Posts Tagged ‘Japan’

My grandmother celebrates her 98th birthday today.  So a bunch of us gathered yesterday at the assisted living care facility where she lives.  After taking her out to lunch, we had a little party with cake and ice cream.  I think she really enjoyed it, even though all the attention and all the movement probably wore her out.  She was also quick to remind us that Sunday (the 11th) was her birthday, not Saturday.

I’ve mentioned it before, but grandma has lived through a mammoth amount of change.  Yesterday she looked in wonder at a smartphone.  She probably began her life in a home without any phone at all, and lived most of it with a corded phone hooked to the wall.  And that’s just one thing…there are countless other examples.

Grandma is finally beginning to forget things.  I’m not complaining, because it’s taken her nearly a century of living to reach that point.  But I’m really grateful for our ability to write stuff down.  As we age, our brains lose their capacity to process and remember information.  So fifty years from now, if I’m still around and these pages still exist, I might not remember going to visit grandma on her 98th birthday, but at least I’ll be able to read about such an event…if I can still see.

Today we remember the one-year anniversary of the terrible earthquake-driven tsunami that ravaged parts of Japan.  In the days of instant video and those smartphones that grandma just discovered, the events of that day are compressed to a series of ones and zeroes and stored on a hard drive, just waiting for a mouse click or finger tap to be brought back to the surface of YouTube as a sobering reminder.

Had smartphones and YouTube been around in Japan on March 11, 1945, they would have recorded the earth shaking.  They would have brought images of fire and destruction to your video screen.  Terror and death might have been your vista.  But it wasn’t an earthquake and it wasn’t a tsunami.

Grandma’s 31st birthday was the day the U.S. Air Force paid a visit to Nagoya, Japan.  It was not the first time.  Indeed, bombs had fallen on the city several times, beginning in December of the following year.  There was a Mitsubishi factory located there that supplied the dwindling Japanese war effort, and it was the first target.  But this was the first time Nagoya had been hit using new tactics.

Taking a page from the European theater, General Curtis LeMay had recently decided to mass large groups of bombers as a single force when attacking Japan.  Previous attempts using small packages was proving ineffective.  The first real test, a couple of days before against Tokyo, had been (from the perspective of the U.S. military) a resounding success.

So while Tokyo was still smouldering, LeMay’s massed Superfortresses hit Nagoya.  And while the damage may not have been as bad as the Tokyo raid (sixteen square miles turned to dust and nearly 200,000 killed and wounded), it was extensive.

With this result, General LeMay and the U.S. Air Force believed they had found a weapon that would finally end the war against Japan.

Recommended Reading: Superfortress: The B-29 and American Air Power

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I’ve been off for a couple days, fighting a case of the blah’s.  I would go to the office in the morning, then end up working from home in the afternoon.  And by the time 4:00pm got here, I was pretty wiped out.  This evening I’m better, though still not great.  But let’s talk about something…and try to keep it brief.

How about a little conspiracy?

For years, there has been speculation that President Franklin Roosevelt knew in advance about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.  As Commander-in-Chief, any President has access to classified information that no one else can see.  FDR was certainly no exception, and in 1994 the McCollum Memo was declassified.  Conspiracy theorists jumped on this highly sensitive document like flies on stink as proof the President not only knew an attack was coming, but that he had purposely engineered the debacle, then expressed outrage when it occurred.

What is the McCollum Memo?  It’s a 6-page document penned by Arthur McCollum, a Lt. Col. in the Office of Naval Intelligence, and submitted to his superiors on October 7, 1940 (14 months before the Pearl Harbor attacks).  Germany, Italy, and Japan had, less that two weeks before, signed the Tripartite Pact, and McCollum’s paper begins with his strategic view of the world in light of their close association.  He then offered up an assessment of Japan’s strengths and weaknesses.

So far so good.

But then McCollum added 8 steps he believed would drive the Japanese to declare war on the United States.  They included things like keeping the U.S. Fleet parked in Hawaii (which we did), instigating a trade embargo with Japan (which we did), and aiding Chiang Kai-shek and the Chinese military (which we also did).  He finished the document with the curious phrase, “If by these means Japan could be led to commit an overt act of war, so much the better.”

The “superiors” to whom he submitted his work weren’t just “the next guys in the chain”, they were Captains Walter Anderson and Dudley Knox, both very close to President Roosevelt.  And you’re all sleuthy enough to put the sequence of events together…Knox and Anderson receive the memo, which they read and pass to the President.  The President then reads the memo, has light-bulbs go off in his brain, and manipulates foreign policy to follow McCollum’s suggestions, and then allows Pearl Harbor to be attacked so we can enter the war with Britain.

But the 64-thousand-dollar question still lingers…while this sequence of events is possible, did it actually happen?

