Sorry, But I’m Not Sorry

As I read the Sunday New York Times special section on the 75th anniversary of the end of WWII, I felt that the newspaper was trying to make me feel sorry for the March 10, 1945 firebombing of Tokyo by our B-29 bombers from the Marianas Islands.

One of the sub-headlines said how sorry some of the crewmen felt that about killing people who had nothing to do with the war.

But those people did. They had allowed themselves to be ruled by leaders who wanted war with America. It’s true that we had crimped Japan’s style by limiting its naval buildup and imported fuels. But that was all negotiable. The U.S. and China have a tariff fight now but neither considers nuking the other. The Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor without even bothering to declare war. They deserved what they got back.

This is frequently disputed, but there’s evidence to support the contention that unless we had really dumped munitions on Japan proper, its troops in faraway islands and the population on the homeland would have kept fighting us for at least another two years. They had not been in a surrender mode.

I don’t relish killing women, children, and old men without guns. But war begets war. We were not going to allow Japan access to all the Pacific islands as a base for attacks on the American mainland.

Consciences bothered air crews on the Tokyo firebombing and the Hiroshima and Nagasaki nuclear drops. I’ve never had the slightest regret for us doing that. I’d hope nobody would ever have to do that in the future.

Others may feel differently. That’s fair, too. We each need to follow our conscience.

Mine is fine. Comments?


Published by Bob Jones

Journalist since age 19. St. Petersburg Times, Noticias y Viajes in Madrid, Overseas Weekly in Frankfurt and Paris, the Louisville Courier- Journal, the Honolulu Advertiser, KGMB-TV, NBC News foreign correspondent in Africa and Southeast Asia, and MidWeek columnist. LL.B LaSalle University Law. 3 years in the U.S. Air Force. Covered: Biafran War in Nigeria (1968) Vietnam War (1969-73), Iraq in 1991. George Foster Peabody Award for distinguished journalism for reporting in China. 2 Emmys for documentaries. Married to journalist Denby Fawcett; one daughter. Brett Jones, foreign service officer, State Department.

10 replies on “Sorry, But I’m Not Sorry”

  1. My mom’s family all perished during the fire bombings of Tokyo in 1945. She was the only survivor in her immediate family. I believe she was 6 yrs old at the time of the bombings. She doesn’t like to talk about her experiences about running from the bombs and fires, which were relentless. Food supplies were cut off too, so people were starving. She is now 81 yrs old and has lived in Mililani since 1969. I feel very sad for her – she had no surviving parents and her brother also perished. Somehow, she was put on a ship in 1950 so she could live with her aunt and uncle on Maui. Can you imagine being 11 yrs old and leaving your home country for a small island in the Pacific. All by yourself. No one wins in a war.

  2. They asked Colonel Paul Tibbets, the pilot of the Enola Gay which dropped the bomb on Hiroshima if he had any remorse for killing all those people. He said the bomb saved many American lives and even more Japanese lives. It ended the war. He had no regrets.

  3. My mom always told me that dropping the Bomb on Japan was the only solution to end the war in Japan.the young generals were willing to sacrifice every man, women, and child to gain power in the world, Japan had it’s military telling everyone even the Emperor of Japan what to do. There was no end but death for the Japanese people, it was a losing battle, pride got in the way of common sense, they thought they were superior in race,but was just a small fish in a big ocean. Never again will Japan play a role in the world, but USA, after bombing Japan built the finest steel mills in the world which led to another try to purchase the world through economics this time, again God slapped Japan’s head, and crashed the economy, they never learn. Many thing the Japanese people have done right, arts, medicine, farming, stock market system first in the world, I like their education system teaching the children manners and cleaning the schools, before the basics.Yes we can learn a lot from the war 75 yrs. ago.

  4. Whether you or I feel bad about the Tokyo firebombing doesn’t really matter to anyone. What matters is that the US dropped incendiary bombs on a city densely populated with civilians, rather than a military target.

    That was quite arguably a war crime, and an immense one at that.

    Invoking Japan’s dastardly surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, a key military installation, doesn’t change the circumstances or justify the US bombing of Tokyo. It just doesn’t. Arguing that the Japanese people “had allowed themselves to be ruled by leaders who wanted war with America” and therefore got what they deserved is ridiculously simplistic. It’s a child’s argument.

    The average woman, child, or elderly person killed in Tokyo had lacked basic information about how Japan’s government was even really run, much less the intentions of the militarists who came to power or the means to stop them. And the ancient culture those civilians were born into did not encourage critical thinking and sharp questioning of, or resistance to, the emperor’s mandates, to put it mildly. So they deserved to burn to death en masse? That’s just sick.

