The ghosts
November 12, 2003 10:40 AM   Subscribe

"We were wrong, terribly wrong. We owe it to future generations to explain why." In The Fog of War, a revelatory new documentary about his life and times, a disquieted Robert McNamara implores us to understand why he did the things he did as an Air Force lieutenant colonel who helped plan the firebombing of Japanese cities in World War II, and, later, as a secretary of defense and pivotal decision-maker during Vietnam, which some Americans came to call "McNamara's War." One of the movie's most powerful passages covers McNamara's little-known service in World War II, when he was attached to Gen. Curtis LeMay's 21st Bomber Command stationed on the Pacific island of Guam. LeMay's B-29s showered 67 Japanese cities with incendiary bombs in 1945, softening up the country for the two atomic blasts to come. McNamara was a senior planning officer. Story by "Killing Fields"' Sydney Schanberg in the American Prospect (more inside)
posted by matteo (83 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
He describes in particular the firebombing of Tokyo, then a city of wooden houses and shops. "In that single night," says McNamara, his eyes filling with tears, the first of his several emotional moments in the film, "we burned to death 100,000 Japanese civilians in Tokyo -- men, women and children." Newly retrieved military film taken from the air pans across 50 square miles turned to ash.

Morris: "After you left the Johnson administration, why didn't you speak out against the Vietnam War?"

McNamara: "I'm not going to say any more than I have. These are the kinds of questions that get me in trouble. You don't know what I know about how inflammatory my words can appear. A lot of people misunderstand the war, misunderstand me. A lot of people think I'm a son of a bitch."

Morris: "Do you feel in any way responsible for the war? Do you feel guilty?"

McNamara: "I don't want to go any further with this discussion, It just opens up more controversy. I don't want to add anything to Vietnam. It is so complex that anything I say will require additions and qualifications."

posted by matteo at 10:42 AM on November 12, 2003


great interview with mcnamara and his personal demons last night on charlie rose - the man is obviously tormented as i suspect rummy will be someday.
posted by specialk420 at 10:54 AM on November 12, 2003


Why does Robert McNamara deserve an audience?
posted by 327.ca at 11:01 AM on November 12, 2003


As far as I recall, napalm jelly was developed for the Japanese firebombings, to stick to the wooden houses and increase the intensity of the firestorm.
posted by carter at 11:02 AM on November 12, 2003


I'm sorry but did I miss something? Is WWII now, 60 years later, needing a justification? America took the war to Japan just as hard as they did to us--the willingness of those Zero pilots to suicide into our naval fleet and their treatment of captured Korean and Chinese territories shows just what the Japanese would have done to us if they could. Vietnam, that's another story, but don't give me an old man's regrets as a sob story. Mind you, I regret any death due to violence but self defense is completely justified.
posted by billsaysthis at 11:07 AM on November 12, 2003


Agreed that hand-wringing about firebombing Japan (and Germany, for that matter) is misplaced. The blood of at least 20 million is on the hands of those countries. There is no reason to be sorry for the force we used to stop them.

Vietnam -- not so much.
posted by Mid at 11:13 AM on November 12, 2003


Why does Robert McNamara deserve an audience?

Because we have a lot to learn from him.

Mind you, I regret any death due to violence but self defense is completely justified.

I'm a little confused about how fire bombing wide swaths of residential Tokyo could be considered self defense.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 11:14 AM on November 12, 2003


Grave of the Fireflies is an excellent (but very sad) movie from the perspective of a child living in Kobe at the time of the firebombings.
posted by CrunchyFrog at 11:16 AM on November 12, 2003


Without passing judgement about the firebombing--rightor wrong--it seems a bit odd to say that the attacs and firebombing were used to soften things up for the A-bombs. Does this mean that without the firbombings, we could not have dropped the two A-bombs? I doubt it.
posted by Postroad at 11:18 AM on November 12, 2003


It's such a shame that these people develop consciences only years and years after the fact, and not when it could have helped...and i second the recommendation of Grave of the Fireflies--it's anime, but not at all like the usual.
posted by amberglow at 11:20 AM on November 12, 2003


I will third Grave of the Fireflies, it is great.
posted by Outlawyr at 11:29 AM on November 12, 2003


Monju, it's called taking the war to the country that brought it to you. Did the Germans and Japanese bomb any civilian areas during WWII? Of course they did; America was only protected from the same by distance. But your comment is disingenuous, clearly, conflating the overall concept of America responding to foreign invasion (self defense) with one specific act.
posted by billsaysthis at 11:31 AM on November 12, 2003


Anyone familiar with Japanese war tactics during the first half of the 20th century knows that nothing--legions of men, endless bombing, total resistance--was enough to stop them from stubbornly covering Southeast Asia in a swath of violence.

As American troops hopped from island to island on the way to Honshu, women and children there were trained how to defend themselves at home, preparing to die in the name of the emporer. This is well-documented by both American and Japanese sources. Many stories tell of entire villages committing mass suicides together, jumping off cliffs rather than to submit to American invasion.

The firebombing (and subsequent atomic bombs) were looked at as a deperate act of necessary evil to stop Japan in its tracks. Sad as it all is, if it hadn't happened, there might no "Japan" left to speak of.
posted by dhoyt at 11:37 AM on November 12, 2003


What do you do to prevent the military takeover of government and society in a country whose very social and bureaucratic fabric is conductive to it, and whose reverence of its emperor creates a perfect recipe for total singular control? What do you do to stop that country from destroying you when all of it, down to the last able body, is united selflessly in one national entity to fight you? When the only way to stop it is to stop the clique controlling the emperor, and the only way to stop them is to show it the total hopelessness of their situation and the suffering they are inflicting?

These are not easy questions, and there were no easy answers. It is possible that without the bombing (fire or atomic) invasion of the mainland would have to happen, and the civilian casualties would be the same but American military casualties would be added. It is possible that mainland bombing could be avoided altogether by putting pressure on the military command in other ways.

Grave of the Fireflies is devastatingly beautiful.
posted by azazello at 11:41 AM on November 12, 2003


I want to add that I think Vietnam was simply a series of atrocities, and a disaster for the US in a hundred different ways. But I don't think it's comparable to our actions in Japan, when the outcome of a tremendous world war was at stake and it seemed our only choice was to out-ruthless the Japanese--no easy feat.
posted by dhoyt at 11:42 AM on November 12, 2003



it's called taking the war to the country that brought it to you

said the Iraqi suicide bomber, entering Times Square's subway station?

you see how dangerous your kind of cynical, gung-ho rhetoric actually is?




oh, and I'm totally jumping on the cinematic bandwagon and add that I, too, think that Grave of the Fireflies is a masterpiece
posted by matteo at 11:45 AM on November 12, 2003


and thus the paradox that still seems to torment mcnamara: how much evil is ok in pursuit of a greater good? we might ask that question of our occupying forces today.
posted by specialk420 at 11:51 AM on November 12, 2003


"The Fog of War" is terrific, and it couldn't be timelier. The firebombing of Japanese cities is dramatized by juxtaposing the numbers to American cities of the same size, and it drives home the scale of the destruction. I saw Errol Morris speak at the NYFF press conference, and asked about Rumsfeld, he called him a "dime-store McNamara." Here's my review of Grave of the Fireflies.
posted by muckster at 12:03 PM on November 12, 2003


One of the things McNamara says of his actions in WWII is this: if we had lost the war, we would have been tried for war crimes. When you win, it doesn't matter.
posted by muckster at 12:06 PM on November 12, 2003


I was astounded by seeing the trailer for "Fog of War" over this past weekend. There's a contemporary Robert McNamara, whom I'm actually old enough to remember, telling an off-camera interviewer (presumably Morris) that he and America were wrong about Vietnam... wrong! Robert McNamara, actually admitting he was wrong. Such thing would have been unthinkable.
posted by JollyWanker at 12:08 PM on November 12, 2003


I'm sorry but I'm not buying it--bombing civilians to erode their morale may not have accomplished any military objective in either Germany or Japan. In fact, it can be argued that targeting civilians hardened public support for the regimes in both countries. The US did not bomb civilians in Europe in World War II, by the way--that was the British.

