“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” ~ Margaret Mead
“Too fucking busy, and vice versa. [Reply to her editor who was bugging her for her belated work while she was on her honeymoon]” ~ Dorothy Parker, Writer
“I told him [General Groves] there was one city that they must not bomb without my permission and that was Kyoto.” ~ Henry L. Stimson, Secretary of War, 1945
A honeymoon saving a city? A romantic notion, certainly, but like most romances, one seen through rose-colored glasses…the kind that distort the fuller and less sexy truth.
My wife and I just spent our 3rd Honeymoon and my 48th Birthday (we try to have one of each, every year) in the Imperial City (Emeritus) of Kyoto. As a result of being saved from conventional and atomic bombing in World War II, it is one of the few Japanese cities that still have an abundance of prewar buildings, such as the traditional machiya townhouses and entire old-fashioned neighborhoods where we stayed, as well as a plethora of original temples and shrines, along with the imperial residence and Shogun castle prior to 1868. Because of this, Kyoto has always been on my top-ten list of places to see in the world, and after visiting, should be the first place anyone visits when coming to Japan.
And almost as romantic as my and my wife’s 3rd honeymoon (less the fireworks!), Kyoto was indeed spared by the emotional reactions of just one man. Because that one man traveled and honeymooned abroad, and like all those who hanker to see and experience the world hold dear and true, traveling changes your life…and others’…sometimes in the most unexpected ways.
The Targeting Committee for use of the atomic bombs in World War II listed Kyoto, Japan, as their number one choice in 1945:
“(1) Kyoto – This target is an urban industrial area with a population of 1,000,000. It is the former capital of Japan and many people and industries are now being moved there as other areas are being destroyed. From the psychological point of view there is the advantage that Kyoto is an intellectual center for Japan and the people there are more apt to appreciate the significance of such a weapon as the gadget.”
Since the city was being “groomed” for an atomic attack, it was largely spared from the devastating conventional fire-bombing that was widespread throughout wider Japan in 1945. This so the effects of such a new “gadget” could be more accurately measured on a relatively undamaged city.
However, Henry L. Stimson, the then United States Secretary of War during WWII, vehemently opposed the strong and repeated Kyoto target nomination by General Groves. Even though Stimson personally was at great odds with Japan and it’s militaristic culture and unabashed aggression of the time, he, like most who travel, had formed an emotional connection with Kyoto (Japan) from his visits there as a statesman, and quite possibly more so from more personal visits to the city’s cultural centers with his wife, exactly akin to my wife and I characterizing our recent visit as “honeymoons.” Kyoto is a magical place, and it is not hard to fathom how Mr. Stimson could find himself enchanted with the long and mysterious traditions of the Far East.
Henry Lewis Stimson (1867 – 1950) was an American statesman, lawyer and spokesman on foreign policy. He served as Secretary of War (1911–1913) and as Governor-General of the Philippines (1927–1929). As Secretary of State (1929–1933) he gained further exposure to the Pacific, in particular to Japan during three official visits there. He again served as Secretary of War (1940–1945) during World War II under Roosevelt, where he took charge of raising and training 13 million soldiers and airmen, supervised the spending of a third of the nation’s GDP annually on the country’s armed forces, helped formulate military strategy, and took personal control of building and using the atomic bomb.
In official documents, Secretary Stimson cited a number of “official” reasons why Kyoto should be taken off the A-bomb list, but most certainly one of the primary reasons he was so moved to fight the nomination committee’s flag officers and scientists at the time was that he had actually been to Kyoto. Stimson did not refer to his emotional ties to Kyoto in formal texts, but a review of his dairies and those who were close to the events suggest his emotional decision to remove Kyoto was immediate and the “official” rationale came much later. As Secretary of War, Stimson had no compunction with using such an awesomely destructive device on a Japanese city, but as a world traveler, informed leader, and educated statesman, certainly Secretary Stimson was swayed away from even entertaining the idea of utterly destroying a city he – and the rest of the world – enjoyed so much. In this way, the emotions of time and place often outweigh the cold logic of calculation, and thankfully so.
However, in breaking with the romantic notions of the story and the man, Stimson’s diary and papers also contain reference to a much more official rationale – and one no less valid – noted during a discussion with then President Truman (my own editorial notes in brackets):
“We had a few words more about the S-1 program, and I again gave him my reasons for eliminating one of the proposed targets [Kyoto]. He again reiterated with the utmost emphasis his own concurring belief on that subject, and he was particularly emphatic in agreeing with my suggestion that if elimination was not done, the bitterness which would be caused by such a wanton act [the destruction of Japan’s cultural center] might make it impossible during the long post-war period to reconcile the Japanese to us in that area rather than to the Russians. It might thus, I pointed out, be the means of preventing what our policy demanded, namely a sympathetic Japan to the United States in case there should be any aggression by Russia in Manchuria [which Russia was about to invade as part of the Yalta Conference agreement with the U.S. and Great Britain].”
It’s hard to say what can become of one’s Flirtations and Flings in the Far East. But romance and love are certainly much kinder and more altruistic motivations than such talk of war and capitulation. And believe me, Kyoto is full of life, vitality, and love. With such notions afoot, it’s certainly interesting to think about the ramifications of Stimson and his wife deciding to honeymoon somewhere closer to home…or of having had terrible lodgings and room service in Kyoto…or having had problems in the bedroom while abroad in Japan! Sometimes the fates of great cities and nations rest in what seems to be trivial yet tragic circumstances….
Like that of Nagasaki, Japan. The city of Kokura was the primary target for the 2nd atomic bombing, and only because the cloud cover over that city prevented visual dropping of the weapon was Nagasaki bombed, as the secondary target that day…and as the replacement city for Kyoto.
We must always remember that we all have impact; when thoughtfully acted and committed with focus, each of us can each change the world. Thank you Mr. Stimson for saving Kyoto. It is, after all, an enchanted place to honeymoon!