Boing Boing has a link to a very interesting and oddly beautiful set of Japanese air raid precautions posters at the National Archives of Japan. (Boing Boing says they are from the Second World War, but according to the page itself, they date from 1938.) I am myself somewhat ignorant of Japanese history, but as it happens my supervisor is a specialist in modern Japanese history,1 and it seems that there are significant similarities between Britain and Japan when it comes to the fear of the bomber.
As early as the 1920s, Japanese cities were holding air raid drills, and according to George H. Quester, Deterrence before Hiroshima: The Airpower Background of Modern Strategy (New Brunswick and Oxford: Transaction Books, 1986), nobody tried harder than the Japanese to ban or limit aerial bombing by international treaty. Quester also suggests that the ongoing deployment of several hundred American B-17s to the Philippines was an important factor in Japan's decision to go to war with the United States — to take them out before they could become a big enough force to deter Japanese actions at a later date, or indeed to attack Japan itself. (Though I don't know whether this idea is sustained by more recent scholarship — Quester originally wrote in 1966.)
Anyway, I was surprised that there was such a fear of the bomber in Japan, as any potential aerial enemies were much further away than they were for Britain — so the fear seems that much more irrational. Some possible reasons might include: a similar psychological reaction to the negation of the ocean barrier which a naval power like Japan had relied upon for protection; the perception that as a relatively highly-industrialised country, it had more to lose by aerial bombing than did less-industrialised countries like China or other neighbours like the Soviet Union or the United States, whose main centres of population and industry were out of Japan's reach; or the terrible example of the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923, which potentially foreshadowed the scale of devastation that might be suffered in an aerial knock-out blow.2
I can't read the writing, but this last poster is evidently about how to make your own gas-masks, and the image of (presumably) the mother leading her child enveloped in a home-made chemical protective suit is very poignant. Japan escaped the horror of gas attack, but it suffered the others depicted in these posters, and more besides.
- I should add that he had nothing to do with writing this post, so all errors are mine alone!
- All of these ideas have some parallel with the British case: the first one is actually identical; the second is similar to the British conception that unlike Berlin, say, London was a uniquely vulnerable target, due to its size, importance and proximity to potential enemies; and the third is similar to the British drawing upon, and exaggerating, their experience of bombing in the First World War, particularly in 1917. In this last case the devastation in Japan was far greater, of course.
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