The leafleting of Japan: How many of us knew about it?

As of Monday night, new information continues to be added to the thread on the one million leaflets the U.S. dropped on Hiroshima and 34 other Japanese cities several days prior to the bombing of Hiroshima telling the Japanese that the Americans were going to destroy several cities and that the Japanese must leave to save their lives. One issue that came up was whether there were really 35 cities listed on the leaflet, and whether Hiroshima was one of the cities named. Now it has turned out that there were actually three printings of the leaflet, each with a different list of cities, with the respective printings delivered on three different days to a total of 35 cities.

On the question of how widespread is the knowledge of people today about this subject, let’s have an informal poll. Send me an e-mail, with “leaflets” in the subject line, saying if you knew about the leafleting of Hiroshima before you read the present thread containing the text of the leaflet. I’ll start off the poll. I did not know.

UPDATED POLL RESULTS: As of Tuesday midnight, there have been 57 responses, with 39 saying No (68 percent) and 18 saying Yes (32 percent). Many of the Yes responses are interesting as they relate to how the person knew. Both Yes and No responses give us an idea of why these facts are not as commonly known as many other commonly known facts about World War II. Below is a sampling of Yes votes and No votes. Further down in the entry, I reflect on this strange phenomenon, in which such an important fact about World War II is both widely known and not known at all.

David B. writes:

I am something of a student of WWII history and I HAD read of the dropping of leaflets at some point, but can’t remember when.

James N. writes:

I knew about the leaflets (in general), and I’ve read about them in many sources over the years.

Robert C. writes:

Yes. But I’m a scientist concerned with test ban treaties, etc., and have read extensively about the history of the atom bomb. So I’m hardly typical even of the well-educated.

Gintas writes:

I knew, but it not at the front of my memory.

Peter H. writes:

A qualified “yes.” There is a reference to the broadcast radio warning in the 1977 song “Hiroshima” by Todd Rundgren. The wording, however, seems inaccurate. Since Rundgren is a left liberal, I assumed there must have been some type of warning or he would not have included this gracious act by the U.S. in his song.

Mrs. BP writes:

Yes, but only because I’m something of a data junkie. It was never presented as an argument about America’s moral values and conduct in war though, so I wouldn’t have thought of it that way if it came up in a discussion.

I was directed to your poll by Mr. Morris at .

Jason S. writes:

My vote in your poll would be “yes,” and it’s not because I’m some sort of meticulous scholar or historical genius, but rather because I heard about it from someone who was there: my grandfather was a Pacific War veteran in the 5th Air Force, 49th Fighter Group, 8th Fighter Squadron from 1943 to 1945 (a P-38 squadron under the command of General George Kenney).

Whenever the subject of the atomic bombings of Japan came up he would tick off the reasons why he wholeheartedly supported Truman’s decision (all of which I did and still do agree with), but he would always conclude by saying “besides, we gave them fair warning well in advance” or words to that effect. One time I asked him about what he meant by that, and he told me about the Air Force dropping “millions” of leaflets on Japanese cities before the atom bombs were dropped; indeed, he related that before the fact neither he nor any of the men in his unit had the slightest notion that such a thing as an atom bomb existed, and that he and his fellow airmen were confused and a bit upset that Curt LeMay was wasting time dropping paper on the Japs instead of bombs. That’s exactly how he said it (it made sense to him in retrospect, of course). As I recall, he said it was “about a week” leading up to the Hiroshima bombing that the leafleting was done, which fits nearly exactly with the article you linked on the CIA website.

Now, I had never seen any “official” documentation about the “LeMay bombing leaflet” as regards the atomic bombs until you posted the information on your site, but one time I got into an argument with some silly leftist about the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and mentioned to her the dropping of the leaflets. She demanded to know my “source” for this information, and I told her my source was impeccable: “some one who was there.”

I really appreciate your website, by the way. I have tired of the watered-down “compassionate” conservatism of the “responsible” right, and find your viewpoints quite refreshing.

RDC writes:

I knew. My father, a World War II vet (in the Canadian military), told me years ago. In fact, until I read this thread, I thought everyone knew.