There was overt racism in our war against the Japanese--I mean, how many GIs brought back German skulls as trophies? The fire bombings were war crimes and no amount of But Billy did it first! apologetics will change that fact.
posted by y2karl at 12:11 PM on November 12, 2003


The US did not bomb civilians in Europe in World War II, by the way--that was the British.

I'm no historian but I'm pretty sure the US was involved in bombing Dresden with the RAF.
posted by Akuinnen at 12:20 PM on November 12, 2003


You are right--I omitted for the most part.
posted by y2karl at 12:24 PM on November 12, 2003


For me the oddest thing about the fillm (I saw it too, at NYFF) was how matter-of-fact and clinical McNamara's recollections were of all this carnage.
posted by Duck_Lips at 12:27 PM on November 12, 2003


...softening up the country for the two atomic blasts to come.

Whoa. "Softening up"? Um, Japan needed softening before the A-bombs? Kind of like softening someone with a knife-wound... before shooting them in the head. Unlike Dresden, which was "softening up" after the fact, which I suppose just equates to "kicking him after he's down."

Whoa. The sad sick bastards who run wars...
posted by Shane at 12:30 PM on November 12, 2003


There was overt racism in our war against the Japanese

Karl, I mean no disrespect, but: duh.

If you think tens of thousands of farmboy civilians from an isolated country who are yanked out of civilian life and drafted into the US military after a foreign nation has bombed them and who must wage war against the Japanese (keeping in mind most of these young guys have possibly never met a Japanese person) are not going to let something like Racism creep into their worldview, especially after being attacked day and night by a ruthless enemy, then I think you're just being silly. Sitting at our keyboards 50 years later it's awfully easy to label someone a "Racist", not knowing what they went through.

You do realize how many racial epithets they had for Westerners, correct? I assume you're also familiar with how they treated their POWs?
posted by dhoyt at 12:33 PM on November 12, 2003


> The fire bombings were war crimes and no amount of But
> Billy did it first! apologetics will change that fact.

Y2K sez "war is Hell." But Sherman said it first, as an interesting observation, and continued torching stuff.
posted by jfuller at 12:34 PM on November 12, 2003


To the very bitter end, Air Vice Marshall Harris believed his planes would cripple the German war machine, British casualties would be minimal and the German population would beg for surrender.

What really happened was this:

In May, 1942, Harris dispatched 1,000 planes to bomb Cologne; within two weeks, the city was back to normal.

In 1943, he ordered 207,600 tons of bombs dropped on Germany; that year, production of war weapons increased to 72,000. In 1944, bombing quadrupled to 915,000 tons; German war production that year increased to 105,258 weapons.

Not only was German morale undaunted but, according to Dyson, the destruction of their homeland at the end of the war gave the German people "the one thing that they lacked at the beginning, a clean cause to fight for." Goebbels couldn't have done a better job if he had created Bomber Command himself.

In the end, the real victims of the British air offensive were not only factories but families. German deaths from the air war are estimated at almost half a million (460,000), most of them women and children.


From Bomber Command - Issues

Check out Bombing the Nazi Homeland , too.
posted by y2karl at 12:36 PM on November 12, 2003


Sad as it all is, if it hadn't happened, there might no "Japan" left to speak of.

I'm sorry, did you just say, basically, "we had to destroy Japan to save it"?
posted by jpoulos at 12:38 PM on November 12, 2003


dhoyt--How many American civilians died in World War II again?
posted by y2karl at 12:39 PM on November 12, 2003


Hell awaits you, Robert McNamara.
posted by the fire you left me at 12:42 PM on November 12, 2003


I'm sorry, did you just say, basically, "we had to destroy Japan to save it"?

Essentially, yes. And there are plenty of historians, internationally, that basically have held the same contention for fifty years.

However, I don't believe the analogy applies to the current situation in Iraq if that's what you were (not-so-subtley) implying.
posted by dhoyt at 12:48 PM on November 12, 2003


I'm sorry but I'm not buying it--bombing civilians to erode their morale may not have accomplished any military objective in either Germany or Japan. In fact, it can be argued that targeting civilians hardened public support for the regimes in both countries.

May, may not, who knows?

The history of warfare is replete with cases of people acting without knowing what the results would be. Unfortunately, in wartime, people don't often have the luxury of reflection or foreknowledge.

We didn't know whether strategic air warfare would be successful in WW2, and we really still don't know today whether it was successful - my military history teacher argued that it wasn't, purely on a cost-benefit analysis.

That, by itself, doesn't mean that you can say now, with the power of hindsight, that it was the wrong thing to do at the time.

The US did not bomb civilians in Europe in World War II, by the way--that was the British.

To the extent that it's true, it's purely an accident of history and technology. The US bombed during the day, and the British bombed at night. The USAAF command thought that daylight bombing would allow pinpoint targeting of strategic assets; I don't think civilian losses were a major consideration.

There was overt racism in our war against the Japanese--I mean, how many GIs brought back German skulls as trophies? The fire bombings were war crimes and no amount of But Billy did it first! apologetics will change that fact.

I don't know how many skulls were collected by any combatants, and I really don't care. Sure, there was overt racism. I'm not sure why that, by itself, makes bombing civilians a war crime. Either it's ok or it's not. But, as war crimes go, it doesn't compare with, say, the Bataan Death March, or the Rape of Nanking, or the routine murder of prisoners and civilians by the Japanese military - actions which had NO possible military or political justification. In fact, you won't find anything comparable to those things, on the Allied side of the war.
posted by me & my monkey at 12:49 PM on November 12, 2003


> dhoyt--How many American civilians died in World War II again?

Why do you specify just American civilians, y2? Are other kinds of civilians just a negligable bunch of slants to you?
posted by jfuller at 12:54 PM on November 12, 2003


It's very easy to get hot about this sort of thing.

The Japanese were incredibly brutal--there is no contesting the fact. But still, I really wonder about all these arguments of how bombing civilians shortened the war. It didn't seem to shorten the war in Europe. Why should it be any different in Japan?

You know, before we developed all this technology, the business of killing people was a bit different. People actually had to look each other in the eye when they killed one another--The Poetry is in the Killing.
posted by y2karl at 12:56 PM on November 12, 2003


it's called taking the war to the country that brought it to you

said the Iraqi suicide bomber, entering Times Square's subway station?

you see how dangerous your kind of cynical, gung-ho rhetoric actually is?


I don't remember endorsing the invasion of Iraq, so don't throw that on me. In fact if you check my website, you'll see that I regularly write anti-Bush blog entries. I can think of few bigger than me things that would make me happier than to see Bush lose next year. And I would hardly be surprised to see some actions on our soil in the near future as a result of Bush's actions.

Y2Karl, say what you want but Japan attacked the US and not the other way around. The people of that country were fervently in favor of their military actions though given the culture it's hard to see how they'd been able to choose otherwise. Still, I don't see how the America of 1941-45 is responsible for that. Our military was simply doing their best to make sure we won what they started.

