Saturday, February 28, 2009

March 9-10 1945

This post should probably be written in a week from now instead of tonight at 2:30am, but I just finished watching Grave of the Fireflies and felt like giving some thoughts on this mostly unknown date in American history.

While most Americans probably could not name any specific events tied to August 6th and 9th of 1945, they most surely are aware of the atomic bombs dropped by the US Military on Hiroshima and Nagasaki on those dates. On the other hand, I am willing to bet that most Americans know nothing about (nor have even heard of) the firebombing of Tokyo by the US military on the night between March 9th and 10th that intentionally burned over 100,000 civilians to death in a single night - more than were killed by either atomic bombs in Hiroshima or Nagasaki. Nor do most Americans know that this tactic against Japanese civilians was repeated on dozens of cities, such as Kobe which killed over 80,000 civilians in a single attack.

The photo above was taken shortly after the attack on Tokyo. Using a mixture of explosive and incendiary bombs, 16 square miles of the highly populated city were intentionally burned by attacking the outer edges and letting the fire burn form the outside in. Combined with strong winds, this tactic made in nearly impossible for many to escape. Unlike in an enclosed building where victims usually suffocate before being burned, those above died painfully by literally being burned to death. The heat created by the incendiary bombs was so hot that many who jumped into nearby rivers and ponds to avoid burning were killed instead by boiling water.

The picture above is of a mother and her child who died while trying to escape the heat. She was carrying the child on her back when the fire got to them, which left her back rather unscathed compared to the rest of her charred body.

This latter image is especially powerful for me as it could have easily been a picture of my mother's mother and sister (my Obaachan and Noriko-bachan). During the attack on Tokyo, my grandmother was literally running from the flames with my mother's oldest sister on her back. They were close enough to the flames that at one point my aunt's hair caught fire and needed to be smothered out. By grace and luck they managed to survive. My mother was born a few years later.

Brigadier General Bonner Fellers, and aide to General Douglas MacArthur, called it "one of the most ruthless and barbaric killings of non combatants in all history"; and Robert McNamara later said that if the US had lost the war, he and others who orchestrated the attacks would have been tried and found guilty of war crimes.

We don't discuss this with our students in our history classes though. Our high school textbooks about the Second World War at most have this tucked away in a footnote or in the margins. It's too dark. It's too ugly. It goes against this myth of the American way of war that we have built up for ourselves to justify our ambitions for empire. We are supposed to be the good guys who set the example, not just the same as everyone else. If the truth about our wars were known, we could never stand by them.


  1. Wow, you're right--I had never heard about these attacks.

    How truly horrible.

  2. wow, awesome post Lloyd. It's interesting to read something new that isn't in our history books growing up. This is another example of Emmett Till and how his murder was ultimately responsible for the push of the civil rights movement and Rosa Parks famous bus stand..err..sit, I guess! Thx for the Blog and we're all glad you're here today!

  3. wow that was informative and truly a sad, sad piece of history. Thanks for adding to my already sad, grueling day ;0).

  4. i want to see that entire documentary. what is amazing to me is the resilience of the Japanese people. do they even teach that in their own history? i would think that there would be animosity of some sort. but wow, talk about putting it behind you and moving on.

    and mcnamura - he seemed to be so torn up! which is good, but wow. yeah we should watch the whole thing

  5. When you say your grandmother survived by luck and grace, what do you mean by grace? And why do you think your grandmother was graced and not the other victims? I do not know what grace can possibly mean here.

    Otherwise, your article is excellent. But I do want to know if you think your grandmother was helped in some way by someone or something, a god or spirit or some other kind of deity or supernatural figure?

    1. I simply mean that their survival was unearned. There was no supernatural explanation to it.


Please provide a name or consistent pseudonym with your comments and avoid insults or personal attacks against anyone or any group. All anonymous comments will be immediately deleted. Other comments are subject to deletion at my discretion.