Vincent Ciarello writes:

Count me on the “Yes” side; still remember where I learned about it: in a graduate course in U.S. Diplomatic History at Columbia University in 1964. The teacher that year was Robert H. Ferrell, on leave from University of Indiana, and later “Dean of the U.S. Diplomatic Historians.”

Ferrell also recounted that “Operation Olympus,” the code name for the invasion of the Japanese home islands, projected a that there would be staggering numbers of U.S. casualties, and would take several years to accomplish. Japanese military resistance, especially at Iwo Jima and Okinawa, where widespread use of the “kamikaze” was first seen, noticeably hardened as the Allies approached Japan. But the leaflets were used in large part to avoid what was certain to be a bloodbath—on both sides.

And here is a sampling of the “No” responses.

Tim W. writes:

I had not heard of the leaflets.

The leaflets appear to have fallen down the PC memory hole, along with the Shigenori Nishikaichi incident highlighted by Michelle Malkin a couple of years ago.

RG writes from Dearborn-istan:

I did not know about the leaflet dropping and I consider myself to be very well read on WW2 history—a lifelong hobby of mine. What also gets left out when teaching young people today is the decision was to bomb or invade Japan in the autumn of 1945, which would have easily caused huge casualties on both sides, given Japanese militaristic and bushido beliefs.

Scott H. writes:

I did not know of the leaflets. Neither did my Dad, who was a boy during WWII, nor did both of my sons.

Paul K. writes:

I don’t recall having heard about the leafleting of Japan. I may have read about it at some time but it is one of those things that is so rarely mentioned that it slips your mind.

I looked into the matter of the lack of Japanese air defenses at the time of the bombing, and found this interesting:

“The last few months of the war … General LeMay could put 800 B-29s over Japan in multiple missions any day or night that he chose to do so, with little opposition from the Japanese.

“Their defenses slacked off due to several factors, including, as was disclosed after the war, hiding over 9000 of their remaining fighter planes to use as kamikazes against our invasion forces.”

Amazingly, the last two months of the war our combat losses were less than the losses from B-29 accidents in the training command in the States!

Darryl B. writes:

Never heard of it. What with all the supposed security surounding the development of the bomb it would never occur to me that we might then warm them it was comming.

Tom S. writes:

No, I did not know. I had heard that leaflets were dropped over Japan, but I thought that they were just general warnings—“surrender or be destroyed” etc. I didn’t know that specific cities were listed, that they specifically recommended evacuation, or that they were dropped over the atomic target cities.

Randall J. writes:

No, I did not know either, and WWII history has been a passion of mine since I was twelve (more than 25 years now).

Irv P. writes:

No I did not know. I used to wonder back in my college days why we didn’t warn civilians. The lefty profs had a field day telling us how evil and militaristic the American “Empire” was. All part of our “guilt” which we still suffer from, and enters into our national conscience every time we have to make hard choices.

A reader writes:

I’ve published in a scholarly way on some aspects of the Hiroshima attack, and do not recall ever reading about the leaflets.

Emily B. writes:

I didn’t know about the leaflets; always understood it to have been a total surprise to the Japanese people. I remember an expert even saying that you could see what an ordinary day it was during the first bombing by the permanent shadows left on some walls outdoors where people were instantly vaporized, but their shadow was imprinted somehow.

I’m not interested in war issues at all, seeing them as the province of men, but I grew up with a much older dad who always took us to re-enactments and consumed war stories daily.

LA replies:

That’s a telling detail. Yes, they were (or have been portrayed as being) completely defenseless and unwarned, just going about their daily lives when instant death arrived. Yet five days earlier (and by another account, just two days earlier) tens of thousands of leaflets had been dropped on their city telling them in no uncertain terms to leave the city, or die.

And here’s a reply that seems to capture this odd phenomenon we’re dealing with, in which something is fairly widely known, yet its significance has not entered the public consciousness.