You know, before we developed all this technology, the business of killing people was a bit different.

So those killings were better? And are you saying that the American government should have not fought back against the Japanese? Seems so easy for you to sit back today and revise history to make reasonable decisions seem outrageous to fit your political bias.
posted by billsaysthis at 1:01 PM on November 12, 2003


I don't remember endorsing the invasion of Iraq, so don't throw that on me. In fact if you check my website, you'll see that I regularly write anti-Bush blog entries.

it's not about what you write in your blog regarding Iraq.
the problem is "taking the war to the country that brought it to you" is a very dangerous -- and, as I said, cynical -- rationalization for all kinds of possible crimes. targeting civilians on purpose is a war crime. or, to use a more modern, compassionately conservative word, "terrorism"


re Curtis LeMay, McNamara's boss in the firebombing thing

General Curtis LeMay, the Air Force chief of staff, also bluntly tells the President that a failure to invade Cuba would be almost as bad as the appeasement at Munich before World War II. LeMay then predicts that the blockade would appear weak to the American people and our allies. "You're in a pretty bad fix," he smugly warns the President. JFK, always skeptical about the military, reminds the general with a mocking laugh "You're in with me." The Kennedy Tapes merely tells the reader that JFK makes "an unclear, joking, reply." In fact Kennedy's biting response is perfectly audible
...
"I think that a blockade, and political talk, would be considered by a lot of our friends and neutrals as being a pretty weak response to this," LeMay said a few minutes later. "And I'm sure a lot of our own citizens would feel that way too." One of the great tenets of American democracy is that the military stays out of politics, but LeMay was lecturing the president about the supposed feelings of the American people. "In other words, you're in a pretty bad fix at the present time," LeMay concluded.
"What did you say?" Kennedy asked, perhaps not quite believing what he was hearing.
"You're in a pretty bad fix."
"You're in with me," the president said


"This blockade and political action . . . will lead right into war," Gen. Curtis LeMay of the Air Force warned. "This is almost as bad as the appeasement at Munich."
It "would be considered by a lot of our friends and neutrals as being a pretty weak response to this," the general said. "And I'm sure a lot of our own citizens would feel that way, too. You're in a pretty bad fix, Mr. President."



posted by matteo at 1:10 PM on November 12, 2003


A lot of people think I'm a son of a bitch.

Gee, I can't imagine why. Also, what the fire you left me said.

Japan attacked the US and not the other way around.

You mean "the maniacs running Japan attacked the US." And because their subjects couldn't somehow get rid of the maniacs (who had all the weapons), they somehow deserved to die in agony. And now maniacs are running my country, so because we haven't managed to get rid of them we deserve... what?
posted by languagehat at 1:15 PM on November 12, 2003


Seems so easy for you to sit back today and revise history

I'm not sure what's happening in this thread, but I can tell you that the Fog of War is an amazing and powerful film that interrogates history responsibly without revising it. In fact, if anything this film is about correcting the things we've learned in history class that are entirely wrong. The brutality of the campaign has never been presented to me in such clear terms. Whether or not the firebombing of Japan was necessary isn't directly addressed, although it's implied that it's not.

On the flip side, McNamara was involved in the invention of the seat belt, discouraged Kennedy & Johnson from becoming more deeply involved in the Vietnam war, and was a voice of calm during the Cuban missile crisis. I came out of this film with a far more sympathetic view of him than what I went in with.

I work with Documentary filmmakers for a living, and I can tell you this film is already widely regarded as Errol Morris's masterpiece. Personally, I can't recommend it more highly.
posted by djacobs at 1:16 PM on November 12, 2003


It's very easy to get hot about this sort of thing.

Yes, it is. However, the thing that made me hot about this, personally, was the implication of moral equivalence I found in your posts. I don't think you can make any useful comparison between the behavior of the Allied and Axis powers, or between the typical behavior of combatants on each side. I'll happily acknowledge that the Allied side did all kinds of things that hurt all kinds of relatively innocent people, but there was a huge difference between the sides.

The Japanese were incredibly brutal--there is no contesting the fact. But still, I really wonder about all these arguments of how bombing civilians shortened the war. It didn't seem to shorten the war in Europe. Why should it be any different in Japan?

These are arguments that we can have with the blessing of hindsight. At the time, though, I suspect there was a bit more desperation surrounding the topic. I don't know that they shortened the war; perhaps they didn't. But what's the relevance of that, given that this wasn't known at the time?

You know, before we developed all this technology, the business of killing people was a bit different. People actually had to look each other in the eye when they killed one another

That didn't make things any better. That kind of environment makes you very comfortable with killing others, I've heard.
posted by me & my monkey at 1:17 PM on November 12, 2003


You mean "the maniacs running Japan attacked the US." And because their subjects couldn't somehow get rid of the maniacs (who had all the weapons), they somehow deserved to die in agony.

It's my understanding that those subjects were pretty willing to commit genocidal atrocities without too much prodding from the maniacs. But, really, it's not about what some individual deserves or doesn't deserve. Bad things happen to good people all the time. The only relevant question in this case is, did the US government believe that bombing Japan might shorten the war and thus save the lives of US citizens?

And now maniacs are running my country, so because we haven't managed to get rid of them we deserve... what?

However you feel about Iraq, I think you'll be hard-pressed to find anything our "maniacs" have done that compares at all with the Rape of Nanking (my link earlier is not nearly as good as jfuller's).

I find this comparison between WW2 Japan and the current US government to be ridiculous and pretty offensive - and I don't support the government.
posted by me & my monkey at 1:30 PM on November 12, 2003


I think that I may be the only person on the planet who didn't love Grave of the Fireflies. I just couldn't wait for those obnoxious brats to die, die, die.
posted by majcher at 1:49 PM on November 12, 2003



But, really, it's not about what some individual deserves or doesn't deserve. Bad things happen to good people all the time.

said the Palestinian laborer watching the footage of the Twin Towers collapsing?

double standards, anybody?




posted by matteo at 1:52 PM on November 12, 2003


The only relevant question in this case is, did the US government believe that bombing Japan might shorten the war and thus save the lives of US citizens?

They could have saved a lot more US citizens by not encouraging a war with the Japanese.

I find this comparison between WW2 Japan and the current US government to be ridiculous and pretty offensive - and I don't support the government.
Interesting. I think the wars are pretty similar. I also think Bush and FDR are like Presidential brothers. Their views on person freedom vs. their ability to wage their wars match up, and they have/had about the same amount of respect for the Constitution.
posted by thirteen at 1:53 PM on November 12, 2003


It seems like many of you seem to be ignoring the words and feelings of the men who were there, planned these tactics, and have to live with the consquences. Seeing part of this film and reading these articles about it destroy most of the arguments made by either side in the debate this thread developed into.
posted by cell divide at 2:07 PM on November 12, 2003


Seems so easy for you to sit back today and revise history to make reasonable decisions seem outrageous to fit your political bias.

Funny, that's how you seem to me.

I don't know that they shortened the war; perhaps they didn't. But what's the relevance of that, given that this
wasn't known at the time?


Well, you just claimed it shortened the war without offering any evidence that it really did, didn't you?

That kind of environment makes you very comfortable with killing others, I've heard.

I don't see how pushing a button and dropping a cluster bomb is such an improvement. Seems to me that killing people you'll never see--people or killing---is a taste much more easy to come by.
posted by y2karl at 2:22 PM on November 12, 2003


Thank God all you people were born yesterday, or at least after 1945.
posted by yerfatma at 2:23 PM on November 12, 2003


Seems so easy for you to sit back today and revise history to make reasonable decisions seem outrageous to fit your political bias.

