America’s warning to the people of Hiroshima, August 1, 1945

Tom S. has uncovered a document that we all ought to know about, but I don’t think any of us do know about it, or someone would have been mentioned it before this. On August 1, 1945, five days before the bombing of Hiroshima, the U.S. Army Air Force dropped one million leaflets over Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and 33 other Japanese cities warning that those cities were going to be destroyed within a few days and advising the residents to leave to save their lives. One side of the leaflet had a photo of five U.S. bombers unloading bombs and a list of the targeted cities. The other side had the text. The English version of the leaflet is included in an article at the CIA website, “The Information War in the Pacific, 1945,” by Josette H. Williams. OWI stands for Office of War Information:

Front side of OWI notice #2106, dubbed the “LeMay bombing leaflet,” which was delivered to Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and 33 other Japanese cities on 1 August 1945. The Japanese text on the reverse side of the leaflet carried the following warning:

“Read this carefully as it may save your life or the life of a relative or friend. In the next few days, some or all of the cities named on the reverse side will be destroyed by American bombs. These cities contain military installations and workshops or factories which produce military goods. We are determined to destroy all of the tools of the military clique which they are using to prolong this useless war. But, unfortunately, bombs have no eyes. So, in accordance with America’s humanitarian policies, the American Air Force, which does not wish to injure innocent people, now gives you warning to evacuate the cities named and save your lives. America is not fighting the Japanese people but is fighting the military clique which has enslaved the Japanese people. The peace which America will bring will free the people from the oppression of the military clique and mean the emergence of a new and better Japan. You can restore peace by demanding new and good leaders who will end the war. We cannot promise that only these cities will be among those attacked but some or all of them will be, so heed this warning and evacuate these cities immediately.”

(See Richard S. R. Hubert, “The OWI Saipan Operation,” Official Report to US Information Service, Washington, DC 1946.)

Tom S. writes:

I just ran across this, and I’m amazed. I don’t know why I’ve never heard of this before (well, actually, I DO know … ). It pretty much absolves the U.S. of guilt for bombing Hiroshima and Nagasaki without warning, and absolves our country forever of the accusation that we “deliberately sought to kill civilians in Japan.”

We did our best to save Japanese civilians. Statements to the contrary are lies. The defense rests …

LA replies:

Really something. It does put a different color on it.

However, if we gave them such warnings, how was the Enola Gay able to fly in unmolested? Wouldn’t they have been looking to shoot down our planes?

Tom S. replies

I’d have thought so. I’ve heard that the Japanese thought that one plane couldn’t possibly do very much so they ignored it; they were thinking in terms of thousands of planes, given LeMay’s previous raids. I don’t know if this is true or not.

At any rate, I think that it disproves the allegations that we were trying to kill as many Japanese civilians as possible, and it proves that industry was the target, as Alan Levine pointed out.

Admittedly, 35 cities is pretty general, but it WAS a warning, and as I think my Dad might have said “it was more warning that the Japanese gave us at Pearl Harbor.”

* * *

What the CIA article reveals is that the leafleting of August 1 was the culmination of a months’-long campaign by the U.S. Office of War Information to give the Japanese people true information on the status of the war (which they were not getting from their own government) and to persuade them to surrender. This effort culminated after the bombing of Nagasaki, in the OWI’s extraordinary move to inform the Japanese people that the emperor had offered to surrender and that the Americans had accepted the surrender. As you will read below, within two days (i.e., between some time on August 10 and sometime on August 12) of the transmission to the U.S. of the emperor’s offer to surrender and the Americans’ decision to accept the offer some hours later), OWI’s staff of 17 at its forward base on the island of Saipan printed five million leaflets for delivery to the people of Japan. Because of the tremendous speed in getting the leaflets printed and dropped, the receipt by the Japanese people of the leaflets preceded by 72 hours the Japanese government’s formal receipt through diplomatic channels of the U.S. acceptance of the Japanese surrender offer. Thus the entire nation of Japan was prepared for the surrender—which otherwise it would not known about—during those tense days when elements within the Japanese military were attempting to stop the surrender by capturing the emperor.

The article is so interesting that I am excerpting most of it here, in VFR’s font which is more readable than the font used at the CIA site.

The Information War in the Pacific, 1945
by Josette H. Williams.

… There is no question that the Allies’ superior military power and determined spirit defeated Japan. But it was the Allies’ communication network that provided war information directly to the Japanese people and an unprecedented response by the Emperor that pushed Japan to accept this defeat. What follows is the story of the US Office of War Information (OWI) and the dramatic role it played in the surrender of the Japanese empire.

The Office of War Information

The contributions of the Office of War Information at the end of the war in the Pacific have been cited briefly in many publications, but the full story has never been told1 OWI was responsible for using information warfare to promote distrust of Japanese military leaders, lower Japanese military and civilian morale, and encourage surrender. Information was disseminated by radio and leaflet both to the Japanese mainland and to enemy forces hidden on Allied-occupied Pacific islands.

OWI was manned by civilians and supported by military liaison personnel. The Director, Elmer Davis, reported to Secretary of State James Byrnes. Policy decisions were subject to the approval of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, coordinated by Secretary of War Henry Stimson. Edward Barrett managed the Overseas Branch; Bradford Smith was chief of Central Pacific Operations in Honolulu; and Richard Hubert, the author’s father, headed the forward area on Saipan.

From Saipan [captured by the U.S. in July 1944], OWI bombarded Japan with radio messages through its 50,000-watt standard-wave station on Saipan, Radio KSAI. The station also picked up 100,000-watt shortwave transmissions from the OWI station in Honolulu and relayed them to Japan. Japanese language broadcasts consisted of news on the status of the war, bombing warnings, and messages from Japanese prisoners of war on Saipan urging surrender. KSAI radio transmissions served many purposes: to Japan’s civilian government, they were a vital source of news, received at a time when the fanaticism of the Japanese militarists denied civilian leaders access to information about the status of the war; to hidden Japanese soldiers on occupied Pacific islands, they tempted surrender by promising fair treatment as prisoners of war; and to Allied flight crews, the around-the-clock OWI radio transmissions beamed home the B-29s, saving planes and lives.2

At the same time, newspapers and leaflets in the Japanese language were printed on Saipan. From there, Air Force B-29s flying at 20,000 feet dropped 500-pound M-16 fire bomb containers converted into leaflet casings. These opened at 4,000 feet to deploy millions of leaflets, effectively covering a whole Japanese city with information. In just the last three months of formal psychological warfare, OWI produced and deployed over 63 million leaflets informing the Japanese people of the true status of the war and providing advance warning t o35 cities targeted for destruction.

