Firebombing victims waved off

The Supreme Court’s No. 1 Petit Bench on May 8 upheld lower court rulings that had dismissed a damages lawsuit filed by a group of civilian survivors and relatives of dead victims of a series of U.S. firebombings of Tokyo in 1945.

The plaintiffs had demanded an apology and compensation from the government, saying it neglected its duty to provide relief to civilian sufferers of the war while providing pensions to former servicemen and civilian workers of the Imperial armed forces.

The top court decision is apt to make the plaintiffs feel that the state discriminated against civilian victims of air raids when they compare their treatment with that given to those who belonged to the Imperial armed forces.

The government should strive to realize equality under the law, as guaranteed by Article 14 of the Constitution and sought by the plaintiffs, by quickly working out measures to provide relief to civilian victims of air raids.

Originally 131 people filed the lawsuit with the Tokyo District Court in March 2007, demanding a government apology and ¥1.44 billion in damages. They either had been injured or had lost family members in the American air raids on Tokyo from March to May 1945. The main targets were densely built-up areas in Tokyo’s low-lying areas known as Shitamachi.

In the March 10 air raid of Koto, Sumida and Taito wards alone, in which 279 B-29 bombers carrying high-performance incendiary bombs took part, nearly 270,000 houses and buildings were burned down and more than 100,000 residents are said to have been killed.

The district court in December 2009 rejected the plaintiffs’ claim that the different treatments were the result of discrimination against civilian victims of air raids, and dismissed the case.

The Tokyo High Court turned down the plaintiffs’ appeal in April 2012, pointing out that many war victims received no relief at all from the government. After this ruling, 77 of the plaintiffs took the case to the Supreme Court.

In past war-related trials, the judiciary cited the theory that because war is an emergency situation in which the very existence of the nation is at stake, every person must endure suffering from it. Although the plaintiffs demanded that the top court repeal this theory, it said nothing about it. One wonders whether the Supreme Court fulfilled its duty as the last arbiter in legal matters.

The government and the Diet should take seriously what the Tokyo District Court said: that the relief issue should be resolved through legislation after taking political considerations into account and that the Diet has a wide range of discretion over the matter.

The government and the Diet should respect this court statement by taking concrete action. They should remember that the government has already worked out relief measures for survivors of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombings, former Japanese soldiers who were interned and used as forced labor by the Soviet Union, and Japanese war orphans left behind in China.

They also should study the compensation measures that Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Austria have taken for civilian war victims.