Harkening back to my post of yesteryear, in a San Francisco Chronicle article, concerning the atomic bombing of Japan Mr. Ferlinghetti observed that "It was a monstrous, racist act, the worst the U.S. ever committed," he says. "Had the Japanese been white-skinned, those bombs would not have dropped."
I proceeded to document that we had bombed the white-skinned Germans much more intensely, causing the Germans far greater suffering, loss of life, and destruction of property, than we had the Japanese, and further that the atom bombs dropped on Japan unquestioningly saved millions of Japanese civilians, and hundreds of thousands of American military.
If anything, dropping the atom bombs on Japan was an act of mercy. Even an idiot like Ferlinghetti must realize that the Japanese would have been fierce in defense of their homeland. If Ferlinghetti needs further convincing, he need only look at Japanese losses on Peleliu, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa, preludes to the invasion of the Japanese mainland.
On Peleliu, which Alice and I recently visited, less than fifty of 11,000 Japanese survived, and almost 2,000 Americans were killed.
The Japanese on Iwo Jima fought ferociously, and when defeat was inevitable, committed suicide. Only about 1,000 of the 22,000 Japanese soldiers on Iwo Jima survived. US losses were 6,821, more deaths in one month than we suffered in five years of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan combined.
However, as horrific as the fighting on Iwo Jima was, it was just a prelude to the slaughter on Okinawa. Twice as many were killed (approximately a quarter of a million) during the Battle of Okinawa than Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined. Estimates of civilian deaths go as high as one-third of Okinawa’s population, who when faced with defeat joined the Japanese military in committing mass suicides.
All of this came during the last year of war in the Pacific. What about Germany?
I’ve been reading the campaign diary of the British Royal Air Force Bomber Command, and it exposed Mr. Ferlinghetti’s infinite ignorance of how badly we treated the white-skinned Germans. I was born July 18, 1942, fairly early in the war by American standards, but the British had already been fighting for two years, and had won the Battle of Britain over a year before.
When I was born the British had been bombing German cities for over a year. I was just over a week old when Hamburg was hit by the first of many terrifying night attacks (the British Royal Air Force bombed Germany by night, the United States bombed by day).
This is an excerpt of the bomber diary entry for 26/27 July 1942:
403 aircraft - 181 Wellingtons, 77 Lancasters, 73 Halifaxes, 39 Stirlings, 33 Hampdens dispatched in what was probably a full 'maximum effort' for the regular Bomber Command squadrons. 29 aircraft - 15 Wellingtons, 8 Halifaxes, 2 Hampdens, 2 Lancasters, and 2 Stirlings - were lost, 7.2 per cent of the force.
Crews encountered a mixture of cloud and icing at some places on the route but clear weather at the target. Good bombing results were claimed. Hamburg reports show that severe and widespread damage was caused, mostly in housing and semi-commercial districts rather than in the docks and industrial areas. At least 800 fires were dealt with, 523 being classed as large. 823 houses were destroyed and more than 5,000 damaged. More than 14,000 people were bombed out. 337 people were killed and 1,027 injured.
That was one night in one German city. One year and one day later, Hamburg was hit harder:
27/28 July 1943
787 aircraft - 353 Lancasters, 244 Halifaxes, 116 Stirlings, and 74 Wellingtons - returned to Hamburg. Brigadier-General Anderson again flew in a Lancaster and watched this raid. The centre of the Pathfinder marking - all carried out by H2S on this night - was about 2 miles east of the planned aiming point in the centre of the city, but the marking was particularly well concentrated and the Main Force bombing 'crept back' only slightly.
