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23rd-24th May 1945

From the night of the 23rd to the morning of the 24th Tokyo underwent one of the heaviest raids of the war. The targets were far enough to be impersonal and we could enjoy with a certain detachment the weird spectacle of Tokyo in flames around us. At first the bombers were only throaty pulsing noises in the night. Then one by one they were caught in the searchlights and we saw them as bits and flashes of a more solid silver then the beams of light on they rose. By this time the incendiaries were starting to burn the horizon and the scene lighted up. The night took shape and color from the reddish mass of clouds reflecting the conflagration below while every once in a while the graceful spray of the incendiaries decorated the sky with childish fireworks. We actually saw seven planes hit –we could not be sure whether they were bombers or defense fighters. One of them, caught by a searchlight, was moving overhead with what seemed unbelievable serenity, indifferent to the bursts of anti-aircraft fire that followed or anticipated it when, suddenly, it burst into flames. Another one came into our line of vision already a dazzling cylinder of fire. It seemed incredible but men still lived inside it but it moved steadily on an even plane toward a bank of burning cloud; it didn’t make it. Before we knew it, it was dawn, a dawn of breath-taking beauty. The sky to our left was a pure and lovely blue but it took a long time to wash off the heavy smudges of smoke, clouds burned black, and all the dirty of destruction over Toyko.

How curious and unexpected is the perception of beauty! One can look with unconcern on a famous scene and pass unaffected by some subtle and intricate work of art. And then the glimpse of a child’s face laughing as she beats her open plams on a dirty pane of glass, or a twisted tree dyed bright orange by an incendiary chemical, can charm the eye and haunt the heart. All day today I was haunted by that queer vision of loveliness at dawn, the innocent blue breaking through the burning clouds. And tonight, by a strange coincidence, the more was never more beautiful. It was pleasant to walk in the silent streets. The white light can cool and soft and clean. I realized that somehow it had become my personal picture of peace, such a commonplace, but suddenly very new, enchanting, desirable.