Otis Cary Saving Kyoto in World War II

Saving Kyoto From The Bomb In World War II - Otis Cary Interview

Of course I had heard that the savior of Kyoto was Langdon Warner, the beloved and inspiring teacher of Oriental art at Harvard's Fogg Museum. He was a Boston Brahmin, disarming in his ingenuousness and aplomb. In 1906, shortly after graduation from Harvard, he was sent to Japan to study under the celebrated curator and connoisseur Okakura Kakuzo.

Later he married a cousin of President Theodore Roosevelt's and was well-known to the emerging group of Japanese art historians of America, all of whom benefited greatly from his grasp of Oriental art.

Among Warner's close friends were many of Okakura's disciples for several of whom he arranged invitations to lecture at Harvard in the 1930's. Ties among the fraternity of art historians were put to the test but strengthened as the relations worsened between America and Japan during the 1930's; they were, of course, completely severed during the war years.

Therefore, the virtually complete survival of Kyoto and Nara brought great joy and relief to art lovers on both sides of the Pacific. In short order, speculation compounded rumor, and an understandable rationale with uniquely Japanese overtones evolved for the consideration the Americans had shown for these two cities.

Otis Cary.
Otis Cary © sfgate.com

The Legend Of Langdon Warner

Langdon Warner memorial outside Kamakura Station.

It went something like this: it surely required a person of surpassing sensitivity to appreciate the renowned and priceless treasures of Nara and Kyoto in order to persuade the military to preserve them. In America the idea would have to have originated in someone - probably from their best university, Harvard - with extensive  knowledge of and actual experience in Japan, with access to the highest sources of power. Who but Langdon Warner could have been responsible for this miracle so well deserved by Nara and Kyoto, treasures of the world?

He fitted the desired script perfectly, and his apotheosis began with an article in the newspaper Asahi of November 11, 1945. Warner came to Japan in 1946 (just as I left my Occupation duties to return to graduate school) and spent several months as a consultant on arts and monuments. He was hailed immediately as the savior of Nara and Kyoto.

He did his best to deny it, but the more he did so, the more convinced the Japanese became of his great achievement. It was argued that a person of good breeding and sensitivity with life-long exposures to the subtleties of Oriental art would never admit to so fine a deed, even if true.

Warner himself, time and again, in letters to friends and associates in America decried the furor made over him. He called it an "old myth (in which I am now a firm believer)" but tried to give the credit where it was due. In the process he clearly showed the limits of his knowledge of just how the sparing was accomplished. His Japanese friends talked always of Nara and Kyoto in that order. The record is clear, however, that Nara was never considered a target of bombing although more than eighty cities suffered the B-29's attacks. Self-effacing and conscientious, Warner soon developed a standard explanation: "[American] government policy carried out by General MacArthur was responsible" for having saved Nara and Kyoto.

This hardly satisfied the Japanese although it reflected well on the already high regard in which the general was held. Actually, neither the American naval forces nor the B-29s were under MacArthur's command. He himself was ordered on July 3 not to touch Kyoto (and three other cities). His knowledge of the atomic bomb was minimal and only verbal. The activity of the B-29s and selection of their targets were strictly controlled from Washington because of the advent of the atomic bomb.

[In spite of] Warner's earnest denials . . . after his death a tasteful memorial of recognition to him was unveiled on the precincts of Nara's Horyuji Temple. Another stands outside Kamakura Station in Kamakura.

Henry Stimson.
Henry Stimson

Search For The Real Savior

As I began to realize in the early 1960's that I was becoming a fixture in Kyoto, I decided that before the truth became overlaid by burgeoning myth and the apotheosis of the reluctant late Langdon Warner, the record should be examined as thoroughly as possible. At another town in Nara Prefecture, Sakurai, a memorial to Warner similar to the one at Horyuji was being erected. A bronze bust of him was placed on display at the Okakura homestead near Mito. I had no axe to grind against Warner, but I felt I must satisfy myself, at least, as to exactly how Kyoto, by now my home, had been spared.

In 1953 President and Mrs. Charles W. Cole of Amherst College had come to Japan as the first visitors to be invited under a new non-governmental program of intellectual interchange. It had been my pleasant task for six weeks to interpret for them at sundry gatherings of academic, cultural and business leaders. During the course of this tour President Cole told me of an episode in the spring of 1945 that he had heard about directly from one of the principals, John J. McCloy, soon to be chairman of the Amherst College board of trustees. McCloy had been Assistant Secretary of War under Henry L. Stimson and one of his key troubleshooters.

As a cabinet officer Stimson was a model of integrity. A Republican in a Democratic Administration, he was there by choice and symbolized the united determination of the whole nation engaged in total war. On a spring day in 1945, Stimson caught McCloy with a question in which he described Kyoto, her charms and heritage, ending with, "Would you consider me a sentimental old man if I removed Kyoto from the target city of bombers?" After a little thought, McCloy encouraged Stimson to do so.

