Imperial Japan Held the First ‘War Crimes Trial’ of WWII! (1943)

Doolittle Raid Bomber

Authors Note: It is interesting to observe that US culture views the airmen that took-part in the 1942 Doolittle Rad on Japan as ‘heroes.’ Much is made of their daring and how they survived despite losing all sixteen of their aeroplanes. This approach is then bolstered by a certain ‘moral outrage’ that ten of the surviving airmen were subsequently tried and sentenced to death for war crimes and crimes against humanity. What the US government carefully did was ‘omit’ the fact that these American pilots deliberately targeted unarmed Japanese civilians which included those lying ill and wounded in a hospital – and the wanton machine-gunning of school-children as they were ‘playing’ in a schoolyard! Even today – the behaviour of these supposed ‘heroes’ – is not widely known in the US due to that country’s embracing of anti-intellectualism and deliberate disinformation (which probably dates back to Will Durant’s 1933 fictional condemnation of the USSR – taken as ‘history’). The US government continuously demonised the Japanese people as being ‘subhuman’ and this racist ideology made it ‘easy’ for these US flyers to carry-out these terrible acts – and consider this ‘murder’ heroic. It is ironic that many of the downed US airmen were rescued and protected by Chinese citizens already living under the threat of terrible Japanese retaliaton – considering the intense and continuous anti-China racism that is generated by the US government and the US education system. ACW (30.11.2020) 

The Soviet Union, United Kingdom, France and the United States held a number of official Trials after the end of WWII – trying various members of the Axis powers for ‘War Crimes’ and ‘Crimes Against Humanity’. Although it was legally agreed that ‘aggressive war’ is illegal – this ruling has not prevented the United States from enforcing its foreign policies abroad through ‘aggressive war’ ever since. Indeed, a recent academic study reveals that since the end of WWII in 1945 to the present time – the US military has killed between 20-30 million people from around the world – and yet not one US citizen has ever stood trial for ‘War Crimes’ or ‘Crimes Against Humanity’ by a suitably empowered International Tribunal. This is despite the fact that US War Crimes are well-known and well-documented.  

Doolittle Raid B-25 Bomber Crews Aboard USS Hornet – April 1942

Whereas the Nazi German Luftwaffe accidently bombed peripheral parts of Croydon (in South London) in mid-1940 – apparently seeking-out Croydon Airport – Churchill used this mistake as a justification for the RAF to begin a widescale blanket-bombing campaign of the civilian populations of the interior of Germany. This policy breaks international law and is a ‘War Crime’ – but it is a war crime that Churchill was never held responsible for as he happened to be on the winning side.  

Doolittle Raid – Convicted US War Criminal – Robert L. Hite – 1942

The US followed Churchill’s example and launched the ‘Doolittle Raid’ on Tokyo (Mainland Japan), which took place on the 18th of April, 1942. This raid comprised of 16 B-25B Mitchell medium bombers – which were launched without fighter escort from the U.S. Navy’s aircraft carrier USS Hornet from deep in the Western Pacific Ocean. Each bomber comprised of 5 crewmen – with the raid itself led by Lt. Col. James H. Doolittle – hence its name. Fifteen bombers were destroyed (crashing in and around geographical China) – with one landing in the USSR (this crew was safely returned to the US lines). The Japanese captured eight of these downed US airmen in China – where they were held and tried. John Dower – in his magnificent (1987) book entitled ‘War Without Mercy’ (which records US War Crimes committed during the Pacific War 1941-1945), states (Pages 48-: 

Doolittle Raid: Hidden in a Chinese Village. From left to right are; Lt. James H. Macia; navigator, Lt. Jack A. Sims; co-pilot, SSG Jacob Eierman; engineer, Major John A. Hilger; pilot April 1942

‘The first truly sensational incident involving Allied POWs occurred in April 1943, when the White House announced that the Japanese government had condemned to death several of the American flyers who participated in the Doolittle raid over Japan one year previously. The raid against Tokyo and several other cities, led by Lieutenant Colonel James Doolittle from US carriers far off the Japanese coast, had caused negligible material damage but had given a huge psychological boost to the Allies, while shocking Japan’s leaders and causing them to reassess their expansionist ambitions. Eight of the flyers were captured when they were forced to land in occupied China, and on August 20, 1942, they were tried for war crimes under a military law which the Japanese had adopted exactly one week previously. The law explicitly concerned “enemy flyers who have raided Japanese territories, Manchukuo, or our operational territories,” and made it a capital offense to bomb civilians or nonmilitary targets. The law also contained a proviso stating that it was retroactively applicable to acts committed before August 13, and the death penalty was to be carried out by shooting. In extenuating circumstances, enemy flyers found guilty might receive a reduced sentence of from ten years to life imprisonment. The eight Doolittle flyers were sentenced to death under these regulations in a military hearing in China, but when the judgements were reviewed in Tokyo, five of the sentences were commuted to life imprisonment. The remaining three American flyers were executed on October 10. 

April 1942: Lt. Col. James H. Doolittle and his crew in China after the raid. From left to right are; SSG Fred A. Braemer; bombardier, SSG Paul J. Leonard; engineer/gunner, General Ho; Director of the branch government of Chekiang Province, Lt. Richard E. Cole; co-pilot, Lt. Col. James H. Doolittle; pilot, Henry H. Shen; (a bank manager), Lt. Henry A. Potter; navigator/gunner, Chao Foo Ki; Secretary of the Western Chekiang Province.

Both the new regulations and the “severe punishment” meted out to the Doolittle flyers were widely publicized in Japan later in October. The Japanese claimed the Doolittle raiders killed some fifty civilians, including patients in an easily identifiable hospital and children deliberately machine-gunned in a schoolyard; and, indeed, their condemnation of this “cruel and inhuman act” read like a page from Western texts of four or five years earlier, when the Japanese were bombing the Chinese cities. “Bestial,” “evil,” “creed,” “inhuman,” “lost to all sense of humanity” were some of the phrases used to the press, while the Japanese government’s formal statement concerning the Doolittle flyers, dated October 19, stated that “those who ignored the principles of humanity have been severely punished in accordance with military law.” Despite the publicity which the new law together with the punishment of the Doolittle flyers received in Japan, all this remained unreported in the West until April 23, 1943, When the White House itself released the information.’ 

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