(The transcript for the film is posted on the Errol Morris website click here)
"Well, I was part of a mechanism . . ." (here's an excerpt concerning the fire bombing of Tokyo in 1945)
LeMay was focused on only one thing: target destruction. Most Air Force Generals can tell you how many planes they had, how many tons of bombs they dropped, or whatever the hell it was.
But, he was the only person that I knew in the senior command of the Air Force who focused solely on the loss of his crews per unit of target destruction. I was on the island of Guam in his command in March of 1945. In that single night, we burned to death 100,000 Japanese civilians in Tokyo: men, women, and children.
EM: Were you aware this was going to happen?
McNamara: Well, I was part of a mechanism that in a sense recommended it. I analyzed bombing operations, and how to make them more efficient. i.e. Not more efficient in the sense of killing more, but more efficient in weakening the adversary.
I wrote one report analyzing the efficiency of the B—29 operations. The B—29 could get above the fighter aircraft and above the air defense, so the loss rate would be much less. The problem was the accuracy was also much less.
Now I don't want to suggest that it was my report that led to, I'll call it, the firebombing. It isn't that I'm trying to absolve myself of blame. I don't want to suggest that it was I who put in LeMay's mind that his operations were totally inefficient and had to be drastically changed. But, anyhow, that's what he did. He took the B—29s down to 5,000 feet and he decided to bomb with firebombs.
I participated in the interrogation of the B—29 bomber crews that came back that night. A room full of crewmen and intelligence interrogators. A captain got up, a young captain said: "Goddammit, I'd like to know who the son of a bitch was that took this magnificent airplane, designed to bomb from 23,000 feet and he took it down to 5,000 feet and I lost my wingman. He was shot and killed."
LeMay spoke in monosyllables. I never heard him say more than two words in sequence. It was basically "Yes," "No," "Yup," or "The hell with it." That was all he said. And LeMay was totally intolerant of criticism. He never engaged in discussion with anybody.
He stood up. "Why are we here? Why are we here? You lost your wingman; it hurts me as much as it does you. I sent him there. And I've been there, I know what it is. But, you lost one wingman, and we destroyed Tokyo."
50 square miles of Tokyo were burned. Tokyo was a wooden city, and when we dropped these firebombs, it just burned it.
(Lesson #5: Proportionality should be a guideline in war)
EM: The choice of incendiary bombs, where did that come from?
McNamara: I think the issue is not so much incendiary bombs. I think the issue is: in order to win a war should you kill 100,000 people in one night, by firebombing or any other way? LeMay's answer would be clearly "Yes."
"McNamara, do you mean to say that instead of killing 100,000, burning to death 100,000 Japanese civilians in that one night, we should have burned to death a lesser number or none? And then had our soldiers cross the beaches in Tokyo and been slaughtered in the tens of thousands? Is that what you're proposing? Is that moral? Is that wise?"
Why was it necessary to drop the nuclear bomb if LeMay was burning up Japan? And he went on from Tokyo to firebomb other cities. 58% of Yokohama. Yokohama is roughly the size of Cleveland. 58% of Cleveland destroyed. Tokyo is roughly the size of New York. 51% percent of New York destroyed. 99% of the equivalent of Chattanooga, which was Toyama. 40% of the equivalent of Los Angeles, which was Nagoya. This was all done before the dropping of the nuclear bomb, which by the way was dropped by LeMay's command.
Proportionality should be a guideline in war. Killing 50% to 90% of the people of 67 Japanese cities and then bombing them with two nuclear bombs is not proportional, in the minds of some people, to the objectives we were trying to achieve.
I don't fault Truman for dropping the nuclear bomb. The U.S.—Japanese War was one of the most brutal wars in all of human history ? kamikaze pilots, suicide, unbelievable. What one can criticize is that the human race prior to that time ? and today ? has not really grappled with what are, I'll call it, "the rules of war." Was there a rule then that said you shouldn't bomb, shouldn't kill, shouldn't burn to death 100,000 civilians in one night?
LeMay said, "If we'd lost the war, we'd all have been prosecuted as war criminals." And I think he's right. He, and I'd say I, were behaving as war criminals. LeMay recognized that what he was doing would be thought immoral if his side had lost. But what makes it immoral if you lose and not immoral if you win?