Richard Overy

Trial by Firestorm

Bombing the City: Civilian Accounts of the Air War in Britain and Japan, 1939–1945


Cambridge University Press 251pp £19.99 order from our bookshop

This is a curious book. The central argument is simply that being bombed in the Second World War was a devastating and atrocious experience, whether you were British, Japanese or indeed part of any of the many other populations who found themselves underneath an air raid. Certainly no one would contest this conclusion. Why, then, write a whole book pointing this out?

The answer given by Aaron Moore lies in the nature of his sources. His purpose is to give ordinary people the opportunity to describe in their own words the nature of the bombing as they experienced it. Moore’s first book, Writing the War, drew very successfully on the diaries kept by Japanese soldiers as they made their bloody way across China during the long Sino-Japanese conflict. Here he uses the diaries kept by Japanese and British civilians who found themselves under the bombs.

Of the two sets of diaries, the Japanese are by far the more revealing. British diaries of the Blitz are well known, particularly those kept by the reporters for Mass Observation, and there is not much more to glean from them here. The Japanese experience,

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