Funny, that's how you seem to me.


Uh, Karl, didn't he just say how anti-Iraqi War and unsupportive of Bush he was? How is that "fitting his political bias"?

Billsaysthis is consciously going against his current politics to try and understand a past event--that deserves respect, IMO.
posted by dhoyt at 2:29 PM on November 12, 2003


However, the thing that made me hot about this, personally, was the implication of moral equivalence I found in your posts....I'll happily acknowledge that the Allied side did all kinds of things that hurt all kinds of relatively innocent people, but there was a huge difference between the sides.

Oh, you're so right. "Our" killing hundreds of thousands of Japanese civilians is so very completely different from "them" killing civilians. See, it's somehow different because WE did it. See, WE were "the good guys." WE used special jellied gasoline bombs and nuclear weapons and other high-tech wonders that didn't hurt quite so much, and each time we loosed one, we sent it reluctantly, on a wing and a prayer that those silly Japanese folk wouldn't take it personally, and would just die happy in the knowledge that it was all ok, because "there a was a huge difference between the sides", and please don't make any more fusses about our economic embargoes or history of imperialism in Asia.

Now, get a little hotter. There is COMPLETE moral equivalence between the effects Japan and the United States had on each other, just as there is COMPLETE moral equivalence between the effects of cowards flying jets into skyscrapers and cowards flying smartbombs into Baghdad neighborhoods. But let us know what subtle differences you discern in any of the dead and dying.

It's my understanding that those subjects were pretty willing to commit genocidal atrocities without too much prodding from the maniacs.

Really. I'm sure we'll all be pleased to read the historical accounts you have of masses of ordinary Japanese citizens committing genocide.

And how completely extraordinary and surprising that those who are so vociferous in condemning Japan for a preemptive assault on the United States seem to be largely the same sorts of folks who think it's all hunky-dory and just really swell that the United States launched a preemptive assault on Iraq. National interests and all, don't you know.

The hypocrisy of the right never fails to amuse.

And how nice. We're even treated above to flat-out apologists for racism. How very wonderful. See, it was all Japan's fault that Americans turned into doggoned racists after Pearl Harbor....although we're not too clear yet on how the following observations fit that theory:


"In the 1940s, racial segregation by law was widespread and racial discrimination was common in the United States. Although the U.S. Constitution guarantees "equal protection of the laws for all persons," the Supreme Court's interpretation at that time required only that the states or the federal government provide equal yet segregated facilities for whites and non-whites.

During World War II, most African Americans and Japanese Americans who served in the U.S. Army did so in racially segregated units. Many states had laws requiring African Americans, Latino/a Americans, Native Americans and Asian Americans to go to segregated schools, work at segregated jobs and live in segregated parts of town.[1] Segregated facilities were not considered inherently unequal until 1954.

Japanese immigrants and their American children were frequent targets of prejudice and political attacks for 50 years before World War II. In May 1905, delegates from 67 organizations convened in San Francisco, California, to form the Asiatic Exclusion League, later known as the Japanese Exclusion League. After the transcontinental railroad was completed in 1869, competition for jobs increased. Many organized labor groups first blamed Chinese, then Japanese immigrants for unemployment and low wages.

Led primarily by labor groups, the League's goal was complete job exclusion of those of Japanese ancestry. They lobbied for anti-Japanese legislation, conducted boycotts, promoted segregation and produced propaganda. The League pressured Congress to keep Japanese people out of agriculture and other industries, and to stop all immigration of Japanese to the U.S. They held anti-Japanese rallies and worked to restrict employment of Japanese Americans. The League acted to ensure that children of Japanese ancestry remained in segregated schools, as reflected in the San Francisco School Board statement, "children should not be placed in any position where their youthful impressions may be affected by association with pupils of the Mongolian race."

The Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians (CWRIC) reported that within three years, the Japanese Exclusion League had more than 100,000 members and 238 affiliated groups, mostly from labor unions.Other groups along the West Coast also acted against people of Japanese ancestry: the Native Sons (and Native Daughters) of the Golden West; the American Legion; the California State Federation of Labor; the California State Grange; and the Anti-Jap Laundry League.

Until 1952, U.S. laws denied Japanese immigrants the right to become naturalized citizens. (Naturalization Act of 1790; Ozawa v. United States.) Forced to remain non-citizens, Japanese immigrants could not vote and had no voice or representation in U.S. democracy.

States passed Alien Land Laws to prevent non-citizens from owning agricultural land and to restrict their ability to lease land. These laws were aimed directly at the Japanese: They were the only immigrants both ineligible for citizenship and largely dependent on farming for a living. Covenants against renting or selling homes to 'Orientals' were written into real estate contracts, anti-miscegenation laws barred marriage to Caucasians, and many children of Japanese ancestry attended segregated schools, even though most of them were U.S. citizens who had been born in the United States.

As with African Americans and other people of color, the Japanese Americans were refused admittance to restaurants, theaters and other establishments. As Japanese American children grew up, many faced discrimination. Even with high grades, a college or professional degree, they were often denied access to certain professions, unions and apprenticeship systems due to the discrimination that was legally permitted at the time.
[Source: The Densho Project]

Decades of racism for all minorities. Japanese-American internment camps. Japanese-American businesses and property stolen. Increased Japanese-American infant mortality. Nips. Gooks. Slopes. Barbecued civilian ala Le May. Hiroshima. Nagasaki.

American shame. What has changed?
posted by fold_and_mutilate at 2:35 PM on November 12, 2003


> It seems like many of you seem to be ignoring the words
> and feelings of the men who were there, planned these
> tactics, and have to live with the consquences.

Well, that's the way it works, because of endlessly prolongable debate about whether conclusions drawn from then apply to now. ("If you were so dumb then, why should we think you're smart now? More likely you're just being equally dumb in a different way.")

The audience for geezers who want to tell you how and why they fucked up back in the day is small. The time for MacNamara to be sorry was then and the generation he needed to speak to was his own. He didn't do it, so just give him a bottle of Thunderbird and a place on the sidewalk where he can mumble to himself.
posted by jfuller at 2:39 PM on November 12, 2003


> What has changed?

Why, everything. As uncle George Wallace put it, "That was wrong and we don't do it no mo'."
posted by jfuller at 2:43 PM on November 12, 2003


Personally, I've always felt that both sides acted terribly during the war. This said, for those of you who would excuse the actions of "our" side - do you think for even a second that, if the Japanese had won, the "war crimes" wouldn't be on the other foot? As McNamara points out, it's the winners who decide what is and is not a war crime.

I'm not sure I can imagine a world in which Arlington National might bear the same kind of stigma that Yasukuni Shrine does today... but if I did live in such a world, I would certainly prefer it if the victors would at least try to have a balanced perspective on what happened. We in the States got lucky. We never had to watch our families burning. Considering that, is it really too much to ask that we stop going on about how righteous it was to burn people's families?
posted by vorfeed at 3:07 PM on November 12, 2003


I don't see how pushing a button and dropping a cluster bomb is such an improvement. Seems to me that killing people you'll never see--people or killing---is a taste much more easy to come by.

No disrespect intended, y2karl, but do you actually know any military pilots past or present? I've known a few and none who have ever been in combat have been flippant about the fact that they've not only killed people, but probably killed people on a scale unimaginable by any foot soldier. So with a polite "fuck off" to foldy and his continuing Cowards From Above screed, I'll go on record as saying that anyone who actually takes the time to know the people involved knows it's never easy, whether you're five feet away or 15,000 above.
posted by Cyrano at 3:12 PM on November 12, 2003


> "That was wrong and we don't do it no mo'."

