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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