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U.S. veterans who firebombed Japan in WWII meet survivor

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By MARI YAMAGUCHI

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My neighbor lived and worked in Japan for many years, married a Japanese, and his last name is LeMay.

I wonder if he had any interesting exchanges with the locals when he lived in Japan.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Wish these old men knew they are being used by the Japanese gov't as propaganda tools to further the Japanese message that Japan were the victims of WW2.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

The fire bombings were hideous actions and reactions which took place in what can only be hoped was the ugliest war in human history. It was an inordinately complex time that even 70 years later historians struggle to explain. To me, though, in applying the principle of parsimony the horrible prices paid by civilian populations were the result of invasions by the Axis powers. The axis powers started the war and reaped the consequences.

It would be nice to think that if any members of the Japanese forces who committed atrocities against civilian populations in Nanjing and elsewhere, or were members of Unit 731 for example, are still alive that they would be willing to go to places throughout Asia and meet those they attacked.

8 ( +13 / -5 )

Unlike the Foreign Ministry's program of "wound healing" I suspect this event will get plenty of coverage in the media.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

"...what can only be hoped was the ugliest war in human history."

I suppose people always think that way about recent wars, but wars quite regularly turn very ugly and involve the wholesale slaughter of innocents. There have been many uglier wars than WW2, though that was certainly large scale. People who think wars have rules scare me, because they are more likely to support a war in the mistaken belief that war is containable.

I see a pattern of a few "clean" skirmishes where soldiers make up most of the (relatively few) casualties, and people on the winning side get inured to the idea of war. Eventually that confidence can lead to a war that nobody can control. As this older generation dies, Japan will be left with a population that has no memory of war. Couple that with the USA's liberal use of "bomb and drone diplomacy." I really worry about the future.

7 ( +9 / -2 )

Commanteer deserves accolades for the rational thought. the current bomb and drone program is full of "acceptable losses" where whole families are destroyed because of one man.

the thought process in WW2 was to bomb the populace to force the government to capitulate, people would make up excuses but in reality the thought was you would foment a rebellion.

but people just hunker down and pray for the bombing to end

it is a good program this one, bringing the vets over to meet the people affected in Japan but also to show that Japan does recognize the errors of the Kempeitai and the military government.

it is time

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Where is this museum located and what is it called?

1 ( +2 / -1 )

It would be nice to think that if any members of the Japanese forces who committed atrocities against civilian populations in Nanjing and elsewhere, or were members of Unit 731 for example, are still alive that they would be willing to go to places throughout Asia and meet those they attacked.

I was thinking the same thing when reading this article. We read periodically about US veterans coming here but are there programs that see the Japanese WW2 veterans go to the places they attacked /occupied during the war to reconcile with the local survivors? Serious question, anyone in the know?

1 ( +6 / -5 )

@PTownsend You can find videos on YouTube showing Japanese soldiers going back to the Chinese towns they assulted during the war to personally apologize. In those videos, the Chinese were very welcoming. However, they went on personal trips, and were not sponsored by the Japanese government, unlike the people in this article. @AsianGaijin Do you mean you lived next to Curtis LeMay?

2 ( +4 / -2 )

I'm always glad to hear about reconciliation stories such as these, and they put a lot of modern politicians, with their jingoistic warmongering, to shame. However, I think the headline is misleading. It suggests that this was a case of a victim meeting an aggressor, when, as the article points out, both were victims in their own way. After all, one of the reasons the bombing was happening is because the Japanese government was conducting activities all over East Asia in much the same style as the treatment meted out to the airman mentioned in the article.

The reason the headline disturbs me is that I am concerned by the number of Japanese people who consider Japan to have been the primary victim in World War II and who are ignorant of the fact that other countries also suffered deeply. In terms of sheer numbers, China, Poland, Russia and Germany saw many more civilian deaths, reaching into the millions - in China's case, according to some estimates, into the tens of millions.

2 ( +6 / -4 )

His B-29 was shot down over southwestern Japan 17 days after firebombing Tokyo.

I know it's a stupid question but I'm pretty sure he didn't spend 17 days "flying around"... Were these 'planes on ships ? Or did they "touch down" somewhere ? Especially in those days, I would imagine they would also need to re-fuel their 'planes more often than now ?

0 ( +2 / -2 )

Where is this museum located and what is it called?

