Leigh Barkley: Web Sites on the American Strategic Bombing of Japan in World War II

The story of America’s use of strategic bombing against Japan in the latter part of World War II remains a problematic topic, as it is both highly controversial and highly politicized. By definition, strategic bombing is bombing undertaken against industrial and civilian targets rather than military ones, and its critics often point to the brutality of its methods. Also complicating the topic is its relationship with the equally controversial atomic strikes against Hiroshima and Nagasaki; many historians justify these strikes by citing the awesome devastation of strategic bombing, which would have been even more widespread had the war not been ended by the bomb. Thus, finding relevant and reliable resources – online or otherwise – with which to study this chapter in history is crucial.

The first web site selected for evaluation was the site of the US Centennial of Flight Commission. This group, composed of government and museum officials, cannot be contacted directly, but the Web Curator can be through a nasa.gov email address. According to its “About” pages, the commission is charged by Congress to provide information on the “century of flight” that began with the Wright brothers; moreover, its stated purpose is “to encourage… appreciation and celebration of the 100th anniversary of flight." Thus, its evaluation of the darker side of aviation may suffer from a common weakness of American museums: it may stint on objectivity in favor of respectful language. The site is, however, reviewed favorably by the Internet Scout Project.

The site itself is a compilation of information on the history of American flight technology. It is organized logically and professionally into sections, all of which are accessible through links at the top of each page. The site’s contents include a dictionary of aviation terms; a timeline of flight; an extensive multimedia section including special collections, movies, and sounds; and a collection of essays. The essays are clearly and factually written, with relevant accompanying images and hyperlinked definitions of unfamiliar terms. All also contain bibliographies consisting of articles and books published by respectable – albeit mostly American – presses (e.g., Yale University Press). A dozen of these essays focus on air combat in World War II, and several discuss strategic bombing. Notably lacking, though, are editorials examining the ethical implications of air power. While none of these are primary sources that might reveal the administrative mentality during the years of World War II, the Special Collections section includes primary documents from official and private collections. In keeping with the site’s main purpose, though, most of these deal only with the Wright brothers.

The second web site selected was B-29s over Korea, a site created by a Korean War veteran who can be reached by email. Like the previous site, its main purpose seems to be remembrance and respect, although with a more technical focus on the aircraft themselves and a broader overall historical focus (the end of WWII, Korea, and the Cold War). Also like the previous site, it therefore may be suspect in its objectivity, especially considering that its compiler is a pilot who might select documents that support a more positive view of the armed forces than is fair. It also has no official affiliation with any organization.

This site is also less well organized than the Centennial of Flight site. Navigation consists of a search function and a long index of articles arranged in no discernable order, whether alphabetical, topical, or chronological. The contents are numerous documents discussing the use of American aircraft in the latter half of the twentieth century. Some are essays written by the webmaster, some are contributions by other veterans, and some are newspaper articles and press releases. Therefore, many are personal accounts of combat, an interesting complement to the more factual information of the previous site. While bias is inevitable in such sources, it is also not entirely undesirable if the reader can identify it: it affords insight into the motivations of participants in bombing campaigns. While a number of the documents deal with the Korean War, a few do touch on the use of aircraft in the Pacific War, most notably a four-page essay describing the implementation of the strategic-bombing program.

The third web site, an informational offshoot of site of the National Museum of the United States Air Force, covered the general history of warfare. The museum advertises itself as “the oldest and largest military aviation museum in the world” and its site was reviewed favorably by the Internet Scout Project; this offshoot on military history is also linked by numerous educational sites. Although it is affiliated with an American museum, and therefore has vested interest in the American side of the Pacific War, its purpose is to inform rather than to commemorate. Although the webmaster is unlisted, the site’s FAQ is the same as the official museum site’s; thus, one can infer that Renee Cardoza, a museum official available through email, is the contact for both.

One confusing aspect of the navigation is the absence of a central home page. Otherwise, the organization is clear and effective: a sidebar appears on each page with links to “history by era” and “history by topic,” as well as a search function. Each era has a separate page, which is then further divided into special topics. The World War II page provides links to topics such as military training and the contributions of certain groups within the air force (women and African-Americans). Additionally, a few primary documents are available, and they prove useful in understanding the official US strategy. Finally, the page provides links to other pages on the European and Pacific campaigns, the latter of which contains many chronologically organized documents on the Pacific War, including discussions of B-29s and fire-bombing raids.

The final web site evaluated was the online thesis of a student from Fordham University named Jason McDonald, who can be reached by email. The thesis is obviously associated with the university, with input from history professors Dr. Michael Marme, PhD (a specialist in modern East Asia) and Dr. Edward Bristow, PhD. Although McDonald’s lack of professional experience in this field means that the web site may not be exhaustive, the fact that it is a thesis means that its primary purpose should be education rather than persuasion or proselytizing. It is linked by several other informal history sites and a few educational ones as well.

Navigation in this web site is reasonably effective. Although the index page has a surfeit of information, the content is organized well in a sidebar with an alphabetized sitemap and links to topics by year. Each year page contains an introduction defining unfamiliar terms, and then links to documents (by the webmaster) under the headings “European War” and “Pacific War.” The 1945 page includes a number of documents on the actions taken by the United States before dropping the atomic bomb, including one specifically concerned with strategic bombing. Each document also includes extras such as relevant images, videos, pages elsewhere on the site, and external links, as well as a bibliography of reliable sources by both American and Japanese authors.

