Monday, June 20, 2011

The Bombing of Fukuoka, 6/20/45

June 20, 1945, was a terrible, terrible day for the people who lived in Fukuoka, Japan.
Fukuoka City, with a metropolitan population much larger than Kansas City, is not well-known in the U.S. But twenty-three years after the end of WWII, Fukuoka became June’s and my home, and we enjoyed living in that beautiful city for thirty-six years.
But it was a terrible place to be on June 20, 1945.
While living in Fukuoka we sometimes heard references to the saturation bombing of the city in 1945. In fact, some friends were always frightened by thunder, for it reminded them of that horrendous June 20. (The bombing actually began less than an hour before midnight on June 19, local time.)
But for some strange reason I never did learn much about the details of the bombing of Fukuoka. Until last year, that is.
Akira Yoshimura (b. 1927) is a bestselling novelist in Japan. His book about Japan in 1945, and later, was published in 1978, and it was translated and published as One Man’s Justice in 2003. Last August I read Yoshimura’s book, and was greatly moved by it.
June 20, 1945, was also not a good day for eight captured U.S. airmen, for they were taken to a schoolyard in Fukuoka (very near where our church used to meet) and beheaded.
Takuya, the main character of Yoshimura’s novel, was a fugitive after the end of the war, for he had given direct orders for beheading two of those captured American flyers and was sought by the Allied occupying forces as a war criminal.
An American friend we knew quite well in Fukuoka has posted on the Internet considerable material about the beheading of those American servicemen. Yoshimura’s novel tells the other side of the story.
By June 20, 1945, there had already been over 20,000 bombing raids on Japan, claiming around 400,000 lives. But most of the attacks on Kyushu, the main southwestern island of Japan, had been limited to military targets—until the Fukuoka bombing.
Most of the nearly 1,000 deaths from that bombing were of defenseless civilians. (That, of course, was also true of the hundreds of thousands killed in August 1945 by the dropping of atomic bombs on two Japanese cities.)
The painful question is why were the U.S. prisoners who were directly related to the bombings that “burnt to death thousands of defenceless old men, women and children” (p. 66) not considered guilty by most Americans whereas the man who ordered the execution of two such flyers was pursued as a war criminal?
Some would say the U.S. airmen were executed without a trial. In that case, why was there such cheering in this country when Osama bin Laden was killed by U.S. SEALS? (Admittedly, the scale of bin Laden’s crimes was greater, still . . . .) And won’t there be the same sort of rejoicing if, or when, Muammar Gaddafi, is killed by the NATO forces bombing Libya daily?
I do not condone people taking “justice” into their own hands. But much more strongly, I oppose the bombing of non-combatants (the elderly and children) even in war.
Thus, this is a day of sad remembrance for me for those who were living in Fukuoka in 1945. But today is also a good time to pray for peace, now and in the future.


  1. Bob Hanson is a Thinking Friend, a USAmerican who lives here in the U.S. now. He is also a personal friend whom I knew in Fukuoka years ago.

    Bob wrote about the Japanese doctors using American prisoners for medical experiments at Kyushu University Hospital (in Fukuoka).

    When he lived in Fukuoka, Bob taught an English class to some doctors, and some of them had been students of the doctors who worked at that hospital during the War.

    In his book, Yoshimura writes only a little about those medical experiments, which resulted in the death of all the prisoners. He said the experiments were done on the live subjects because the researchers (doctors) thought the prisoners were gong to be executed anyway.

  2. A few minutes ago, one of my most esteemed Thinking Friends sent me an e-mail, which says in its entirety:

    "In a thousand years we Americans will not be able to atone for the dreadful acts we have committed in our wars. Our conscience seems to tune out when it comes to examining ourselves."

    1. What if we just bury our past and pretend it never happened...??? After all, we hold the pen to write our history.

  3. The concept of original sin, while strained and overused, still speaks with power to our tendency to forget just how fallen human nature remains. The United States has perpetrated many atrocities throughout its history. Japan has perpetrated many atrocities throughout its history. England has perpetrated many atrocities throughout its history. China has perpetrated many atrocities throughout its history. The list goes on.

    What is amazing is that from time to time the fog of battle has parted, and peace has bloomed. Echoes and legends come down to us, inspiring us to try again. Christians contemplate the Kingdom of God. Buddhists remember the widespread peace of early Buddhism in India. Camelot remains a powerful name. More recently, the Enlightenment attempted to find something of a science of peace, as studies of politics, economics, science and art attempted to find a way to manage the mysteries of human nature.

    We live in the age of bubbles. Recently tech stock and financial speculation bubbles have burst, with terrible consequences. As we learn more about bubbles and human nature, we recognize potential bubbles all around us, in a still dangerous financial system, in burgeoning human population, in scarce resource limits, in possible pandemics, in climate change, in political and military instability. The list goes on.

    Jesus commented on those who could see the signs of the weather, but the not signs of the Kingdom. This Kingdom is paradoxical, both in us, and without us. Both here, and not yet present. Yet even more paradoxically, it is, nonetheless, our window into reality. We can afford neither naive optimism, nor cynical pessimism. In the Kingdom, we can see both the terrible things America and Japan have done to each other (and to others), and the friendship that has started since the war. Let those who have eyes to see, see!