Postwar surveys showed that the Japanese people trusted the accuracy of the leaflets and many residents of the targeted cities prepared immediately to leave their homes. The Japanese government regarded the leaflets with such concern that it ordered the arrest of those who kept or even read the leaflets and did not turn them in to their local police stations. Outside Japan, leaflets promoting the surrender of individual Japanese soldiers and civilians were dropped near cave and tunnel hideouts on islands that had been captured by the Allies.5

Japan’s Internal Frictions

Japan had two governments in 1945: one was a military government determined to fight to the last; the other was a civilian government that had long recognized the need to surrender. The military clearly held the upper hand, rendering the civilian leaders impotent through political intimidation and threats of imprisonment.

Civil-military friction, disagreements within political factions, and intergenerational tensions resulted in a bewildering array of conflicting reports on current conditions being disseminated to the Japanese people. The job of the US Office of War information was to cut through the confusion in Japan and its occupied territories, and to convince the Emperor, the politicians, and the civilians that victory was already in the hands of the Allies.

There is little doubt that Japanese government agencies, military and civilian alike, realized by mid-summer 1945 that their country could not win the war. Japan’s cities were being destroyed almost at will. Although attempting to avoid the Emperor’s palace, the Allies had devastated the capital in only six hours of bombing on 9-10 March 1945, leaving 100,000 dead and over 1,000,000 homeless, an even worse toll than from the later atomic bombing of Hiroshima. The Japanese military maintained a defiant stance, even as they recognized the need to shift from aggression to defense of their homeland.6 They were well prepared, both psychologically and technically, for this final stand. The Allies never underestimated (as we, perhaps, sometimes do today) the desire of Japan’s military leaders to preserve their honor by fighting literally to the last man, woman, and child.

Broadcasting the Surrender Offer

On 26 July 1945, the heads of state of the United States, Great Britain, and the Soviet Union, meeting in Potsdam, Germany, agreed to give Japan an opportunity to end the war. Their terms called for the disarmament and abolition of the Japanese military; elimination of military influence in political forums; Allied occupation of Japan; liberation of Pacific territories gained by Japan since 1914; swift justice for war criminals; maintenance of non-military industries; establishment of freedom of speech, religion and thought; and introduction of respect for fundamental human rights. The final section demanded that the government of Japan “proclaim now the unconditional surrender of all Japanese armed forces.” The alternative for Japan was “prompt and utter destruction.”8

By 7:00 p.m. on the very day of the Potsdam Proclamation, OWI’s station KSAI began broadcasting the surrender terms to the Japanese nation at regular intervals. OWI also printed the full text of the offer in the Japanese language and dropped over 3 million leaflets by B-29 aircraft. Thus Japanese officials learned of the Potsdam conditions a day ahead of the official communication sent through diplomatic channels.

Japan’s Cabinet and the Supreme Council for the Direction of the War were immediately called into joint session. They met almost continually from 26 July through 14 August. Arguments over whether, when, and under what conditions Japan should surrender continued right through the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. On 27 July, after a routine meeting not attended by Japan’s civilian Foreign Minister, the militarists released notification to the world’s media that Japan rejected the Potsdam offer. 9

Stepped-Up Bombing

By noon on 28 July, OWI’s presses on Saipan were rolling with notices warning civilians to evacuate 35 Japanese cities scheduled to be bombed within the next few days. About 1 million leaflets fell on the targeted cities whose names appeared in Japanese writing under a picture of five airborne B-29s releasing bombs. Given the extent of the effort, it is extraordinary that many Americans are not aware that Japanese cities were warned prior to being bombed. Even today, members of the B-29 crews recall their fears that the warnings would make them easier targets for Japanese planes and antiaircraft artillery. However, they concurred with Gen. Curtis LeMay’s proposal at the time. Military newspapers featured the unprecedented action under such headlines as “B-29 Command Now Calling Its Shots” and “580 B-29s Follow Up Leaflet Warnings With 3800 Tons Of Fire And Explosives….

Advertising the Destruction of Hiroshima

At 2:45 a.m. on 6 August, the Allies’ B-29 “Enola Gay” left the island of Tinian near Saipan. Its primary target was Hiroshima, where the 2nd Japanese Army stood poised to defend against an expected Allied invasion of their homeland. At 8:15 a.m., the “Enola Gay” destroyed Hiroshima with a single atomic bomb.

Back on Saipan, the OWI presses were turning out leaflets that revealed the special nature of Hiroshima’s destruction and predicted similar fates for more Japanese cities in the absence of immediate acceptance of the terms of the Potsdam agreement. By 9 August, more than 5 million leaflets about the atom bomb had been released over major Japanese cities. The OWI radio station beamed a similar message to Japan every 15 minutes.

Indecision in Tokyo

… The Supreme Council for the Direction of the War, composed of four military and two civilian members, was deadlocked, unable to present the Cabinet and the Emperor with its customary unanimous decision. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Umezo Yoshijir, Navy Chief of Staff Adm. Toyoda Soemu, and War Minister Gen. Anami Korechika maintained that any surrender agreement had to guarantee the Emperor’s continued power as sovereign ruler, prevent occupation of major cities such as Tokyo, and place responsibility for disarmament and dealing with war criminals in Japan’s own hands. The trio opposing them (Premier Suzuki Kantar, Foreign Minister Tg Shigenori, and Navy Minister Adm. Yonai Mitsumasa) viewed the Potsdam agreement as an ultimatum. In their view, the only negotiable ambiguity was the official position of the Emperor—the Potsdam agreement had applied the term “unconditional surrender” exclusively to the enemy’s armed forces….

The spreading awareness of the destructive power released at Hiroshima and Nagasaki increased the urgent atmosphere at these meetings in Tokyo. Nonetheless, it took an unprecedented action by the Emperor, and the extraordinary effort of OWI to publicize his action, to break the Japanese military-civilian deadlock.

