The Great Tokyo Air Raid

Introduction

On the night of March 9, 1945 the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) conducted a devastating firebombing raid on Tokyo, the Japanese capital city. This attack was code-named Operation Meetinghouse by the USAAF and is known as the Great Tokyo Air Raid in Japan. During the raid, bombs dropped from 279 Boeing B-29 Superfortress heavy bombers burned out much of eastern Tokyo. More than 88,000 and possibly over 100,000 Japanese, mostly civilians, were killed and one million left homeless, making it the single most destructive air attack of World War II. The Japanese air and civil defenses proved inadequate, and only 14 American aircraft and 96 airmen were lost.

Black and white photo of people walking along a road passing through a large area of destroyed buildings
A road passing through a part of Tokyo which was destroyed in the March 10, 1945 air raid.

In many parts of the world, World War II is remembered as a patriotic event – a tie that binds nations together, bringing out a peoples’ best qualities such as heroism, sacrifice, and determination.  Such is the case in Russia, where it is remembered literally as the Great Patriotic War. In the United States, the conflict is sometimes termed “the good war,” fought by “the greatest generation.”

But World War II is also notable its sheer ferocity.  Brutality became a science on all sides, systematized and streamlined for maximum effect, cranked out on an industrial scale.  Perhaps no nation committed so fully to this pursuit than the war’s eventual victor, the United States.  With its clockwork air war, refined via the experimental process and statistical analysis, the United States exhibited a chilling commitment to total war against the civilian populations of its enemies.

There is case to be made that this was war – that if the United States had not been so aggressive against Japan and Germany, those nations might have unleashed similar barbarity on the American people.  The ends may justify the means…

But it is also worth considering a question posed by Robert McNamara, one of the architects of the bombing campaign against Japan. “What makes it immoral if you lose and not immoral if you win?” he asked.

Charred remains of Japanese civilians after the firebombing of Tokyo on the night of March 9-10, 1945.

The U.S. government rightfully condemns the atrocities committed by the Japanese against the civilian populations of China or the Philippines, but it is loathe to grapple with the morality its own actions during the war.  This is largely because in the 21st century, the U.S. military continues to rely on many of the same techniques that helped to defeat Japan and Germany so many years ago – that is, the domination of the enemy and any attached civilization populations from the air, be it with incendiary bombs, Agent Orange, napalm, so-called smart missiles, or remotely controlled drones.

To recant on the morality of area bombing of Japan would be to call all of these subsequent strategies into question.

But a free society should never fear honest questions about its conduct – unless it fears the answers.

READ: DO:
A) Early Incendiary Raids Plan your own Bombing Raid
B) The Attack Roleplay as a Japanese Citizen
C) On the Ground
D) Casualties
E) Reaction
This lesson was reported from:
Adapted in part from open sources.

A) Early incendiary raids

  1. How would you describe the planning and preparation that went into the deployment of incendiary bombs against Japan?
  2. What is the difference between precision bombing and area bombing?  How well did precision bombing seem to work in practice?  In your opinion, knowing that this will greatly increase the civilian death tool, is this justification to switch to a policy of area bombing?

In June 1944 the USAAF’s XX Bomber Command began a campaign against Japan using B-29 Superfortress bombers flying from airfields in China. Tokyo was beyond the range of Superfortresses operating from China, and was not attacked. This changed in October 1944, when the B-29s of the XXI Bomber Command began moving into airfields in the Mariana Islands. These islands were close enough to Japan for the B-29s to conduct a sustained bombing campaign against Tokyo and most other Japanese cities. The first Superfortress flight over Tokyo took place on November 1, when a reconnaissance aircraft photographed industrial facilities in city.

Black and white photograph of a World War II-era bomber releasing bombs. The bombs are falling in a scattered pattern.
A B-29 dropping conventional bombs over Japan. Note that the bombs are being scattered by the wind, a common occurrence which made precision bombing difficult.

The attack on Tokyo was an intensification of the air raids on Japan which had commenced in June 1944. Prior to this operation, the USAAF had focused on a precision bombing campaign against Japanese industrial facilities.  Precision bombing refers to the attempted aerial bombing of a target with some degree of accuracy, with the aim of maximizing target damage while limiting collateral damage – destroying a single building in a built up area while causing minimal damage to the surrounding neighborhood.

Because of factors like altitude, wind, and limitations in military technology, these attacks were generally unsuccessful, which contributed to the decision to shift to area bombing – the indiscriminate bombing of city blocks or even whole cities – in this case, using firebombs. The operation during the early hours of March 10 was the first major firebombing raid against a Japanese city, and the USAAF units employed significantly different tactics than those used in precision raids including bombing by night. The extensive destruction caused by the raid led these tactics to become standard for the USAAF’s B-29s until the end of the war.