@JohnDigs

I believe the museum here is The Center of the Tokyo Raids and War Damage (東京大空襲・戦災資料センター), and is a 15 minute walk from Sumiyoshi Station. Here is access information: http://www.tokyo-sensai.net/access/index.html

There is also quite a lot of information online on the testimony of Haruyo Nihei (二瓶治代) who volunteers there.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

I think it is the duty of anyone who feels personal responsibility to at least meet with some victims and attempt to reconcile or at least share something of themselves. Of course, many were "just following orders," weren't they? The moral equivalent of a concentration camp guard. If you disagree with that, go fight with Kurt Vonnegut and his buddies. They can make the case more eloquently, and oh, they were there.

If this "humanization" is not encouraged, we will move further down this horrible path of "collective responsibility" for things we did not do, or which happened long before we were born. To a good degree, personal contrition improves conditions in the real world. US Vietnam vets have had a lot to do in thawing relations between the US and Vietnam. US/Japanese person to person relations during GHQ had a huge part in increasing understanding between the US and Japan too.

For contrast, have a look at what Trump is saying about Muslims these days. Has he ever been to an Islamic country? Maybe. He has no military background. But gosh he talks tough, doesn't he? This ignorant political anger contrasts sharply against the feelings of people who really experience war and its aftermath together....people who have experienced war together frequently are shocked and awed by humanity, not by rhetoric or even bombs. War needs a lot more humanity. We might find that we don't need war it if we make fighting unpleasant enough. If we launch from drones or submarines, we can look forward to a long future of "gaming" with human lives.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Wow. Hard to process. I think I am not man enough, or in this case, person enough, to do what either of these two did.

Were I he, the horror I inflicted would driven me crazy. Even if, especially because, I would know it was necessary. It was just. God. To live with that. It was just to incinerate so many people.

As for the woman, I'd hate Americans.

-3 ( +5 / -8 )

It would be nice to use this meeting between these two to stress the dangers of nationalism and chest thumping. These two individuals suffered as a direct result of the ruling elite deciding to go to war. We need to use this opportunity to remind the Abe regime of how precious and fragile peace is.

If not, then WW2 will have been for nothing, and the suffering of these 2 individuals would have been in vain.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

Aly

I like what you said. As for WWII being for nothing, well, America did win. Which, in the end, means the world is a whole lot better than if Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan had.

3 ( +6 / -3 )

This visit to Japan by Fiske Hanley and the other POWs is getting fairly widespread coverage in the English-language press, but I have found absolutely nothing in the Japanese-language media. The visit is obviously intended for overseas consumption only.

Here is an interview with Fiske Hanley talking about his ordeal: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vlrgHbJxPF4

He was at camp Omori (close to Omori Station nearby Shinjuku) when it was liberated. That is the same camp portrayed in the movie Unbroken about Louis Zamperini.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

@AsianGaijin Do you mean you lived next to Curtis LeMay?

No, my neighbor has a different first name. A whole lot younger too. I'm not sure if they're related; the topic never came up.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

To FightingViking: I know it's a stupid question but I'm pretty sure he didn't spend 17 days "flying around"... Were these 'planes on ships ? Or did they "touch down" somewhere ? Especially in those days, I would imagine they would also need to re-fuel their 'planes more often than now ?

What this means is that he was shot down during another mission 17 days later. B29 missions flew out of airfields on Saipan and later from the island of Iwo Jima.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

As for WWII being for nothing, well, America did win.

I would amend that to say the US and its allies, which included many nations, perhaps most importantly Russia, defeated the Axis powers. Russia arguably did more to help defeat Germany, the US did more to defeat Japan, with lots of help from other Ally nations.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

We Americans talk about the war atrocities of other nations at war, but ever about the war atrocities of our own. Remember we not only did this to several cities in Japan but also in Germany We make our ow excuses but we not accept the excuses of other. It would be fine it they ever ended, but we continue the in every war since including the ones we are in day. War is mass murder. There are no good guys on any side of a war they are all just as evil. As long as any country goes to the war, the mass murder continues and the atrocities build day by day, month by month, year by year. I know this from personal experience as I am a disabled Marie Viet Nam veteran. Note that we did not invade North Vietnam we invaded South Vietnam against their wishes. We did not carpet bomb North Viet Nam, we carpet bombed South Viet Nam with more bombs than were used in all of World War I and World War II together. We did not drop millions of tons of poison on North Viet Nam we dropped it on South Viet Nam 2,000,000 tons of just Agent Orange alone, who knows how much of Agents Green Red, Blue or White. I am left to wonder if North Viet Nam could have wo without our help. Ho Chi Min was partially financed by the Rockefeller Family when France refused to allow Standard Oil off shore drilling rights off the shores of the French Indo China. Yep it was just another oil war.

