How History’s Deadliest Bombing Campaign Created Today’s Crisis in Korea

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As the world watches with mounting concern the growing tensions and bellicose rhetoric between the United States and North Korea, one of the most remarkable aspects of the situation is the absence of any public acknowledgement of the underlying reason for North Korean fears—or, as termed by United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley, “state of paranoia”—namely, the horrific firebombing campaign waged by the U.S. Air Force during the Korean War and the unprecedented death toll that resulted from that bombing.

Although the full facts will never be known, the available evidence points toward the conclusion that the firebombing of North Korea’s cities, towns, and villages produced more civilian deaths than any other bombing campaign in history.

Historian Bruce Cumings describes the bombing campaign as “probably one of the worst episodes of unrestrained American violence against another people, but it’s certainly the one that the fewest Americans know about.”

The campaign, carried out from 1950 to 1953, killed 2 million North Koreans, according to General Curtis LeMay, the head of the Strategic Air Command and the organizer of the firebombing of Tokyo and other Japanese cities. In 1984, LeMay told the Office of Air Force History that the bombing of North Korea had “killed off 20 percent of the population.”

Other sources cite a somewhat lower number. According to a data set developed by researchers at the Centre for the Study of…

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