As the years went by in Kyoto, I was reminded of this episode whenever the Warner legend was referred to or told with tearful earnestness. Then, an appealing bit of historical reminiscence came to my attention, a digression written in the best might-have-been history vein by the late Herbert Feis in Japan Subdued:

"Using the privilege of an author I cannot refrain from . . . a personal flash of perception of the irony and singularity of history. A few months after the war ended, [I was in a group with Robert P. Patterson, Stimson's successor, driving along the road from devastated Kobe] to Kyoto, the city that was spared. Both sides of every small country lane . . . were crowded with Japanese . . . waving small American flags. We asked our escort . . . the reason [and] turning to Secretary Patterson whom he thought mistakenly had been in office when the decision to spare Kyoto was made, [he] explained, 'It is gratitude. They all know that your soldiers and airmen wanted to drop the atomic bomb on Kyoto and you did not allow them to do so'. The irony was in the fact that those people of Nagasaki who substituted in death for those of Kyoto were not there to wave us on. The singularity was in the chance events which fostered Stimson's determination not to permit the bombing of Kyoto. The Secretary had not known of the distinction of Kyoto as a former capital of Japan. But one evening during the early spring of 1945, a young man in uniform, son of an old friend, who was a devoted student of Oriental history, came to dinner with the Stimsons. The young man fell to talking about the past glories of Kyoto, and of the loveliness of the old imperial residences which remained. Stimson was moved to consult a history which told of the time when Kyoto was the capital and to look through a collection of photographs of scenes and sites in the city. Thereupon he decided that this one Japanese city should be preserved from the holocaust. To what anonymous young man may each of the rest of us owe our lives?"

A fascinating story but with some inaccuracies. Hiroshima took Kyoto's place, not Nagasaki. But more to the point, Stimson had personally experienced the distinction, and charm, of Kyoto. Indeed, the collection of photos may well have been from those days.

Mysterious Young Man

My search for "the anonymous young man" continued for many years. Correspondence with scholars of Japanese history and art senior to me uncovered no clue as to his identity. During a sabbatic leave I looked into the great Stimson diaries at Yale. It was apparent that Stimson was concerned with Kyoto, along with the whole problem of the imperial institution of postwar Japan. I was convinced that he must have spent some time in Kyoto, but the diary recorded mostly official activities as Secretary of State and of War and was not kept up during trips when he was out of office or when he did not have easy access to a secretary.

Nominated as Hoover's Secretary of State while he was still Governor General of the Philippines, he did spend one night in Kyoto in 1929, landing at Kobe, proceeding to Kyoto and catching the fast train to Tokyo the next morning where he had a round of appointments before boarding the President Pierce again at Yokohama.

But just one night in Kyoto could hardly have inspired in him such admiration for the city that he would insist on saving it. I was stuck on both "the anonymous young man" and the reason for Stimson's affection for Kyoto, and my investigations were stalled for years.

Before Coolidge sent him to the Philippines, Stimson had taken a trip in 1926 to Hawaii, at least, and, it seemed, to the Far East. On an outside chance I tried The Miyako, the hotel where nearly all visiting foreigners stayed before the war. I riffled through several volumes of registrations and financial records. Sure enough, "Mr. and Mrs. H. L. Stimson" had paid 30 Yen ($15 at the time) for Room #18 on October 2 and proceeded on to Kobe and wrote to a friend, "I feel that we have duly sacrificed to the Goddess of Sightseeing!" The glories of Kyoto in the fall, her gardens, temples and surrounding hills, evidently impressed Stimson, and the decisions he made two decades later proved that the memory of these visits remained vivid.

My research led me to Washington - and the Pentagon, where I examined the records of the Secretary of War's office and those of General Leslie R. Groves and the Manhattan Engineering District. Many of these were stored in various stages of declassification. From its inception the building of the atomic weapon was a responsibility of the War Department. Stimson's custom of taking full responsibility and carefully delegating authority kept him constantly watching over the development of what he called the "S-1".

By the end of 1944 a surprisingly accurate estimated time of availability of the weapon was projected; it would be deliverable with the first appropriate weather in August 1945. Stimson pondered the grave implications of this unprecedented power. He concluded that a high-level committee should look into the longer-range implications of atomic energy as it took its place in the postwar world. He sought and received permission for what he called "highest authority" (the President) to create and chair what came to be known as the Interim Committee with representation from the State, War and Navy departments and the foremost scientific circles. The members of this committee were to deliberate on how and when to drop the bomb as well as on the future course of the fearful force of atomic energy until the Congress could make proper provisions for it after the war was won and strict secrecy was relaxed.

