Friday, May 27, 2016

Forgotten Horror: The Great Tokyo Air Raid

Barack Obama is set to arrive in Hiroshima and become the first serving US president to visit the Japanese city since the 1945 nuclear bombing. Obama will not be issuing an apology for the nuclear attack.

The world's first nuclear bomb attack, on Hiroshima on 6 August 1945, killed at least 140,000 people. Two days later a second nuclear bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, killing another 74,000. But little attention will be given to the conventional bombing of Japan. The atomic bombs of Hiroshima and Nagasaki have dominated the WWII history, but, as a single attack, the bombing of Tokyo was more destructive.

The Operation Meetinghouse air raid of 9–10 March 1945 was later estimated to be the single most destructive bombing raid in history, dropping 1,665 tons of bombs on Tokyo. The bombs were mostly the 500-pound (230 kg) E-46 cluster bomb which released 38 napalm-carrying M-69 incendiary bomblets. Approximately 15.8 square miles of the city was destroyed and some 100,000 people are estimated to have died. A million were maimed and another million were made homeless. The Great Tokyo Air Raid should not be blotted out of people’s memory as it was a cruel wartime act that testifies to the great suffering the Pacific War brought to Japanese civilians.

American commander, Curtis LeMay, adopted a policy of indiscriminate “low-altitude” bombings against Japan’s urban areas. LeMay thought that since most buildings in Japan, even in urban areas, were made of “wood and paper,” using incendiary bombs would be effective. The US military had waited for a clear and windy night to inflict maximum damage. He justified the indiscriminate bombing by noting that many households in Japan’s cities were producing small parts that were used in armaments and should, therefore, be regarded as weapons factories. It is considered the single most deadly bombing raid in history. Curtis leMay said the US military "scorched and boiled and baked to death more people in Tokyo on that night ... than Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined".

Masahiko Yamabe, chief researcher at the Tokyo Air Raid and War Damages Resource Center explained that “Most of the victims were ordinary citizens. Most were not involved in war industry at all – they were just regular people going about their lives.”

Survivor, Haruyo Nihei, said American claims that the bombings targeted factories were false. "There were no big military factories in the areas they bombed on March 9. They did it as punishment," Nihei said. "I believe they should be held accountable for war crimes too." 

The firebombing of Tokyo was designed to terrorise and bomb the Japanese into surrender. It was also seen as payback for the Pearl Harbour attacks and the mistreatment of Allied prisoners of war. Curtis LeMay acknowledged that if he had been on the losing side, he would be charged with war crimes.

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