During World War II, an American B-29 bomber dropped the world’s first deployed atomic bomb over the Japanese city of Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. An estimated 80,000 people were killed immediately by the explosion, and tens of thousands more died later due to radiation exposure. But did you know that Kyoto was initially a target? Why did they change their mind about bombing Kyoto, and who influenced the decision?
Kyoto was at the top of the list of atomic bomb targets. The Secretary of War Henry Stimson ordered that the ancient city, with its thousands of palaces, temples, and shrines, be removed from the list, but the military refused.
How Did Kyoto Dodge the Atomic Bomb?
Nagasaki was not even on a list of target cities for the atomic bomb just weeks before the United States dropped the most powerful weapon mankind had ever known. Kyoto, Japan’s ancient capital, took its place.
A committee of American military generals, army officers, and scientists compiled the list. Kyoto was at the top of the list, with over 2,000 Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines, including 17 World Heritage Sites.
Kyoto was seen as an ideal target by the military because it had not been bombed at all, so many of the industries were relocated, and some major factories were there, “The scientists on the Target Committee also preferred Kyoto because it was home to many universities and they thought the people there would be able to understand that an atomic bomb was not just another weapon – that it was almost a turning point in human history.Alex Wellerstein, Historian of Stevens Institute of Technology
But in early June 1945, Secretary of War Henry Stimson ordered Kyoto to be removed from the target list. He argued that it was of cultural importance and that it was not a military target.
However, in early June 1945, Secretary of War Henry Stimson ordered that Kyoto be removed from the list of targets. He claimed that it was culturally significant and not a military target. The military didn’t want it removed, so it kept putting Kyoto back on the list until late July, but Stimson went directly to President Truman.
Mr. Stimson wrote in his diary on July 24, 1945, following a discussion with the President.
He was particularly emphatic in agreeing with my suggestion that if elimination was not done, the bitterness which would be caused by such a wanton act might make it impossible during the long post-war period to reconcile the Japanese to us in that area rather than to the Russians.Henry Stimson, Secretary of War
Why Does Henry Stimson Love Kyoto?
Stimson has visited Kyoto several times while governor of the Philippines in the 1920s. According to some historians, it was his honeymoon destination, and he was a fan of Japanese culture.
That is why it seems that Stimson was motivated by something more personal, and these other excuses were just rationalizations.Alex Wellerstein, Historian of Stevens Institute of Technology
But, as Mr. Stimson put it, he was also the driving force behind the internment of over 100,000 Japanese Americans.
Their racial characteristics are such that we cannot understand or trust even the citizen Japanese.Henry Stimson, Secretary of War