And, unfortunately for the conspiracy theorists, the best answer is likely “no”.  Anderson (the Director of Naval Intelligence) certainly read McCollum’s paper…he added his own comments at the end, which included the phrase, “…we should not precipitate anything in the Orient.”

The eight “steps to war” proposed by McCollum were largely followed by the Roosevelt Administration, but they were measures that were largely dictated by the current political/military situations of the moment rather than a pre-meditated drive to war.  There is zero factual evidence (and only the most obtuse of circumstantial evidence) that the McCollum Memo ever landed in front of the President’s eyes.  And finally, it was Japan who attacked first, regardless of real or implied provocation, and it was they who jumped through all kinds of hoops to make it not look like an undeclared act of war.

In the end, I think the McCollum Memo was far more a “what if” analysis by a mid-level officer than a serious policy document that the administration adapted for its own purposes.  There may be “smoking guns” in the the Roosevelt Administration (like there are in many), but those looking for a real story will probably have to look elsewhere.

Recommended Reading:  Day of Deceit: The Truth About FDR and Pearl Harbor – I recommend Stinnet’s book as an interesting read, not necessarily the Scouts-honor gospel of what happened leading up to Pearl Harbor.  The McCollum Memo looms fairly large in this book.  For another good take (and links to the entire document), check this site as well.

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On September 27, 1940, the Axis Powers were officially created when Germany, Japan, and Italy signed the Tripartite Pact in Berlin.  Set to last for 10 years, the Pact contained several articles.  First, Japan recognized that Germany and Italy were in charge of things in Europe, while Germany and Italy submitted to Japan in East Asia and the Pacific.  It also stated that each country was allowed to acquire the territory needed to maintain peace (sounds strange, right?), and that each member should economically, politically, and militarily support the acquisition efforts of the others. 

The Tripartite Pact also addressed the Soviet Union…with good reason.  If you recall, Germany and Japan had already signed the Anti-Comintern Pact back in 1936.  Simply put, the two countries agreed that Communism was evil and that neither country would enter into any kind of treaty with the Communist Soviet Union.  Fast-forward to 1939.  Germany, in setting up Poland for occupation, signed the Nazi-Soviet Pact with Russia, which caused some consternation in Japan, who was involved in on-again, off-again territorial disputes with the Soviets and wanted to focus more on deteriorating relations with the United States.

As a result, the Tripartite Pact contained language stating that this Pact in no way affected any member’s current relationship with Russia.  So, Japan and Russia could stay mad at each other, and Russia and Germany could be friends (for the time being), and Japan wouldn’t have to be mad at Germany…one of those high-school-girls-type alliances if ever there was one.

Over the course of next several years, other countries would join the Pact.  Today’s History Lesson has already directly addressed two of those:  Bulgaria and Yugoslavia.  Romania, Hungary, and Slovakia would be added in November, and Croatia would join in 1941.

Recommended Reading: Fateful Choices: Ten Decisions That Changed the World, 1940-1941

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A really brief Lesson for today.  On August 15, 1945, Japan accepted unconditional surrender as demanded by the Allies at the Potsdam conference.  World War II, having started almost exactly 7 years before, was finally over.  The will of the Japanese government had finally been broken by the twin atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  But the days leading up to the public proclamation had been full of suspense and intrigue.

Just hours after the bombing of Nagasaki on August 9th, the Japanese cabinet met and, yet again, split on whether to surrender.  Prime Minister Kantaro Suzuki then took the issue to Emperor Hirohito and asked him to, once and for all, break the deadlock.  Hirohito said he couldn’t stand to see his people suffer any further, and ordered the surrender.  His voice, usually never heard by the people of Japan, was recorded as he read the declaration.

And then those against the surrender tried to overthrow the government and steal the recordings so they couldn’t be broadcast.  But very quickly, the coup attempt fell apart and, at noon on the 15th, the Emperor’s voice was heard over the airwaves, and the War was over.

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Oh yes, it’s true.  Believe it or else, there is a place where it’s Christmas all the time.  Christmas Island is a tiny postage-stamp-sized piece of property (~50 square miles) located about 300 miles south of Jakarta, Indonesia.  The island, discovered in 1643 on Easter Sunday, was known fo… …just kidding.  It was discovered on Christmas day.  Hahahaha…sometimes I kill me.

As I was starting to say, it was known for phosphate that, once discovered, led to its annexation by the British in the late 1800’s.  The British mined it and, among other things, exported it to their largest buyer, Japan.  With the outbreak of war in the area in 1941, Japan wanted to secure the phosphate deposits, so they started a not-so-concerted effort to do so (it’s a small island after all) with a few token attacks between late January and early March of 1942.  At that point, the Indian soldiers on the island mutineed (and killed) the British officer and four British NCO’s commanding them.