 

 

 

USAAF planners began assessing the feasibility of a firebombing campaign against Japanese cities in 1943. Japan’s main industrial facilities were vulnerable to such attacks as they were concentrated in several large cities, and a high proportion of production took place in homes and small factories in urban areas. The planners estimated that incendiary bomb attacks on Japan’s six largest cities could cause physical damage to almost 40 percent of industrial facilities and result in the loss of 7.6 million man-months of labor. It was also estimated that these attacks would kill over 500,000 people, render about 7.75 million homeless and force almost 3.5 million to be evacuated. 

The plans for the strategic bombing offensive against Japan developed in 1943 specified that it would transition from a focus on the precision bombing of industrial targets to area bombing from around halfway in the campaign, which was forecast to be in March 1945. The British and American bombing campaign against Germany also included frequent area bombing of cities, which resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of civilians and massive firestorms in cities such as Hamburg and Dresden.

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Two M69 incendiaries in the Edo-Tokyo Museum, 2018.  These would have been dropped as part of a larger cluster. (Tokyo, Japan, 2018.)

Image result for world war ii incendiary bombIn preparation for firebombing raids, the USAAF tested the effectiveness of incendiary bombs on the adjoining German and Japanese-style domestic set-piece building complexes at the Dugway Proving Ground during 1943. These trials demonstrated that M69 incendiaries were particularly effective at starting uncontrollable fires. These weapons were dropped from B-29s in clusters, and used napalm as their incendiary filler. After the bomb struck the ground, a fuse ignited a charge which first sprayed napalm from the weapon, and then ignited it.

 

 

Several raids were conducted to test the effectiveness of firebombing against Japanese cities.  On 3 January, 97 Superfortresses were dispatched on a firebombing raid against Nagoya. This attack started some fires, which were soon brought under control by Japanese firefighters. The success in countering the raid led the Japanese to become over-confident about their ability to protect cities against incendiary raids. The next firebombing raid was directed against Kobe on February 4, and bombs dropped from 69 B-29s started fires which destroyed or damaged 1,039 buildings.

On February 19 the Twentieth Air Force issued a new targeting directive for XXI Bomber Command. While the Japanese aviation industry remained the primary target, the directive placed a stronger emphasis on firebombing raids against Japanese cities. The directive also called for a large-scale trial incendiary raid as soon as possible. This attack was made against Tokyo on 25 February. A total of 231 B-29s were dispatched, of which 172 arrived over the city; this was XXI Bomber Command’s largest raid up to that time. The attack was conducted in daylight, with the bombers flying in formation at high altitudes. It caused extensive damage, with almost 28,000 buildings being destroyed. This was the most destructive raid to have been conducted against Japan, and LeMay and the Twentieth Air Force judged that it demonstrated that large-scale firebombing raids were an effective tactic.

The failure of a precision bombing attack on an aircraft factory in Tokyo on March 4 marked the end of the period in which XXI Bomber Command primarily conducted such raids. Civilian casualties during these operations had been relatively low; for instance, all the raids against Tokyo prior to March 10 caused 1,292 deaths in the city.

B) The Attack

  1. Describe the technical aspects of the U.S. attack on Tokyo.  How much of the attack was improvised, and how much of it was carefully orchestrated?

On March 8 LeMay issued orders for a major firebombing attack on Tokyo the next night. The raid was to target a rectangular area north-eastern Tokyo designated Zone I by the USAAF which measured approximately 4 miles (6.4 km) by 3 miles (4.8 km).  It was mainly residential and, with a population of around 1.1 million, was one of the most densely populated urban areas in the world.  Zone I contained few militarily significant industrial facilities, though there were a large number of small factories which supplied Japan’s war industries. The area was highly vulnerable to firebombing, as most buildings were constructed from wood and bamboo and were closely spaced. The orders for the raid issued to the B-29 crews stated that the main purpose of the attack was to destroy the many small factories located within the target area, but also noted that it was intended to cause civilian casualties as a means of disrupting production at major industrial facilities.

The B-29s in the squadrons which were scheduled to arrive over Tokyo first were armed with M47 bombs; these weapons used napalm and were capable of starting fires which required mechanized firefighting equipment to control. The bombers in the other units were loaded with clusters of M69s. The planes were each loaded with between five and seven tons of bombs.

The attack on Tokyo commenced at 12:08 am local time on March 10.  Pathfinder bombers simultaneously approached the target area at right angles to each other. Their M47 bombs rapidly started fires in an X shape, which was used to direct the attacks for the remainder of the force. Each of XXI Bomber Command’s wings and their subordinate groups had been briefed to attack different areas within the X shape to ensure that the raid caused widespread damage. As the fires expanded, the American bombers spread out to attack unaffected parts of the target area. Power’s B-29 circled Tokyo for 90 minutes, with a team of cartographers who were assigned to him mapping the spread of the fires.