3 ( +6 / -3 )

Anyone who talks about "who started the war" is clueless and hasn't grasped the meaning of this article at all.

-2 ( +2 / -4 )

As for WWII being for nothing certainly wasnt for nothing, if the Allies hadnt stopped Hitler evrybody would be speaking German now. and Japan while it may still control Asia would still answer to Hitler. Millions more would have been exterminated by Hitler and IJA if WW2 was won by the Axis of evil aggressors.

5 ( +6 / -1 )

As for WWII being for nothing certainly wasnt for nothing, if the Allies hadnt stopped Hitler evrybody would be speaking German now.

No, they wouldn't. Hitler did not have any intentions to invade the world.

BTW, now everyone is speaking (or trying to) English...

-9 ( +2 / -11 )

Back on topic please.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

What I'm interested in is who Japan and the US went from being worst enemies to best friends (maybe even BFF) so quickly after the war. My parents were too young and my grandparents never talked about it (I was too young to think of asking). Any recommended reading. Any recommended reading?

0 ( +1 / -1 )

@mdepaiva

Thank you ! I was wondering if someone could answer that for me ! (I had thought these 'planes would have to "stop off" somewhere and did think of maybe "Guam" ).

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Toward the end of the war, U.S. Forces bombed freely almost all the unprotected prefectural capitals of Japan. Many of them unnecessary bombings killing many citizens. However, I have never heard of any Japanese criticizing America about it. This may come from "bushido" samurai spirit of Japan accepting "Losing a fight is losing a fight." "No complaint necessary."

1 ( +4 / -3 )

Of course, above, I meant "HOW Japan and the US went from being worst enemies to best friends" so quickly. In 1964, not even 20 years after the end of the war, Japan held the Olympics, and Japan had its first Nobel Prize winner in physics, Hideki Yukawa. All of this was meant to normalize Japan in the world I think. How could this have happened so fast. Was it something about the Japanese or something about Americans. I admire McArthur a lot.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

A perfect lesson for all countries: History cannot be changed, what happened 75 years, 100 years ago and 500 years cannot be changed. Unfortunately, forgiveness agents will never reach their goal of demanding apologies, so they continue to revive the hatred on every anniversary of the event. It would be nice if the entire population understood what they were writing about, but they don't, and have no desire to continue to teach the children what they are disussing.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

In retrospect , I really do thank these men for putting their all on the line to stop the plague that was trying to envelope the world. Can one imagine being under the indescribably and atrociously evil Japanese then? I thank these gentlemen!!

-1 ( +4 / -5 )

Kenjiooi December 10, 2015

I would go along with marcelito's notion that it would be nice to think that if any member of the Japanese forces who committed atrocities against civilian populations in Nanjing and elsewhere and are still alive, they would be willing to visit the places to meet with local survivors of the atrocities. This I got from a male nursing care worker in a local nursing care fascilities who was looking after an elderly male in his late 80's. One day another elderly male was taken in. It seemed they got on the same wave length and saw without exchanging any words that they had a similar experience during the war fighting in China, killing and bayonetting innocent Chinese civilians. They broke down as they embraced each other, confessing how they had hell of a hard time with one guy saying that he was going to die with this experience kept entirely to himself as if having put into words his personal experience, which had been bottled up and festering inside him , had freed him from the burden on his conscience. The care-giver did not make any mention of whether they had felt a pang of conscience about what they had done in China. The way they went about it, however, I would feel they did. Getting back where we started from, back to the issue of if any members of IJA still alive would be willing to go back to China and take steps toward reconciliation person to person level, I would see small chance of that. Given the political shift to the right taking place at home, I wonder how many of the surviving ex-members of the army would feel up to and take the plunge. I do wish Mr. Abe would make a visit to Nanjing War Memorial instead of Yasukuni to give the Chinese people a friendly gesture of contrition. He has enough of the political capital to do so.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

will the museum remain open for a long time or is it only open for a short time? I am of to Japan next year and I would like to go to it and have a look around. its a shame but the website http://www.tokyo-sensai.net/access/index.html its all in Japanese, but that won't put me off going.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