Half an hour after the 9 August Cabinet meeting ended, Premier Suzuki Kantaro and Foreign Minister Tg Shigenori called members of the Cabinet and the Supreme Council, and Baron Kiichiro Hiranuma, President of Japan’s Privy Council, into an Imperial Conference. For several hours in a hot, airless bomb shelter, the Emperor listened to the opposing arguments. His political role usually consisted of passively endorsing Cabinet decisions. But at 2:00 a.m. on the morning of 10 August, in a deeply moving speech, Japan’s Emperor Hirohito called upon the power of his moral and spiritual leadership and directed that Japan should accept the terms of the Potsdam agreement.

There are indications that the Emperor had long wished for an end to the war for practical and emotional reasons. Ascending to the throne in 1926 at the age of 25, Hirohito was an intelligent man, a distinguished marine biologist, and a rather quiet, shy individual. He remained in Tokyo throughout the war, witnessing personally the destruction that he knew to be indicative of what was happening to the rest of his country. According to various historians, he found the arguments of the militarists to be self-seeking and born of false pride. No doubt pressure from the civilian members of his Cabinet and other government officials strengthened his resolve to end the devastation.

So it was that on 10 August, at 3:00 a.m., the Cabinet and the Supreme Council complied and voted in reluctant unanimity to accept the Potsdam offer, but with the stipulation that the Emperor remain the sovereign ruler of the country. By 7:00 a.m., the Foreign Minister had dispatched an announcement of the decision to the United States and China through Japan’s Minister Shunichi Kase in Switzerland, and to Great Britain and the USSR through Minister Suemasa Okamoto in Sweden. Japanese officials tensely awaited the Allies’ response.

Turmoil in Washington

Washington hotly debated Japan’s request for modification of the Potsdam accord. Historian Robert Butow details the opposing arguments: one side was convinced that acceding to Japan’s proviso would inspire prolonged fighting; the other side held that assuring the Emperor’s continued status as head of state would strengthen post-war reformation.15

In the end, Secretary of State Byrnes prevailed and prepared the Allied nations’ reply, stipulating that the Emperor could remain as a sovereign ruler, but that “from the moment of surrender, the authority of the Emperor and the Japanese Government to rule the state shall be subject to the Supreme Commander of the Allied powers.” With the concurrence of the United Kingdom, China, Australia and, ultimately, the USSR, the reply was forwarded to Japan through Switzerland.16

Getting the Word Out

OWI now played its most dramatic role.

Technically, Japan had not yet surrendered. The war was not yet over. President Truman had ordered the continuation of Allied bombing runs over Japanese military installations. The people of Japan knew nothing of their government’s plan to surrender. Radio Tokyo still exhorted all Japanese to prepare defenses against an enemy invasion.

In a race to save the lives of soldiers still fighting, the Allies’ acceptance of Japan’s modification of the Potsdam surrender terms was radioed to OWI in Honolulu and Saipan at the same time that it was forwarded to Switzerland. The US War Department sent an urgent dispatch ordering OWI to inform the Japanese people directly, by leaflet and radio, that their government had offered to surrender and that the Allies had accepted the offer. The order, which originated from the White House, threw OWI personnel into high gear. The text for the message was prepared in Washington and dictated by telephone to Honolulu, where it was transcribed, translated into Japanese, lettered, and transmitted to Saipan by “radiophoto” within two hours.

The 17 members of the OWI staff on Saipan were challenged to a previously unmatched degree. By mid-night on 11 August, less than 48 hours after Japan’s message was received in Washington, three-quarters of a million leaflets giving notification of the surrender offer had been printed on OWI’s three Webendorfer highspeed presses running continually. By the next afternoon, production of OWI leaflet #2117 totaled well over 5 million copies….

On 12 August, aircraft runs departed Saipan at 1:30, 4:30, 7:30 and 11:30 p.m., delivering to the people of Japan the news of their government’s surrender offer. The 4” x 5” leaflets rained down by the millions, telling the Japanese people:

These American planes are not dropping bombs on you today. American planes are dropping these leaflets instead because the Japanese Government has offered to surrender, and every Japanese has a right to know the terms of that offer and the reply made to it by the United States Government on behalf of itself, the British, the Chinese, and the Russians. Your government now has a chance to end the war immediately. You will see how the war can be ended by reading the two following official statements.

Two paragraphs then gave the Japanese surrender offer verbatim and the Byrnes response indicating the Allies’ willingness to accept that offer. OWI repeated the same message continuously over station KSAI.

The significance of this information barrage cannot be overstated. For the first time the Japanese people became aware that their government was trying to surrender. And it was the first that Japanese officials knew of the Allies’ acceptance of their surrender offer, because the OWI notification preceded, by about 72 hours, the receipt of the official diplomatic reply sent through Switzerland.

The Emperor’s Next Steps

Copies of the leaflet that fell on the palace grounds were immediately taken to the Emperor by Marquis Kichi Kido, Lord Keeper of the Privy Seal. The Emperor realized that Japanese civilians now knew of the surrender attempt and, more significantly, so did ordinary Japanese soldiers, sailors, and airmen.

Fearing a military coup to ensure continuation of the war, the Emperor decided to take additional action to bring the conflict to an end. On 13 August, when the Cabinet was called into immediate session, members Anami Korechika, Umezo Yoshijir, and Toyoda Soemu unexpectedly dissented anew, saying that an item in the original Potsdam proposal stipulating that postwar Japan would ultimately be governed by the will of the people was against Japanese tradition and therefore compliance was impossible. This reversal precipitated another Imperial Conference at which the Emperor stopped all argument by forcefully declaring that Japan would accept the Potsdam conditions as modified in the 11 August message from US Secretary of State Byrnes on behalf of the Allied nations.

In an action without precedent, the Emperor decided to issue an Imperial Rescript announcing the capitulation, to be delivered both to the Allies through diplomatic channels and to his subjects in his own voice via radio broadcast. The enormity of this decision must be understood in context: the Emperor was considered a deity—no one was allowed to look upon him from above, few citizens had seen him at all, and the Japanese people had never before heard his voice. Hirohito well understood the powerful effect his broadcast would have.