It was on this day, March 31, 1942, that Christmas came to the Japanese, who landed on the island and took control.  In the end, very little phosphate from the island contributed to Japan’s war effort, thanks to some clever sabotage, as well as the continuous gift-giving, the daily making of the rosettes, and hanging stockings.  And in late 1945, the British (wanting to get in on the fruitcake and yule logs) came back in force and asked the 15 remaining Japanese soldiers to (and this isn’t a direct quote) “take their Christmas somewhere else”.  But, at least while they were there, they could have delicious egg-nog whenever they wanted.

Recommended Viewing: Twas the Night Before Christmas – The only in-depth resource available.  It’s a serious look at the history of Christmas Island, the mutiny, the subsequent Japanese occupation, and the heroic efforts made by the saboteurs to thwart phosphate production and deliveries. And it has some really singable tunes.  It’s in my library…it should be in yours.

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At just after 1:00am on March 10th, each container opened at 2,000 feet above ground, spilling its M-69 bomblets over an area measuring 500 by 2,500 feet. Thousands upon thousands of small fires flared up, quickly overwhelming any and all efforts to put them out. The windy conditions of the day served to fan the flames that night, and very quickly, small fires began to merge into much larger fires.  Many of the homes and buildings, made of wood, became easy kindling for the growing conflagration.

The deadly combination of fire, wind, and wood served to create a maelstrom of unbelievable proportions.  Heat rises, and the updrafts were so powerful that they tossed the B-29’s around like toys.  The glow from the fires could be seen 150 miles away, and many crews reported that this night mission had the aura of a daytime mission.

On the ground, temperatures reached 1800 degrees…hot enough to melt asphalt.  The fire consumed so much oxygen that those not killed by the flames and heat were simply suffocated.  The vortex was so powerful that many trying to escape were actually sucked back into the flames.  The appalling conditions prompted Curtis LeMay himself to write, “…it was as though Tokyo had dropped through the floor of the world and into the mouth of Hell.”

In the end, sixteen square miles of Tokyo were, for all practical purposes, obliterated.  More than a quarter million buildings, homes, and factories were destroyed.  The actual death toll will never be known, but estimates range from 85,000 to 100,000.  Another 100,000 were injured.  And this was not the last time massed bombers would visit Tokyo.

Recommended Reading: Superfortress: The B-29 and American Air Power – LeMay’s own words. I have a 1st edition, and the link connects you to an updated edition with some additional material and a slight change in title. I have not read it, but my edition was good.

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On the evening of March 9, 1945, it was rather breezy as the residents of Tokyo slept in their beds.  An American air raid was coming, but they were becoming accustomed to air raids.  They were used to the scream of air-raid sirens, the drone of aircraft overhead, and the popping of anti-aircraft guns.  They were probably even familiar with silhouette of the oversize bombers and the sight of bombs being dropped from high in the sky.  But tonight would be different.

Having taken over the Twenty-First Bomber Command in late January, Gen. Curtis LeMay was disappointed with how the bombing campaign against Japan was progressing.  B-29’s were the best of the heavy bombers with the most advanced equipment, but still they struggled to take out important industrial, manufacturing, and military targets.  There was a potential invasion of the Japanese islands with which to contend, and the more (and better) equipment the enemy had, the more lives that would be lost.

Something had to be done…a change in tactics was required.  The change began on this day in 1945.

Rather than send a few dozen bombers against Tokyo, XXI Bomber Command gathered 325 B-29’s.  And rather than pack the bombers with standard iron bombs, they were loaded with M-69’s.  These were small, six-and-a-half pound cylindrical bomblets filled with napalm.  Thirty-eight of the bomblets went into a container, and a single B-29 generally carried thirty-seven containers.  The containers would open above ground (much like modern-day cluster munitions) and scatter the M-69’s over a wide area.  The bomblets exploded on contact, splling out (and igniting) the napalm, which was extremely flammable and burned with incredible heat.

And instead of dropping their payloads from 30,000 feet, altitudes were reduced to less than 8,000 feet.  It sounded suicidal, but LeMay contended that the drastic change would throw off Japanese anti-aircraft batteries, whose crews were used to firing at planes at high-altitude.  Furthermore, Japanese fighter resistance was waning.

So one-by-one, and flight-by-flight, and squadron-by-squadron, the B-29’s lifted off into the fading daylight.  At just after 1:00am on March 10th,…well, that’s tomorrow, so…

To be continued…

Recommended Reading: Code-name Downfall: The Secret Plan to Invade Japan and Why Truman Dropped the Bomb – a great book explaining why American leadership in 1945 felt the atomic solution in Japan was the right one. It’s very enlightening.

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