WW2 People

|   7 March 2011

Bombing Japan

Tokyo, after the American fire-bombing in March 1945.

We’ve just added onto the site for subscribers the testimony of Paul Montgomery who was a member of a B29 bomber crew during the war against Japan.

I’ll never forget meeting Paul Montgomery nearly a dozen years ago on his farm in the flat lands of Oklahoma. He was one of  the nicest people I ever met on my travels. Kind, forthright and compassionate. Yet he had helped take part in the killing of more people than probably anyone else I ever encountered.

The fire bombing of Japan in the spring of 1945 was one of the bloodiest campaigns – if not the bloodiest – in all history. 100,000 people died in one night alone in Tokyo in March – more people than died in the immediate aftermath of either of the atomic bombs in August 1945. Paul Montgomery revealed to me that he felt ‘no compassion’ at the time for the people he and his comrades were killing, even though the majority of them were non-combatants – old men, women and children. He felt little connection with the Japanese the Americans were incinerating on the ground. Indeed, he thought that he was almost taking part in a ‘video game’.

It was an important reminder of how the Twentieth century brought new techniques of killing which allowed warriors to be distanced from their victims. It wasn’t only possible to kill more people than ever before in history, it was possible to kill them with less psychological affect on the killers than ever before.

Surely it must have been harder for our ancestors to kill one person with a stone club than it was for Paul Montgomery and the rest of his squadron to kill thousands.

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