On 14 August, the Emperor made two recordings of the Rescript for broadcast the next day. Aware that such a powerful communication would doom efforts to continue the war, the military sent soldiers from a Tokyo garrison to attack the Imperial Palace at night, imprison the Emperor, and seize the recordings. They failed to turn up the recordings, however, which had been secured at the radio station. Later that night, War Minister Anami Korechika, having failed to promote his views and control his soldiers, committed suicide, the first of many such actions in the days that followed.

The Surrender Announcement

At noon on 15 August, a stunned population listened to Emperor Hirohito’s high, shaking, unfamiliar voice announcing the final surrender of the Japanese nation.

The world was jubilant. In New York, Times Square erupted in a sea of celebrating humanity. In Naples, a USO Andrews Sisters show was completely disrupted as the war-weary soldiers, about to embark from Europe for the Pacific, heard the announcement and realized that their trip would be cancelled. In a prison camp near Tokyo, an American, expecting yet another beating, was handed a paper cup of sake wine and his smiling captor informed him that the war was over.

On Saipan, OWI staff members had little time to savor the moment. They were already hard at work producing leaflets of instruction for the surrendering Japanese on the homeland islands and subsequently in Manchuria, China, New Guinea, and the Philippines.

Washington’s Gratitude

Secretary of State Byrnes lost no time in thanking the OWI staff in Honolulu and Saipan. A dispatch from Washington dated 17 August 1945, sent through OWI’s Bradford Smith in Honolulu, reads:

I have been requested by Secretary Byrnes to send appreciation to everyone concerned for the magnificent work done in lettering, translating, printing, sending, and distributing the important leaflet directly before the surrender of Japan. It is the belief of Secretary Byrnes as well as we in this office that the factor which helped to bring about the final surrender was this leaflet….

On 2 September, formal instruments of surrender were signed by Japanese officials on behalf of the Emperor and by Allied officials on behalf of the governments of the United States, the Republic of China, the United Kingdom, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, the Commonwealth of Australia, the Dominion of New Zealand, the Dominion of Canada, the Provisional Government of the French Republic, and the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

Although OWI continued to handle its national affairs through its headquarters in Washington until 12 March 1946, its overseas operations began to wind down after Japan’s surrender. On 7 September 1945, oversight of the forward area on Saipan was transferred to the United States Information Service; OWI’s Honolulu office closed on 31 October 1945. Chief of the Forward Area, Richard Hubert, returning to Washington, reflected the sentiment of many on his staff:

It is an honor and privilege to have served with the Office of War Information, which agency deserves more credit than public opinion may ever realize. Operating abroad in secrecy, it is undoubtedly so that the Axis know more about the OWI operations than our own citizens.

These words rang true for years, but finally the story of OWI’s important role in the final days of the war in the Pacific can be told.

— end of Williams article —

—end of initial entry—

Charles G. writes:

But we didn’t drop leaflets on the other Japanese civilian areas which were fire bombed prior to August of 1945. Fire bombs are designed to start horrific conflagrations in densely developed areas. Obviously, the murder of civilians as a policy, which was clearly and publicly stated by our government right after Pearl Harbor, is not sitting too well among Americans today or else it would not continually be a topic of conversation 60 years after the fact. However, I have no doubt that Lawrence will quickly morph this conversation to the more friendly ground of the War Between the States in order to rally the fanatic support of advocates of “total” war. (That was a neat trick last time, Lawrence…placing Americans in the South in the same moral equivalency arena as German and Japanese civilians in WW2 who “deserved” it.)

LA replies:

Charles continues with his tendentious, unreasoning, and emotion-based approach to this subject, which we already have dealt with at length in a previous thread. His anti-American bias on this subject is evident from the fact that he doesn’t even pause for one milisecond to acknowledge the significance of the paradigm-changing news about the leaflets (which, though it is readily available on the Web, is not generally known). Nope, he just looks for something else to condemn America for. In the earlier thread he kept asserting that there was a publicly stated policy by our government right after Pearl Harbor to mass kill Japanese civilians, something no one in that discussion had heard about and that seemed wildly unlikely, and Charles himself had no evidence for it. Yet now he returns to it, as though it were simply a fact. Also, his reference to my discussion of Sherman is completely inapt, not to mention his attack on my good faith.

Tom S, writes:

Wow, GREAT job in uncovering all of that information. As you pointed out, people should know this. It is also interesting to note that those B-29 crewmen risked their lives dropping those leaflets over Japan. So not only did Americans not try to kill as many Japanese civilians as possible, our aircrews actually risked their lives to save Japanese civilians. So much for ” deliberately killing civilians”.

Well done. You have helped to wipe a stain from the honor of good, brave men.

Chris L. writes:

By that point in the war, the Japanese were husbanding their air resources for the expected invasion of the Japanese mainland. With quality planes, pilots, and fuel in short supply, the Japanese had ceded the air to the USAAF. Stopping the air attacks would not bring the stalemate the Japanese hoped for, but stopping the invasion would. Thus, by that point, the Japanese were waiting for their last chance to get a negotiated settlement.

With regards to the notification, I had never heard that and it does shed new light on the situation. It really destroys one of the arguments against the use of the bombs. Why has this never been known before? Some of the information apparently appeared in military newspapers.

Charles G. writes:

Please don’t make me out to be “unreasoned and emotion based” when the facts are clearly on my side. It’s you who are being tendentious and emotion based by continuing to try to justify the concept of total war. There are many sources for the information that I have imparted. You can immediately see much of this information in “A History of Western Civilization” by Roland N. Stromberg, page 705, published by Dorsey Press, 1963. Professor Stromberg taught at the University of Maryland. Naturally, you will presume he was anti-American, too.

For your information I fly an American flag outside my home. Do you?

LA replies:
I didn’t say Charles is anti-American per se. I said he is anti-American on this subject, meaning that he has an unreasoning bias against America relating to the use of violence against enemy civilians in World War II. His total lack of any response to the stunning news about the leaflets proves it.

