(WAR against JAPAN, 1942-45 – continued)

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WAR against JAPAN, 1942-45 (6 of 8)

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Bombs on Japan to April 1945

On 24 November 1944, the B-29 bombing run from the Marianas to Japan began. Various superstitions arose among those who endured the bombing. A Japanese couple who survived found their two dead goldfish nearby and concluded that the goldfish had died for them. They put the two goldfish in their family Buddhist shrine and began worshipping them. Word of the goldfish spread, and a run on goldfish began. In the place of real goldfish, porcelain gold fish were manufactured and, with intense demand, sold at high prices.

At Yalta in early February, 1945, Roosevelt expressed his support for intensive bombing of Japan with B-29 bomber squadrons for the purpose of eliminating the need to invade Japan.  On February 19th, US forces invaded the heavily fortified two by five-mile island called Iwo Jima. note85   A battle followed that was to last to March 16 and take the lives of 4,554 Marines, 363 US Navy men and about 18,000 Japanese. The purpose was to establish an airbase close enough to Japan for fighter planes to pick up and escort the B-29s into Japan.

The first of the American bombing runs on Japan – between late November 1944 and March 1945 – were considered failures. These were "precision" bombings, directed against factories and military installations. Army Air Corps strategists noticed little success in destroying production, but they did see that production was slowed most when civilian workers around the plant were killed in substantial numbers.

The man in charge of the Army Air Corps in the Pacific was Curtis LeMay, who had been transferred from Europe, where he had acquired a reputation as a bright, tough-minded innovator. He was the youngest major general in the US Army. LeMay decided to try the "area bombing" that had been shunned by the US in Europe. And for maximum effect he decided to use incendiary bombs. LeMay believed that two-thirds of Japan's industry was dispersed in homes and small shops with no more than thirty employees. Blanket bombing in cities across Japan, he reasoned, would destroy Japanese industry. Civilians would be slaughtered in great numbers, but the war would be shortened. LeMay said that it made no difference how you slay the enemy. And, he said, "To worry about the morality of what we are doing – nuts."

The dropping of tons of incendiary bombs on Tokyo began on March 9 – a little before the annual blossoming of the many cherry trees in Washington DC that were a gift from the city of Tokyo as a friendship gesture back in 1912. Tokyo in 1945 was known to be vulnerable to fire. Many of its buildings were of wood and paper. And Tokyo was one of the most densely populated cities in the world. The Japanese had evacuated 1.7 million people from the city, but about six million remained. There were few shelters for people because of a scarcity of materials. The bombing created a firestorm that consumed oxygen and suffocated thousands. Water in the city's canals boiled, and the firestorm sent liquid glass rolling down streets. The city was lit with an orange glow. The B-29s had attacked at a low altitude (5,000 to 8,000 feet) and American tail gunners were sickened by the sight of hundreds of people burning to death. Ten US aircraft were destroyed by the updraft of heat. And as many as 120,000 Japanese died. Maybe as many as 200,000.

LeMay found satisfaction in the destruction of eight industrial targets and a lot of "home industries." LeMay sent his bombers to Nagoya, Japan's third largest city, and then to Osaka and Kobe. Time magazine expressed joy at the bombings, noting that Japanese cities can be burned "like autumn leaves."

Many Americans remembered the Bataan Death March and other atrocities, and they perceived the Japanese to be a primitive and cruel race. A poll just after Pearl Harbor had revealed that 67 percent of the population favored unqualified and indiscriminate bombing of Japan's cities.

A few prominent American educators and churchmen protested the bombing of Japan's cities, as did editors of the Jesuit weekly magazine America, which questioned whether the bombings were "with God's law or the nobility of our cause." In Japan, people viewed the American aircrews as guilty of murder.


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