In this immersive, meticulously researched history, Pulitzer finalist Scott (
Target Tokyo) contends that the 1945 firebombing campaign against Japan marked a moral shift in U.S. military strategy and paved the way to the use of the atomic bomb. Drawing on oral histories and survivor diaries, Scott vividly recounts the air raid on Tokyo orchestrated by Maj. Gen. Curtis LeMay, which incinerated one out of every four buildings in the Japanese capital and killed more than 100,000 people. LeMay continued the campaign for 159 days, targeting Nagoya, Osaka, and Kobe, among other cities, destroying homes, factories, aircraft plants, and oil refineries. Scott carefully builds up to the firebombing campaign, detailing the pressure on American commanders to bring the war to a close, the capture of the Mariana Islands to be used as airfields, challenges involved in building the B-29 bomber, and Gen. Haywood Hansell Jr.’s refusal to shift strategies from high-altitude daylight precision bombing of industries to nighttime, low-altitude incendiary bombing of civilian neighborhoods. Also profiled is Army Air Forces commander Henry “Hap” Arnold, who thought that “crush Japan” would demonstrate the need for an independent air force and made the decision to replace Hansell with LeMay. Full of vivid action scenes and sharp character observations, this riveting WWII history reveals the staggering cost of obtaining peace. (Sept.)
The firebombing of Tokyo by American forces in March 1945 represented a moral shift in the thinking of American military commanders in the Pacific. In this meticulously researched and finely written account, Pulitzer Prize-finalist historian Scott (
Rampage: MacArthur, Yamashita, and the Battle of Manila) details the decision to end daylight raids of industrial targets in favor of nighttime strikes against civilians to end the Japanese ability to wage war. As public pressure increased on American commanders to bring the war to an end, the demanding Curtis LeMay replaced Gen. Haywood Hansell Jr. as the heavy bomber commander in the Pacific. In order to break the will of the Japanese to continue the war, commanders switched to incendiary bombs, which would incinerate Japanese cities constructed primarily of wood and paper. They also introduced the B-29 Superfortress, which cost more than the atomic bomb. It became the ideal weapon to strike at the heart of Japan. Using witness and survivor testimony as well as troves of military records, Scott renders in compassionate detail the hell experienced by the victims of the fire-bombing. VERDICT Anyone who wants to understand the last year of the air war in the Pacific and the bomber commander's role should read this excellent book. —Chad E. Statler
Thorough study of the B-29 raids over Japan that underscores the debate over precision bombing versus firebombing at the end of World War II.
In this excellent follow-up to
Rampage and Target Tokyo, Scott evenhandedly examines the controversy surrounding the firebombing of Japanese cities and offers a sympathetic rendering of the devastating effects of those bombings on the civilian population. At the core of the narrative is the development of the B-29 Superfortress, a massive, expensive new bomber championed by Gen. Henry “Hap” Arnold in his advocacy for the independence of the Air Force. By late 1944, ready for action, the new bombers were assigned to the Pacific theater in an operation overseen by Gen. Haywood Hansell Jr., “one of the few leaders who still preached the idea of humane [daylight precision] bombing.” As the American public clamored for an end to the war, top-level military officials made the decision to increase the use of incendiary bombs in order to break the morale of the Japanese civilian population, force surrender, and avoid a costly invasion. In the early weeks of 1945, Hansell was replaced by ace pilot and operator Curtis LeMay, who immediately instigated the firebombing system, which involved flying low at night and carpeting dense urban areas with waves of incendiaries, killing thousands. “Targeting homes was the key to societal breakdown,” the generals concluded. Scott writes that LeMay’s March bombing of Tokyo represented a “tremendous moral shift for the United States, which until this moment had opposed the intentional killing of civilians.” This paved the way for the destruction of dozens of other Japanese cities, and after the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the death toll reached 330,000, an estimate that was “likely low.” Scott alternates his page-turning account of the air operations with devastating on-the-ground eyewitness reports of survivors, providing a kaleidoscopic portrait of both sides in a cataclysmic conflict.
A top-shelf World War II history told with meticulous research and considerable heart.