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Tokyo burns under B-29 firebomb assault.  This photo is from the May 26, 1945 attack.

The raid lasted for approximately two hours and forty minutes. Visibility over Tokyo decreased over the course of the raid due to the extensive smoke over the city. This led some American aircraft to bomb parts of Tokyo well outside the target area. The heat from the fires also resulted in the final waves of aircraft experiencing heavy turbulence. Some American airmen also needed to use oxygen masks when the odor of burning flesh entered their aircraft.

A total of 279 B-29s attacked Tokyo. As expected by LeMay, the defense of Tokyo was not effective. Many American units encountered considerable antiaircraft fire, but it was generally either aimed at altitudes above or below the bombers and reduced in intensity over time as many gun positions were overrun by fires.  Nevertheless, the Japanese gunners shot down 12 B-29s.

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C) On the ground

  1. What was the effect of the attack?
  2. Should civilians be considered as fair targets in time of war?

Widespread fires rapidly developed across north-eastern Tokyo. Within 30 minutes of the start of the raid the situation was beyond the fire department’s control. An hour into the raid the fire department abandoned its efforts to stop the conflagration. Instead, the firemen focused on guiding people to safety and rescuing those trapped in burning buildings. Over 125 firemen and 500 civil guards who had been assigned to help them were killed, and 96 fire engines destroyed.

Driven by the strong wind, the large numbers of small fires started by the American incendiaries rapidly merged into major blazes. These formed firestorms which quickly advanced in a north-westerly direction and destroyed or damaged almost all the buildings in their path. By an hour after the start of the attack most of eastern Tokyo had either been destroyed or was being affected by fires.

This Tokyo residential section was virtually destroyed.

Civilians who stayed at their homes or attempted to fight the fire had virtually no chance of survival. Historian Richard B. Frank has written that “the key to survival was to grasp quickly that the situation was hopeless and flee.” Soon after the start of the raid news broadcasts began advising civilians to evacuate as quickly as possible, but not all did so immediately.

Thousands of the evacuating civilians were killed. Families often sought to remain with their local neighborhood associations, but it was easy to become separated in the conditions. Few families managed to stay together throughout the night. Escape frequently proved impossible, with roads being rapidly cut by the fires. In many cases entire families were killed.

Many of those who attempted to evacuate to the large parks which had been created as refuges against fires following the 1923 Great Kantō earthquake were killed when the conflagration moved across these open spaces. Others sheltered in solid buildings, such as schools or theatres, and in canals. These were not proof against the firestorm, with smoke inhalation and heat killing large numbers of people in schools. Many of the people who attempted to shelter in canals were killed by smoke or when the passing firestorm sucked oxygen out of the area. However, these bodies of water provided safety to thousands of others. The fire finally burnt itself out during mid-morning on March 10.

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D) Casualties

  1. Why is it hard to estimate the total loss of life during the Tokyo attack of March 9-10?
  2. American coverage of the bombing of Tokyo – during the war and ever since – typically features photos like the one immediately above.  Why wouldn’t war time leaders want to show Americans photos like the one immediately below? 
  3. Look in any American textbook you can find – are there any photos like the one below?  Should students be spared seeing the human cost of their country’s wars?

The large scale population movements out of and into Tokyo in the period before the raid, deaths of entire communities and destruction of records mean that it is not possible to know exactly how many died. Most of the bodies which were recovered were buried in mass graves during the days after the raid without being identified. Many bodies of people who had died while attempting to shelter in rivers were swept into the sea and never recovered.

The charred body of a woman who was carrying a child on her back.

Estimates of the number of people killed in the bombing of Tokyo on 10 March differ. Following the raid 79,466 bodies were recovered and recorded. Many other bodies were not recovered, however, and the city’s director of health estimated that 83,600 people were killed and another 40,918 wounded. The Tokyo fire department put the casualties at 97,000 killed and 125,000 wounded, and the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department believed that 124,711 people had been killed or wounded. Following the war, the United States Strategic Bombing Survey estimated that 87,793 people had been killed and 40,918 injured. The Survey also stated that the majority of the casualties were women, children and elderly people.

American casualties were 96 airmen killed or missing, and 6 wounded or injured.

Black and white map of Tokyo shaded with the areas of the city which were destroyed in different air raids
A map showing the areas of Tokyo which were destroyed during World War II. The area burnt out during the raid on March 9-10 is marked in black.