Tom S. writes:

So now the U.S. was required to give warning of EVERY military action that might endanger the civil populace of an enemy country? Has any country ever done this? Obviously,if our goal had been to kill as many civilians as possible, which is what is being contended, NO warnings would have been given at all. LeMay did not issue a warning for the first incendiary raid on Tokyo, because he did not know if it would work, and because Japanese defenses were so strong. A military commander is not required to notify an armed enemy of when and where he is attacking, for obvious reasons. The Japanese government knew that Tokyo was a target, fire was always a danger, and the safety of the civilian population is generally considered to be the primary responsibility of the government that rules over them. If the Japanese government kept the civil populace in Tokyo by and fraud and force, and dispersed military industry into residential areas, then they bear responsibility for the civilian deaths, not LeMay.

And incidentally, LeMay did issue warnings prior to the fire bombings of Japanese cities. Here’s a quote from Lt. General James Edmundson, who flew on some of the raids, when asked about them:

“I had no compunction about participating in the fire bombing raids … we announced ahead of time … when the fire bombing was coming in. Not for the first ones, but farther down in the program. It would be broadcast to Japan, for instance, that “tonight we are going to bomb five of these ten cities,” and [General LeMay} would name ten cities, to give people a chance to get out of them … “

Obviously, had the goal been to kill as many civilians as possible, we would not have done that.

Now, this does not mean that strategic bombing cannot be criticized. One can say that the vast amount of resources and men put into the program would have been better spent on other weapons and tactics, such as more and better submarines or tanks or tactical airpower, an argument made by Geoffery Perret in his book “Winged Victory.” One can argue that the number of civilians killed as collateral damage was not proportional to the damage to industry inflicted (an opinion that one has a perfect right to hold). But NO ONE can say that the United States sought to kill as many civilians as possible, or that civilians were deliberately targeted. The evidence is in. The only question is whether people are willing to look at it or not. I have a feeling that some people are so committed to the “U.S. terror bombing” meme that no evidence will make any difference. But the facts speak for themselves.

LA replies:

So our side did send warnings prior the conventional bombing of Japanese cities in the period leading up to the Hiroshima attack.

It should also be noted that the vast fire storm that consumed Tokyo and killed up to 100,000 people as a result of the March 1945 raid was not expected by the Americans. So it is significant that, after that human catastrophe of unanticipated scale had occurred, the Americans began broadcasting warnings prior to each subsequent attack.

And one other point on Charles. Let us recall that in the previous discussion (linked above), Charles insisted that the U.S. should not have bombed Japan at all, but blockaded it, hoping that the Japanese would just surrender. As I pointed out, if Charles’s policy had been followed, the war would never have ended.

Alan Levine writes:

I was mildly surprised to hear that no one except Tom S. seemed to have heard of the fact that leaflets were dropped on Japanese cities before they were firebombed. This was mentioned in the AAF official history, Volume 5, published in 1953; and before that, in Vern Haugland’s “The AAF Against Japan” published by Harper in 1948. I happen to own a copy of the latter and ran over to look it up—he dates the first leaflets to late July. I seem to recall that most books on the B-29 campaign mention it somewhere or other. The Williams article seemed design to play up the role of psychological warfare in the surrender of Japan. It really had little role.

Charles G.s insistence that we had a policy of killing as many Japanese civilians as possible from right after Pearl Harbor remains a mystery to me. The first raids on Japan, up to 1945, were all conducted with HE bombs and aimed at factories, usually aircraft plants. It was only when it was realized that unescorted bombers flying in the jet stream could not hit the “precision” targets by day that firebombing was resorted to.

LA replies:

Tom did not hear of it until yesterday when he found it online and sent it to me. I’ve never heard of it. Nobody has ever mentioned it in the long and contentions discussions we’ve had here. Mr. Levine has never mentioned it. Does he think that the Army Air Force official history vol. 5 published in 1953 is widely known? No one was implying that the information has been covered up, but obviously it’s not widely known. The various tv programs and mainstream articles on the subject in recent decades have not brought this information to the fore—as Tom points out, for obvious reasons, since it significantly lessens the fashionable indictment against America.

Mr. Levine replies:

You are right—I never mentioned it, though I knew the fact very well, but just didn’t think of it till your thread jogged my memory! Although I have written two articles and a book treating the subject of the A-bomb, it is difficult to keep every relevant fact in the forefront of one’s mind all the time. The general “when did you stop beating your wife” tone of most criticism of the A-bomb—Charles G., I am sorry to say is a mild case—is not always conducive to clear thinking, even on the part of the targets.

Tom S. writes:

One thing that I believe causes confusion is that the U.S. bombing of Japan DID aim at destroying what was referred to as the “civic and economic infrastructure” of Japan, that is, transportation, electricity, power plants, bridges, etc., along with industry. Given the inaccurate bombing technology of the time, this necessarily meant destroying large portions of any given city, and of course, if they were not allowed to evacuate, or shelters were inadequate, many civilians died. But the deaths of civilians was not the goal, as LeMay’s warnings prove. As noted, I want to be fair here; one can argue that the bombings were inefficient or disproportional, or that civic infrastructure should not be attacked, but not that they were intended to massacre civilians.

Tom S. continues:

Personally, I think that it is interesting that the two sources cited by Mr. Levine that gave details of our warnings to Japan are from 1953 and 1948—that is to say, prior to the great rewriting of history that occurred in the period 1965-1975. Do most modern histories of WWII explain to the reader that the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were warned, and that the Japanese Government did their best to cover these warnings up? I’d bet not…

It’s discussions like this that make VFR the best conservative site on the web today. Thanks for all that you do.

LA replies:

Thank you.

Another question is: Why did the Japanese, at least as far as we know, not heed these warnings?

Bill from Maryland writes:

Using the Amazon “Search Inside” feature on books about the Pacific war, I came across this report on the effects of leafleting from one Akabane Yutaka, executive officer at Air Raid Precautions headquarters in Tokyo:

“It was the raids on the medium and smaller cities which had the worst effects and really brought home to the people the experience of bombing and a demoralization of faith in the outcome of the war… It was bad enough in so large a city as Tokyo, but much worse in the smaller cities, where most of the city would be wiped out. Through May and June [1945] the spirit of the people was crushed. [When B-29s dropped warning pamphlets,] the morale of the people sank terrifically, reaching a low point in July, at which time there was no longer hope of victory or draw but merely desire for ending the war.” [Pacific Campaign: The U.S.-Japanese Naval War 1941-1945 by Dan Van der Vat, page 373.]

