Curtis LeMay and peacetime myopia

On the night of March 9, 1945, LeMay sent 346 huge B-29 bombers loaded with napalm from the Mariana Islands (Guam, Saipan and Tinian) to Tokyo. The first planes dropped their incendiaries on the front and back of the target area — like lighting up both ends of a football field at night. The rest of the planes filled in the middle. More than 16 square miles of Japan’s capital city were gutted, two million people were left homeless, and 100,000 were dead…

Yet at the time, newspapers across America heralded the event as a tremendous achievement — not unlike the moon landing 24 years later. The New York Times ran the story of the bombings on its front page for 10 straight days. Its lead editorial on March 12, 1945, warned the Japanese that if they didn’t give up more was on the way. The New Yorker magazine ran a glowing three part series on LeMay. Time magazine put him on its cover…

In the strange calculus of war, LeMay helped prevent an estimated one million American casualties and upwards of two million Japanese by helping push Japan’s Emperor Hirohito to surrender before the invasion. Killing large numbers of people to save even more lives is not a decision most of us would want to make. But at the time, the majority of Americans were thankful that LeMay was willing to do it.