The raid also caused widespread destruction. Police records show that 267,171 buildings were destroyed, and 1,008,005 survivors were rendered homeless. This represents a quarter of all buildings in Tokyo at the time. Most buildings in the Asakusa, Fukagawa, Honjo, Joto and Shitaya wards were destroyed, and seven other districts of the city experienced the loss of around half their buildings. Parts of another 14 wards suffered damage. Overall, 15.8 square miles (41 km2) of Tokyo was burnt out. The number of people killed and area destroyed was the largest of any single air raid of World War II, including the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

While today, those atomic bombings are widely recognized to be uniquely devastating acts – inaccurately remembered as knock-out blows that ended the war, and worthy subject of another lesson – it is important to think of them in the context of the larger fire bombing campaign against Japanese cities.  By the time Hiroshima was bombed on August 6, 1945, the Americans had been destroying whole Japanese cities – and their civilian inhabitants – on a regular basis for nearly six months.

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Wartime U.S. propaganda often emphasized the otherness of the Japanese, portraying them as less than human.

E) Reactions

  1. In your opinion, was the attack on Tokyo a success?
  2. Imagine you are the President of the United States during World War II – how many Japanese deaths are acceptable to save one American life?
  3. How would you respond to McNamara’s question?

LeMay considered the operation to have been a significant success on the basis of reports made by the airmen involved and the extensive damage shown in photographs taken by reconnaissance aircraft on March 10. The aircrew who conducted the attack were also pleased with its results. The raid was followed by similar attacks against Nagoya on the night of March 11/12, Osaka in the early hours of March 14, Kobe on March 17/18, and Nagoya again on March 18/19. An unsuccessful night precision raid was also conducted against an aircraft engine factory in Nagoya on March 23/24. The firebombing attacks ended only because XXI Bomber Command’s stocks of incendiaries were exhausted.

Image result for tokyo firebombing

Further incendiary attacks were conducted against Tokyo, with the final taking place on the night of May 25/26. By this time, 50.8 percent of the city had been destroyed and more than 4 million people left homeless. Further heavy bomber raids against Tokyo were judged to not be worthwhile, and it was removed from XXI Bomber Command’s target list. By the end of the war, 75 percent of the sorties conducted by XXI Bomber Command had been part of firebombing operations. Few concerns were raised in the United States during the war about the morality of the 10 March attack on Tokyo or the other firebombing raids directed against Japanese cities.

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The Dwelling of Remembrance memorial in Yokoamicho Park, Tokyo. (Tokyo, Japan, 2018.)

Following the war the bodies which had been buried in mass graves were exhumed and cremated. The ashes were interred at a charnel house in Yokoamicho Park which had originally been established to hold the remains of 58,000 victims of the 1923 earthquake. A Buddhist service has been conducted to mark the anniversary of the raid on 10 March each year since 1951. A number of small neighbourhood memorials were established across the affected area in the years after the raid.

Few other memorials were erected to commemorate the attack in the decades after the war. Efforts began in the 1970s to construct an official Tokyo Peace Museum to mark the raid, but the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly cancelled the project in 1999. Instead, the Dwelling of Remembrance memorial to civilians killed in the raid was built in Yokoamicho Park. This memorial was dedicated in March 2001. The citizens who had been most active in campaigning for the Tokyo Peace Museum established the privately-funded Center of the Tokyo Raids and War Damage, which opened in 2002.

One man who helped to plan the attack on Tokyo was Robert McNamara, an American whose job it was to maximize the destructiveness of U.S. air raids on Japan.

“We burned to death 100,000 Japanese civilians in Tokyo — men, women and children,” he recalled later in life. “LeMay said, ‘If we’d lost the war, we’d all have been prosecuted as war criminals.’ And I think he’s right. He — and I’d say I — were behaving as war criminals.”

“What makes it immoral if you lose and not immoral if you win?” he asked.

As noted in his New York Times obituary, McNamara, who could effectively organize the complex attack described above found this latter question impossible to answer.

 

Activities

  1. In a small group, plan your own strategic bombing strike against an enemy city.  Your goal is to win the war.  Assign each of the following targets a priority rating of one through ten, one being an unacceptable target for attack, to be avoided, and ten being the highest priority for destruction.  You may use numbers more than once, but be sure to explain your rationale for assigning each number.
    • A steel mill
    • A government office
    • A military base
    • A military hospital
    • A factory canning food
    • An elementary school
    • A high school
    • A railroad yard
    • A dam
    • Workers’ housing near a factory
  2. OWI Leaflet #2106 – a warning dropped over Japanese cities on August 1, 1945 in the run up to the atomic bombing of Hiroshima.

    The U.S. military preceded many of its bombing raids by raining cautionary leaflets over Japanese cities.  Its Japanese text carried the following warning: “Read this carefully as it may save your life or the life of a relative or friend. In the next few days, some or all of the cities named on the reverse side will be destroyed by American bombs. These cities contain military installations and workshops or factories which produce military goods. We are determined to destroy all of the tools of the military clique which they are using to prolong this useless war. But, unfortunately, bombs have no eyes. So, in accordance with America’s humanitarian policies, the American Air Force, which does not wish to injure innocent people, now gives you warning to evacuate the cities named and save your lives. America is not fighting the Japanese people but is fighting the military clique which has enslaved the Japanese people. The peace which America will bring will free the people from the oppression of the military clique and mean the emergence of a new and better Japan. You can restore peace by demanding new and good leaders who will end the war. We cannot promise that only these cities will be among those attacked but some or all of them will be, so heed this warning and evacuate these cities immediately.”  Imagine that you are resident of Tokyo and you find this message in your backyard.  Do you believe it?  What options for action do you reasonably have? What do you do?  Write a short story following this scenario.


THIS LESSON WAS INDEPENDENTLY FINANCED BY OPENENDEDSOCIALSTUDIES.ORG.

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Tokyo has rebounded.  Japan is now one of the world’s most prosperous economies, achieving through peace and commerce what it could not through war and conquest. (Shibuya, Japan, 2018.)

You can actually visit parts of the world featured in this lesson:

Solemn Feats of the Atomic Tourist – A travel journal documenting a two week educational trip to Kyoto, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki, made in an effort to better understand the legacy of the atomic bombing of Japan, originally published as a zine in 2012.

The Material Culture of the Soviet Union

This lesson was reported from:
Adapted in part from open sources.
  1. What is material culture?
  2. Why did transition of socialism to capitalism have such a dramatic impact on the material culture of Russia?
  3. Consider the vending machines which utilize a communal glass instead of cans or bottles.  What does this suggest about Soviet culture?  About the Soviet use of resources?

MOSCOW, RUSSIA – Somewhere out beyond Moscow’s Third Ring Road, a group of enthusiastic amateur archivists has undertaken a truly heroic project – to collect all of the loose odds and ends of the Soviet Union’s twentieth century material culture.  They have rented an old warehouse complex south of Kuzminki Park, packed it beyond capacity with everything from kitchen appliances to Soviet-era arcade games, and called it the Museum of Industrial Culture.

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The men behind the project are gregarious old putterers – fix-it men with an especially keen eye for design and detail. They greet me warmly and charge nothing for entry – this is an especially grand act of love, a hobby that has outgrown the shed out back – though they will gladly accept donations. During my visit, these friendlier old tinkerers are engaged in various restoration and conservation projects – getting that old Soviet dirt bike running, feeding the guard dogs some kind of ad hoc mash, sorting through new acquisitions.

What appears to be an expansive mess on first glance is actually carefully organized. There’s a clean and simple logic that becomes mostly apparent.  All of the old Soviet cars, trucks, and buses are out back – along with several partial jet fuselages, one passenger, one fighter. There is a case full of old food packaging along that narrow aisle, and another whole section with toys in various shades of condition from well-loved to just sad. Some of the arcade games still turn on, and visitors are encouraged to play.

 

 

I do not have the touch for the shooting game, much to the curator’s amusement. In my defense, I am neither a hunter of animals or a gamer of games. This large cabinet – dating from the 1980s – works on infrared technology, like an old television remote installed in the barrel of Red Ryder bb gun. There isn’t really a screen or graphics as anyone from the twenty-first century would understand them. Instead, the gun triggers incandescent light bulbs that toggle on and off as you “shoot” them.

It’s very analog, and I think I may have blown a fuse because everything on the machine suddenly goes dark. I back away with a smile and a “Spasibo.”

You can learn more about Soviet-era arcade games here.

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Lined up in the shade outside is a row of Soviet-style vending machines – which dispense beverages into the buyer’s own personal cup.  If you’re thirsty and you didn’t bring a cup, you can use the communal one that is chained to the machine. That’s a fantastic vector for disease and also a great way to conserve precious resources like aluminum, glass, and plastic.

 

 

There’s nothing too obscure for these guys – there are various specimens of many styles of the metal grating that still guard windows on the Soviet-era apartment buildings throughout the city.  They’ve got 1980s computer equipment and old maps showing train routes throughout the USSR. They even have those coin operated mechanical animals that sit outside supermarkets. Whole bins of specialized Soviet screws and fasteners.

