Daily Archives: 10 March 2005

Acts of War, 60 Years Ago

The Marmot reminds us that today marks the 60th anniversary of the fire-bombing of Tokyo, as a BBC report notes.

People in Tokyo have been marking the 60th anniversary of a massive US night-time bombing raid which destroyed much of the city in 1945.

Several memorial services have been held across the city to remember the more than 100,000 people who died.

The raid was part of an American strategy to try to wear down Japanese morale ahead of a possible invasion.

Last month, we commemorated the 60th anniversary of the fire-bombing of Dresden.

An aspect of the Dresden bombing that remains a question today is how many people died during the attacks of February 13/14, 1945. The city was crammed with uncounted refugees and many POWs in transit when the raids took place. The exact number of casualties will never be known. McKee believed that the official figures were understated, and that 35,000 to 45,000 died, though “the figure of 35,000 for one night’s massacre alone might easily be doubled to 70,000 without much fear of exaggeration, I feel.”

The battle of Iwo Jima began 60 years ago, shortly after the fire-bombing of Dresden, and didn’t end until after the fire-bombing of Tokyo.

The battle for Iwo Jima began Feb. 19, 1945, but didn’t end until March 15, with nearly 7,000 Americans and more than 20,000 Japanese killed. After years of retaking soil conquered by a Japanese military machine, America was knocking on the enemy’s door by taking Iwo Jima. It was the first invasion of Japanese soil since Pearl Harbor. Iwo Jima was heavily entrenched with a network of caves, tunnels and pillboxes. The brilliant Japanese commander defending the island, Gen. Tadamichi Kuribayashi, had been told to fight to the death — no Japanese survivors — hoping high American casualties would deter further attacks against Japanese territory.

And in April, we will commemorate the 60th anniversary of the battle of Okinawa.

Okinawa was the largest amphibious invasion of the Pacific campaign and the last major campaign of the Pacific War. More ships were used, more troops put ashore, more supplies transported, more bombs dropped, more naval guns fired against shore targets than any other operation in the Pacific. More people died during the Battle of Okinawa than all those killed during the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Casualties totaled more than 38,000 Americans wounded and 12,000 killed or missing, more than 107,000 Japanese and Okinawan conscripts killed, and perhaps 100,000 Okinawan civilians who perished in the battle.

The battle of Okinawa proved to be the bloodiest battle of the Pacific War. Thirty-four allied ships and craft of all types had been sunk, mostly by kamikazes, and 368 ships and craft damaged. The fleet had lost 763 aircraft. Total American casualties in the operation numbered over 12,000 killed [including nearly 5,000 Navy dead and almost 8,000 Marine and Army dead] and 36,000 wounded. Navy casualties were tremendous, with a ratio of one killed for one wounded as compared to a one to five ratio for the Marine Corps. Combat stress also caused large numbers of psychiatric casualties, a terrible hemorrhage of front-line strength. There were more than 26,000 non-battle casualties. In the battle of Okinawa, the rate of combat losses due to battle stress, expressed as a percentage of those caused by combat wounds, was 48% [in the Korean War the overall rate was about 20-25%, and in the Yom Kippur War it was about 30%]. American losses at Okinawa were so heavy as to [elicit] Congressional calls for an investigation into the conduct of the military commanders. Not surprisingly, the cost of this battle, in terms of lives, time, and material, weighed heavily in the decision to use the atomic bomb against Japan just six weeks later.

Japanese human losses were enormous: 107,539 soldiers killed and 23,764 sealed in caves or buried by the Japanese themselves; 10,755 captured or surrendered. The Japanese lost 7,830 aircraft and 16 combat ships. Since many Okinawan residents fled to caves where they subsequently were entombed the precise number of civilian casualties will probably never be known, but the lowest estimate is 42,000 killed. Somewhere between one-tenth and one-fourth of the civilian population perished, though by some estimates the battle of Okinawa killed almost a third of the civilian population. According to US Army records during the planning phase of the operation, the assumption was that Okinawa was home to about 300,000 civilians. At the conclusion of hostilities around 196,000 civilians remained. However, US Army figures for the 82 day campaign showed a total figure of 142,058 civilian casualties, including those killed by artillery fire, air attacks and those who were pressed into service by the Japanese army.

The only TV news that I can sit through for more than 15 minutes without channel-surfing away (usually in response to commercials or “celebrity justice” stories) is The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, which ends each broadcast with a photographic listing of U.S. military personnel killed in Iraq (no other individuals killed in Iraq or elsewhere). I view them all, with a mixture of sorrow and respect. Can you imagine how long The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer would have to be to list onscreen the names and photos of just the U.S. military personnel killed during World War II? It would have to be NewsWeek 24/7 with Jim Lehrer. I remind myself of that when I get too depressed about the state of the world 60 years later.

An imaginary Jim Lehrer Sr. in 1945: “And now, in silence, are 7,000 more …”

UPDATE: Tokyo-based White Peril has much more.

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Filed under Japan, Pacific, U.S., war