The Muses of War: Terror, Anger, and Faith during the Bombing of British and Japanese Cities, 1940-1945

Chair: Naoko Shimazu (Birkbeck), Aaron Moore (University of Manchester)
26 April 2016

The bombing war was an attack on urban citizens that was largely new to human history, producing many strange effects and experiences. The soldiers’ battlefield was distant, but in an age of ‘total war’ mobilisation the enemy’s targets included the civilian population; in both Japan and Britain, this could be baffling to ordinary people, who were more accustomed to the idea of adult male servicemen facing the threat of death in some far-flung ‘no man’s land’. This lecture will aim to compare the civilian narratives of urban residents in Britain and Japan, with a special focus on regional cities including Coventry, Aomori, Hull, Kōfu, Bristol, and Nagoya, as well as ‘second cities’ such as Osaka and Manchester. Because national governments were committed to defending their capitals, regional cities were sometimes more thoroughly subjected to enemy bombardment. For vulnerable urban residents, even though they understood the cause of their suffering to be the enemy’s modern military technology, the sudden descent of fire from the skies inspired superstitious, religious, and magical views in personal documents. The conflation of aerial bombardment with emotional responses and supernatural beliefs across both Britain and Japan suggests that their urban residents were similarly unready for the transformation of the home front into the battlefront, drawing from a variety of discourses in order to make sense of this new kind of warfare.

A joint session with the Rethinking Modern Europe and Comparative Histories of Asia seminar series. 

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