70 Years Since Doolittle Raid on Tokyo

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Derided by Japanese propaganda as the ‘Do-nothing Raid’ – the bombers carried only 2000 pounds of bombs each and, as was to be expected, inflicted only limited damage on selected targets – the Doolittle Raid actually had far-reaching consequences. Though he publicly uttered his thoughts more than once on the Raid, Doolittle was to write in depth about it in his memoirs only very late in life, so I felt a certain frisson when, still in high school, I wrote to him and received a reply which included this assessment of the importance of the raid:

The morale effect of the first raid on Tokyo was much greater than the destruction caused. It gave the American public the first good news they had received and therefore had an important morale effect for us. It caused the Japanese to question their war lords who a assured the people that the homeland would never be attacked, so it had a bad morale effect on the Japanese. 

Indeed, Japan withdrew its carrier force from the Indian Ocean to protect the home islands and the commander of the Japanese Imperial Navy, Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, felt impelled to take the fateful decision to attempt the elimination of America’s carrier forces (providentially preserved from destruction by their absence on the day from Pearl Harbor) by seizing the strategic atoll at Midway and luring them into combat. A mere six weeks later, four of Nagumo’s carriers (and, no less important, their irreplaceable pilots and technicians) were ablaze off Midway and the Imperial Japanese Navy never recovered.

The Doolittle Raid rightly entered the annals and became a byword for American initiative and daring. In his farewell address to the nation in January 1989, President Ronald Reagan recalled it with these words: “We’ve got to teach history based not on what’s in fashion but what’s important: Why the pilgrims came here, who Jimmy Doolittle was, and what those 30 seconds over Tokyo meant.” It meant courage and a sense of patriotic duty of the highest order in a dark hour, something not lost by any means today in the U.S. armed forces but, sadly, less celebrated in the popular imagination.

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  • Gary from Jersey

    My uncle was a navigator on that raid. It was one of the most audacious military adventures ever and set the precedent that the United States was going to win that war. It's so sad that so few Americans know of Doolittle, the raid or even the war.

    • Stephen_Brady

      Here's one American who knows the story, and I honor your uncle, and ask God's blessings on him.

  • wctaqiyya

    If only we had leaders with that audacious faith in the ability of America now. But we don't, so our enemies, even the weakest of them like N. Korea, Cuba and Venezuela spit in our face every single day. Can somebody give me a good reason why Cuba is not yet liberated? And please don't quote me the agreement Kennedy made with the now extinct evil empire. I'll take any good reasons except the most obvious one, Obama. Do many people know that the U.S. is the best place Chavez can refine his dirty, heavy crude oil? Yep. It's the same reason we send heavy tar sand oil to Houston for refining. But, instead of drilling for enough to replace what we import from Chavez , he continues to poop on our carpet. If we had good leaders, we could and would tell Chavez to eat his oil. The blame for the decline of America belongs to Americans. With just a little effort, we could brush aside or render moot many of our troubles.

  • Amused

    With each passing day , these heroes pass on , this GHreat Generation that battled true evil and defeated it .As a kid my neighborhood was filled with them , my Barber -, tthe Butcher , my Dentist ,the Postman ,the Bus Driver ,my Scout Leader. Of the twenty houses on my block , 11 were owned by WW2 GI's .My best frends Dad survived the Bataan death march , another got his left ear shot off in Italy , another flew cargo planes over the Himalyas to supply Burma , my own Dad a Liuetenant Commander on Merchant Convoys across the North Atlantic, yet none ever spoke about it ,we'd find out from the Mom's or Aunts etc. Our toys resembled their statures ,our games reflected their bravery , our movies spoke of their sacrifices and victory .And STILL DO . Soon these men ,will all be gone ,and deserve all honor .These men were my examples growing up .

  • tagalog

    On the news last night, the interviewer asked one of the men who was on the mission who's still alive if he didn't think at the time it was a suicide mission, flying a small group of slow-flying bombers over the as-yet untouched Japan. He didn't answer directly because that generation of MEN didn't think that way; he said he wanted strike a blow for his country and the armed forces to show the Japanese they couldn't get away scot free with Pearl Harbor.

    Of course they must have thought it was a suicide mission. They didn't think about that much; they thought what they did was what any red-blooded American MAN should do after that sneak attack. We still have MEN who think like that, but the number gets smaller every day.

    It's a shame that they didn't talk about their experiences; we would have had a huge reservoir of stories to sustain this country and society in the future. But their unwillingness to talk about their sacrifices is also so admirable that I continue to weigh in my own postwar boomer thoughts their admirable reticence against the desire to know their personal histories.

    My neighborhood was like Amused's: nearly every man had served in the war, and almost none of them talked about it. What stories they did tell were the amusing stories of scrounging for booze and building a serviceman's club on some pacified island after the fighting was over (my father -13th Air Force, Guadalcanal, New Guinea, the Philippines- made me promise not to tell my mom what the name of the servicemen's club, The Lack-a-Nookie Club, meant). I didn't find out until he was dead a long time that one of my neighbors had waded through the lagoon at Betio, and that another had been gassed in France in World War I. Another did patrols as a member of the First Special Service Force at Anzio, along the Mussolini Canal, and fought the Germans at Mount La Difensa. They were just fathers of my friends, going to work and puttering around with household chores. Those battle jackets that they wore were like the Army surplus stuff that we kids bought. NOT. Maybe they told their stories at the American Legion and VFW halls where they were members, I don't know. They were real men.

  • Amused

    The Remarkable thing about the Doolittle Raid was that , it wasn't a suicide mission per se , as in Kamikazee , or the jihadis of present times , it was a mission in which the odds of coming home were very small, and the intent was NOT to die , but to accomplish the mission,accepting the great risk and odds that they would not return .