On the other hand, our current friends the Japanese still have official, de jure racial and ethnic discrimination. You don't get to be a citizen of Japan merely by being born there, as you do in America. Japan has a large population of forth- and fifth-generation born-in-Japan ethnic Koreans who are still denied citizenship and suffer all the usual nasty effects of discrimination because of it. Y'all be shamed of that, too, foldy? If not, why not?
posted by jfuller at 3:18 PM on November 12, 2003


Ok, I was a bit too pissy in my last comment. Sorry, foldy. But I do think your opinion on pilots is a tad skewered.
posted by Cyrano at 3:23 PM on November 12, 2003


Y'all be shamed of that, too, foldy? If not, why not?

In the estimation of many of our fellow MeFites, the only shame we're supposed to feel is for simply being American. All other countries are exempt from criticism for fear of being called "intolerant".

Wait a minute--

Gee, why does this cycle of behavior remind me of how the Bush adminstration clamps down on its critics. Foldy? Anyone? Must be a coincidence.

::scratches head::
posted by dhoyt at 3:31 PM on November 12, 2003


please don't make any more fusses about our economic embargoes or history of imperialism in Asia.

You're seriously arguing that we should not only have simply stood back and let Japan finish enslaving and killing all the Chinese they could get their mitts on, but that we also should have been going out of our way to sell them the oil to do it with? That refusing to sell oil to another country justifies its invading the oil-rich land, or other oil-rich lands?

If you want to argue that war is never acceptable, fine, but why make arguments that it's impossible to think that you actually mean?
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 3:39 PM on November 12, 2003


A killer is a killer is a killer. Bare-fanged bloody apes, all. Demonizers of the Other, tribal dust-stompers, Americans and Japanese both, and both should be ashamed and deeply fucking contrite for the evil they've have done and continue to do.

No less Canucks or Koreans or any other tribe, for that matter, to be fair.

It's a good week century to be a misanthrope.

On preview : so, dhoyt. By characterizing the arguments of some to be that 'Americans should feel shame merely for being American,' as gross and thickheaded a simplification as that is, you may therefore excuse yourself and your countrymen from any remorse at all? The only way I can see that kind of spurious argument bearing a resemblance to 'how the Bush adminstration clamps down on its critics' (ignoring the obvious power differential of the 'clampers' in question) is that both are so pretzelated in their logic as to be laughable.

*scratches head*
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 3:45 PM on November 12, 2003


jfuller, Japanese citizenship at birth is family-based, not racial. If you get your name on a Japanese family's koseki, or family registry, then your children will get citizenship automatically, regardless of whether or not you're an ethnic Japanese. There are ethnic Koreans (and others) who have done so, and whose children enjoy automatic citizenship.

Also, non-Japanese adults can and do become naturalized Japanese citizens. Even your own link notes that there are many naturalized Korean-born people in Japan, and that racial pressure against naturalization exists on the Korean side as well as the Japanese.
posted by vorfeed at 3:51 PM on November 12, 2003


I wasn't saying it was easy for pilots, Cyrano--I was responding to the that kind of environment makes you very comfortable with killing others part. It seemed silly to me.

You think I don't know any combat pilots, by the way? I've met more than a couple--one is the father of one of my best friends.

Now he is frothing at the mouth about this war and Bush and the neocons like I'm afraid he's going to burst a brisket. A Viet Nam vet, no less. Boy, don't get him started...

This reminds me of something Chris Hedges said on a show on NPR--as a war correspondent, he could never get Serb intellectuals in Belgrade to countenance the possibility that their army was committing atrocities in Bosnia. He'd mention some massacre and they'd instantly deny it and then go on they'd seen on the news about how some Serb was stabbed by some Muslims in this little village and how that was the true atrocity.

He'd hear about that same old man being stabbed from any number of people--no one could accept the fact that Serbs were committing war crimes. The Serbs were the victims of war crimes.

Now, of course, they are having to deal with it, what with the exhumations and Milosevic's trail.

It seems to me, from reading this, that Americans are having as much trouble facing up to the bombing, and especially the atom bombing, in World War II as the Japanese are to the brutalities they committed. It's very difficult and, indeed, even dangerous, to talk about the atrocities the Japanese army committed in Japan. There is this huge social stigma. Of course, they have more blood on their hands.

But saying flatly we were right in bombing civilians and dropping the atom bomb not once but twice--well, we just don't know that for sure.

We definitely aren't comfortable, as a people, entertaining the idea it might have been wrong or unnecessary. But why should we be different than anyone else?
posted by y2karl at 3:57 PM on November 12, 2003


I'm no historian but I'm pretty sure the US was involved in bombing Dresden with the RAF.

Actually, Akuinnen, the bombing of Dresden was carried out exclusively by the RAF, though it was initially intended that US Flying Fortresses assist in the initial raid if the weather had been different. Quote from a book on the subject:

"In the early hours of the thirteenth the American crews were briefed for an attack on two alternative targets. If the weather was satisfactory the Flying Fortress crews were to attempt Plan B, the long flight to Dresden, and attack the railway yards and stations there in either a precision visual attack or a blind attack on instruments, as a preliminary to a heavy R.A.F. blow. If the weather closed down central German operations, then the alternative American target was Plan A, Kassel. But the weather which had looked favourable the night before deteriorated suddenly on the early morning of the fated day, and both American missions were cancelled; ice clouds were blanketing Europe and in Dresden itself a thin frosty snow was drifting down out of the sky.3 Thus the honour – as it was described to the Master Bomber, Wing Commander Maurice Smith – of striking the first blow at Dresden, the virgin target, fell to Royal Air Force Bomber Command."
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:10 PM on November 12, 2003


//Cyrano
but do you actually know any military pilots past or present? I've known a few and none who have ever been in combat have been flippant about the fact that they've not only killed people, but probably killed people on a scale unimaginable by any foot soldier. So with a polite "fuck off" to foldy and his continuing Cowards From Above screed,//

heh.
yeah, fuck foldy, fuck him for being disgusted by hundreds of thousands of wasted civilian lives

'One hell of a big bang'
Paul Tibbets, the man who piloted the Enola Gay on its mission to Japan, tells Studs Terkel why he has no regrets - and why he wouldn't hesitate to use it again


ST: Do you ever have any second thoughts about the bomb?
PT: Second thoughts? No. Studs, look. Number one, I got into the air corps to defend the United States to the best of my ability. That's what I believe in and that's what I work for. Number two, I'd had so much experience with airplanes... I'd had jobs where there was no particular direction about how you do it and then of course I put this thing together with my own thoughts on how it should be because when I got the directive I was to be self-supporting at all times.
On the way to the target I was thinking: I can't think of any mistakes I've made. Maybe I did make a mistake: maybe I was too damned assured. At 29 years of age I was so shot in the ass with confidence I didn't think there was anything I couldn't do. Of course, that applied to airplanes and people. So, no, I had no problem with it. I knew we did the right thing because when I knew we'd be doing that I thought, yes, we're going to kill a lot of people, but by God we're going to save a lot of lives. We won't have to invade [Japan].
ST: Why did they drop the second one, the Bockscar [bomb] on Nagasaki?
PT: Unknown to anybody else - I knew it, but nobody else knew - there was a third one. See, the first bomb went off and they didn't hear anything out of the Japanese for two or three days. The second bomb was dropped and again they were silent for another couple of days. Then I got a phone call from General Curtis LeMay [chief of staff of the strategic air forces in the Pacific]. He said, "You got another one of those damn things?" I said, "Yessir." He said, "Where is it?" I said, "Over in Utah." He said, "Get it out here. You and your crew are going to fly it." I said, "Yessir." I sent word back and the crew loaded it on an airplane and we headed back to bring it right on out to Trinian and when they got it to California debarkation point, the war was over.
ST: What did General LeMay have in mind with the third one?
PT: Nobody knows.
...
ST: One last thing, when you hear people say, "Let's nuke 'em," "Let's nuke these people," what do you think?

