THE LAST MISSION TO TOKYO: THE EXTRAORDINARY STORY OF THE DOOLITTLE RAIDERS AND THEIR FINAL FIGHT FOR JUSTICE by Michel Paradis

(Doolittle and his crew were the first off the deck of the Hornet. L to R: Lt. Henry A. Potter, Lt. Col. James H. Doolittle, SSgt. Fred A. Braemer, Lt. Richard Cole, SSgt. Paul J. Leonard.)

The shock of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor the morning of December 7, 1941 left Americans calling for revenge for the 2,403 Americans who were killed, and over 1000 wounded.    Eighteen ships were sunk or run aground, including five battleships. All of the Americans killed or wounded during the attack were legally non-combatants, given that there was no state of war when the attack occurred.  The American response came in the form of the Doolittle Raid on April 18, 1942 as sixteen B-25 “Billy Mitchell Army bombers” were launched without fighter escort from the U.S. Navy’s aircraft carrier USS Hornet deep in the Western Pacific Ocean, each with a crew of five men. The plan called for them to bomb military targets in Japan and to continue westward to land in China, at sites prepared by Nationalist leader Chiang Kai-Shek’s forces in China. The bombing raid killed about 50 people, including civilians, and injured 400. Fifteen aircraft reached China, but all crashed, while the 16th landed at Vladivostok in the Soviet Union. The attack provided the American people, the military, and the Roosevelt administration with a measure of satisfaction and a victory for US morale.  Of the eight men who survived and imprisoned by the Japanese, three were executed and five had their sentences reduced to life in prison by Emperor Hirohito.

Chase Nielsen

The story of the Doolittle Raid and the plight of the survivors is effectively portrayed in Michel Paradis’ new book, THE LAST MISSION TO TOKYO: THE EXTRAORDINARY STORY OF THE DOOLITTLE RAIDERS AND THEIR FINAL FIGHT FOR JUSTICE.  Paradis himself was a Pentagon lawyer who defended detainees held by the American military at Guantanamo Bay provides intimate details of the men who conducted the raid, their training and planning, and ultimately narrates the trial of the Japanese perpetrators of

(Chase Jay Neilson)

the execution of William Farrow, Dean Hallmark, and Harold Spatz along with the death of Lt. Robert J. Meder and the torture of George Barr, Chase Neilson, Robert Hite, and Jacob De Shazer.  Paradis’ research is impeccable as he mines the transcripts of the war crimes trial in Shanghai of the Japanese accused of responsibility for the executions and torture.  He prepares the reader with the background of the raid and delves into how Major Robert Dwyer and Lt. Colonel John Hendren, Jr., two JAG lawyers under the leadership of Colonel Edward “Ham” Young prosecuted the case against the Japanese perpetrators defended by Lt. Colonel Edmund Bodine who was not trained as a lawyer, and Captain Charles Fellows, a corporate lawyer from Tulsa, OK.

The trial in Shanghai was significant because it was seen as a dry run for the more important trials in Tokyo that included the prosecution of Hedeki Tojo, Japan’s Prime Minister and Minister of War, among others.  As far as Dwyer was concerned what transpired in the Shanghai trial would set precedents for what would take place in Tokyo.  After observing the trial of General Tomoyuki Yamashita in Manila Dwyer would develop the concept of command responsibility – making commanders responsible for war crimes committed by their subordinates.   As Commander of the Japanese 13th Army Lt. General Shigeru Sawada would be held responsible of the actions of those who conducted the trial and execution of the three Doolittle Raiders.  Dwyer would also prosecute the three Japanese judges who oversaw the 20 minutes to a half hour trial of the American flyers.

(General Douglas MacArthur coming ashore at Leyte in 1944)

Paradis follows the twists and turns of the prosecution and defense strategies during the Shanghai trial introducing new legal theories dealing with war crimes and its ultimate outcome.  Paradis also explores the lives of the men on both sides.  The Japanese officers who were culpable, the Doolittle Raiders, and the judges involved.  The author delves into Japanese culture and how it related to their actions.  For the Japanese, their argument was simple, the Doolittle Raiders had attacked civilians and were conducting a guerilla war from the air which made it a matter of honor and a war crime against the Japanese people thus justifying the executions.  The legal battle between Dwyer and Bodine is on full display with Paradis capturing the emotions exhibited by both sides.

Paradis brings out many salient points, perhaps most important were the bureaucratic roadblocks placed in front of Dwyer as General MacArthur seemed more concerned with “the occupation” and recreating Japan in his own image rather than the Shanghai trial.  MacArthur saw many Japanese officers who would be put on trial as possible allies, not war criminals in his effort to “Americanize” the new Japanese system of government.

Michel Paradis

(Author, Michel Paradis)

Paradis’ approach to his subject differs from Ted Lawson’s THIRTY SECONDS OVER TOKYO and James Scott’s TARGET TOKYO as he focuses a great deal on the procedural aspects of a war crimes trial, and as Gary Bass states in his New York Times  review, “Trying the Japanese for War Crimes,” he “offers a more troubling history than some triumphalist American chronicles of the Doolittle Raid,” as the defense lawyers presented a much stronger case than expected casting doubt on witness statements and suggesting that the American pilots may have committed a war crime.  Paradis’ strength is that he has a “keen sense of the injustices, vagaries, and ironies of war crimes trials.”  Bass “notes that Doolittle instructed his airmen to avoid nonmilitary targets. Yet his book makes it uncomfortably clear that they may well have killed Japanese civilians. To this day, Japanese commemorate the strafing of an elementary school in eastern Tokyo during the Doolittle raid, where a 13-year-old boy was killed.”

Paradis has written an exceptional narrative that delves into a number of controversial issues.  Further, he deserves credit for uncovering details and analysis that are sound and had not seen the light of day previously.  If you are interested in the topic it is a worthwhile read.

Jimmy Doolittle

(Colonel Jimmy Doolittle)

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