Stimson was also concerned with the fate of Japan. He and his colleague, Secretary of the Navy James V. Forrestal, and Acting Secretary of State Joseph C. Grew had held discussions in a State, War, Navy coordinated committee, and the three found themselves in considerable agreement on how to defeat Japan, her future fate and position, and the handling of the imperial institution. Stimson's stand was not rigid but always consistently moral, and as he saw the collapse of Germany and the heightened intensity of the B-29s' bombing of Japan, he became concerned about the course it was taking. He had extracted a promise early on from Assistant Secretary for Air Robert A. Lovett, that there would be "only precision bombing" and that of purely military objectives.

The Interim Committee held its key meeting on May 31-June 1 where it was agreed that the "gadget" should be dropped 1) as soon as possible, 2) on a dual target "a military installation or war plant surrounded by or adjacent to houses and other buildings most susceptible to damage," 3) without prior warning - there was a major question as to whether the advice would go off or not.

Kyoto - Number One Target

A separate Target Committee had already been considering possible targets. Composed of more civilians than military experts, it was an Air Force-Manhattan District group basically concerned with the characteristics of the target city. They had already come up with a list of targets with Kyoto at the top. Kyoto had, to their knowledge, not been touched, but they had excellent photographic and other evidence that the industry already here together with the redeployment occasioned by the destruction of other cities made it a worthy target. Beyond that, the topography of surrounding hills made it an even more "natural target", for "the damage from the bomb would run off within the city"! The other targets were Hiroshima, Niigata, and Kokura Arsenal.

Groves records that he was cornered into showing Stimson the list of targets from the Target Committee before he had had a chance to show them to his immediate superior, the Chief of Staff, General George C. Marshall. Groves was mindful of the civilian interest in the whole Manhattan Project and gave it due consideration, but he deemed the selection of the target and delivery of the bomb to be initially an operational matter and so wanted to submit it first to his military superior.

Stimson differed and told him he would settle on the targets himself. When told them, he immediately objected to Kyoto without having seen the target work-up, saying he would never approve. Groves ventured that Stimson might change his mind after reading his report, but Stimson replied that he was sure he would not. Marshall was asked to join the discussion in which impressive intelligence data unfolded from the target report on the military importance of Kyoto.

Stimson was not to be budged. According to Groves, part of the rationale for Stimson's decision included the historical position of the United States after the war. Thus, on May 30, 1945 a Top Secret Memorandum from Groves to General Lauris Norstad read, in part: "Will you please inform General Arnold that this AM the Secretary of War and the Chief of Staff did not approve the three targets we had selected, particularly Kyoto." As far as I have been able to determine this is the first mention in writing of the reservation of Kyoto as a target, and from this time on with Stimson's determined backing Kyoto was permanently off the target list.

The respect and trust in which the new president held Stimson became a factor in this epic of Kyoto. As chairman of a Senate watchdog committee on war contracts and profiteering, Senator Harry S Truman had become interested in an atomic installation at Pasco, Washington. It took only the word of Stimson assuring him that there would eventually be an accounting for Truman to turn back his investigators. Now this same Harry Truman was briefed from the lips of Stimson about the expected horrors and wonders of atomic energy. Stimson lingered after the cabinet meeting following Truman's swearing-in to appraise him briefly of the problem, returning later for a thorough briefing. On Stimson's request for a personal presidential representative on the Interim Committee Truman selected James F. Byrnes.

By June the Potsdam conference had been shaping up for some time. Churchill was anxious to move, but the new president held back until he was more knowledgeable and confident. Another Groves Top Secret Memorandum to the Chief of Staff at this time began:

"As you will recall, Kokura, Hiroshima, and Niigata were tentatively selected as suitable targets for the first atomic fission bomb to be dropped on Japan. Kyoto was also selected but it was eliminated as a possible target not only for the atomic fission bomb but for all bombing by direction of the Secretary of War."

The date was June 30, 1945.

As the climactic final day approached, Truman selected his Potsdam party, which did not include Stimson. After a  Cabinet meeting, Stimson asked the new president whether he was deferring to his age to which Truman gave an affirmative answer. Stimson, although discouraged, was not to be denied. With McCloy he boarded the transport Brazil to Gibraltar, then flew to Berlin.

The historic news of the atomic success at Alamogordo was dispatched through Washington to Stimson and on to Truman, Churchill and others by a prearranged, and perhaps ironic, code describing the birth of a new baby. At Potsdam Stimson was not an official member of the delegation, but still he was the umbilical cord to the atomic bomb!

[T]he Target Committee still considered Kyoto to be the best target . . . and . . . the following dispatch was sent:

Washington, 21 July 1945. TOP SECRET/URGENT/WAR 35987. Secretary of WAR EYES ONLY TopSec from Harrison. /All your local military advisors engaged in preparation definitely favor your pet city and would like to feel free to use it as first choice if those on the ride select it out of four possible spots in the light of local conditions at the time.

