The Militant (logo)  
   Vol. 69/No. 12           March 28, 2005  

There Is No Peace: 60 Years Since End of World War II   

U.S. firebombing of Tokyo in 1945 killed 100,000
The night of March 9-10 marked the 60th anniversary of the firebombing of Tokyo by the U.S. Air Force. It was one of the most brutal acts of the “Allied” imperialist powers fighting their rivals in the “Axis” imperialist block over redivision of the world during World War II. On this occasion, we reprint below the article “Museum opens on 1945 U.S. firebombing of Tokyo.” It was first published in the April 29, 2002, Militant. This is the first installment of a column that will appear regularly in the Militant this year, marking six decades since the end of the second worldwide interimperialist slaughter and presenting the facts about the outcome of World War II.

Some of the facts about the 1945 U.S. firebombings of Tokyo are being forced into the light of day, in spite of decades of cover-up by the U.S. rulers, with the complicity of their counterparts in Japan. This progress has been made largely thanks to the persistent efforts of survivors of the raids, which killed many hundreds of thousands, and perhaps millions, of working people.

Several survivors were guests of honor at the opening of the capital’s first museum dedicated to recording this piece of history. The event took place March 9-10 to mark the 57th anniversary of the attack on Tokyo, which launched the bombing offensive. Since neither the U.S. nor Japanese governments have provided the necessary assistance, the museum was constructed using $800,000 in private donations.

Hiroshi Hoshino was one of those who attended the event. According to the New York Times, the 71-year-old man has decided to devote “the rest of his life to preserving the memory of the people killed.” He told the reporter, “Of course, everybody knows about the atomic bombings” of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945, “but many people are not aware of the napalm attacks at all.”

March 10 was the first of numerous petrol-bomb attacks by massed B-29 bombers on more than 60 Japanese cities over the spring and summer of 1945. The assault was aimed at an enemy that was already close to surrender. The loss of several key engagements, including the Battle of Midway in June 1942 and the Battle for Guadalcanal in early 1943, had sealed Japan's fate. The expulsion of Japanese forces from Saipan in the Northern Mariana Islands in July 1944 brought U.S. bombers within range of Tokyo.  
‘Biggest firecracker’
Still in dispute were the terms of Tokyo’s capitulation, as the Japanese rulers balked at Allied insistence on unconditional surrender, including the emperor’s abdication. Cold-bloodedly targeting civilian populations in large Japanese cities, the U.S. command launched the firebombing raids and then, in August, the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Two days before the March 10 assault, U.S. Gen. Curtis LeMay, chief of staff of the Strategic Air Forces in the Pacific, told U.S. Air Force bomber crews that they would be delivering “the biggest firecracker the Japanese have ever seen.”  
Planes bombed workers’ neighborhoods
On the night of March 9 the U.S. Command dispatched 300 bombers from U.S.-controlled airfields on several Pacific islands. Each plane dropped 180 oil-gel sticks on the close-built wooden houses in working-class neighborhoods. The sticks acted as accelerants for the inferno to come. More planes followed, dropping a total of 1,665 tons of napalm-filled bombs.

The planes flew so low that Katsumoto Saotome, now a professor at Chiba National University, could see the flames reflected in their fuselages. “They looked like tropical fish,” he told the Far Eastern Economic Review in 1995.

The U.S. planes hunted down fleeing civilians to drop bombs on them, and napalmed the rivers to cut off escape routes, said Takae Fujiki, then a high school student of 15. “It was obvious they were trying to kill as many of us as possible,” she told the Review.

Hiroshi Hoshino was 14 at the time of the attack. “My family survived because we ran and ran” reaching “an open lot near the river,” he said. “Somehow the fire never reached us there.” Bomber crews in the last stages of the attack said they could smell burning flesh.

More than 100,000 residents of Tokyo burned to death. A report filed at the time by the U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey concluded that “probably more persons lost their lives by fire at Tokyo in a six-hour period than at any time in the history of man.”  
Area twice as big as Manhattan
This was only the beginning. As the ferocious raids on Tokyo and other cities continued apace, the Militant pieced together some of the facts from media sources. In the June 19, 1945, issue, Joseph Hansen reported that an area “twice as great as New York's Manhattan…has been burned out by fire bombs” in successive raids on Tokyo. “Other Japanese cities are being similarly obliterated and their inhabitants incinerated.

“The press account of this slaughter,” wrote Hansen, “reads like the routine report of a government agency on the extermination of vermin: ‘The population concentration in that area runs, or rather ran, between 75,000 and 110,000 persons per square mile…. Thus, in the 51 miles burned to ashes there lived approximately 4,500,000 of Tokyo’s 7,000,000 people. None of them could be living in that area now if the pictures tell the story.’”

It was not only Japanese cities that were targeted for the kind of intensive incendiary bombing that left much of Tokyo in ashes. Later the same month the Militant printed an article from a Swiss newspaper reporting the firebombing of the German city of Hamburg by British and U.S. planes. The concentrated bombing of “densely populated residential districts” creates a “blanket of fire, covering the entire area and rushing up to ever greater heights,” in what is known as a firestorm, the article reported. “The sea of flames sucks in air from its surroundings.”

The February 1945 destruction of Dresden, a city whose population was swelled by German refugees and had no military significance, is the best known of all such attacks.  
Media cover-up
Without the efforts of the survivors and others, the firebombing of Tokyo and other Japanese cities would have remained a largely untold story. “Those who died cannot talk, so I want to tell the facts about what really happened,” said Saotome, adding, “I write about all this for future peace.”

Japanese historian Shinichi Arai told the Times that “until the San Francisco Treaty in 1952, Japan was under control of the [U.S.] occupation forces, and when they arrived, they applied media restrictions, saying that one should not report things which reflected negatively on the United States.”

The firebombing attacks were brought to an end as the U.S. rulers rushed to unleash their newest weapon. According to one history, War Secretary Henry Stimson became “concerned that targets in Japan might become so bombed out by conventional raids that S-1 [the atom bomb] would have no ‘fair background’ to show its strength.” On August 6 and 9 atom bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. By Japanese estimates at least 220,000 people were killed.

With the use of its nightmarish new weapon, Washington had issued a clear warning to its imperialist rivals and an unmistakable threat to the Soviet government and the world's workers and peasants. Shortly afterwards, the U.S. command accepted Japanese surrender on terms that it had previously refused. U.S. insistence on the emperor’s abdication was dropped. Meanwhile, the myth was propagated that the atomic bombing, like the firebombing campaign, was necessary to “save American lives” and bring the war to an end.

Joseph Hansen’s conclusion to his June 1945 article serves as a fitting comment on the assault on Japan by its imperialist enemies, above all those in Washington and London. “All the horrors that have blotched the pages of human history,” he wrote, “were amateur beginnings in brutishness compared to the planned burning of women, children and old men in Japan for the sake of imperialist profits and plunder.”
Related articles:
The truth about World War II  
Front page (for this issue) | Home | Text-version home