Nothing here is sorted chronologically, and there is almost no signage. I bet these men could tell me stories about every item in their collection, but I don’t speak Russian and they don’t seem to speak English. All of that context would be fascinating – it is a conversation I’d love to be a part of and a book I’d die to read… But just handling these things – getting right up beside them, squinting to decide whether that weird device is a 1960s vacuum cleaner or a men’s electric razor?  Smelling the leaky oil from that Dnepr M-72 motorcycle’s crankcase – these men are cataloging the loose ruins of an entire society…

 

 

They are archaeologists working in the recent past, collecting the things that the rest of the world has called obsolete.  What most Russians have discarded and replaced, they have rescued and preserved.

This is a barely-living history, full of the granular details that no one bothers to note – because they’re so mundane, so omnipresent that no one in the future could possibly find them interesting, right?  I mean everyone uses a typewriter for important papers, and we all consult the phone book from time to time, when we’re not too busy reading the newspaper…

Those things once seemed like they were so obvious, so unimprovable that they would just be around forever. Today, your smartphone or your car seem that way…  But one day, your great-grandkids or some future archaeologist will be confounded by the material traces of your life.

The old saying is, “The clothes make the man.”

You could also say, “All of the clothes, all of the cars, the toys, the tools – these make the society.”

This is the Museum of Industrial Culture in Moscow, Russia.

It is the work of a few impassioned collectors – men working to preserve the material culture of the Soviet Union.

Material culture is a term used to describe the physical objects that make up everyday life.  Material culture is what packs this unassuming warehouse.

IMG_1614.jpgThe Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, and with it all of the state-run industries that held a monopoly on the ordinary consumer products that make up this museum’s collection.

In the new, post-Soviet 90s, those state-run industries suddenly faced competition from the capitalist companies of the West.  In an effort to shift Russia’s economy from socialism to capitalismthese industries were quickly auctioned off, making certain insiders quite wealthy.  This process was painful for many average Russians, however, who lost jobs, benefits, and their lifestyle during this dramatic period.  Practically overnight, the government got out of manufacturing.

In terms of these products that fill these shelves: who wanted a Lada when suddenly you could buy a VW? Or that crummy arcade game when there was Nintendo?  There was no longer a great demand for goods largely considered inferior to their Western counterparts.

The Soviet system of government was gone, for better or worse, and so too was the material culture that had defined Russian life for generations.

Most every item in this museum was discontinued – a mass extinction of mass  production.

 

 

In the twenty-first century, the economy has gradually recovered. With prosperity, Russians have cast off their aging Soviet possessions, consigning them to landfills, to memory…

And to this museum – a work-in-progress which seeks to turn that material culture into a proper history of the Soviet experience.

Listen to a 99% Invisible podcast – Unsung Icons of Soviet Design – discussing some of the items featured in this museum.

Activities

  1. What do your shoes say about you?  What about your car?  Your cell phone?  Create a virtual Museum of Industrial Culture documenting the material culture of your classroom, bedroom, or home.  Write informational signs describing the items featured in your museum – including the brands, marketing campaigns, and social meaning each item confers on its owner.
  2. Create a students’ paradise in your own classroom.  When you walked in today, your classroom was likely organized according to a capitalist model, in which each individual student controls his or her own school supplies. Create an inventory of all of the supplies brought to class today – the sum total of all of the pencils, pens, erasers, calculators, notebooks, etc…  If these supplies were divided evenly between all classmates, how many of each would an individual student receive?  Which classmates are better off under this new distribution of supplies?  Which are worse off?  Which system is more fair?  Which system would lead to a more productive classroom?
  3. Imagine that you have been commissioned by the Museum of Industrial Culture to write English-language signs explaining the function and history of the items in their collection.  Use the Internet to research Soviet products that might be found in the Museum of Industrial Culture.  Find pictures to accompany the text and create a virtual traveling exhibition in your classroom.

THIS LESSON WAS MADE POSSIBLE THROUGH GENEROUS SUPPORT AND COOPERATION FROM ROSSOTRUDNICHESTVO.
 The main building of Moscow State University, one Moscow’s Seven Sisters – stunning Soviet-era skyscrapers built in part with the slave labor of German POWs – was built in an attempt to modernize the capital, transforming it into a world class city with its own distinctly Russian style of architecture.  They are not so easy to cast aside, even if you wanted to. (Moscow, Russia, 2018.)

