Posts tagged Firebombing

Meetinghouse

Seventy-two years ago last night, on the night of March 9 and the early morning of March 10, 1945, the United States government ordered 334 B-29 bombers, commanded by Curtis LeMay, to drop 1,665 tons of napalm, white phosphorus and explosives on the most densely-populated residential neighborhoods throughout Tokyo. Within the first two hours of low-altitude firebombing the city’s fire defenses were completely overwhelmed. The burning ignited a firestorm that blew through the city streets at 600-1800 degrees Fahrenheit. Over 200,000 buildings were reduced to ash. Over 1,000,000 people were left homeless. About 100,000 Japanese civilians burned to death in a single night on the orders of General Curtis LeMay and President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

From The Firebombing of Tokyo, by Rory Fanning, in Jacobin:

Toshiko Higashikawa, who was twelve at the time of the bombing, recalled: There was fire everywhere. I saw one person caught by the claws of the fire dragon before you could say Jack Robinson! Her clothes just went up in flames. Another two people were caught and burned up. The bombers just kept coming. Toshiko and her family fled to a neighborhood school, seeking shelter from fire. The family bottlenecked in a doorway, and Toshiko could hear children shouting: Gya. Help! Its Hot! Moma! Uwa! Daddy! It hurts! Help!

Moments later, Toshiko lost the grip of her father’s hand in the frantic crowd. Her father was holding her younger brother Eichi in his other arm. Toshiko and her sister made it out of the schoolhouse alive. She never saw her father and brother again.

Koji Kikushima, who was thirteen at the time, tells the story of running down a street as fire chased her family and hundreds of others. The heat was so intense she instinctively jumped off a bridge into a river below. She survived the fall. In the morning she emerged from the river to see a “mountain of corpses” on the bridge. She never saw her family again.

Sumiko Morikawa was twenty-four that day. Her husband was off fighting in the war. She had a four-year-old son Kiichi, and twin eight-month-old girls Atsuko and Ryoko. As the fire began to burn the homes in her neighborhood, Sumiko ran towards a park pool with her kids. Nearing the pool’s edge, four-year-old Kiichi’s jacket caught fire. . . .

. . . There were nearly a million casualties that day in Tokyo and countless stories like the ones above. However what is mostly absent from Hoyet’s book are personal reflections from men about what it was like that day. It’s because cities like Tokyo and Nagasaki were essentially devoid of them. . . . The remaining population, and hence the main targets of the bombing, were disproportionately women, children, and the elderly. The majority of the military-age men were away fighting in the war.

. . . World War II was carried out with brutality on all fronts. The Japanese military murdered nearly six million Chinese, Korean, and Filipino civilians by the end of it. However, to argue that Japanese civilians deserved to die — that children deserved to die — at the hands of the US military because their government killed civilians in other Asian countries is an indefensible position, in any moral or ethical framework.

–Rory Fanning, The Firebombing of Tokyo
Jacobin, March 9, 2015

Wartime Logic

Suppose that you have — somehow or another — conclusively proven that there is just no way to have a modern war without bombing cities and massacreing innocent people.[1] That leaves you with a hard incompatibility claim between moralism and militarism — so if you go around morally condemning military tactics (like the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, say, or the firebombing of Tokyo) because they killed innocent people, then you’d end up having to condemn any modern war at all as immoral, no matter who fought it or how it was fought.

Many people, when they reach this point in the argument, want to shove it at you as if the incompatibility made for an obvious reductio ad absurdum of any kind of moralism about military tactics — Oh, well, if it’s always immoral to bomb cities then you couldn’t have any wars. That’s why it must not always be immoral to bomb cities. I honestly don’t know why so few of the people who give this argument ever even seem to have imagined that their conversation partner might take the incompatibility as an obvious reductio ad absurdum of any kind of militarismOh, well, if it’s always immoral to kill innocent people, you can’t bomb cities, and if you can’t bomb cities, you can’t have any wars. And that’s precisely why you shouldn’t have any wars.

Also.

  1. [1]Actually, I think this has been more or less conclusively proven. And that’s precisely why you shouldn’t have any wars.

Bomb after bomb

Last weekend, CounterPunch featured Howard Zinn’s introduction to elin o’Hara slavick’s book of cartographic drawings of American aerial bombing, Bomb after Bomb. I agree with Mark Brady that this is one of the best things that Zinn has ever written. Some of the most important stuff in the essay has to do with patriotism, the conflation of the country with the State, and the criminality of aerial warfare as such. A sample:

We have had enough experience, with the Nuremberg trials of the Nazi leaders, with the bombings carried out by the Allies, with the torture stories coming out of Iraq, to know that ordinary people with ordinary consciences will allow their instincts for decency to be overcome by the compulsion to obey authority. It is time therefore, to educate the coming generation in disobedience to authority, to help them understand that institutions like governments and corporations are cold to anything but self-interest, that the interests of powerful entities run counter to the interests of most people.

This clash of interest between governments and citizens is camouflaged by phrases that pretend that everyone in the nation has a common interest, and so wars are waged and bombs dropped for national security, national defense, and national interest.

