The path to Hiroshima and Nagasaki began with the firebombing of Tokyo

In early 1945, as World War II in Europe staggered toward a conclusion, U.S. military leaders looked uneasily toward the Pacific. Japan showed no willingness to lay down its arms, but after 3 1/2 years of war, the American public was tired of conflict, and the casualty projections for an anticipated invasion of Japan were very high.   

To Gen. Henry “Hap” Arnold, head of the Army Air Force, this was an opportunity. If he could use his brand-new massive B-29 Superfortress bomber to bring the war to a swift conclusion, he would strengthen the case to establish the Air Force as a separate branch of the U.S. military. In “Black Snow: Curtis LeMay, the Firebombing of Tokyo, and the Road to the Atomic Bomb,” historian James M. Scott recounts what happened next.    

From the beginning of the war, the United States practiced high-level “precision bombing,” which targeted military objectives and sought to minimize civilian casualties. The British, having been subjected to the Blitz, were in favor of “area bombing,” which, while prioritizing military installations, acknowledged that civilians in the target area were at risk.     

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