If it's not the atomic bombings, it'd be the continued firebombing

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Gokai_wo_maneku

Herbert Bix's biography of Hirohito is a good place to start.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

It would be nice to think that if any members of the Japanese forces who committed atrocities against civilian populations in Nanjing and elsewhere, or were members of Unit 731 for example, are still alive that they would be willing to go to places throughout Asia and meet those they attacked.

That's like expecting the Gestapo and Waffen SS to turn up to memorials and meet those they abused in WW2. Never going to happen. Can you imagine a 90 year old former Japanese soldier going to Nanjing? He'd be lynched before he could even open his mouth.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

No, they wouldn't. Hitler did not have any intentions to invade the world. man that has to be the most moronic statement ive heard this year. The English invaded / colonized the world so now the international language is english. If anybody thinks Hilter would have been satisfied with conquering Europe, UK , Soviet Union and Nth Africa then your really ignorant to world history.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

gokai_wo_manekuDec. 10, 2015 - 01:31PM JST Of course, above, I meant "HOW Japan and the US went from being worst enemies to best friends" so quickly. In >1964, not even 20 years after the end of the war, Japan held the Olympics, and Japan had its first Nobel Prize winner >in physics, Hideki Yukawa. All of this was meant to normalize Japan in the world I think. How could this have >happened so fast. Was it something about the Japanese or something about Americans. I admire McArthur a lot.

A simple answer to your question would be "Cold War". A deeper one requires some historical knowledge of the relationship between Japan and the U.S, While the initial contact in 1852 was obviously "threatening", once Japan entered the Meiji era the US was an important trade partner as well as a strategic ally. US tacit support for Japan in the 1984/85 Sino-Japanese War, open support in the 1904/05 Russo-Japanese War, Japan's membership as an "Ally" in WWI, right through the US sending Naval ships to help Japanese reconstruction after the 1923 earthquake (yes, 2011 was not the first time). It was the power of the Japanese military and policies starting from the 1930s through WWII that brought the US and Japan to collision. However, all the people who harp on WWII like it's the end all of US-Japanese relations don't realize that out of the 150 years or so of relations, the US and Japan have been friends and allies, with 4 of those years very bitter enemies.

-3 ( +1 / -4 )

To FightingViking: I know it's a stupid question but I'm pretty sure he didn't spend 17 days "flying around"... Were these 'planes on ships ? Or did they "touch down" somewhere ? Especially in those days, I would imagine they would also need to re-fuel their 'planes more often than now ?

What this means is that he was shot down during another mission 17 days later. B29 missions flew out of airfields on Saipan and later from the island of Iwo Jima.

Indeed. Capturing Saipan allowed the allies to have a land base capable of attacking the Japanese mainland for the first time in the war. Once Saipan was taken in July of 1944, the Japanese airfield there was rapidly upgraded to be able to handle the U.S.A.'s new B-29 heavy bombers. These airmen would have been flying out of Saipan during the firebombing of Tokyo because the battle for Iwo Jima was still underway at that time.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Have been to this very place and seen the photos and relics of the canister bombs. The images made me tear up I will admit. A very sad place.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Capturing Saipan allowed the allies to have a land base capable of attacking the Japanese mainland for the first time in the war.

Well that's embarrassing. I dangled the participle in that sentence... BADLY. Of course the land base itself wasn't able to actually attack the Japanese mainland, but the planes based at the base were.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Again even if wining the war was a laudable achievement, it does not change in the least the atrocities committed. There are no innocent people military-wise, only the tens of millions of innocent victims who did not deserve what was done to them. In any war, the number of innocent civilians far out weighs the number of combatants killed.

In Viet Nam the 3.5 million people killed were by far innocent civilians. Nor are civilians killed by accident, as alleged collateral damage. Killing civilians is part of the strategy of war, and always has been. War has always been about making money, lots of it. But those that profit from war, and from dragging it out as long as possible, do not risk their own lives, but mostly the lives of the poor. War is the atrocity, nothing more and nothing less.

