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189 8 Interpreting the Campaign Upon review it appears evident that the switch in tactical doctrine to low-altitude area attacks occurred, but only to a point, because of expediency. To maximize the effectiveness of the bomber sorties and the destruction of Japanese war-making ability, the commander on scene, LeMay, focused a portion of his efforts on expanding the already sanctioned attacks on urban industrial areas. The decision to do so originated with him and received no objection from, and even more than tacit approval by, those above him in the chain of command. One must understand, though, that low-level incendiary attacks comprised only one part of a triad of strategies undertaken by the 20th af, albeit the most publicized of the three. To accomplish the goals of the Air Force, from supporting the overall war effort through destruction of Japanese industry to showing independent spirit and capability by the air arm, the 20th af used the means necessary, and one of those means was fire. This was a departure from prewar plans of high-altitude precision daylight bombing, to be sure, but it was still an expression of the intent of the doctrine for destruction of the enemy’s industry and ability to make war. Amidst a total war against a country with minimal industry, and possessing minimal knowledge of the targets it harbored, a broad stroke made the most sense. Out of all of this evidence the historian attempts to derive some larger motives, interpretation, or moral judgments. Sixty-seven cities burned, tens of thousands killed, and millions made homeless implicitly demand an explanation larger than expediency. Sadly, none truly exists. The chaos and carnage of war, by its very nature, defies interpreting the campaign 190 reason. Consequently, discussion of the incendiary campaign against Japan rarely focuses on the why and how, but on the how could they. How could the Air Force and the United States uses tactics so indiscriminate and destructive, especially in a war where they fought to maintain the moral high ground? Up until now the details of the decision-making process have taken a backseat to efforts to understand in the most basic terms why the U.S. military and government allowed destruction of this magnitude to happen. As a result, explanations of the campaign have been oversimplified, and the campaign has been characterized as unplanned, unguided, and even improvised . These misreadings not only gloss over details but misrepresent the facts. It has been seen here that from the beginning of the war, civilian and military authorities alike realized the vulnerability of Japanese cities to fire and actively investigated their options in exploiting this vulnerability. As the war progressed the primacy of strategic bombing as the tactic of choice clashed hard with the realities of executing such a campaign in Europe. After achieving a few hard-won victories in Europe, where Germany operated a fully industrialized economy, the strategy met another difficult challenge over Japan in terms of target selection. The same planners who investigated the flammability of Japanese cities saw the difficulty of identifying not only Japanese industries worthy of destruction but also their location. No surprise, then, that attacks on urban industrial areas, with an emphasis on the industrial aspect, consistently rose to the top of the target list. When the planning ended and operations began, the grim reality set in: the b-29 force could not supply the striking power needed to drive the Japanese from the war using precision bombing alone. Unfortunately, no better expression of the Air Force’s power and the primacy of strategic bombing existed than ending the war without ground intervention in Japan. Supplied with incendiaries and the approval from Washington from day one, the 21st bc held in its hand the tools to expand and prosecute the war to their full potential. Utilizing that potential entailed first bombing precision targets, which got off to a slow start and struggled to achieve results. Hansell preferred to concentrate his efforts on the doctrinal precision campaign and stuck with that plan until his dismissal. It is fair to say that “once Hansell interpreting the campaign 191 had left the Pacific, no real advocate of precision bombing remained there,” but one needs to acknowledge that the two remaining principal players carried little to no experience in the doctrinal fight for the Air Force’s future. Arnold never attended the Air Corps Tactical School, and LeMay only received the abbreviated course just before the war. Arnold focused...


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