Thursday, April 20, 2006

21st Century Reporting of Doolittle Raid

Harold Hutchison of StrategyPage gives us his thoughts regarding how today's media might report the Doolittle's April 18, 1942 raid on Tokyo.

Since we're celebrating the NYT I'll reproduce those accounts here:

The reporting:

New York Times, April 19, 1942: "AIR RAID ON TOKYO. In what the Roosevelt Administration described as retaliation for the attack on Pearl Harbor, the United States Army Air Corps launched an attack on Tokyo from an undisclosed location. The attack, using the North American B-25 Mitchell bomber, was described as a success, even though preliminary estimates indicate that little, if any, damage was done. A statement from President Roosevelt claimed the bombers launched from Shangri-La, although informed sources tell the New York Times that there was an unusually high degree of Army-Navy cooperation in the operation…"

The opinion:
New York Times Editorial, April 21, 1942: "Without a doubt, the decision to risk two carriers and their escorts to launch a raid that could do so little damage can only be described as incredibly stupid. The fact that the cost of this raid included all sixteen bombers, with most of the aircrews missing, only increases the level of disaster involved. By allowing this mission to go forward, Secretary of War Stimson and Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox have shown that they lack the judgment to carry this war to victory. If they will not resign, then President Roosevelt should fire them."
The reminder:

New York Times Editorial, June 18, 1942: "Two months ago, the Army and Navy carried out a joint mission to attack the Japanese homeland. All the B-25 bombers were lost, three men were killed, eight have been confirmed as having been captured, and while sixty-nine men made it back to friendly lines, some of them, like Lieutenant Ted Lawson, are gravely wounded. And for what? Minimal damage to Tokyo and Nagoya. One has to wonder if these bombers and their valiant crews might have done more had they been employed elsewhere. During the recent battle at Midway, these bombers could have damaged the fourth carrier, and thus, the United States Navy would still have had the Yorktown available, rather than on the bottom of the ocean…"


terrye said...

Well imagine the reaction to the loss of civilian life. They would have been demanding that Doolittle stand trial for war crimes.

Anonymous said...

And that is the way it would have been reported, had we not also been standing shoulder to shoulder with Uncle Joe.

Doug said...

Court-martial & Later Life
When the Navy dirigible Shenandoah crashed in a storm, killing 14 of the crew, Mitchell issued a statement accusing senior leaders in the Army and Navy of incompetence and "almost treasonable administration of the national defense." He was court-martialed, found guilty of insubordination, and suspended from active duty for five years without pay. Mitchell resigned instead, as of February 1, 1926, and spent the next decade writing and preaching air power to all who would listen.

Mitchell viewed the election of Franklin D. Roosevelt, a Navy man, as advantageous for airpower. He believed the new president might even appoint him as assistant secretary of war for air or perhaps even secretary of defense in a new and unified military organization. Neither ever materialized. Mitchell died of a variety of ailments including a bad heart and influenza in a hospital in New York City on February 19, 1936.
In 1955, the Air Force voided Mitchell's court-martial. His son petitioned in 1957 to have the court-martial verdict set aside, which the Air Force denied while expressing regret about the circumstances under which Mitchell's military career ended.

Doug said...

In 2004, Congress voted to authorize the President to commission Mitchell as a Major General in the Army, posthumously, to date President Bush has not decided to go ahead with the commissioning.

Knucklehead said...


The pounding would have been relentless from all angles. Every success would have gone unreported and every failure or setback heralded as proof of ineptitude.

Wake, the surrender in the Phillipines... those would have been more than ample evidence of the need for impeachment and bringing all troops home and leaving the Pacific to the Japanese. They'd have been calling for the abandonment of Hawaii. Imagine the screaming when Japanese troops landed in the Aleutians? FDR's ineptitude leading to a direct invasion of US soil.

The naval butt kicking off Savo Island? Clearly FDR had squandered all the advantages gained from Midway.

The bloody months on Guadalcanal? Clear evidence of poor planning and the resultant quagmire!

The heavy losses to Kamikazes? Failure to anticipate the dedication of the enemy and deep beliefs of the enemy yielding wasted American lives.

And that's just the Pacific. Imagine the press following the first US losses in North Africa? What the heck are the idiots sending troops there for?

Anzio? Unmitigated disaster!

And all the while they'd be dilligently searching for some generals or admirals to parade out to tell the people how they SecDef and President refused to listen to them when they advised something different.

They are seditionists, plain and simple.

Doug said...

Don't forget all the Pulitzer Prizes that would have been awarded.

terrye said...


I had a client who was taken prisoner by the Japanese while he was in the Phillipines. He hated MacArthur. Absolutely hated the man. I wonder if MacArthur would be seen as a hero today if that heppened and tens of thousands of men lost their lives in hopeless seige and imprisonment.

Eric said...

Actually, there were congressional hearings over various ascpects of the Solomons campaign.

There was quite a bit of hand-wringing over the casualties, being close to 1:1 in most of the ground actions--that is, American dead and wounded equaled Japanese dead and wounded. The difference being that there just lots more Japanese dead. Not that anyone cared about the Japanese casualties that much.

Although to read Richard Franks' "Downfall" about the last 6 months of the Pacific war, there was some discussion about the usefulness of bombing Japanese cities and concern about civilian casulaties. And Kyoto, for example was not bombed because of its cultural significance.

I'm willing to bet if one looked, you'll find criticism of various things during the war in various newspapers. Of course, nobody much remembers that nowadays, and things went down the memory hole a lot quicker then.

markg8 said...

You folks ought to give up the alternative reality scenarios. The reports of failure in Iraq are just as accurate as the reports of the Japanese overrunning most of the Western Pacific during the winter of '41-'42 were.

The Doolittle raid was always intended to boost American morale and diminish Japan's at a time when the news from the Pacific was unremmittingly bad. Unfortunately there is no operation Cheney and Rummy can pull off that will do the same for this war. They've already tried leveling Fallujah, walling off Tal Afar, and that huge air cav operation a month or so ago, all as effective operationally in the overall scheme of things as the Doolittle raid: not much. But as evidenced here and in other sanctuaries of Bush support they served their purpose. A temporary morale boost for the dwindling band of believers who still back them.

But the reason the stories of these missions do nothing to stem the sinking poll numbers for the Bush Administration and their enablers in congress is because they come 3 years into a war where there is no progress toward victory. Imagine launching the Doolittle raid
on Japan 3 years after Pearl Harbor in December 1944. That's how the American public sees the PR campaign the Adminstration periodically tries to spin our way.

They had their chance and they blew it. Staying the course is not an option. They just don't know it yet.