This evaluation of web sites reveals several difficulties in conducting online research on the US strategic bombing of Japan. Most notably, the lack of available translated Japanese resources proves a stumbling block in forming a balanced understanding of the issues at stake. Additionally, the scarcity of sites dealing specifically with this topic may be symptomatic of a larger problem: lingering American unwillingness, even after more than half a century, to fully confront the ethical implications of strategic bombing against its former enemy.

Sites Evaluated

Cardoza, Renee. World War II History. 2004. National Museum of the United States Air Force. 17 Oct. 2004. <http://www.wpafb.af.mil/museum/history/wwii/wwii.htm>

Dailey, General John R. (Commission Chair Director) . US Centennial of Flight Home Page. 2003. US Centennial of Flight. 16 Oct. 2004. <http://www.centennialofflight.gov/index2.cfm>

Mayo, Wayland. B-29s Over Korea. 18 Oct. 2004. < http://b-29s-over-korea.com/index.html>

McDonald, Jason. World War II Multimedia Database. 2000. Fordham University. 18 Oct. 2004. <http://www.worldwar2database.com/>


Ryoji Shinohara: Atomic Bombings of Japan

On August 6 th and 9 th, 1945, two atomic bombs were each dropped in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This caused a tremendous damage to Japan, who had rejected surrender and also gave a great shock to the world. Taking “atomic bomb” as a key-word, this paper tries to evaluate and introduce the websites which are about the American reaction after dropping the atomic bomb, the state and recovery of Hiroshima, the physical influence of the atomic bomb on humans, and non-Japanese victims.

To take a look at the American reaction after dropping the two atomic bombs, the website “The Atomic Bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki by The Manhattan Engineer District, June 29, 1946” of “The Avalon Project at Yale Law School” is good place to start. The Avalon Project’s purpose is to provide primary source materials in the fields of Law, History, Economics, Politics, Diplomacy and Government through World Wide Web (1). It is run by Yale Law School. Scanned documents are used in this site. The site “The Atomic Bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki by The Manhattan Engineer District, June 29, 1946” has a forward, introduction, and twenty-five chapters. As remarked in its forward, this report is done by the Manhattan Engineer District of the United States Army under the direction of Major General Leslie R. Groves (2). It describes the investigation conducted after the president’s remarks of dropping the atomic bomb, detailed damages and injuries, conclusions made by the Manhattan Project Investigating Group, Hiroshima and Nagasaki before and after the dropping of the atomic bomb, and, finally, the statement by Father Siemes, who was at the time about two kilometers from Hiroshima.

To see what really happened in Hiroshima, “The Official Homepage of Hiroshima Peace Museum” is best to look at. This webpage is run by Hiroshima city, which is the very place one of atomic bombs was dropped. It has an English page, too. This site has a section called “ 平和データベース” (Peace Database), where you can watch victim’s witness videos, movies, books, magazines, and data online. This website has three good links, which are all run by Hiroshima city. The first is “Hiroshima Peace Site”. This site has three stages: “The reality of atomic bomb disasters,” where you can lean the atomic bomb itself and its damages, “The current status of nuclear weapons,” where you can see the history of nuclear weapons, and “The will to create peace,” where you can read the peace declarations from 1997 to 2004, both in Japanese and English (3) . The other is “Kids Peace Station”. This site is for children and mainly focused on the story of the children’s peace monument. The children’s peace monument was erected to commemorate one girl who died from the aftereffect of the atomic bomb. The last is “ Virtual Museum” where you can look at the exhibits of the peace memorial museum without going there.

After almost 60 years, there are still atomic bomb survivors who are suffering from the aftereffect today. To give an overview of their suffering and the physical effect of the atomic bomb on humans, the website of “Radiation Effects Research Foundation (RERF)” explains them to us. RERF is organized by Japan and the United States; it is sponsored by Japanese and United States governments. They research the effects of radiation in the survivors of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki (4) . On this website, we can have a look at their research about the survivors of the atomic bomb, life-span study and adult health study. Life-span study is aimed at the investigation of the long-term effects of atomic bomb radiation, such as the danger of cancer. Adult health study is intended to investigate the long-term effects of the atomic bomb, such as blood pressure, to contribute to the health management of the atomic bomb survivors (5) .

It is not only the Japanese who became the victims of the atomic bomb. We should not forget that in those days, in Japan, there were many colonized people who were taken to Japan as labors. There is a website run by 在韓被爆者問題市民会議 (citizen conference for the problem of Korean living atomic bomb victims). It is run by a Japanese citizens’ group. This group’s activities are a publication of their own booklet, having conferences and symposiums, making demands of the governments, etc. In Korea, there are many atomic bomb survivors who can’t get proper treatment or aide by the Japanese government. They are not even recognized as atomic bomb survivors. This site has a link to the website of “Association of Citizens for Supporting South Korean Atomic Bomb Victims,” where you can have a look at how many Korean atomic bomb survivors there are and what the Japanese and Korean governments are doing for them, or how powerless they are. This site is available in Japanese, English and Korean.

Through these four sites and their links, we can see an overview of the atomic bomb both from American and Japanese viewpoints. Even thought it was a war, what the atomic bomb caused was cruel and grievous. There are many people who are still suffering, too. Japan always claims that it is the sole country which has experienced the tragedy of the atomic bomb. These sites and Japan show us that we cannot repeat the grief and that we should wish a peace of the world.





(4)(5) Overview of RERF Research Programs in “Radiation Effects Research Foundation” webpage