PT: Oh, I wouldn't hesitate if I had the choice. I'd wipe 'em out. You're gonna kill innocent people at the same time, but we've never fought a damn war anywhere in the world where they didn't kill innocent people. If the newspapers would just cut out the shit: "You've killed so many civilians." That's their tough luck for being there.



Tough luck indeed
posted by matteo at 4:11 PM on November 12, 2003


They could have saved a lot more US citizens by not encouraging a war with the Japanese.

How? By avoiding a naval arms race? To my admittedly incomplete knowledge, that's about the only significant provocation we provided, if you can call it provocation.

And, again, given the fact that Japan did attack us, at that point, what should we have done? It's all well and good to say, "well, if we hadn't done something earlier, we might not be facing this problem today", but that doesn't help us solve the problem today.

Well, you just claimed it shortened the war without offering any evidence that it really did, didn't you?

Uh, no, I didn't, y2karl. I defy you to find any sentence on this page in which I said that. I did say that, at the time, reasonable people could conclude that it might shorten the war. But, really, how would you ever find that out without doing it? Even then, the truth isn't very clear.

But, really, it's not about what some individual deserves or doesn't deserve. Bad things happen to good people all the time.

said the Palestinian laborer watching the footage of the Twin Towers collapsing?

double standards, anybody?


Uh, hardly a double standard, matteo. I don't begrudge the Palestinian laborer his bad feelings toward us, even if I think they're misguided or misplaced. But the plain fact is, in a world war, people get hurt. Plenty of individual soldiers and civilians on all sides of a global conflict die without real justification. But what was the alternative? Would this be a better world today if the Allies hadn't won? I don't think anyone here would agree to that. Given that, and given that at the time no one knew what it would take to win, how can we so easily judge them for their actions?

Really. I'm sure we'll all be pleased to read the historical accounts you have of masses of ordinary Japanese citizens committing genocide.

Foldy, who do you think was in the Japanese army? Massacres aren't just committed by generals - they need lots of sergeants and privates. Take a look at jfuller's Nanking link. Who do you think did all that? The Japanese General Staff?

Oh, you're so right. "Our" killing hundreds of thousands of Japanese civilians is so very completely different from "them" killing civilians. See, it's somehow different because WE did it. See, WE were "the good guys." WE used special jellied gasoline bombs and nuclear weapons and other high-tech wonders that didn't hurt quite so much, and each time we loosed one, we sent it reluctantly, on a wing and a prayer that those silly Japanese folk wouldn't take it personally, and would just die happy in the knowledge that it was all ok, because "there a was a huge difference between the sides", and please don't make any more fusses about our economic embargoes or history of imperialism in Asia.

Now, get a little hotter. There is COMPLETE moral equivalence between the effects Japan and the United States had on each other, just as there is COMPLETE moral equivalence between the effects of cowards flying jets into skyscrapers and cowards flying smartbombs into Baghdad neighborhoods. But let us know what subtle differences you discern in any of the dead and dying.


What a giant, stinking load.

Ask anybody in Asia about imperialism, and see if they point to us or the Japanese. If you really think that the US and Japan were morally equivalent in WW2, you're more unhinged than I thought. If you REALLY think that, you should obviously conclude that there's nothing wrong with preemptive warfare, since the US and Japan are equally culpable even though they clearly initiated war.

As for cowardice, I would agree with Bill Maher that the 9/11 attackers weren't cowards. They may have been many bad things, but they're not cowards.

It seems to me that if you're going to accept the justifiability of any war, you're going to have to accept the unfortunate truth that individuals undeserving of death will die. You may then conclude that no war is justifiable, as many have before you - but reasonable people can and will disagree with you.

And how completely extraordinary and surprising that those who are so vociferous in condemning Japan for a preemptive assault on the United States seem to be largely the same sorts of folks who think it's all hunky-dory and just really swell that the United States launched a preemptive assault on Iraq. National interests and all, don't you know.

The hypocrisy of the right never fails to amuse.


You're too easily amused - first, nearly everyone in the world is somewhat to the right of you, foldy, and second, you're clearly demonstrating that there's plenty of hypocrisy to go around.

But saying flatly we were right in bombing civilians and dropping the atom bomb not once but twice--well, we just don't know that for sure.

We definitely aren't comfortable, as a people, entertaining the idea it might have been wrong or unnecessary.


I will certainly entertain the idea that strategic bombing was completely unnecessary. I will entertain the idea that it lengthened the war, rather than shortening it. But that's a completely different matter than the rightness or wrongness of it. At the time, who could predict the outcome of it? For that matter, who could predict the outcome of the war? Who remembers the desperation of late '42/early '43?
posted by me & my monkey at 4:18 PM on November 12, 2003


Civil_Disobedient

I found this on an AF web site:
http://www.airforcehistory.hq.af.mil/PopTopics/dresden.htm

It seems that while the RAF bombed the "City Area" the USAF bombed the "Marshalling Yards" and "Industrial Area".

"The night raid by the RAF Bomber Command was intended to devastate the city area itself and thereby choke communications within the city and disrupt the normal civilian life upon which the larger communications activities and the manufacturing enterprises of the city depended."

"The RAF Bomber Command’s are raid on Dresden, conducted on the night of 13/14 February 1945, resulted in fires that did great damage to the city proper, particularly in the older and more densely built up areas."

So it looks like the RAF targeted the civilians while the USAF targeted military and industrial resources.
posted by Akuinnen at 4:38 PM on November 12, 2003


> But saying flatly we were right in bombing civilians and
> dropping the atom bomb not once but twice--well, we just
> don't know that for sure.
>
> We definitely aren't comfortable, as a people, entertaining
> the idea it might have been wrong or unnecessary.

I'm perfectly comfortable entertaining the idea that it might have been wrong or unnecessary, since I have the benefit of the sixty-odd years worth of reflection and second-guessing that has taken place since Hiroshima. I'm also comfortable entertaining the idea that it might have been exactly right and entirely necessary. The only way to know for certain is to arrange to have two worlds with two World War IIs, and drop the bombs in one and don't drop them in the other, and see what happens. Short of such a clean but monstrous experiment, arguing about what-woulda-happened-if is entirely pointless unless you enjoy self-flagellation (and are outraged if others don't.)

But I state as a simple objective fact that those who fought the Axis powers in WWII did the best they could with the facts they knew and the ethics they grasped. Had I or y2k been there making the decision, without the benefit of an extra sixty years to think about it, I believe the chances of either of us doing better than they did are between zero and point none.

Therefore, expecting people alive now to be ashamed of what other people did then is about like asking Sweden to put on sackcloth and ashes over all that rape and pillage the Vikings did. Nobody does that except

...the idiot who praises with enthusiastic tone
all centuries but this and every country but his own.

I'm just not sufficiently into f_and_m.
posted by jfuller at 4:43 PM on November 12, 2003


So it looks like the RAF targeted the civilians while the USAF targeted military and industrial resources.

