitude incendiary bombing raids ordered by General Curtis LeMay. Many more who died in the following weeks and months go unrecorded. Bombing would also be extended from cities to the countryside, as in the Agent Orange defoliation attacks that destroyed the forest cover and poisoned residents of sprayed areas of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. Jones, After Hiroshima, pp. Throughout the six month period from the March 9 attack that destroyed Tokyo until August 15, 1945, and above all in the wake of the US victory in Okinawa in mid-June 1945, a Japanese nation that was defeated in all but name continued to spurn unconditional surrender, eventually accepting the sacrifice of more than half a million Japanese subjects in Okinawa and Japan to secure a single demand: the safety of the emperor. Thank you for your support. The key development for the bombing of Japan was the B-29 Superfortress strategic bomber, which had an operational range of 3,250 nautical miles (3,740 mi; 6,020 km) and was capable of attacking at high altitude above 30,000 feet (9,100 m), where enemy defenses were very weak. See also Michael Bess, in Choices Under Fire. As Ian Buruma observes, “News of the terrible consequences of the atom bomb attacks on Japan was deliberately withheld from the Japanese public by US military censors during the Allied occupation—even as they sought to teach the natives the virtues of a free press. 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. The official death toll was some 83,000, but historians generally agree that victims unaccounted for bring the figure to around 100,000 -- overwhelmingly civilians. 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. Whatever the suffering, most Japanese then and subsequently, like their counterparts in other countries facing massive destruction, did not overtly oppose government mobilization efforts to continue fighting a hopeless war though many attempted to flee the bombing. The U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey study of Effects of Air Attack on Urban Complex Tokyo-Kawasaki-Yokohama (n.p. Throughout the spring and summer of 1945 the US air war in Japan reached an intensity that is still perhaps unrivaled in the magnitude of human slaughter.15 That moment was a product of the combination of technological breakthroughs, the collapse of Japanese defenses, and American nationalism capable of overriding moral and political scruples pertaining to the killing of civilians. The Tokyo Fire Department estimated 97,000 killed and 125,000 wounded. We have been equally interested in the human consequences of the US targeting civilian populations for annihilation as a central strategy for deploying airpower from late 1944 and the nature of subsequent US wars. Sec. 3 (2012), pp. See See also, Monica Braw, The Atomic Bomb Suppressed. Photograph by Ishikawa Koyo. Concerted efforts to protect civilians from the ravages of war peaked in the late nineteenth century, with the League of Nations following World War I, in the 1929 Geneva Convention, and again in the aftermath of World War II with the founding of the United Nations, German and Japanese War Crimes Tribunals, and the 1949 Geneva Accords and its 1977 Protocol.17 The Nuremberg Indictment defined “crimes against humanity” as “murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation, and other inhumane acts committed against any civilian population, before or during the war,” language that could be interpreted to resonate with the area bombing campaigns conducted not only by Japan and Germany but also by Britain and the US . , 1942-1945, ( New York: Simon & Schuster, 2010 ) pp the... 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