The other victims of the Tokyo firebombing

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The other victims of the Tokyo firebombing

At dawn on March 10, 1945, some 344 B-29 heavy bombers covered the sky of Tokyo. About 2,400 tons of incendiary bombs rained down on the city for three hours. As the buildings and trees caught on fire, people ran screaming. Some jumped into lakes to escape the fire, but even the water was boiling with the oily heat.

It is said that there were countless numbers of corpses that floated down the river in Tokyo that day. Some of them still had clothes on, others were completely naked. The image of the burnt bodies on the river was surreal. You couldn’t tell whether an object that floated by was a human arm or leg, or just a piece of burnt wood.

Although Japan was losing its occupied islands in the South Pacific one after another since its defeat at the Battle of Midway in June 1942, the leadership was not prepared for the American assault. The leaders did not care about the suffering of their people and rather considered the sacrifice of Japanese citizens justified in the protection of their emperor.

Hard-liners in the military even went so far as to say that the royal subjects of the emperor should be resolved to perish in order to save the imperial system. Their blindness to their people’s cries led Tokyo to burn and 100,000 Japanese to lose their lives.

In February 1945, one month before the bombing of Tokyo, Prime Minister Fumimaro Konoe wrote a memorial to the throne: “Our defeat in the war is manifest. We should end a hopeless war as soon as possible.” However, Emperor Hirohito wanted to continue the war, saying, “I think it will be very difficult to end the war unless we achieve another victory in a battle.”

In the face of reckless resistance of the Japanese military, the U.S. Army changed its policy of striking solely military facilities to bombing indiscriminately in densely populated areas.

The bombing of Dresden, which was carried out one month before the bombing of Tokyo, was one factor that eventually forced Nazi Germany to surrender. But the Japanese militarists did not give up until atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Years later, Japanese historians have emphasized the destruction of the atom bombs while playing down Japan’s own war and colonial transgressions. Germany, on the other hand, has accepted the brutal realities of its own history. Former Chancellor of Germany Gerhard Schroeder has decried claims that the bombing of Dresden was “another Holocaust,” and urged people not to distort history by reversing the causes and the consequences.

The fact that the lives of over 10,000 Koreans who were forcibly sent to munitions factories in Japan were sacrificed during the bombing of Tokyo should be remembered not only by the Japanese government, but also by the Korean government and civil society.

*The writer is the dean of the school of liberal arts at Kyung Hee University.


By Huh Dong-hyun
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