It's my understanding that this is largely because the British couldn't perform pinpoint nighttime bombing. The Americans could bomb individual strategic targets better, because they bombed in daylight.

It's worth pointing out, I suppose, that, as a result of daylight bombing, by late '44 industrial resources were spread out very thinly to make them more difficult to hit.
posted by me & my monkey at 4:45 PM on November 12, 2003


Without getting into the morality of the issue, I can say that strategic bombing probably shortened the war and definitely had a strong effect on industrial production.

Yes German industry was able to increase its production despite the bombing. However, how much more would the production have risen if various factories weren't being flattened?

Also, with constant bombing, an industrial planner has to decide: what do I build now: anti-air guns and shells? or anti-tank guns and shells? Each AA gun built was one less anti-tank gun which could be used in the tank-heavy eastern front. This sort of thing potentially shortened the war.
posted by pandaharma at 5:31 PM on November 12, 2003


Akuinnen - Thanks for the clarification.

Oh, and in reply to a separate comment:
And how completely extraordinary and surprising that those who are so vociferous in condemning Japan for a preemptive assault on the United States seem to be largely the same sorts of folks who think it's all hunky-dory and just really swell that the United States launched a preemptive assault on Iraq.

... I'd just like to say that I'm a liberal, I feel the invasion of Iraq was completely unwarrented and illegal, and at the same time believe that the assault on Japan was hunky-dory. So there goes that thesis.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 6:49 PM on November 12, 2003


i saw mcnamara give a speech one time, i can't really remember it at all, it was pretty unimpressionable (forgettable even :) but afterwards when everybody was leaving a vietnam vet got up out of the crowd and started shouting at mcnamara for ruining his life, seeing his buddies killed and why? to give mcnamara credit instead of just leaving he stayed behind and tried to explain himself.

at this point about half the audience lingered behind (i was almost out the door!). it was kinda bizarre witnessing mcnamara behind the podium on stage trying to ration with an emotional vet who it appeared had been waiting over half his life for "answers." mcnamara seemed rather distressed himself, and confronted like that he seemed at a loss to justify himself, despite having just laid out his reasons minutes before.

it was hard to feel any sympathy for mcnamara with a vet in front of him whose life apparently hadn't gone so well presumably in large part due to mcnamara. in the face of one of his "victims" mcnamara's defense looked rather weak and unconvincing. it didn't satisfy the vet any at least, and like how do you apologize for something like that? not very well i imagine. conflicted indeed.

anyway, looking forward to a good errol morris doc :D also as an aside, i read someplace that when grave of the fireflies was released in japan it was as a double feature with my neighbor totoro! oh and i think an interesting parallel with mcnamara is edward teller, also sorta infamous, but unapologetic... perhaps because the h-bomb hasn't been used?
posted by kliuless at 7:17 PM on November 12, 2003


The great principle of American war strategy is: We have airplanes, therefore they must be effective.

Sometime in 1944, Roosevelt came to the conclusion that there was a large element of exaggeration and pure guesswork in what the air force was accomplishing. He responded to several suggestions that there should be an independent civilian commission established, to go with the troops as they moved into France and Germany to find out what really happened.

In the spring of 1945, I was brought into this by George Ball and Paul Nitze. The three of us formed the core of the operation under Henry Alexander, who came in from J. P. Morgan and Company. It had the advantage that you operated well out of the range of guns. Quite a few people find this advantageous in war, including some generals.

The results were not in doubt. The bombing of Germany both by the British and ourselves had far less effect than was thought at the time. The German arms industry continued to expand its output until the autumn of 1944, in spite of the heaviest air attacks. Some of the best-publicized attacks, including those on German ball-bearing plants, practically grounded the Eighth Air Force for months. Its losses were that heavy. At the end of the war, the Germans had ball bearings for export again. Our attacks on their air-frame plants were a total failure. In the months after the great spring raids of 1944, their production increased by big amounts.

The reasons were threefold. First, the machine tools were relatively invulnerable. They'd be buried under rubble but could be dug out in a day or two. Second, it was possible to decentralize production: to move the machinery into schools and churches. It was reorganized in much less time than was imagined. The Germans discovered that it wasn't necessary for production to be in a single factory. They also discovered a large range of substitutes. It was possible to redesign a lot of equipment to reduce the use of ball bearings. Third, it was possible to reorganize what had been sporadic and less than diligent managements.

The most disappointing of the attacks was on the airplane plants. Production was taken away from Hermann Goering, who was expansively incompetent, and put in the Speer ministry, which was much better. This more than offset the damage done by the bombers.

A similar case was in the bombing of Hamburg. IT destroyed the center of the city and made available a large number of people -- restaurant workers, cabaret performers, bankers, teachers, salesmen. They all became available as a working force in the war plants at the edge of the city...

...The over-all conclusion was that wars were won by the slogging progress of the troops across France and Germany, with a good deal of help from tactical air power: support for the actual movement of troops on the ground. It was an extended form of artillery. Strategic bombing was designed to destroy the industrial base of the enemy and the morale of its people. It did neither.

Need I say that this conclusion was less than popular at the time?

What about the fire bombings of Tokyo?

We concluded that, on the whole, the Japanese industry did not have the same recovery capacity as the German. When the Japanese war plants were hit, they were more likely to stay out of production. You have to remember that from 1941 to 1945, Japan was a very small country with an equally small industrial base. It was stretched very tight and had little of the resilience of the German economy.

Yet the fire bombing of Japanese cities was not a decisive factor in the war. The war in Asia was won by the hard, slow progress up from the south and across the Pacific.

All war is cruel and unnecessary, but the bombings made this one especially so. The destruction of Dresden was unforgivable. It was done very late in the war, as part of a military dynamic which was out of control and had no relationship to any military needs.

Didn't the dropping of the A-bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki shorten the Pacific war?

The bomb did not end the Japanese war. This was something that was carefullly studied by our bombing survey. Paul Nitze headed it in Japan, so there was hardly any bias in this matter. It's ironic that he has since become fascinated with the whole culture of destruction. The conclusion of the monograph called Japan's Struggle to End the War was that it was a difference, at most, of two or three weeks. The decision had already been taken to get out of the war, to seek a peace negotiation.

The Japanese government, at that time, was heavily bureaucratic. The decision took some time to translate into action. There was also fear that some of the army units might go in for a kind of Kamikaze resistance. The decision was not known in Washington. While the bomb did not bring an end to the war, one cannot say Washington ordered the attacks in the knowledge that the war was coming to an end...

...This experience, as a member of the commission, had an enormous effect on my attitudes. You had to see these German cities, city after city, in 1945 and then go on to the utter horror of Japanese cities to see how frightful modern air warfare is. There is nothing nice about ground warfare: twenty thousand men were killed on the first day in the Battle of the Somme in World War One. But this didn't have the high visibility of Berlin, Frankfurt, Cologne, Mainz. And to see Tokyo leveled to the ground. I was left with an image which has stayed with me all of my life.
-John Kenneth Galbraith

Excerpted from "The Good War: An Oral History of World War II" by Studs Terkel.
posted by Ptrin at 7:51 PM on November 12, 2003


Another way of putting my y2karlism up there is that strategic bombing acted as a market force, causing the war industries of Japan and Germany (admittedly, moreso Germany) to become more efficient -- frequently to the point of breaking even, and sometimes exceeding where they would have been had the allies never initiated a bombing campaign.

