I was wondering why Hiroshima and Nagasaki are remembered as some of the most devastating attacks during WW2; but, the Tokyo firebombing March 9, 1945—which caused more casualties and was a really devastating blow on the nations capital—has been largely forgotten in modern times.

Why does popular history remember Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but not Tokyo?

please keep in mind I am not an expert on the subject and I'm not sure about the exact number of casualties and injuries caused by the fire bombings.

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    What makes you think that people don't talk about the Tokyo fire bombing raids? Yes, the atom bomb raids get more publicity but that's because they represented a step change in how strategic bombing could be done. Sep 19, 2018 at 20:25
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    Welcome to the site - can I ask that you revised the question to indicate what makes you think that people don't talk about the firebomb raids? I imagine Wikipedia would provide casualty numbers, but without knowing who is (not) talking about the firebombs and in what context, I'm not sure how anyone could answer the question.
    – MCW
    Sep 19, 2018 at 20:38
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    Probably for the same reason for which the buying of a single diamond ring for a million dollars will be remembered more than the buying of ten million oranges for about ten million dollars.
    – Lucian
    Sep 19, 2018 at 20:58
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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it makes an unsubstantiated, unsupported and likely incorrect claim as the basis for the question. Sep 19, 2018 at 21:18
  • We may not in the West but they DO in Japan. There’s an entire wing of the Edo-Tokyo museum dedicated to it. The destruction of the City during the War was on par with other Capital cities such as London or Berlin. Life in the aftermath was a matter of survival. The reason Tokyo was not targeted by atomic weapons was because it had already been practically destroyed and Japan was still not showing signs of capitulation.
    – Tom Kelly
    Dec 9, 2018 at 5:57

1 Answer 1


The reason one sees Hiroshima and Nagasaki mentioned far more frequently than the Tokyo fire ride of 9-10 March 1945, is that those two attacks were the only use of atomic weapons. And, those two bombs caused Japan to surrender, while the Japanese had previously fought to the death, almost to a man, and when the numerous fire raids on Tokyo and many other major Japanese cities had not.

Since then, there has been an unofficial ban on the use of atomic weapons by all nations that possess them, to where they remain today to be a tool of deterrence, not offense, even though conventional weapons can produce the same damage as a low yield nuclear bomb. Consequently, the only use of atomic weapons tends to get mentioned a lot. It is the unconventional and almost taboo nature of the nuclear bombs that keeps them front and center.

Hiroshima suffered around 80,000 deaths, while the Tokyo fire raid is estimated to have killed upwards of 120,000. One fact not often mentioned is the amount of damage done: Hiroshima had roughly four square miles destroyed, while the fire raid on Tokyo destroyed 16 square miles.

Four times the damage, with 1.5 times the casualties... one reason for this difference was the slowness with which the firestorm arose in Tokyo, taking a few hours to reach full power, giving many residents time to get out. The atomic bomb unleashed it's full fury in an instant. And part of the reason was the residual radiation after the attack... invisible, and the dangers of radiation were unknown to most people at that time.

While the US had dropped leaflets over the two cities and several others warning of impending raids and advising the people to leave, there was almost no warning on the day of the attack, other than three bombers appearing over the city during daylight hours, thought by many to be just photo recon, as opposed to the 300+ bombers that attacked Tokyo at night. The fire raids were all carried out at night, as General LeMay had established that Japanese antiaircraft methods were not nearly as effective at night.

  • Another aspect of the atomic bomb is it only took one plane and one drop to destroy a city, while the raid on Tokyo took several missions and hundreds of drops. That was, and still is, a staggering, remarkable jump in innovation.
    – TomD
    Sep 20, 2018 at 12:24
  • Apart from misrepresenting current debates on the surrender issue, this is good. Sep 21, 2018 at 6:56
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    There is no debate on the surrender issue, save revisionism. It is well documented. The Japanese had put out peace feelers through the Soviet Union, which we were aware of, but the Soviets were massing for invasion. The militarists were determined to fight to the last citizen. It was the shock value of the nuclear bomb that wiped out any doubts on the part of the non militarists and Hirohito. The only sticky point was whether the Allies would demand a war trial for Hirohito. When they relented on that point, Hirohito pushed the surrender through, an unprecedented action for that nation.
    – tj1000
    Sep 21, 2018 at 15:55

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