Apparently the Japanese were deeply disheartened by the warnings, but not moved to evacuate the targeted cities. It would be interesting to hear what surviving Japanese have to say about the leaflets and how the public reacted to them.

If I remember correctly, the Enola Gay is now an exhibit in the Smithsonian Museum. I wonder (but not much) whether they have one of LeMay’s pamphlets on display.

In a couple of other books found in Amazon that have “Search Inside” (“The Pacific War”, John Costello, “Eagle Against the Sun: The American War With Japan”, Ronald Spector), the warnings are mentioned but not emphasized. At most they get a couple of sentences.

I too have followed the A-bomb debate whenever it cropped up, but have never once heard the warnings mentioned. Many thanks to Mr. Auster for bringing this issue to light.

LA replies:

“In a couple of other books … the warnings are mentioned but not emphasized. At most they get a couple of sentences.”

There you have it. That’s the way it’s done. The truth is not covered up. It’s simply presented in brief, affectless fashion. It makes no impact on the mind. It doesn’t become a part of the general consciousness of this issue. People have written to me pooh-poohing the leaflet, saying this is well known. But it’s not well known. Like Poe’s purloined letter, it’s hidden in plain sight. Just the fact that Tom S., who has followed the issue for years, his father being a Pacific War veteran who also has an interest in the A-bomb controversy, knew nothing about these leaflets, tells us that this is not common knowledge.

I’m not saying the leaflets alter the whole issue and the rights and wrongs of the A-bomb, but they cast a new light on it that would make it impossible for the dominant view as we’ve known it to be sustained.

As for why the Japanese (as far as we know) did not flee; well they were not a free country, they were under a military rule. If I’m not mistaken, I think read somewhere in the last day that people could get in trouble for picking up and reading the leaflets.

Alan Levine writes:

Contrary to your last comment, many Japanese did flee, in fact, had fled, from the cities all along—as many as ten million or so either were evacuated officially or evacuated themselves, It was diffcult for even the War Cabinet government to control movements from city to countryside because many city dwellers travelled on off days to the country to barter their possessions for food.

By the way, I dug out the two books on the B-29 campaign I own, by Carl Berger and Kenneth Werrell. Both mention the leaflets, the latter at some length.

Of possible interest is the point that the Americans also dropped leaflets on North Korean cities to warn people against attacks on industrial plants with high explosive bombs in 1950, also against the “airpressure attacks” on North Korean towns in 1952.

Bill writes:

This website shows two other types of leaflet, described as follows:

“Truman’s aerial leaflet reassuring the Japanese people that they will not be harmed if their country surrenders,” and

“Aerial leaflet dropped on Japanese cities showing the Hiroshima atomic blast and warning that they will continue if Japan does not surrender.”

So the Japanese were warned before and after the Hiroshima bombing.

What is most surprising is that historians who support the bombing never raise the issue of these leaflets or the corresponding radio messages in public debates. To my mind the leaflets substantially weaken the position of the detractors, though not fatally, since they can be dismissed as empty gestures, designed to ease the consciences of the pilots. For example, in the book I cited earlier, “Pacific Campaign: The U.S.-Japanese Naval War 1941-1945” by Dan Van der Vat, he says “The B-29’s were not seriously opposed and could do as they wished; the fliers salved their consciences by first dropping leaflets recommending evacuation.”

LA replies:

That last sentence is very misleading, from what we know from Josette William’s article. Van der Vat makes it sound as though it was the pilots who made the decision to drop leaflets over Japan, for their own personal purposes. But of course the leaflets were produced by the Office of War Information, which was itself operating directly under the top U.S. military leadership. The planes dropping leaflets were just doing their assigned missions.

From Van der Vat’s cheap shot about salving consciences, I would regard him as an unreliable historian.

Tom S. writes:

Mr. Levine’s remarks on the Korean War leaflets are interesting. It just reaffirms my position that, while the United States has certainly done some reprehensible things in wartime, as have all other countries, its record is probably better than that of any other country in history. What other country would risk its own men and planes to save the lives of enemy civilians? I can’t think of any.

Also, as far as I’m concerned, while this certainly doesn’t settle the issue, I believe that it adds more weight to the case that dropping the bombs was morally justified. It certainly demolishes the argument that we were trying to kill as many civilians as possible with the A-bombs. After seeing what happened in Tokyo, Yokahama, Nigata, and other Japanese cities that were firebombed, I would tend to say that any Japanese civilian who chose to stay in a city that contained war industries, and was on LeMay’s warning list, had to know that he was taking a terrible risk. Of course, some may have been forced to stay by the Japanese government, or felt that they had no alternative, but the risks were known, and they had been warned. I’m really not sure what the USAAF was supposed to do, short of not attacking Japanese cities at all. [LA: Well, that position has been expressed in our previous discussion on this.]

Mind you, I’m not saying that the Tokyo fire raid, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki cannot be condemned by right-thinking people. But they certainly can be defended by right-thinking people as well, and they are not the examples of moral corruption on the part of our fighting men that they have been held up to be for the past 40 years. The deaths of Japanese civilians in Hiroshima and Nagasaki were a deep tragedy, possibly a tragedy that could have and should have been avoided. But they were not murder.

LA replies:

On what is perhaps a side point, I think it’s incorrect to say that this is about demolishing “the argument that we were trying to kill as many civilians as possible with the A-bombs.”

That’s not what this is about. I have not seen people making the charge that we were trying to “kill as many civilians as possible.” Maybe some have said it, but that is not the main way this issue is presented. Rather the left accuses America of mass killing civilians unnecessarily. Also it’s a weak case to try to prove that we were not trying to kill as many civilians as possible, because even if that were proved, it would still leave open the charge that we were willing to kill lots and lots of civilians without justification.

So it seems to me the issue is not: Were we trying to kill as many civilians as possible, or not? The issue is: Were our bombings of civilians targets justified/necessary/unavoidable, or not?