    And did the March 9-10, 1945, Tokyo firebombing lead to or even speed up Japan’s surrender? US leaders may have believed that it would, but there’s scant evidence that it actually did, since Japan was still fighting five months later, or that the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6 and 9, 1945, did either.

    There is, however, strong evidence that the Soviet Union’s August 8, 1945, declaration of war on Japan and immediate invasion of Japanese-occupied China caused Japan’s leaders to fear an imminent Soviet invasion of the Japanese home islands from the north that Japan was not prepared to resist, having instead anticipated opposing a US invasion from the south. Surrender to the US, rather than a brutal Soviet invasion and occupation, was considered a preferable option that would keep Japanese culture and power structures largely intact.

    The Japanese war machine deserves no sympathy. But it’s really sad that anyone in this day and age would feel so callous toward Japanese civilians who were killed by this nation 75 years ago that they won’t evaluate the historical record on its merits rather than cling to mid-20th century myths and rationalizations simply to feel absolved of any personal guilt for decisions to which they were not even a party. And coming from someone who constantly beats his chest about a lifetime of experience in journalism? Perhaps you chose the wrong profession.

    By the way, it’s “the Marianas” or “the Mariana Islands,” but not “The Marianas Islands.” Get the name right.

    1. I quite agree that the firebombing of Tokyo was arguably a war crime for the reasons you mentioned. I lived in Tokyo and attended school there in 1963-64 and remember still the stories I heard from friends whose innocent families were incinerated in the fire-bombing raids. And there is a great deal of compelling evidence and historical information that the Japanese were on the verge of surrender before the bomb on Hiroshima. But they second bomb on Nagasaki- that was indefensible .

      1. If the Japanese were on the verge of surrendering anyway, why did they not surrender right away after the August 6th bombing of Hiroshima? Why did it take until after the August 9th bombing of Nagasaki for the Japanese to finally surrender?

  5. I’m glad that as a human being, I could not justify such an act. I’m quite aware of Japanese atrocities, and I have visited some of the areas. The US has continued its cruelty, indifference to human life. It was a racist nation at this time of WWII. Think how Blacks, Asians, Filipinos etc. we’re treated serving in the military.Next they used the Marshallese as guinea pigs with nuclear testing, ruining a whole atoll, possibly forever. The lack of conscience continues today in America’s Domestic and Foreign affairs, the lack of concern for civilians, children.

  6. It seems almost impossible to justify the killing of non-combatants even during wartime.

    But as long as we are keeping score, how many innocent Chinese civilians were killed by the Japanese war machine? How many Filipino civilians and Americans civilians died of disease, starvation and murder in Japanese internment camps throughout Asia?

    How many more innocent civilian non combatants would have died if Tokyo, Hiroshima and Nagasaki had not been bombed and the war not ended and the the killing not stopped?

  7. For a while now, many media outlets have been looking at the end of the Pacific War with a revisionist “humanitarian” eye…mourning the deaths of “innocent” civilians in the firebombing and Atomic bombings. They either forget or have no memory of the millions of innocent Chinese, Filipinos, Koreans, Vietnamese, and others murdered by Japan as it pushed its “Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere” across Asia. During the ’30’s and early ’40’s, most Japanese reveled in the
    cry of “Banzai” as their government built up the Empire. Japan grew with that “civilian” support.
    It didn’t work out as expected. And despite numerous attempts, those “civilians” backed the NO
    Surrender position of the government. The real documents and anecdotal evidence show the
    plan was to fight to the end. It was only after the 2 Bombs that the Emperor realized he had to end the war. No child should ever die in war. But to try to blame the US for Japan’s crimes is utter
    nonsense. The parents of those chidren made the decisions which led to those sad deaths. It is the
    people of Japan who are responsible, NOT the US. And, by the way, Japan has still not appologized
    to Korea, the Phillipines,or China for its crimes.

  8. I agree with many of the points raised by Clarity in hindsight, except that I still respect you as a journalist. I am disappointed, though, by the simplification and callousness as mentioned by Clarity in hindsight.

    The crewmen mentioned in the New York Times article may have agreed with you about what was necessary to end World War II, and still feel sorry about killing people whom they felt had nothing to do with the war. I don’t see it as an ‘either or’ proposition. I think a person can carry out their duties and still feel compassion.

    It took me a while to write this comment because, while I appreciate the mind expansion of facts presented by you and your readers, and their use in discussion of what was necessary to end World War II, I feel this ineffable sadness for the suffering of all, civilians and those in the military, after a war is finally over.

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