You can actually visit parts of the world featured in this lesson:

  • A Guided Tour of Moscow is a curated photo essay for use in middle and high school social studies classrooms.  The essay offers a brief, completely non-comprehensive overview of Russian history and culture circa 2017 and is meant to present these topics in an unconventional way – that is, as if the student were travelling through, wandering, and exploring Moscow on their own.  Explore Red Square and Gorky Park, commute through the Moscow Metro, and participate in the 2017 Victory Day celebrations commemorating the end of World War II.
  • Live From Moscow, 2018:

May 6, 2018: On the Eve of Putin’s Fourth Term

Moscow is like one big monument to the past.  It is full of hammers and sickles, and grand, imposing Soviet-era statues.  The so-called Seven Sisters – Stalin-era skyscrapers that were supposed to make Moscow look like the capital of a modern superpower – now look dated.  They haunt the city’s skyline like testaments to a world that might have been…  Imagine what the world would have been like had the USSR poured its resources into further developing that unique form of architecture, instead of a generation or so of nuclear and missile development…  Instead of a generation of backing satellite regimes and leftist revolutionaries the world over.

With reference to all of that Cold War stuff, I could write the same things about my own country…  What if the United States had declined to pursue those same provocative actions?  What if instead we had looked inward and gotten serious about, say, a War on Poverty?

Well, the world would be a different place in so many ways…  Not the least of which is that this mini-Cold War we are now reliving – typified by election hacking and assassinations by nerve toxins – would likely be the stuff of fiction instead of fact.

And Vladimir Putin, whose fourth inauguration is tomorrow, would probably be an anonymous government functionary in some modified, but still socialist USSR.

It is a strange coincidence that I am in Moscow for this moment.  I’m here to commemorate Victory Day – May 9 – the anniversary of the surrender of Nazi Germany to the Allied Powers at the end of World War II.  What we used to call V-E Day.  The last moment where the United States and Russia could plausibly claim to be standing shoulder-to-shoulder on anything.

On May 6, as I was landing at Moscow’s Domodedovo airport, more than a thousand anti-Putin demonstrators were arrested for protesting against Putin’s impending inauguration.  They see him as corrupt – as a man who has held on to office in part by preventing free and open elections in his own country.  By encouraging the same thing in mine.

Putin is a man who has learned from history.

Competition, not collaboration, was the story of the Twentieth Century.  And that winners don’t need to play fair, because they can retell the story of their triumph anyway they please.

More missiles mean more security.

More guns mean more safety.

Poverty isn’t a social problem, it is a personal one.

Why am I in Russia this week?

Because I’m trying to remember that fleeting moment when collaboration was necessary for survival – when both Russia and the United States found themselves with their back to each other, fighting for their very existence.

I wonder how dire things must get in our present before we can see each other in that light once more.

More funky, dated skyscrapers more 1945 and all of the missed potential it carried…  Less missiles, less stolen elections, less climate change, less 2018.

What is Communism?

This lesson was reported from:
Adapted in part from open sources.
  1. Describe the two groups that make up society as Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels see it.
  2. According to Marx and Engels, how would communism arise from capitalism?
  3. Taken as a whole, no society in the world today practices either pure capitalism or pure communism.  Consider your own society – what elements are more capitalist, and what elements more closely resemble communism?
  4. The philosopher John Locke wrote that “no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty, or possessions.”  How do you think Marx would respond to this idea?
  5. Evaluate the pros and cons of communism – who would be better off?  Who would be worse off? 
  6. What are some potential problems that might arise under a communist system?
  7. How does Leninism differ from Marx’s theory of communism?
The hammer and sickle symbol of communism came into being during the Russian Revolution.  It symbolized the alliance between industrial workers and rural peasants who together make up the working class.

Communism a movement whose ultimate goal is a society structured upon the common ownership of the means of production (factories, technology, farms) and the absence of social classesmoney, and the state.  More simply put, communism is the idea that basic needs – food, shelter, healthcare – should be shared evenly between every member of society, and that common people should look past artificial divisions like nationality, race, or personal wealth in pursuit of the common betterment of all mankind.  

Communism stands most directly in contrast to capitalism, a system which arose in the early 1800s alongside the Industrial Revolution. Capitalism is a form of social and economic organization that assigns access to basic needs according to an individual’s ability to pay for them, which ultimately divides people into categories of haves and have-nots – those that can pay for food, and those who cannot; those who can afford to buy a house, and those who cannot; those who can afford to go to the doctor, and those who cannot.

According to communist theory, capitalism is a system that unfairly rewards a small, greedy group of wealthy business owners, usually referred to as the bourgeoisie. This capitalist class is a minority who derives its unfair share of society’s wealth by exploiting the poverty of the working class, or proletariat – the class of urban factory workers who labor for subsistence-level wages under often-hazardous conditions and who make up the majority within society.  Think of the CEO worth billions of dollars while his lowest level employs work for minimum wage and don’t receive adequate healthcare.

The core philosophies of communism were developed and popularized by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, who published their famous pamphlet, The Communist Manifesto, in 1848 as the Industrial Revolution was in full swing throughout much of Europe.  Marx and Engels saw history as a continuous conflict between the capitalist and working classes.