  4. I find Craig's insight into original sin stimulating - it seems to affect us all, even some of the best known Christian pacifists find blood on their hands. (This is said in observation, not condemnation.)

    The atrocities of war which have personally affected citizens of most if not all nationalities is quite sad. But global view of the positive outcomes of war on despots cannot be forgotten either. This can be said of the civilians within my own family killed in wars over time - especially by Christians on Christians. Even so the scales of justice are hard to evaluate even after considerable time.

    Thankfully, a just God carries the eternal scales. Per Jesus' comments, I would gather that many will be surprised how judgement falls - even on the good and just.

  5. I found it interesting that Craig, and then 1sojourner a few minutes ago, mentioned original sin, for several days ago I decided (subject to change) that my June 30 posting would be about a fascinating book I will soon finish reading, Mark Ellingsen's "Blessed Are the Cynical: How Original Sin Can Make America a Better Place" (2003).

  6. Since making this posting, I have been in e-mail contact with Wes Injerd, the American friend I knew in Japan who has posted so much about the prison camps and the mistreatment of U.S. servicemen in Japan (in 1945). His material is found at

    A couple of days ago, Wes wrote, in part (and I post this with his permission):

    "I agree the bombings were terrible, and the atrocities. I've read both sides of the issue, but predominantly original source material from the National Archives and Japanese Archives. No former POW I've talked with thinks the A-bombings were not necessary (nor strategic bombing for that matter), and there are many Marines and other soldiers who have said they were elated by the fact they did not have to invade mainland Japan. It's hard to have a perfect assessment of these issues when the men who made the decisions are not with us to tell us the prerogatives they had. Sadly, we were faced with the fact that there were among the Imperial Japanese those who would have fought to the last person, even 'innocent civilians.' The network of caves built in Japan in preparation would be a most fascinating study to show just how much the Japanese were getting ready in their 'ketsugo' [conclusion, but maybe he meant 'kakugo': resolution, or resolute preparation] -- Fukuoka was very important militarily with the Western HQ there, and important 'tokkotai' [suicide, or 'kamikaze,' squad] bases. So, in light of that, I have a different view as what defines an 'innocent civilian.' What we are all thankful for is that the Emperor decided (against the wishes of the diehards) it was time to call it quits."

  7. The ravages of war, which almost always effects some civilians directly is truly sad, especially because warriors and guerrillas stay near and among civilian populations. It has been said that one of Japans worries of invading the United States was its overwhelmingly armed citizens. (The inference is that all armed citizens are warriors. This is in fact the case by law in Switzerland.)

    Comparisons are also difficult. Your comparison of war criminals would seem to make President Obama a war criminal for not bringing Osama bin Laden to trial. My view is that the President was correct, that sometimes justice must be extracted in exceptional ways - sadly civilians are frequently colateral casualties.

    World views, tribalism, arrogance, and non-forgiveness are all factors in a fallen world. Unfortunately this even affects devout Christians.

  8. It angers me to read these unjustified "peaceniks" writings on his site about "America's numerous atrocities", which of course, are not named, a favorite tactic of such people. I don't know where these "accusations" come from about America's so-called "atrocities", but other than America and England engaging in justified bombing of European cities to rid the world of Hitler and justified bombing to rid the world of the Japanese warlords and leaders, who engaged in true atrocities against innocent Chinese for many years in countries Japan took over in WWII and horrible mistreatment of captured Allied prisoners (did they ever hear of the Bataan Death March?), and murdered American pilots and prisoners of war in the case of Japanese in WWII, (which included beheadings and experiments using diseases and other atrocities), all under the auspices of the Japanese government and can we dispense with the guilt of the U.S. and England in their bombing in Europe by saying that these acts were carried out by American and England to rid the world of Hitler and his maniacs? Yes, the U.S. dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki when Japan would absolutely not surrender at the war's end, and averting an invastion of Japan, which would have cost 100,000's of thousands of U.S. lives, but other than "peacenik" types criticizing these justified atomic attacks, the world agrees the bombings were necessary, even the Japanese people and right thinking Japanese leaders understood they were necessary. Please, let us not hear any more of accusations about America's so-called atrocities.


  9. As others have said, it is difficult from 60 years away to judge behaviors. And even more difficult to judge across cultures. The Bataan death march is horrible to American eyes, but to those trained in the Japanese military code was only appropriate for those who had quit fighting with any strength left in their bodies. American use of napalm and flame throwers is repugnant by today's standards, but may have been the only practical way to deal with people so motivated to continue fighting until the end that the last surrenders did not occur until the 1960s.

    As nearly as I can put myself in the mindset of America at the end of WWII, it is difficult to fault the use of atomic weapons in Japan. It is only in hindsight that we can regret the precedent that was set, and the difficulties that might have been avoided if they were not used. It may also be wishful thinking to think that a world in which WWII did not end with nuclear weapons would have turned out better or safer.

  10. The Atomic Bombing of Japan was one of the biggest war crimes in history in my opinion