1945 Again

The little I’ve known about the atomic bombings and Japan’s surrender goes like this: We dropped a bomb on Hiroshima on August 6. Then when that didn’t immediately produce the desired result, we dropped another one on Nagasaki — a secondary target since there was bad weather over the primary — on August 9. That was all the Japanese could take, and they surrendered August 15. I’ve never thought much about what happened in the days between the second bombing and the surrender, and always figured the U.S. government stood by as Japan came to its inevitable decision.

Of course, it didn’t happen that way. There was a war on, and it didn’t stop. Conventional bombing continued. We had a third atomic bomb ready to go. Richard Rhodes, in “The Making of the Atomic Bomb,” says that when the Japanese failed to move fast enough to surrender, President Truman ordered the Air Force to resume incendiary attacks on Japanese cities. The air commander in the Pacific, Gen. Hap Arnold:

“…still hoped to prove that his Air Force could win the war; he called for an all-out attack with every available B -29 and any other bombers in the Pacific theater and mustered more than a thousand aircraft. Twelve million pounds of high-explosive and incendiary bombs destroyed more than half of Kumagaya and a sixth of Isezaki, killing several thousand more Japanese, even as word of the Japanese surrender passed through Switzerland to Washington.”

I’d guess that one of the most unknown aspects of World War II for most Americans is the scale and destructiveness of the U.S. attacks on Japan’s cities, of which the raid August 14 was the last. A project called the National Security Archive just published a collection of documents on the development and use of the bomb. Among the papers are notes taken at an April 27,1945, meeting of the committee of military officers and Manhattan Project scientists assigned to come up with a list of targets for the bomb (Hiroshima was at the top of the list; from that day on, the city and everyone in it were under a death sentence). The notes include a plain-spoken description of the nature of the ongoing bombing campaign:

“It should be remembered that in our selection of any target, the 20th Air Force is operating primarily to laying waste all the main Japanese cities, and that they do not propose to save some important primary target for us if it interferes with the operation of the war from their point of view. Their existing procedure has been to bomb the hell out of Tokyo, bomb the aircraft, manufacturing and assembly plants, engine plants and in general paralyse the aircraft industry so as to eliminate opposition to the 20th Air Force operations. The 20th Air Force is systematically bombing out the following cities with the prime purpose in mind of not leaving one stone lying on another:

Tokyo, Yokohama, Nagoya, Osaka, Kyoto, Kobe, Yawata & Nagasaki.

“Colonel Fisher also advised that the 20th Air Force existing operational plans pointed toward dropping 100,000 tons of bombs on Japan per month by the end of 1945.”

I got to know one of the cities on that list, Nagoya, as an exchange student in the ’70s. Conscious as I was of the war and what it had done, despite the fact the city was all virtually new, it didn’t sink in what happened there. Later, I found a U.S. Air Force damage survey of the city, which I think had been home to close to 2 million people. The map showed a few small splotches of yellow — to denote undamaged areas — in a sea of gray. Ninety-five percent of the city had been destroyed.

One Reply to “1945 Again”

  1. Osaka is like that too. My friend Takeo Yamaki has his gallery in a large pre-war building. The architecture of this place is a sort of plodding Art Deco and it is constructed like a brick-shitter…lots of concrete and steel. In its day it must have been a class joint and maybe it was built with earthquakes in mind. At any rate, the building had the distinction of survivng the war and has recently been slated for demolition, no doubt to make room for some larger architectural behemoth. I should ask the Yamakis about this and get their take. My guess is they are pretty un-sentimental about the building, possibly even thinking of it as an anachronism which should be replaced. As for me, and my aesthetic opinions aside, I think it’s a shame to knock down a building like that, seeing that there are so few buildings left over from the twenties and thirties. But yeah, I noticed buildings in Osaka and other cities in Japan which survived those terrible bombings, and there weren’t all that many.
    As to the strategic bombing campaign, the war didn’t end a moment too soon. By August, 1945 the science of aerial bombing whose path winds backward from Tokyo, Hiroshima and Nagasaki through Berlin, Cologne, Warsaw, London and Rotterdam and so on was perfected by the Air Force and they probably were coming up with new refinements all the time. I suppose shock and awe today’s refinement.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *