Mapping the destruction-by-fire of urban Japan: the conception and birth of a project

Alison Bert reports the story of David Fedman finding U.S. military maps that portrayed the incendiary destruction of 66 cities in Japan. This was in addition to the well known atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Fedman is a Ph.D. candidate in Stanford's history department. His finding of the maps led him to collaborate with professor Cary Karakas, of the City University of New York, which resulted in a published article (free) about the maps and the role of incendiary bombing in WWII. Here is one the maps:

...This is a damage report map of Kofu, assessing the extent to which this small city was decimated. It shows how the Air Force turned its attention to smaller areas after destroying the larger cities with more military and industrial significance.

Beyond that, Fedman thinks it reveals still another transformation when compared with earlier maps, which appear “precise and professional.”

“We call this a trophy map,” he said. “It’s meant to convey, quite crudely, only the destruction of this city – and the absolute dominance of the Army Air Forces by the end of firebombing campaign. It’s a way of capturing the might of American air power that emerged out of this conflict.”

Damage Report Map of Kofu City, July 1945, XXI Bomber Command (US National Archives, Record Group 243, Series 59, Box 5)
Damage Report Map of Kofu City, July 1945, XXI Bomber Command (US National Archives, Record Group 243, Series 59, Box 5)

Fedman explains why his project is important:

“In this article, we made a concerted effort to be as dispassionate as possible and to let the evidence and the maps speak for themselves,” he said. “We want our paper to stimulate a broader discussion of a topic we think not a lot people know or think about.”

“Americans tend to focus on the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki; as a result of that we have forgotten largely in the public realm the fact that a total of 66 Japanese cities were targeted and destroyed during World War II.”

I study philosophy and social theory at the University of South Florida. I am also a photographer, map lover and sometimes poet.