This was the night of the firestorm, which started through an unusual and unexpected chain of events. The temperature was particularly high (30° centigrade at 6 o'clock in the evening) and the humidity was only 30 per cent, compared with an average of 40-50 per cent for this time of the year. There had been no rain for some time and everything was very dry .The concentrated bombing caused a large number of fires in the densely built-up working-class districts of Hammerbrook, Hamm and Borgfeld. Most of Hamburg's fire vehicles had been in the western parts of the city, damping down the fires still smoldering there from the raid of 3 nights earlier, and only a few units were able to pass through roads which were blocked by the rubble of buildings destroyed by high-explosive bombs early in this raid. About half-way through the raid, the fires in Hammerbrook started joining together and competing with each other for the oxygen in the surrounding air. Suddenly, the whole area became one big fire with air being drawn into it with the force of a storm. The bombing continued for another half hour, spreading the firestorm area gradually eastwards. It is estimated that 550-600 bomb loads fell into an area measuring only 2 miles by 1 mile. The firestorm raged for about 3 hours and only subsided when all burnable material was consumed. The burnt-out area was almost entirely residential. Approximately 16,000 multi-storied apartment buildings were destroyed. There were few survivors from the firestorm area and approximately 40,000 people died, most of them by carbon monoxide poisoning when all the air was drawn out of their basement shelters. In the period immediately following this raid, approximately 1,200,000 people - two thirds of Hamburg's population - fled the city in fear of further raids.
During the next two years over a million German military were pinned down by the need to protect against Allied bombing around the clock. Before the war ended, Germany was forced to send barely trained pilots into combat, and pilots had to fly both day and night missions.
After the Hamburg firestorm, many other German cities, including Berlin, were heavily bombed by day and night.
In March, 1944, the diary of the city of Frankfurt has this entry:
The three air raids of 18th, 22nd and 24th March were carried out by a combined plan of the British and American air forces and their combined effect was to deal the worst and most fateful blow of the war to Frankfurt, a blow which simply ended the existence of the Frankfurt which had been built up since the Middle Ages.
A great historical city gone, centuries of living and building obliterated in a few Hellish nights.
Then in February 1945, the Allies plastered Dresden for three days.
Temperatures reached 1000 degrees, and the air caught on fire, creating a "firestorm” that burned for four days. 1600 acres were destroyed and 135,000 were killed (some reports say the number killed cannot be determined, but that it was certainly over 50,000), including many refugees fleeing the Soviet advance on the Eastern Front.
Some historians estimate more civilians were killed in the firebombing of Dresden than Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined. The Germans' white skin didn't seem to save them, did it Mr. Ferlinghetti?
According to The War in the Air over Europe: "Tactics developed in Europe were employed with devastating effect in the Pacific. 20th Air Force commanding General Curtis LeMay abandoned precision bombing for area bombing with incendiaries, causing cataclysmic firestorms."
From The Strategic Bombing of Japan:
So there you have it, Mr. Ferlinghetti. The tactics used to annihilate Japanese late in the war had been developed over the preceding three-year period of area bombing German cities. Americans had come late into the practice of area bombing cities by night, and had paid for adhering to precision daylight bombing by losing aircraft and aircrews at twice the British rate.
On June 15, 1944, the first B-29 raid flew from China to strike at a factory in Japan. This was the precision target bombing that the United State Army Air Forces (USAAF) had practiced for years. This policy would be abandoned shortly for area bombing of civilian targets. It would represent a major shift from the doctrine practiced in Europe and the policy that had cost so many American lives over German cities.
When Curtiss LeMay arrived and took command in January 1945, he ordered a switch from high altitude high explosive precision daylight attacks to night area bombing with a mixture of incendiaries and antipersonnel weapons. This prevented the firefighters from putting out the fires, which spread wildly.
From March 1945 through the end of the war, many Japanese cities were subjected to area bombing with incendiaries. Tokyo, Osaka, and many other cities were burned out by firestorms that reached over 1000 degrees Fahrenheit. The bombings may have killed as many as 500,000 people.
Bomb civilians or sacrifice aircrews and aircraft? The decision makes itself. The duty of a commanding officer is to win the war quickly with the least cost to his forces. The decision was made even easier because the Germans and Japanese committed atrocities and terror attacks on civilians and cities from the start of hostilities.
I’m sure Mr. Ferlinghetti would take the opposite approach and spare the enemy’s cities and civilian populations, with the result that millions more would die, devastation would be far greater, and your own forces and armaments would suffer much heavier losses.
Your way, Mr. Ferlinghetti, would be the worst choice for friend and foe alike.
If what we did to Japan was racist, Mr. Ferlinghetti, what do you call what we did to Germany?