Marine Major General Smedley Butler sued it up this way, "War is a Racket!"

That is all that we need to understand.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

I met a survivor on the Yokohama line a couple of years ago. He wasn't bitter, and he said "It was our (Japan's) fault". How do you reply to that? I told him "But a lot of innocent people were killed"

1 ( +4 / -3 )

The intentional targeting of civilians for the purpose of shattering a country's will to fight has never been a noble action and now would be considered a war crime in the International Crimes Court. I'm not happy or proud that we decided to firebomb Tokyo, nor am I happy that the Army Air Corps built a replica Japanese residential area in Florida to repeatedly bomb, rebuild, and bomb again in order to determine the most effective way to create a firestorm. It was residences targeted, not factories. The whole incident turns my stomach.

4 ( +5 / -1 )

Firebombing is a particularly vindictive punishment which is designed to be a cruel punishment to civilians. It was also used by Churchill on Dresden for this purpose.the saying that 'war is hell' is quite literal in this case.....

2 ( +4 / -2 )

“I wonder if they had thought of the people on the ground when they dropped the bombs,” she said

I wonder if they had thought of their govn't which led them toward this calamity. i mean the sentence alone seems to be a victim identifier. it already over, thanks to these gentlemen, democracy was saved. end of story.

-3 ( +2 / -5 )

“But I’m more thrilled by the fact that we, who were witnesses of that moment in history, are reunited at this place 70 years later. They must have had mixed feelings about coming here, so I’m so glad they came.”

About as moving as it can get, I suppose, given what they are reuniting over. It is nice that they CAN, though, and certainly nice that names and faces can be put to the horrors that the people suffered (and forced others to suffer in the case of the bombers).

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

@souka, the firebombing was not done "out of desperation to end the war". Although Curtis LeMay claimed that the Japanese government relied on residential “cottage” war production, by 1944 the Japanese had essentially terminated such activity. By 1944, a full 97 percent of the country’s military supplies were protected underground in facilities away from residential areas. The Americans knew this.

The United States had broken Japan’s Red and Purple cipher machines well before 1945, allowing them access to the most classified enemy intelligence. American generals also understood the war would soon be materially impossible for the Japanese.

The US Naval blockade had also prevented oil, metal, and other essential goods from entering Japan long before March 9. Japan was so cut off from basic supplies that it was constructing its planes partially out of wood.

Accordingly, the firebombing was little more than a massive human experiment to test the effects of napalm on humans.

Shockingly, American generals were eagerly anticipating burning Japanese civilians to death well before Pearl Harbor. As General George Marshall stated on November 15, 1941:

"if war with Japan does come, well fight mercilessly. Flying Fortresses will be dispatched immediately to set the paper cities of Japan on fire. There wont be any hesitation about bombing civilians...."

A clear admission of intent to commit war crimes.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

asdftgr,

on the other hand, it happens, that Japan brought a scourge upon millions in the neighbourhood. do you recognise those? or do you think they should be forgotten for they don't deserve to be heard?

i do agree that killing innocent is the most hideous crime, but, stories have to be seen from all sides. japan will only bring herself to shame if she perpetuate her own versions of events without any regard to others. don't u see why war in europe had already been laid to books and not talked about between govn'ts or lay people?

as i said, it will really take a very long time to put pieces together with the prevailing of such kinds of ideas here.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

asdftgr,

the meeting and visit of a veteran as reported in this article also gives you an hint that America do care and to an extent also repent for what had happened during WWII. that is kinda incomparable if you look at Japan's case.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

souka,

I`m afraid I have to disagree. Even a supposedly "progressive" President such as Bill Clinton is on record as stating that the United States owed Japan no apology for nuking Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II, and that President Harry S. Truman had made the right decision to use the bombs.

I haven`t heard a similar statement from post-war Japanese PMs saying that the mass murder of innocent civilians by Japan was justified.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

asdftgr,

again, you have to look for other cases. why europe had been in peacetime now since that war. America is a far-off country, maybe you need to look more at Asia and what happens here. in other words, your problem is here not there.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

Thank goodness Japan & Germany failed in their attempt to conquer and enslave the world!

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

the problem is that no one outside japan will buy into those. one can only wish that japanese war veterans will also show some remorse to their neighbours.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

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