James P. writes:

Another work on the B-29 campaign that mentions the leafleting is Bartlett Kerr’s Flames Over Tokyo (1991). Kerr actually devotes several pages to it. He observes that in July 1945, in addition to dropping leaflets, the Americans broadcast the names of the cities to be struck while the B-29s were en route to the target This not only gave the civilians an additional chance to evacuate, the information was more specific than the leaflets. For example, the leaflets warned eleven cities the day before an attack, then the planes bombed six out of the eleven. The radio broadcasts, sent when the planes were already en route, were exactly specific: “We’re going to hit these six cities tonight.” Interestingly, Kerr notes that the Japanese had enough warning time in at least one case to send additional firefighting equipment to one of the threatened cities—but the firefighters couldn’t put out the blaze once the incendiary raid began.

Richard Frank’s Downfall (1999) discusses the leaflet drops in much the same terms as Kerr. He notes, in contrast to Van Der Vat, that the idea for leaflet drops came from the top (Spaatz / LeMay / Nimitz) and the ideas was not to “salve their consciences” but to demoralize the Japanese, to convince them that the war was lost, and to reduce industrial productivity by scaring the workers away from the cities.

Frank examines the options open to the Americans in August 1945, and makes the point—often lost on the Left—that prolonged blockade of Japan, often presented as an alternative to the atomic bombings, would have killed MANY more Japanese civilians than did the atomic bombings. Japan was on the brink of mass famine when it surrendered, because the food distribution system had been destroyed. Frank also makes another point that the Left ignores: Soviet intervention in Manchuria in August 1945 killed MORE Japanese noncombatants than did Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined. (That excludes, of course, the 40,000 Japanese POWs who died in Soviet captivity after the war—these men were technically non-combatants also.)

LA replies:

In two weeks in August ‘45 the Russians killed more than 100,000 Japanese civilians? How did they do that?

In any case, Kerr’s and Frank’s relatively recent books dealing at length with the leafleting raises the mystery why many of us did not know about this? Yes, some people did not about it, but an awful lot of people don’t. It’s simply not part of the general consciousness of this issue, unless I’m mistaking my own ignorance for the general consciousness.

LA writes:

Here are the only references to leaflets in the Wikipedia article on “Atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki”:

After the Hiroshima bombing, President Truman announced, “If they do not not accept our terms, they may expect a rain of ruin from the air the likes of which has never been seen on this earth.” On August 8, 1945, leaflets were dropped and warnings were given to Japan by Radio Saipan. (The area of Nagasaki did not receive warning leaflets until August 10, though the leaflet campaign covering the whole country was over a month into its operations.)[35][36]

The only reference to the leaflets that were delivered before the Hiroshima attack, is made after the bombing of Hiroshima is told about in the article, and only in the most vague, general way. The reference to the leafleting of Nagasaki is contradictory and even states, without explanation, that the U.S. dropped warning leaflets on Nagasaki a day after the Nagasaki bombing, which makes the Americans sound both foolish and monstrous.

I think we can take the Wiki treatment of the leaflets issue as emblematic of the way any liberal organ would deal with this issue. The leaflets are mentioned (thus protecting the authors from the suggestion that they are covering up the existence of the leaflets), but mentioned in such a way that either no impression is made, or a negative impression (i.e., the leaflets were not delivered to Nagasaki until after Nagasaki was bombed).

Chris L. writes:

I looked at the Wikipedia article and looked at the discussions over it. It appears that the OWI campaign was recently removed. The general logic of the person removing it was “I delete the U.S. forewarnings of bombings Section. OWI notice #2106 has nothing to do with the atomic bombings. The notice is an ordinary air raid warning. Neither the name Hiroshima nor Nagasaki are printed on the notice.”

LA replies:

Fascinating. The Wikipedia editor says that OWI notice #2106 (the leaflet dropped on 35 cities including Hiroshima on August 1, which is reproduced at the beginning of this thread) is an “ordinary air raid warning.” Can this be true? Let us consider.

OWI notice #2601 states:

“In the next few days, some or all of the cities named on the reverse side will be destroyed by American bombs…. But, unfortunately, bombs have no eyes. So, in accordance with America’s humanitarian policies, the American Air Force, which does not wish to injure innocent people, now gives you warning to evacuate the cities named and save your lives….We cannot promise that only these cities will be among those attacked but some or all of them will be, so heed this warning and evacuate these cities immediately.”

Now, from the moment I read OWI notice #2106, a few days ago, I found its language utterly clear and convincing: We are going to destroy several of these cities, very possibly your city. We have no desire to kill Japanese civilians. If you stay where you are, you will die. Leave your city now, and you will live.

Now is this editor at Wikipedia suggesting that the remarkable language of notice #2106 was typical of all the notices that had been dropped in the preceding months on Japanese cities prior to bombing raids, and therefore was insufficient warning?

I see three possibilities:

1. The previous bombing raids did not destroy entire cities, and therefore it’s unlikely that the text of notice #2106 was the same as previous notices. Which means that the Wikipedia editor is not telling the truth when he says that it is an “ordinary air raid warning.” It was an exceptional warning, but he did not want to admit this because it would weaken the left’s case against America.

2. The previous bombing raids did indeed routinely destroy entire cities with their populations. However, if this was the case, it would mean that notice #2106, which the editor dismisses as an “ordinary air raid warning,” was in fact a warning of mass death, a warning made credible by the previous incidents of mass death in other Japanese cities. And therefore its message, “Evacuate and save your life,” could not have been clearer and was a sufficient warning to the people of Hiroshima to evacuate. And this also would weaken the left’s case against America.

3. The previous notices warned of mass death, and mass death did not occur, so that the Japanese learned to ignore the notices, and therefore an ordinary air raid warning was not sufficient to spur the people of Hiroshima to evacuate.

I do not know the details of the bombing of Japanese cities between the bombing of Tokyo in March and the atom bomb attack on Hiroshima in August. I’m simply looking at the logical possibilities, and it seems to me that both number one and number two above are readily possible, while number three is unlikely.

Another point. The Wiki editor also says, by way of justifying his deletion of the section on the leaflets, that “Neither the name Hiroshima nor Nagasaki are printed on the notice.” But notice #2601 itself says that “In the next few days, some or all of the cities named on the reverse side will be destroyed by American bombs.” Obviously, since the notices were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, those two cities were among the cities listed on the leaflet. So the Wiki editor is obviously mistaken when he says that “Neither the name Hiroshima nor Nagasaki are printed on the notice.”

