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Incendiary Wars: The Transformation of United States Air Force Bombing Policy in the WWII Pacific Theater

Bendheim, Gilad

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the vast majority of research conducted on United States
Army Air Force bombing and strategic bombing in general during World War II has been
dedicated to the campaigns in the European Theater of Operations (ETO). This is because
over 75 percent of USAAF munitions used throughout the war were used against
Germany and its allies, and the theory of strategic bombing was best illuminated against
the backdrop of the British Royal Air Force Bomber Command’s indiscriminate and
deliberate bombing of civilian centers. The USAAF’s – and specifically the specially
formed Twentieth Air Force’s – own strategic campaign in the Pacific Theater, though
not totally ignored, has been given comparatively short shrift in the literature, mostly
because of the overwhelming attention devoted to their use of the atomic bomb. Yet the
nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in early August 1945 were only a tiny
fraction – and not even the most destructive – of the 26,401 effective sorties and 148,675
tons of bombs dropped by the Twentieth against their primary targets (though pound-forpound,
the atomic bombs were by far the most destructive). In many senses, the atomic
attacks were the culmination of a trend begun half a year earlier in late February and
early March 1945. Those months saw the inception of the USAAF policy of firebombing
Japanese urban centers, a practice seemingly at odds with the well-publicized USAAF
commitment to only engage in precision bombing of military targets. It is the
circumstances of this evolution – from precision to area or “morale” bombing – that will
be investigated in this study.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
History
Thesis Advisors
Mazower, Mark A.
Degree
B.A., Columbia University
Published Here
May 6, 2011