Daniel writes:

Should be an easy yes or no answer. I am almost certain that I heard about it, but the recollection is vague. I can say that I never read about it in any of the several books that I have read about the war. I probably read about it in an article in print or on the web some time long ago. If I did hear about it, I was not informed of any of the detail, just something along the lines of: “we dropped leaflets beforehand warning of a bombing….”. That sort of thing.

So I guess my confirmation is canceled out by the indistinctness of the recollection.

LA replies

Right—I would have to call this a No. You had some notion, but it had no specific content.

In a way, your experience sums up the whole issue. The fact about the leafleting has been out there, it exists, it’s in books, it’s not covered up, and a fair number of people know about it. And yet it is invisible in the public consciousness and has played no role in the public debate. Because it just existed there by itself, without being connected with anything else, it has had no operative meaning.

This shows how total suppression of truth is not necessary in a liberal regime. Knowledge that goes against the liberal orthodoxy is allowed to be published, but it is not presented in its complete content and meaning, and so it’s as if the knowledge doesn’t exist, even though it does exist. The same is true of any non-liberal truth in liberal society, such as the truth about the effect of immigration on America, or the truth about the nature and doctrines of Islam, or the truth about sex differences. The non-liberal truth is not completely suppressed, it’s just never expressed fully and in the public square in a manner that would make it a part of the collective consciousness.

LA continues:

I just want to add this clarification. The leafleting does not affect the question of the strategic necessity of the bomb. But it does affect how we feel about the morality of using the bomb. I have periodically re-thought and read about this issue over the years, and have always returned to the position that the bomb was necessary, and not only that, but—though it put the survivors of those two cities into a hell on earth—a blessing, in that it brought that terrible war to an instant end, and in one blow pacified the Japanese people who otherwise would have fought until every Japanese man, woman, and child was dead along with untold American casualties. So I justified the bombing of Hiroshima, even without knowing that the Japanese had been warned to leave the city. But knowing now that we took serious steps to tell them in the plainest terms that they must leave their city or die, knowing that we did not simply strike them with this hellish weapon out of the blue, removes a certain element of darkness from this act.

If the American people and people of other countries were informed about the leafleting, I think it would significantly alter in America’s favor the way the Hiroshima issue is perceived.

* * *

David G. writes:

Yes, I knew. Victor Davis Hanson wrote a great essay on Curtis LeMay called, The Right Man, in a book entitled No End Save Victory and in it he writes:

“Surely, dropping the two atomic bombs was, in fact, the right decision…a campaign he himself had warned the recalcitrant Japanese about through preliminary leaflet droppings.”

LA replies:

Do you see how vague Hanson’s statement is, compared to the actual text of the leaflets and the facts about the leafleting, which we have brought forward here?

Which is precisely my point. A fair number of people knew and know something about leaflets being dropped, but they didn’t know—or, if they did know, didn’t bother telling others—the actual facts about the leaflets being dropped and what the leaflets actually said: EVACUATE YOUR CITY, OR DIE. And that, I now realize, is why, even though a fair number of people have known about the leafleting, the true facts and the true meaning of the leafleting have not played a part in the public debate or had any effect on public attitudes about Hiroshima. It’s because people either didn’t know the crucial facts or didn’t press the crucial facts home. The people who knew about it didn’t understand (1) that most people didn’t know about it; (2) that even many people who knew about it did not grasp its real significance; (3) that this information would have a material effect on the way people perceived the Hiroshima attack; and (4) that therefore it was crucial that this information be communicated in the clearest way.

David G. replies:

Yes, I do see that. The text of the leaflets is incredible. I had no awareness of what the leaflets actually said prior to your postings—by comparison, Hanson’s reference to leaflets looks pretty anemic.

LA replies:

Exactly my point. You are counted as a Yes vote, because you knew about it. But you didn’t really know about it. Why didn’t you really know about it? Because Hanson himself either (1) didn’t really know about it, and so he couldn’t tell you about it; or (2) Hanson really knew about it, but didn’t see the importance of that knowledge and the importance of conveying it to his readers. People glance off the truth. They don’t wrestle it to the ground.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at August 19, 2007 11:39 PM | Send

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