[Near the end of World War II, General Curtis LeMay was placed in charge of all strategic air operations against the Japanese home islands. According to Richard Rhodes, author of The Making of the Atomic Bomb, ‘LeMay was a wild man, hard-driving and tough, a bomber pilot, a big-game hunter, a chewer of cigars, dark, fleshy, smart. “I’ll tell you what war is about,” he once said bluntly—but he said it after the war —“you’ve got to kill people, and when you’ve killed enough they stop fighting.” Through most of the war he seems to have held to the preference for precision bombing over area bombing that had distinguished the U.S. Air Force from the British since Churchill’s and Cherwell’s intervention of 1942. Sometimes in Europe precision bombing had served, though never decisively. Over Japan, so far, it had failed. And failure was LeMay’s bÍte noire.’ In the passage below LeMay explains why he condoned the systematic laying waste of Japanese cities.]
We were going after military targets. No point in slaughtering civilians for the mere sake of slaughter. Of course there is a pretty thin veneer in Japan, but the veneer was there. It was their system of dispersal of industry. All you had to do was visit one of those targets after we’d roasted it, and see the ruins of a multitude of houses, with a drill press sticking up through the wreckage of every home. The entire population got into the act and worked to make those airplanes or munitions of war . . . men, women, children. We knew we were going to kill a lot of women and kids when we burned [a] town. Had to be done.
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