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Volcanoes as weapons: beating Japan the geological way, 1944 3 March 2009

Posted by admin in Japan, miscellaneous, volcano culture.
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Illustration from 'Can we blast Japan from below?' (1944)

What happens if you drop a bomb into a volcano? If the answer is ‘you make it erupt’ then perhaps you have a potential geo-weapon to hand. That, more or less, is the argument of ‘Can we blast Japan from below?’, an article from the January 1944 issue of Popular Science (available via Google Book Search). ‘Fear of volcanoes is so thoroughly ingrained in the minds of the Japanese’, writes the author, Professor Harold O. Whitnall of Colgate University, ‘that they have made gods of them’, and so great is their awe of these ‘smoking mountain deities’ that the mere act of bombing the volcanoes would cause ‘cataclysmic terror’. The real point of dropping bombs on Japanese volcanoes, however, is not mere psychological warfare. The point is to turn the volcanoes into weapons of war by artificially inducing eruptions.

Since shortly after Pearl Harbor, I have recommended that our all-out attack on the Japanese homeland be accompanied by bombing raids on Japanese volcanoes. I believe that explosives dropped down their throats may cause such a vomiting of lava and ash as to hasten the day of unconditional surrender.

The volcanoes of Japan, Whitnall argues, are part of a delicately-balanced system of geological forces. The explosive power of a big bomb or two dropped down the crater of a volcano might be enough to disrupt the balance:

In a dormant volcano, gases and molten matter beneath the plug may be gathering again and exerting new pressure for a blowout. Should it be that the time for an eruption is near, it is quite within the realm of possibility that a raid on the crater with block-busting bombs might be the force to set it off.

In his What Future for Japan? U.S. Planning for the Postwar Era, 1942-1945 (1995), Rudolf Janssens notes that in 1942 a proposal to ‘convince the mass of Japanese that their gods were angry with them, by dropping bombs down the craters and starting some nice little local eruptions’ did reach President Roosevelt, ‘but was not seriously considered’ (p. 50). The military historian Conrad C. Crane writes that General Henry H. Arnold, the USAAF officer responsible for American aerial bombing strategies during the Second World War, does seem to have been keen on the idea (along with such oddball notions as ‘bombing schools of fish off Japan’) but nothing came of it and the volcanoes remained unbombed.

It is possible the volcano-bombing proposal that landed on Roosevelt’s desk in 1942 came from Professor Whitnall: the reference to making the Japanese think ‘their gods were angry with them’ certainly echoes arguments in his 1944 article. If so, it is clear that two years on, and despite the lack of official acceptance, he had lost none of his enthusiasm for the idea.

‘The targets are many’, he urges, ‘and the openings wide’.

References
Conrad C. Crane, ‘Evolution of U.S. strategic bombing of urban areas’, Historian, vol. 40, no. 1 (November 1987), pp. 14-39.
Rudolf Janssens, What Future for Japan? U.S. Planning for the Postwar Era, 1942-1945 (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1995)
Harold O. Whitnall, ‘Can we blast Japan from below?’, Popular Science, vol. 144, no. 1 (January 1944), pp. 103-105.

The Volcanism Blog

Comments

1. Mike - 3 March 2009

I read this article and it made me wonder about a possible connection with Scientology dogma. I don’t know how much you know about this religion, but one of its most important stories is about an entity called “Xenu” who dropped h-bombs into volcanoes 75myrs ago. You can look at the wikipedia article on Xenu for more details.

The timing for this is just right, as L. Ron Hubbard started developing Scientology right after WWII. I’ll bet he was influenced by this proposal.

2. fiatboomer - 5 March 2009

Although this is mostly a silly idea, some have proposed that dropping the first A-bomb on Fuji instead of Hiroshima would have been enough of a shock to drive the peace advocates in the wartime government to convince Emperor Hirohito to advocate surrender.


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