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Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Kyoto, the City Saved by a Honeymoon?

Kyoto was on the list of cities to be bombed, together with Hiroshima, during WWII. I had not known when I visited just a few days ago. It was, in fact, target number one.

The Target Committee had deemed Kyoto as a prime target because dropping the atomic bomb on the city would have produced maximum psychological damage. The minutes of the committee's second meeting, preserved here, is chilling:
(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. (Classified as an AA Target)
Story has it that Kyoto would have been destroyed, had it not been for Henry Stimson, US Secretary of War. You see, he had visited Kyoto, enroute to the Philippines, and loved the city so much he later held his honeymoon there. Some say that it was because of this connection, established while traveling, that he eventually objected so heavily to its destruction. And Kyoto got spared.

It's hard to care about places you've never been, and correspondingly, to peoples you've never met. And for this reason -- even for only this reason -- I wish I, and more people, could travel more.

In the meantime, at least I got to enjoy the mystical streets of Kyoto with fellow grad students for spring break. I took this beautiful photo below. So many were walking around in colorful kimonos. Those far down the street appear to be geishas. It's strange to realize, had history run a slightly different course, that many of these sights I saw would have been lost.

It is indeed a lovely city.

HT: Nitya for the story.