"James Scott tackles a controversial subject with gripping, fresh details....
Black Snow is destined to become a benchmark for students of the Pacific war to fully comprehend the profoundly difficult tactics employed by the United States to finally close the doors on the mighty Japanese war machine."
Proceedings - Stephen L. Moore
Black Snow is fine history and gripping narrative. I recommend it to all interested in World War II, military history, military innovation and the ethics of war."
ARMY Magazine - Brig. Gen. John Brown
"Tells us with great insight and detail what went into America’s thinking more than 75 years ago when it decided to target Japan’s citizens in World War II.... Today, the issues Scott has so skillfully raised in
Black Snow are most visible in the war of aggression Russia is waging against Ukraine."
Daily Beast - Nicolaus Mills
"The firebombing of Japan is one of the most gut-wrenching and controversial chapters in modern history. James M. Scott’s
Black Snow is a brilliant, fast moving, utterly absorbing, and devastating account of the full price of victory in the Pacific."
"What’s truly excellent about this book is the arc of it, the well-plotted background behind the method and the madness of the decision to firebomb civilians.... While there are certainly more aspects of World War II which would benefit from Scott’s gifts, this feels like a well-earned culmination."
Charleston Post & Courier - Jonathan Sanchez
"Riveting and broadly researched.... Scott is a formidable historian of the Pacific War ... [and] talented as both reporter and storyteller.... This book is required reading for anyone with even a passing interest in World War II and the Pacific Theater."
Boston Globe - Bob Carden
"A book as valuable as it is engrossing.…An account filled with sharp detail that never slows the headlong narrative pace.
Black Snow is at once an adventure story, a technological thriller, and a harrowing reminder of the human cost of total war in our modern age."
"James M. Scott brings to life with painstaking detail and humanity the terror and plight and hopes of Japanese citizens in their cities, and US pilots in the air—their duties, their misgivings, their conflicted reactions, their sense of victory, and their moral survival off that victory. You realize you’ve never read this story before in this way, with these long views of history and such collar-grabbing intensity.
Black Snow raises profound questions about how peace is made during one of America’s most turbulent periods on the world stage, and it speaks clearly to us today. You won’t put it down."
"Compelling and ambitious.... Through the strength of his archival research and interviews with Japanese survivors, Scott puts readers in the hell that was Tokyo that day as the payloads from 279 B-29s set off ferocious fire storms that swept through a city where homes became fuel for the inferno."
Seattle Times - Hal Bernton
"Without sparing the suffering of its Japanese victims, James M. Scott narrates in
Black Snow the real and remorseless saga.…Scott’s prodigious research…as well as his mastery of the telling detail, will make this a classic history of war: a tale of fantastic military hubris and its ultimate, catastrophic cost to a people who had literally sown the whirlwind. Unputdownable."
Black Snow brilliantly vivifies the horrific reality of the most destructive air attack in history, against Tokyo on the night of March 9-10, 1945. James Scott deftly employs sharply etched portraits of individuals of all stations and nationalities to survey the global, technological, and moral backdrop of the cataclysm, including the searing experiences of Japanese trapped in a gigantic firestorm. This riveting account illuminates an historical moment of profound contemporary relevance."
"Powerful and compelling narrative history.... Scott vividly describes the horrific impact of the inferno on the city and its residents."
Foreign Affairs - Lawrence D. Freedman
Black Snow is a tour de force of military history that aptly captures the terror, fear, anxiousness, and apprehension on all sides of the conflict in the Pacific. Scott is an exceptional writer with a keen eye for dazzling detail and gripping, suspenseful story-telling. A prize-worthy book, it will appeal to both the lay reader and the scholar."
Journal of Military History - Henry Richard Maar II
"James Scott’s fine new book concerns itself with many incendiary things, but fundamentally it addresses perhaps the most incendiary question to be found within the ethics (if there are any) of warfare: Should civilians be considered legitimate targets? Scott explores this tricky topic with an appropriate sense of gravitas, with a storytelling verve, with a mastery of the subject matter, and, most important of all, with a searching heart."