Patriotism is defined as obedience to government, obscuring the difference between the government and the people. Thus, soldiers are led to believe that we are fighting for our country when in fact they are fighting for the government — an artificial entity different from the people of the country — and indeed are following policies dangerous to its own people.

My own reflections on my experiences as a bombardier, and my research on the wars of the United States have led me to certain conclusions about war and the dropping of bombs that accompany modern warfare.

One: The means of waging war (demolition bombs, cluster bombs, white phosphorus, nuclear weapons, napalm) have become so horrendous in their effects on human beings that no political end– however laudable, the existence of no enemy — however vicious, can justify war.

Two: The horrors of the means are certain, the achievement of the ends always uncertain.

Three: When you bomb a country ruled by a tyrant, you kill the victims of the tyrant.

Four: War poisons the soul of everyone who engages in it, so that the most ordinary of people become capable of terrible acts.

Five: Since the ratio of civilian deaths to military deaths in war has risen sharply with each subsequent war of the past century (10% civilian deaths in World War I, 50% in World War II, 70% in Vietnam, 80-90% in Afghanistan and Iraq) and since a significant percentage of these civilians are children, then war is inevitably a war against children.

Six: We cannot claim that there is a moral distinction between a government which bombs and kills innocent people and a terrorist organization which does the same. The argument is made that deaths in the first case are accidental, while in the second case they are deliberate. However, it does not matter that the pilot dropping the bombs does not intend to kill innocent people — that he does so is inevitable, for it is the nature of bombing to be indiscriminate. Even if the bombing equipment is so sophisticated that the pilot can target a house, a vehicle, there is never certainty about who is in the house or who is in the vehicle.

Seven: War, and the bombing that accompanies war, are the ultimate terrorism, for governments can command means of destruction on a far greater scale than any terrorist group.

These considerations lead me to conclude that if we care about human life, about justice, about the equal right of all children to exist, we must, in defiance of whatever we are told by those in authority, pledge ourselves to oppose all wars.

— Howard Zinn, Introduction to elin o’Hara slavick’s Bomb after Bomb

Read the whole thing.

(Via Mark Brady @ Liberty & Power 2007-12-15.)

One man’s reductio

Here’s widely-published, reportedly libertarian columnist Walter Williams on the need for political will in the War on Terror:

Does the United States have the power to eliminate terrorists and the states that support them? In terms of capacity, as opposed to will, the answer is a clear yes.

Think about it. Currently, the U.S. has an arsenal of 18 Ohio class submarines. Just one submarine is loaded with 24 Trident nuclear missiles. Each Trident missile has eight nuclear warheads capable of being independently targeted. That means the U.S. alone has the capacity to wipe out Iran, Syria or any other state that supports terrorist groups or engages in terrorism — without risking the life of a single soldier.

Terrorist supporters know we have this capacity, but because of worldwide public opinion, which often appears to be on their side, coupled with our weak will, we’ll never use it. Today’s Americans are vastly different from those of my generation who fought the life-and-death struggle of World War II. Any attempt to annihilate our Middle East enemies would create all sorts of handwringing about the innocent lives lost, so-called collateral damage.

Such an argument would have fallen on deaf ears during World War II when we firebombed cities in Germany and Japan. The loss of lives through saturation bombing far exceeded those lost through the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

— Walter E. Williams (2006-08-23): Will The West [sic] Defend Itself?

I’d like to thank Mr. Williams for helping to illustrate an important point about logical inference.

Two of the most important rules of inference are the modus ponendo ponens (pq. p. ∴ q) and the modus tollendo tollens (pq. ~q. ∴ ~p). Something that people often don’t realize is how the very same reasoning could be used to set up either a modus ponens or a modus tollens in the last step. Here’s an example drawn from real life. Walter Williams argues:

  1. If there were something wrong with slaughtering hundreds of thousands of innocent people in the name of military victory today, there would have been something wrong with the Allied governments’ massacre of half a million or more innocent people in the name of military victory during the firebombing campaigns of World War II. (lemma)
  2. There was nothing wrong with the Allied governments’ massacre of half a million or more innocent people in the name of military victory during the firebombing campaigns of World War II. (premise)
  3. Therefore, there must be nothing wrong with slaughtering hundreds of thousands of innocent people in the name of victory today. Q.E.D. (M.T. 1, 2)

But someone or another just might use the same line of inferences that Williams drew in order to establish a different conclusion:

  1. If there were something wrong with slaughtering hundreds of thousands of innocent people in the name of military victory today, there would have been something wrong with the Allied governments’ massacre of half a million or more innocent people in the name of military victory during the firebombing campaigns of World War II. (lemma)
  2. There is something wrong with slaughtering hundreds of thousands of innocent people in the name of military victory today. (premise)
  3. Therefore, there must be something wrong with the Allied governments’ massacre of half a million or more innocent people in the name of military victory during the firebombing campaigns of World War II. You dick. (M.P. 1, 2)

For some people’s argumentative purposes the Allied war effort in World War II is not so much just as the paradigm for justice itself; like the meter stick in Paris, it doesn’t even make sense to say that it is just, because the possibility that it even might have been less than just is simply unintelligible. Those who have a less reverent view of the single most destructive total war in the history of the entire world may not share the same premises. And thus may draw quite a different conclusion. I’m just sayin’.