A monument to Karl Marx and his colleague Friedrich Engels in Berlin, Germany.  The park was created by the authorities of the former German Democratic Republic (GDR) in 1986. (Berlin, Germany, 2007.)

Marx predicted that this situation would ultimately be resolved through a social revolution in which the majority working class would overthrow the minority capitalist class – and the capitalist system itself.  The triumphant workers, he believed, would redistribute wealth and the means of production equally among themselves – and all human beings would be entitled to an equal share of what they collectively produced.

As Marx put it, “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.

There would be no more rich or poor, no more upper or lower class – even nations and racial distinctions would melt away – and all would receive an equal share, while hard work and selflessness would become the most exalted virtues to which anyone could strive.

Let the ruling classes tremble at a communist revolution. The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win. Workingmen of all countries, unite! – Karl Marx

It should be noted that Marx was only a theorist, not an active revolutionary himself.  Aside from writing and publishing, he never took any concrete steps to enact these ideas, which he believed would happen when the majority of the working class recognized just how unfair capitalism was…  That no matter how many extra hours they worked, no matter how many 2% cost-of-living raises they secured, they would always be denied a fair share of the wealth that they produced through their labor.

This condition has never really been met.

Image result for communist poster
“Smash the Old World. Establish the New World” (People’s Republic of China, 1967)

In the real world, every large-scale communist revolution that has come to pass has been led by a minority within a society still largely committed to capitalism.  Too often, communist revolutions the world over have been carried out without the consent of a country’s working class – they have not been true popular revolutions. In Russia, China, and Cuba, communist reforms have typically been enacted from the top of society down, instead of from the bottom up, by popular demand, as Marx predicted.

A bust of Vladimir Lenin, founder of the Soviet Union, the first communist nation on earth. (Moscow, Russia, 2017.)

This has led to a great deal of violence, oppression, famine, and hardship as communist leaders have attempted to force a communist revolution upon a society that was not ready for it, a philosophy known as Leninism, after the revolutionary Vladimir Lenin, who brought communism to a largely unprepared Russia in 1917.

Leninism’s willingness to force communism upon a society “for its own good and by any means necessary” has tarnished the legacy of Marxism, a philosophy that at its heart aspired to elevate humanity beyond its selfish tenancies toward greed, poverty, war, and conflict.

(Click to enlarge)

Activities

  1. Create a students’ paradise in your own classroom.  When you walked in today, your classroom was likely organized according to a capitalist model, in which each individual student controls his or her own school supplies. Create an inventory of all of the supplies brought to class today – the sum total of all of the pencils, pens, erasers, calculators, notebooks, etc…  If these supplies were divided evenly between all classmates, how many of each would an individual student receive?  Which classmates are better off under this new distribution of supplies?  Which are worse off?  Which system is more fair?  Which system would lead to a more productive classroom?
  2. Marx once famously wrote, “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.”  Unpack this metaphor and explain why Marx would be critical of religion’s role in the lives of the working class.  What else might serve a similar role in the modern day?  Create a communist-style propaganda poster warning your peers about the dangers of this other opium of the people.
  3. Marx was moved to develop his theories after witnessing the vast gulf between the rich and the poor during the Industrial Revolution.  He was appalled at the way the working class suffered – working long hours in dangerous conditions for low pay that often failed to provide them with a stable or dignified quality of life.  Research the ways that poverty manifests itself in your community and report back to your class.  Possible starting questions include:
    • How many people are homeless in my community?  What kind of options do they have for shelter, food, and medical care?
    • What does the phrase “working poor” mean?  How many people in my community fit this definition?  Who are their employers?
    • How does my government work to meet the needs of the poor?  What are the conditions in my state to qualify for medical, food, or unemployment assistance?
    • What charities are at work in my community, filling the roles that capitalism and the government don’t?

THIS LESSON WAS MADE POSSIBLE THROUGH GENEROUS SUPPORT AND COOPERATION FROM ROSSOTRUDNICHESTVO.
Fallen Monument Park in Moscow is a repository of communist era sculptures. (Moscow, Russia, 2018.)

You can actually visit parts of the world featured in this lesson:

  • A Guided Tour of Moscow is a curated photo essay for use in middle and high school social studies classrooms.  The essay offers a brief, completely non-comprehensive overview of Russian history and culture circa 2017 and is meant to present these topics in an unconventional way – that is, as if the student were travelling through, wandering, and exploring Moscow on their own.  Explore Red Square and Gorky Park, commute through the Moscow Metro, and participate in the 2017 Victory Day celebrations commemorating the end of World War II.
  • Live From Moscow, 2018: