Black Snow: Curtis LeMay, the Firebombing of Tokyo, and the Road to the Atomic Bomb

Time Period
1925 to Today
Media Type
Military History
James Scott

On September 22, 2022, historian James Scott discussed his book about the controversial firebombing of Tokyo on March 9, 1945.

Seven minutes past midnight on March 9, 1945, nearly 300 American B-29s thundered into the skies over Tokyo. Their payloads of incendiaries ignited a more than 1,800-degree firestorm that liquefied asphalt and vaporized thousands; sixteen square miles of the city were flattened and more than 100,000 men, women, and children were killed. Black Snow is the story of this devastating operation, orchestrated by Major General Curtis LeMay, who famously remarked: “If we lose, we’ll be tried as war criminals.” James M. Scott reconstructs in granular detail that horrific night, and describes the development of the B-29, the capture of the Marianas for use as airfields, and the change in strategy from high-altitude daylight “precision” bombing to low-altitude nighttime incendiary bombing. Most importantly, the raid represented a significant moral shift for America, marking the first-time commanders deliberately targeted civilians―which helped pave the way for the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki five months later. James M. Scott is the author of several books on World War II, including Target Tokyo: Jimmy Doolittle and the Raid That Avenged Pearl Harbor, a Pulitzer Prize finalist; Rampage: MacArthur, Yamashita; and, most recently, Black Snow: Curtis LeMay, the Firebombing of Tokyo, and the Road to the Atomic Bomb.

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