I’d like to thank the War Party for offering yet another opportunity for an important lesson on informal logic.

Update 2006-09-02: Commenter Adam B. pointed out that the full Latin name for modus tollens is the modus tollendo tollens, not modus ponendo tollens as I’d originally written. This has been fixed in the text.

Further reading:

War and manhood

(Links via Dulce Et Decorum Est 2006-07-31 and comments on Tennessee Guerrilla Women 2006-07-30.)

Here is a view of war and manhood from the bottom of the ranks.

I came over here because I wanted to kill people.

Over a mess-tent dinner of turkey cutlets, the bony-faced 21-year-old private from West Texas looked right at me as he talked about killing Iraqis with casual indifference. It was February, and we were at his small patrol base about 20 miles south of Baghdad. The truth is, it wasn’t all I thought it was cracked up to be. I mean, I thought killing somebody would be this life-changing experience. And then I did it, and I was like, All right, whatever.

He shrugged.

I shot a guy who wouldn’t stop when we were out at a traffic checkpoint and it was like nothing, he went on. Over here, killing people is like squashing an ant. I mean, you kill somebody and it’s like All right, let’s go get some pizza.

At the time, the soldier’s matter-of-fact manner struck me chiefly as a rare example of honesty. I was on a nine-month assignment as an embedded reporter in Iraq, spending much of my time with grunts like him — mostly young (and immature) small-town kids who sign up for a job as killers, lured by some gut-level desire for excitement and adventure. This was not the first group I had run into that was full of young men who shared a dark sense of humor and were clearly desensitized to death. I thought this soldier was just one of the exceptions who wasn’t afraid to say what he really thought, a frank and reflective kid, a sort of Holden Caulfield in a war zone.

But the private was Steven D. Green.

— Andrew Tilghman, Washington Post (2006-07-30, B01): I came over here because I wanted to kill people.

When Tilghman met Green, Green was angry and disillusioned about the war. He seethed about the old men’s demands for restraint (We’re out here getting attacked all the time and we’re in trouble when somebody accidentally gets shot?), and about the meaninglessness of this war:

See, this war is different from all the ones that our fathers and grandfathers fought. Those wars were for something. This war is for nothing.

— Quoted by Andrew Tilghman, Washington Post (2006-07-30, B01): I came over here because I wanted to kill people.

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. Green was wrong about the wars that our fathers and grandfathers fought. Or any other war fought by men in the name of the National Manhood. Meanwhile, here is another view of war and manhood, from the top of the ranks:

The Wars Our Fathers and Grandfathers Fought

photo: burnt corpses lie in a ruined street

Aftermath of the Tokyo firebombing, 10 March 1945

photo: an aerial view of Hiroshima, leveled

Aftermath of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, 6 August 1945

photo: leveled houses around the Nagasaki railroad station

Nagasaki railroad station

photo: a ruined residential neighborhood, with all the homes burnt or toppled

Iwakawa-machi residential neighborhood, Nagasaki

BombingOfSnuol.jpg

Aftermath of U.S. bombing of Snuŏl, Cambodia on 3 May 1970.

AUSTRALIA intervened to stop key US military strikes against Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq, fearing they might constitute a war crime.

Major General Maurie McNarn, then a brigadier and commander of Australian forces in Iraq, on several occasions played a red card against the American plans, which included hits on individuals. His objections drew anger from some senior US military figures.

In one instance, Major General McNarn vetoed a US plan to drop a range of huge non-precision bombs on Baghdad, causing one angry US Air Force general to call the Australian a pencil dick.

However, US military command accepted Major General McNarn’s objection and the US plans were scrapped.

The revelation of how Australia actively and successfully used its veto power in the 2003 invasion of Iraq is contained in a new book on the US-Australian alliance, The Partnership, by The Weekend Australian‘s foreign editor, Greg Sheridan.

… The book reveals that Major General McNarn — now the head of the Defence Intelligence Organisation — delivered a great shock to the US when he first used the red card and then put his objections to the proposed US military strike in writing.

Shit, exclaimed one American when he saw the document. What if this leaks? Major General McNarn replied that if the US did not take the illegal action, it would not matter.

As coalition forces prepared plans to take Baghdad, Major General McNarn vetoed three of five proposed US Air Force weapon systems — mostly huge bombs — on the grounds that they were not accurate for a radius of less than 16m and, as a result, were unsuitable for use in a built-up area.

— Cameron Stewart, The Australian (2006-07-29): Aussie veto stopped US war crimes

There are of course two stories here. The first story, the one emphasized by the news report, is that the Australian general halted the U.S. generals’ plans to indiscriminately bomb Baghdad–which would have made the war even more of an abattoir for Iraqi civilians than it became even with the more restrained bombing. The second story is that the U.S. generals made plans to indiscriminately bomb Baghdad. Plans they were invested in, and plans they were enraged to see blocked.