“Last Mission to Tokyo: The Extraordinary Story of the Doolittle Raiders and Their Final Fight for Justice” by Michel Paradis; Simon & Schuster (472 pages, $28).
Published in 2020, Last Mission to Tokyo by Michel Paradis is a thrilling New York Times bestseller which reveals the dramatic aftermath of the 1942 Doolittle Raid, which involved two lost American bomber crews captured, tried, and tortured in Japan, a dramatic rescue of the survivors in the last weeks of World War II, and an international manhunt and trial led by two dynamic and opposing young lawyers—in which both the U.S. and Japan accused the other of war crimes—that would change the face of our legal and military history.
The Doolittle Raid (a.k.a. the Tokyo Raid) was an air raid carried out in April 1942 by the U.S. upon Tokyo (Japan’s capital) and other places in Japan during World War II. It was the first air operation to strike Japan, demonstrating that Japan was susceptible to American air raids. It was a retaliation for the attack on Pearl Harbor, meant to boost American morale. 50 Japanese died, including civilians, and another 400 were injured.
The raid was planned, led by, and named after Lt. Col. James “Jimmy” Doolittle, a stunt pilot with a doctorate from MIT. He led eighty young men, gathered together from the far corners of Depression-era America, on an impossible mission across the Pacific. 16 bombers in all with only enough fuel for a one-way trip. Together, the Raiders, as they were called, did what no one had successfully done for more than a thousand years: they struck the Empire of Japan’s mainland, thus turning the tide of the war in the Pacific.
16 B-25B Mitchell medium bombers, each with a five-man crew, were launched from the U.S. Navy aircraft carrier U.S.S. Hornet in the Pacific Ocean near Japan. After bombing Japanese military or industrial targets, the bombers continued west, for it was planned for them to land in China. Alongside the British Empire, China was one of America’s major allies against Imperial Japan in the Pacific War portion of World War II.
The raid caused minimal damage to Japan, but had major psychological effects. In the U.S., the Doolittle Raid was propagandized to raise morale for Americans, showing the U.S. had gotten its retribution for the attack on Pearl Harbor. Meanwhile in the Empire of Japan, it had raised doubt about the ability of military leaders to defend the Japanese homeland from foreign attacks. The bombing and strafing of civilians also stoked Japan’s desire for retribution. This would be propagandized in Japan, accelerating Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto’s plans to attack Midway Island in the Central Pacific. Consequences of the Doolittle Raid were severe for China, where Japan’s invading army killed some 250,000 Chinese civilians and 70,000 soldiers.
14 of the 16 complete crews of five returned to the U.S., except for one who was killed in action. Eight aviators were captured by Japan’s forces invading China, three of which were executed. All but one of the B-25s were destroyed in crash landings. The last landed in Vladivostok, Soviet Union. Because the U.S.S.R. was not at war with Japan, it was required by international law to intern that crew for the war’s duration. Within a year, the crew was secretly allowed to exit the Soviet Union under guise of an escape and returned to U.S. forces.
In the pages of Last Mission to Tokyo, Michel Paradis provides his readers with a deeply researched, detailed, and unbiased recounting of the 1942 Doolittle Raid and what followed for the captured Raiders, including the international trial that followed, all the while providing a cohesive narrative with novelistic flair. It’s easy to envision these events as a movie or a TV documentary while reading Michel’s easy-to-digest format. Michel is currently serving as a senior attorney at the U.S. Dept. of Defense’s Military Commissions Defense Organization. He’s also a lecturer at Columbia Law School and a fellow at the Center on National Security.
Donavon Anderson is a Reference Library Assistant at May Memorial Library. He can be reached at email@example.com or 336-229-3588.