Additonally, pandaharma, you happened upon a particularly terrible example: the primary German AA gun was the 88, which by end of the war was also the most feared anti-tank gun on the planet.

And one more thing. Your defense is very much "you can't argue with failure," which is a very weak justification for killing lots of innocent people. And that's what bothers me about a lot of this debate. We didn't know whether this thing that involved killing lots of civilians would help or not, so kill them and hope for the best?

That seems like an insult to our boys on the ground who did their absolute best to be the good guys all the time.
posted by Ptrin at 8:05 PM on November 12, 2003


That seems like an insult to our boys on the ground who did their absolute best to be the good guys all the time.

By the time the USAF began firebombing Japanese cities, more than 350,000 U.S. troops were dead. 350,000. I imagine that both the civilian and military leadership, as well as the population as a whole would do almost anything to anyone to try to stop the war by that point. Obviously the issue is much more complex than that (as this thread shows), but that 6 digit number goes a long way in helping me try to understand the mindframe of the U.S. at the time.
posted by gwint at 8:27 PM on November 12, 2003


The third atom bomb.

Operation Downfall, the plan to invade Japan.

Air Power and Strategic Bombing. The irony is that widespread bombing of civilian areas including industrial production was a strategy intended to reduce the carnage and stalemate of trench warfare from the prior world war.

Air Power theory in Vietnam.

Does Air Power Work? places all forms of air power -- strategic, tactical, civilian, military, in a matrix of coercive force. The answer appears to be that it works sometimes, as in Kosovo, and doesn't work other times, a somewhat problematic conclusion.
posted by dhartung at 9:49 PM on November 12, 2003


My mother -in-law was a 14 year old girl that lived just outside Dresden at the time of it's destruction. The only thing she has ever mentioned about it was that at one point she saw a line of people attempting to flee the city, but the firestorm was drawing the surrounding air into it at such a rate that people were literally blown off their feet and into the fire. She said it looked like the fire was reaching out and taking people in for fuel.

She's a pretty nice old gal, and I'm pretty sure that she hadn't done anything as a farmgirl at 14 that would have warranted her deserving being burned to death. For those reasons, and the fact that I've been stuck on her daughter for about twenty years now, I'm awfully glad she made it alive.

It is good to remember, that even if an end is righteous, the death of what has to include innocent bystanders is not just an immense tragedy. It can also be a bright shining light on our own ability to unleash sometimes unimaginable brutality, to in effect(as Oppenheimer quoted at Trinity) "become death".

Best to look that demon right square in the eye, and be aware that once the dance starts, we do not always get to pick the tune.
posted by dglynn at 10:03 PM on November 12, 2003


I wasn't saying it was easy for pilots, Cyrano--I was responding to the that kind of environment makes you very comfortable with killing others part. It seemed silly to me.

And in spite of what might have been my possibly ham-handed comments earlier, I agree with you, y2karl. My brother being a military pilot, I probably knee-jerked.

yeah, fuck foldy, fuck him for being disgusted by hundreds of thousands of wasted civilian lives.

Um, for what it's worth, I did apologize for that comment as a tad flame-esque. Nice of you to quote me on it though, matteo.

And this whole historical relativism debate is pretty silly, really. If a modern general lined his troops up in straight lines ordering his troops not to fire until they saw the whites of their eyes, he'd be relieved before he could mutter the "F' in "fire." But in 1864, that would have just been the way they did it. Just like in the 1940's bombing civilians was the way it was done. No one knew any better. Does this make it any less horrific? Hell no! It was a fucking nightmare. Just like when 100 years from now our generation is going to be vilified for using "smart bombs." Waddaya mean you couldn't target individual soldiers, you barbarians!

Hindsight is a great thing, ain't it?



posted by Cyrano at 10:31 PM on November 12, 2003


I just know that there are and were some bad, bad, people. And they're not me. That's why I'm all outraged, and stuff.
posted by shoos at 12:40 AM on November 13, 2003


No doubt about it, war is HELL. While a case can certainly be made that US racism existed against the Japanese, and was even promoted by leadership efforts to fire up the troops, such pales in comparison to that evidenced by the Japs against the Koreans, Chinese and, certainly, the Americans. To infer otherwise ignores the evidence of history.

We can argue as to whether "anticeptically" dropping bombs that kill thousands or institutionalized wanton murder and rape on the ground is more heinous, I suppose, but I believe you'll be hardpressed to finding anything directly comparable to this, on the American side, which points out the well documented case of the two Japanese officers with a running contest to see who could behead the most civilians at Nanking - their running score was reported in the war-time Japanese press like sports box scores. They had over a hundred each.

Oh, and Foldy, please take this, this, this, and this and stick them in the appropriate orifice at your leisure.
posted by Pressed Rat at 9:48 AM on November 13, 2003


edward teller, also sorta infamous, but unapologetic... perhaps because the h-bomb hasn't been used?

I think I'm reasonably safe in asserting that if it had been, that wouldn't bother Mister Ed in the slightest; in fact, I suspect he's kind of sorry it hasn't had a chance to show its stuff. I think I'm also reasonably safe in asserting that if the US dropped it on the capital of the next country on the hit list, there would be commenters here who would praise it as a necessary step to save valuable American lives. But that goddam foldy would be whining about it as usual. Bitch and moan, that's all he does. Lighten up, guy. Enjoy the Matrix.
posted by languagehat at 10:03 AM on November 13, 2003


I remember hearing that one of the most important effects of the European bombing campaign was to decimate the number of German pilots. Factories and war material could and were easily rebuilt and replaced. Pilots, however, could not be trained faster than they were killed.
posted by euphorb at 11:40 AM on November 13, 2003


i read someplace that when grave of the fireflies was released in japan it was as a double feature with my neighbor totoro!

One balances the other.
posted by inpHilltr8r at 12:34 PM on November 13, 2003


While the bomb did not bring an end to the war, one cannot say Washington ordered the attacks in the knowledge that the war was coming to an end...

Washington had intercepted coded communications between Japan and their Soviet ambassador, communications which clearly stated that Japan wanted to end the war through negotiation. Truman's own diaries also clearly state that he personally knew that Japan was interested in surrender: "Stalin had told P.M. of telegram from Jap [sic] Emperor asking for peace." This was in mid-July, yet the bombs were dropped in early August, without an attempt at negotiation. Instead, the US continued to demand "unconditional surrender".

Washington did know that the war was coming to an end, when the bombs were dropped. It can certainly be argued that they had their reasons to continue with a military approach rather than negotiation, but the knowledge was definitely there, at the highest levels of government.
posted by vorfeed at 1:44 PM on November 13, 2003


a bright shining light on our own ability to unleash sometimes unimaginable brutality ... Best to look that demon right square in the eye, and be aware that once the dance starts, we do not always get to pick the tune.

Well put, dglynn, and very honest of ya. Of course, we don't have to listen to the music, we do not need to get onto the dance floor. Once we do, though -- say, for self-preservation -- our actions reveal what we really are despite all of our claims and pretenses. If in the face of adversity we can become snarling dogs, then that is what we are at base.

It was unnecessary to firebomb Dresden, unnecessary to atombomb Japan. These were barbarian actions. The world didn't need more demonstrations of barbarism. If it was someone's job to make the unthinkable thinkable, America didn't need to shoulder that burden.
posted by Twang at 2:06 PM on November 13, 2003


so i went and rented grave of the fireflies after reading all the recommendations here.

wow.

what a beautiful, heart-wrenching movie. it really elevates anime to a whole new level. thanks for the heads up, all of you.
posted by joedan at 10:53 PM on November 13, 2003


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