Not once, but twice, Stimson in his cabled replies stresses "always excepting the city of my choice". When he informed the President of the success of the test and of the problem of targets and his concern for Kyoto, Truman for somewhat different reasons rejoined that it might set the whole Kyoto region against America, to the advantage of the Russians, but agreed on humanitarian lines with Stimson. Thus Stimson's reply of July 23, 1945 for Harrison's "EYES ONLY":

". . . We are greatly pleased with patient's progress. . . also give name of place or alternate places always excluding the particular place against which I have decided. My decision has been confirmed by highest authority."

Stimson further records that General Arnold at this time in Potsdam agreed with him about "the target [Kyoto] which I had struck off the program."

A Hint & An Answer

My pilgrimage was over, for it was clear to me that without the constant and forceful words of Stimson, Kyoto would have been, again, first on the list of atomic bomb targets.

But what of the "mysterious young man"? In desperation, after considerable correspondence, I wrote a letter to Ivy League alumni magazines but to no avail, although I did receive some suggestions. On a hint from McGeorge Bundy, Stimson's collaborator in putting together his volume On Active Service in Peace and War and whose father had been Stimson's most intimate lieutenant, I did finally locate, to my satisfaction "the anonymous young man", a cousin of Stimson's, a young naval officer, Henry Loomis. At Harvard he had taken the first courses in Chinese and Japanese culture and history offered by John K. Fairbank and Edwin O. Reischauer in 1939-40. He was a physics major, but every year took a "fun" course well out of his field, Russian Literature and History one year, and Chinese and Japanese History and Culture another.

The Stimsons, with no children of their own, were particularly fond of children of close relatives, to whom "Cousin Harry" was "both a legend and beloved person". The evening with "Cousin Harry" in February or March 1945 at Woodley, the Stimson's home in Washington, was quiet and intimate in the Stimson manner. Since Loomis had just returned from long duty as a radar specialist in the Pacific, the talk ran to the war with Japan. In a recent letter to me he writes:

". . . We particularly discussed the use of possible new weapons and what would make the Japanese surrender. This in turn, brought on a discussion of the Japanese character which is so difficult for any non-Japanese to understand. It is possible that in this context I stressed the fact that the Japanese had another side in addition to their brutal side. I certainly am no scholar of Japan and I had studied Chinese and Japanese art and culture as an undergraduate at Harvard and I probably mentioned their unique contribution to world art. It is possible that this conversation may have sparked cousin Harry to think of saving Kyoto. If so, I would be most thankful."

Herbert Feis, the economist and historian, was an intimate of Stimson's and a constant visitor at Woodley. His account, therefore, is to be appreciated in context and pardoned for any inaccuracy. Stimson, after all, had been in Kyoto at least twice and certainly must have been aware of its "distinction". Feis must have picked up his story from Stimson himself or Mrs. Stimson. Loomis' clear recollection that Kyoto was not discussed adds further weight to the idea that the sparing of Kyoto was Stimson's own personal decision. And McGeorge Bundy in his letter suggesting Loomis as an outside possibility for "the anonymous young man" took care of another loose end; he recalled at one point in their long collaboration "the old gentleman explicitly denied to me that his attention had been directed to Kyoto by Langdon Warner and . . .  he gave me to understand that he did not need instruction about the cultural significance of Kyoto from anyone."

Still legends, spurred on by the Japanese tendency for apotheosis, grow. . . [O]n sabbatic leave at Harvard, I checked once more the original Harper's article (February 1947) in which Stimson tried to clarify the problem involved in the decision to use the bomb. . . . Beside the portion "We determined that it [Kyoto] should be spared. . . .", some anonymous reader had written in "False, this due to Reischauer". . . . I was favored, however, with a complete denial in writing from Professor Reischauer of any direct role. . . . I had talked with him many times about the sparing of Kyoto . . . and in our last conversation I had regretted having to undermine the Warner legend after all these years. He was sympathetic as I spoke of the embarrassment Warner must have felt and of the memorial at Horyuji which was put up only after his death. Reischauer, with a twinkle, recalled the delightful humor of Warner who was determinedly against any such concrete recognition as a memorial; "All those pigeons!" he had demurred.

Kyoto was placed on the list of cities to be reserved from bombing by Henry L. Stimson - and, as far as can be known, it is still on that list! Still, as Groves wrote, "If we had not recommended Kyoto as an atomic target, it would not, of course, have been reserved and would most likely have been seriously damaged, if not destroyed, before the war ended."

Otis Cary (1922-2006), the son of missionaries was born in Japan. Cary served as an officer during World War II interrogating POW's in flawless Japanese. He taught history at Doshisha University for nearly 50 years. He also served on the faculty of Amherst College.

The image of Otis Cary is from his obituary at sfgate.com

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