Monday, March 10, 2014

Beyond the Fog of War: Widening remembrance of the victims of the firebombings of Tokyo, 66 other Japanese cities, Chinese cities, & all bombings in world history...

In Errol Morris’s documentary "Fog of War," 
former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara details the firebombings of Japan.
Why was it necessary to drop the nuclear bomb if LeMay was burning up Japan? And he went on from Tokyo to firebomb other cities. 58% of Yokohama...Tokyo is roughly the size of New York. 51% percent of New York destroyed. 99% of the equivalent of Chattanooga, which was Toyama. 40% of the equivalent of Los Angeles, which was Nagoya. This was all done before the dropping of the nuclear bomb, which, by the way, was dropped by LeMay's command. 

Proportionality should be a guideline in war. Killing 50 to 90% of people in 67 Japanese cities and then bombing them with two nuclear bombs is not proportional, in the minds of some people...LeMay said if we lost the war, we'd all be prosecuted as war criminals, and I think he's right. 

- Former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, Fog of War
Today is the 69th anniversary of the U.S. fire bombing of residential Tokyo. This was the most destructive bombing raid in world history. On March 10, 1945, 334 B-29 American bombers dropped napalm and white phosphorus incendiary bombs that destroyed 16 square miles of buildings and killed (minimum estimates) 100,000 people, and wounded another 150,000, almost all civilians, in Tokyo.

The Japanese government has apologized to survivors of Japanese carpet bombings in China; memorialized victims of the victims of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki nuclear bombings, provided compensation to hibakusha; memorialized the military dead at Yasukuni, and provided compensation to Japanese Second World War veterans. However, the Japanese government has never commemorated the hundreds of thousands of victims of the firebombing of Tokyo and other historic Japanese cities, or compensated survivors, all whom were children at the time of the bombings.

Incongruously, the Japanese government, instead, honored Gen. Curtis LeMay, the commander of the “Superfortress” bombers that firebombed Tokyo and 66 other Japanese cities.  He designed the firebombing campaigns in a way that would maximize suffering of Japanese civilians; oversaw "Operation Starvation," designed to stop food from reaching civilians; and commanded the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  In 1964, during the administration of former PM Eisaku Sato, a 1974 Nobel Peace Laureate, LeMay was awarded the Grand Cordon Order of the Rising Sun, given to those who have made "distinguished achievements in the following fields; international relations, promotion of Japanese culture, advancements in their field, development in welfare or preservation of the environment."

Some of the plaintiffs of the Tokyo firebombing lawsuit

Last year, the Japanese Supreme Court upheld the dismissal of a lawsuit against the Japanese government by civilian victims and relatives of those who died on March 10. The plaintiffs demanded an apology and damages over the U.S. firebombing of Tokyo; all were children during the war; many became orphaned.

In December 2009, the Tokyo District Court dismissed the original suit filed by 131 plaintiffs who were demanding a government apology and ¥1.44 billion in damages. In April 2012, the Tokyo High Court turned down an appeal, citing the hundreds of thousands of other firebombing victims who received no acknowledgement and compensation from the government.

The task of remembering and commemorating the victims of the Tokyo and other Japanese firebombings has been left to the aging survivors, their descendants, and civil society.

Charred body of a woman who was carrying a child on her back. 
(Photo: Taken on March 10, 1945 by Koyo Ishikawa (1904-1989))

The task of remembering of all victims of bombings worldwide needs more attention by journalists, scholars, and civil society.

Locals from Chungking, China, left homeless by Japanese bombing, May 1939. 
(Photograph: Hulton-Deutsch Collection/Corbis via The Guardian)

Ayoko Mie's "New map shines light on Tokyo air raid horrors: Scholars record wartime history politicians would rather forget," posted at JT yesterday explains how the Great Tokyo Air Raids Life of Victims Map created by the Center of the Tokyo Raids and War Damage shows how Tokyo residents tried to flee the bombs and fires:
The Life of Victims Map is the most comprehensive effort to visualize the overall effect of the raids because it includes those killed by raids other than Operation Meetinghouse. Over 100 air raids were carried out on the capital after November 1944...

U.S. forces went on to conduct air raids on 66 Japanese cities in the final months the war. Over a 10-day period beginning on March 9, 1945, the strikes destroyed 40 percent of those 66 cities, according to scholar Mark Seldon’s research paper “Bombs Bursting in Air: State and Citizen Responses to the U.S. Firebombing and Atomic Bombing of Japan.”

Yet the central government has conducted little research on the air raids, even the ones on Tokyo, despite their gravity.

“In a sense, over-concentration on the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki has overshadowed the dozens of cities attacked by firebombing,” said Cary Karacas, assistant professor of geography at the College of Staten Island, who with author Bret Fisk launched the bilingual historical archive Japan Air in 2010.

It was not until 1970 that the impact of the Tokyo air raids would begin to be scrutinized by a citizens’ group led by Katsumoto Saotome, director of the Center of the Tokyo Raids and War Damage, with the support of then-Tokyo Gov. Ryokichi Minobe.

“The central government didn’t want to recognize the fact that much damage was caused in Japan’s capital city, Tokyo, and they did not want to compensate non-military Japanese people who suffered from the bombing,” said the 81-year-old Saotome, who was 12 when the bombs began dropping.
In "Tokyo firebombing and unfinished U.S. business," posted at JT on Feb. 15, historian Jeff Kingston provides more context and details of the firebombings; calling into question the judgment of the Japanese government; and blaming both Japan's wartime government and the Truman administration for prolonging the war, which resulted in deaths of American troops and hundreds of thousands of Japanese civilians:
Prolonging the war meant there was a price to be paid and, as in most modern conflicts, civilians paid the highest price. The firebombing campaign left some 5 million people homeless throughout Japan, killing perhaps 500,000 civilians and wounding another 400,000 — excluding the Hiroshima and Nagasaki victims. LeMay also oversaw Operation Starvation, a strategy to mine Japan’s coastal waters and ports from the air, so disrupting shipping and the distribution of food. This supplemented a very effective submarine blockade...

The ashes of more than 100,000 air-raid victims are interred at Yokoamicho Park in Sumida Ward, where there is a modest memorial. And in Koto Ward, documents and oral histories have been assembled at a private library/museum — but there is no publicly funded Tokyo Firebombing Museum or state memorial commensurate with the scale of this ghastly event.

In 1990, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government set up a committee to prepare plans for a memorial, but in his recent book “Tokyo Vernacular,” Jordan Sand, a professor at Georgetown University, states that “this was ultimately derailed by politicians on the right and the national bureaucracy.”
In "Bombs Bursting in Air: State and citizen responses to the US firebombing and Atomic bombing of Japan," scholar Mark Selden has taken an in-depth look at the human consequences of the firebombings of Japan's cities. Selden argues that many more than 100,000 died on March 9-10.  He further demonstrates that LeMay's campaign against Japanese civilians set the stage for his bombings of Korea, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, and later bombings Afghanistan, and Iraq, in the context of the culture of celebration of war:
The Strategic Bombing Survey provided a technical description of the firestorm and its effects on Tokyo...

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...The largest number of victims were the most vulnerable: women, children and the elderly.”

 ...The figure of roughly 100,000 deaths, provided by Japanese and American authorities, both of whom may have had reasons of their own for minimizing the death toll, seems to me arguably low in light of population density, wind conditions, and survivors’ accounts...

Following the Tokyo raid of March 9-10, the firebombing was extended nationwide. In the ten-day period beginning on March 9, 9,373 tons of bombs destroyed 31 square miles of Tokyo, Nagoya, Osaka and Kobe. Overall, bombing strikes destroyed 40 percent of the 66 Japanese cities targeted... the slaughter of civilian populations on a scale that had no parallel in the history of bombing.

...Overall, by Sahr Conway-Lanz’s calculation, the US firebombing campaign destroyed 180 square miles of 67 cities, killed more than 300,000 people and injured an additional 400,000, figures that exclude the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki...

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...The point is not to separate 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 and the United States in their disregard of citizen victims than is normally recognized in the annals of history and journalism...

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 whose recent technological innovations center on the use of drones controlling the skies and bringing terror to inhabitants below.

Less noted then and since 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...

 Washington immediately announced the atomic bomb’s destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and released the iconic photographs of the mushroom cloud... 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...

We reflect on the fact that there is no Sadako of the firebombing of Japanese cities, no carbonized lunchbox relic known to the world, or even to Japanese children. Yet there was precisely the killing of myriad mothers and children in those not quite forgotten raids. We need to expand the canvas of our imagination to encompass a wider range of victims of American bombing in this and other wars, just as Japanese need to set their experience as bomb victims against the Chinese and Asia-Pacific victims of their war and colonialism. Nor should American responsibility for its bomb victims end with the recovery of memory. It requires a sensibility embodied in official apology and reparations for victims, and a consciousness embodied in public monuments and national military policies that is fundamentally at odds with American celebrations of its wars.
Additional links:

"Children's World Peace Statue (Tokyo)"-- Plans for this statue and diligent fundraising
 were conducted by Tokyo junior and senior high school students while studying about
 the effects of the conventional and atomic air raids.
(Image: The Center of the Tokyo Raids and War Damage, Koto Ward, Tokyo) 

The Center of the Tokyo Raids and War Damage

One of the participants of a group of Tokyo residents paying pilgrimage to landmarks dedicated to the victims 
of the Great Tokyo Air Raids gives an offering to the Buddhist deity of mercy in Tokyo’s Edogawa Ward 
on March 2, 2014, ahead of the 69th anniversary of the U.S. bombing on the capital. 
(Photo: Hirotaka Kojo, Asahi)

"VOX POPULI: Anniversary of 1945 Tokyo air raid warns us against past mistakes" (Asahi, March 10, 2014) 

"Woman's picture book recalls how mother saved her in Tokyo firebombing" (Hirotaka Kojo, Asahi, March 6, 2014)

"Fire Bombings and Forgotten Civilians: The Lawsuit Seeking Compensation for Victims of the Tokyo Air Raids" (Cary Karacas, The Asia-Pacific Journal, January 17, 2011)

"The Firebombing of Tokyo: Views from the Ground" (Brett Fisk and Cary Karakas, The Asia-Pacific Journal, Jan. 17, 2011)

"China and Japan at War: Suffering and Survival, 1937-1945" (Diana Lary, The Asia-Pacific Journal, Nov. 29, 2010)

"The Great Tokyo Air Raid and the Bombing of Civilians in World War II", The Asahi Shimbun, reposted at The Asia-Pacific Journal, March 11, 2010)

"A Forgotten Holocaust: US Bombing Strategy, the Destruction of Japanese Cities and the American Way of War from World War II to Iraq [*]" (Mark Selden, The Asia-Pacific Journal, May 2, 2007)


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