Unless (a further possibility) we are to believe that the U.S. Army Air Force dropped leaflets on Hiroshima telling people to flee for their lives and listing a bunch of cities but not listing HIroshima. In fact, it is logically possible that Hiroshima was not listed, since the notice says: “We cannot promise that only these cities [i.e., “the cities named on the reverse side”] will be among those attacked but some or all of them will be, so heed this warning and evacuate these cities immediately.” Let’s say for the sake of argument that Hiroshima was not among the the cities named on the leaflet. It would nevertheless remain the case that the Americans dropped leaflets on Hiroshima saying that a bunch of cities, including some of those listed on this notice, but including others as well, very possibly YOUR city, are going to be destroyed in the next few days, and if you do not want to die you must evacuate now. That would constitute clear warning to the people of Hiroshima that they had to leave. So it seems to me that the Wiki editor was not justified in deleting the section on the leaflets and is clearly biased.

LA continues:

“We cannot promise that only these cities [i.e., “the cities named on the reverse side”] will be among those attacked but some or all of them will be, so heed this warning and evacuate these cities immediately.”

It says to evacuate “these cities,” i.e., the named cities. Why would the evacuation warning be dropped on Hiroshima if Hiroshima was not among the named cities to be evacuated? It would make no sense. So, again, while I don’t know it for a fact, it seems extremely unlikely that Hiroshima and Nagasaki were not listed on the leaflet.

Tom S. writes:

Note that only 12 Japanese cities are listed on the FRONT of the leaflet, and the reverse side was not printed. But the leaflet says the “35 cities listed on the reverse side”. Does the editor of wikipedia have a copy of the reverse side? If Hiroshima is not listed on the front, then it is probably on the back. It looks to me like the Wiki editor saw the front of the leaflet, did not seen the characters for “Hiroshima” or “Nagasaki” and decided that they were not listed. The person who wrote the OWI article was a Japanese linguist, who actually had the leaflet in his hands. I know who I would believe…

As for the notice being “An ordinary air raid warning” first of all, this indicates that warnings WERE “ordinary”, that is to say common practice, and incidentally, the leaflet simply says that the cities listed will be destroyed by bombs—what type of bomb is not specified.

Unless a Japanese linguist that we can trust reads the back side of that leaflet, and tells us that Hiroshima and Nagasaki are not listed, I’d trust the guy at OWI.

Besides, Hiroshima contained a major Japanese Army HQ, and Nagasaki is the biggest port in Kyushu. How could anyone NOT know that they were targets?

LA replies:

Josette Williams, the author of the article, does not specifically say that the name of Hiroshima is on the leaflet. What she says is this:

By noon on 28 July, OWI’s presses on Saipan were rolling with notices warning civilians to evacuate 35 Japanese cities scheduled to be bombed within the next few days. About 1 million leaflets fell on the targeted cities [which elsewhere she numbers at 35] whose names appeared in Japanese writing under a picture of five airborne B-29s releasing bombs.

On the photo, there are 12 circles underneath the bombers with Japanese writing inside each circle. If there is one name in each circle, that’s 12 names. But all the circles seem to have two “words” in them, one above the other. If each word is the name of a city, that’s 24 cities. In any case, I see no way that 35 cities are listed in this photo. So it would appear that Williams is mistaken when she says that the names of the targeted cities—implying all 35 cities on which leaflets were dropped on August 1—appeared in the photo on the leaflet.

James S. writes:

Lawrence, I’m sure each circle contains the name of only one city. Most Japanese cities are two or three characters. For instance, the top right circle is Mi-to. And then the fourth and fifth from the left are Fuku-yama and To-yama. Bottom right corner is Kori-yama. Pretty sure.

Before I posted James’s comment, I received the following from Chris L. which confirmed James’s point.

Chris L. writes:

As has been pointed out, there are only 12 cities listed on the leaflet image. Now the Wikipedia editor, who states he is Japanese and removed the item from Wikipedia, translated the cities and none of them are Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Looking for some confirmation, I stumbled across the following:

This leaflet [CL: OWI 2106] was prepared in two different formats. In one, the cities are depicted in circles at the bottom of the leaflet. The very first leaflet had twelve cities listed, but a last minute deletion of ‘Tokyo” left just eleven cities. After the correction, 886,000 leaflets with the appended text were printed. A second printing of 568,000 leaflets on 30 July 1945 had twelve target cities. B-29 bombers immediately dropped them. On 3 August, a third leaflet with another twelve cities was printed and 600,000 dropped.

This matches with the 35 cities, including Hiroshima and Nagasaki, being described as on the leaflet in the Williams article. Most likely, the August 3rd printing contained the Hiroshima and Nagasaki warning. With this information, I am more confident that a reasonably direct warning was given to the civilian population in both of those cities before the atomic bombs were dropped.

LA replies:

Chris has copied this text from an article by Sergeant Major Herbert Friedman, Retired, a detailed account of the psy-ops war against Japan in 1945, with particular emphasis on the various leaflets, of which there were many. Clearly Josettette Williams should have been more clear about the different printings of notice #2106. She makes it sound as though there was one printing, consisting of one million copies, which were all dropped on August 1. Are we now to understand that there were three different deliveries of three different printings of notice #2106 on three different days, going to 11 cities the first day, to 12 different cities the second day, and to 12 further cities the third day? Also, on none of those days were a million leaflets dropped. There is an official history of the Office of War Information and that’s where we’ll probably have to go to nail these facts down.

Before I received Chris’s information about the three different printings, someone else mentioned to me (I don’t think I’ve posted it) a book which speaks of a dropping of leaflets on August 4, but says nothing about a delivery on August 1. More confusion. But the Friedman article may resolve that confusion too. The August 4 delivery would probably be the third printing, which was printed on August 3. If that was the leaflet delivered to Hiroshima, then Hiroshima was given only a two day warning. However, it’s also possible that the Hiroshima warning was the one printed on July 30th and delivered to Hiroshima presumably on July 31 or August 1.

Friedman also discusses how the B-29 pilots strongly opposed the delivery of the leaflets, feeling that it would lead to increased air defenses around the target cities, but General Le May insisted that the warnings were worthwhile.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at August 18, 2007 11:54 PM | Send

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