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Brigadier General Doolittle's Foray


On 18 April, 1942, a force of medium bombers of the B-25 type, North American Mitchells, under the command of Brigadier General James Doolittle, took off from the United States aircraft carrier 'Hornet' in the north Pacific and flew to Japan. It was the first occasion on which aircraft of such a size had ever operated from a carrier. They dropped their bombs on Tokyo, Yokohama, Kobe and Nagoya, and (with two exceptions) then flew on to the mainland. One landed in Russia, the rest in China. The latter had to come down in Japanese-occupied territory, where the crews abandoned their machines and made their way with difficulty to the west. Any disclosure of their presence in eastern China might have prejudiced their safe arrival in the Chinese lines, and no particulars were published, therefore, by the United States authorities at the time of the raid.

The Japanese radio stated on 18 April, that sixty aircraft took part in the raid and that nine were shot down. Both figures were characteristic exaggerations. Only sixteen bombers were engaged and only two were brought down. The Japanese official account stated that schools and hospitals were seriously damaged in Tokyo, that fires were started in Kobe and Nagoya, and that no military installations were hit. A broadcast from Tokyo in the early hours of 19 April implied, however, that some damage had been caused to railways; it stated that communication facilities were functioning 'without any important alterations'. Other Japanese reports quoted by the German wireless on 19 April also pointed to the occurrence of industrial

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damage in the capital. It was stated that the Japanese Government had provided funds for rebuilding 'factories and dwelling houses which, with a cinema, were burnt down in the Tokyo area'. Earlier broadcasts had asserted that the aircraft had failed to reach the centre of Tokyo and had dropped their bombs blindly on residential and suburban districts. What precise damage was caused by the raid has never been clearly established. That the moral effect of it was considerable is undoubted.

'Enough evidence has come from Japanese spokesmen, affirming, denying, and exhorting,' said The Times in a leading article on 20 April, 1942, 'to justify the inference that their people have at least been badly startled at the rude breach of their hitherto unbroken immunity from the kind of destruction that their war-lords have wantonly inflicted on other nations. When the full story is told it may be found that heavy damage has been done to the military objectives of the raids.' The fact that Tokyo had two air-raid alarms on 19 April, when no Allied aircraft was anywhere near Japan, was evidence of the jitters which the attack of 18 April had induced.

The White House Announcement

How savagely the consternation translated itself into action was not known until more than a year had elapsed. On 21 April, 1943, it was revealed in a statement issued from the White House at Washington that some of the American airmen who had been captured had been executed by the Japanese. The statement said:

'The crews of two American bombers have been captured by the Japanese. On 19 October the Government learned from Japanese broadcasts of the capture, trial and severe punishment of these Americans. Not until 12 March was it that the American Government received the communication given by the Japanese Government that the

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Americans had, in fact, been tried, and that the death penalty had been pronounced. It was further stated that the death penalty was commuted for some, but that sentence of death had been applied to others.

'The Government has vigorously condemned this act of barbarity in a formal communication sent to the Japanese Government. It has informed the Japanese Government that the American Government will hold personally responsible for these diabolical crimes all those officers of the Japanese Government who participated therein, and will in due course bring those officers to justice. This recourse to frightfulness is barbarous. The effort by the Japanese war lords to intimidate us will utterly fail. It will make Americans more determined that ever to blot out the shameless militarism of Japan.'

The American Note to Japan


The Note to Japan said:

'The Japanese Government alleges that it has subjected the American aviators to this treatment because they intentionally bombed non-military installations and deliberately fired on civilians, and that the aviators admitted these acts. The United States informs Japan that instructions to the American forces always ordered these forces to direct attacks upon military objectives. The American forces participating in the attack upon Japan had such instructions, and it is known that they did not deviate from them. The United States brands as false the charges that the aviators intentionally attacked non-combatants anywhere. With regard to the allegation that the aviators admitted the acts of which the Japanese Government accuses them, there are numerous known instances in which Japanese official agencies employed brutal and bestial methods of extorting alleged confessions from persons in their power.

It is customary for these agencies to use statements ob-

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tained by torture, or alleged statements, in proceedings against the victims. If the admissions alleged to have been made by the American aviators have in fact been made, then they could only have been extorted fabrications.'


The Note went on to remind Japan that she had agreed to abide by the Geneva Convention regarding the treatment of prisoners of war and that she had violated that Convention. It also called on the Japanese Government to inform the Swiss Minister of the charges and sentences, as required by the Convention, and to permit him to visit the surviving aviators and to restore them their full rights under the Convention. The Note proceeded:


'If, as it appears, the Japanese Government has descended to acts of barbarity and manifestations of depravity such as the murder in cold blood of uniformed members of the United States armed forces, the American Government will hold personally and officially responsible for those deliberate crimes officers of the Japanese Government who participated in their commitment and will in due course bring those officers to judgment.'


American and British Reactions to the Outrage

The immediate effect of the disclosure of the murder of the United States airmen was that thousands of pilots volunteered to man aircraft for further raids on Tokyo. A wave of anger swept the United States and there was an insistent demand throughout America for further attacks on Japan. In these, Mr. Churchill stated, the British airmen hoped to share. In a message sent to General Arnold, Chief of the United States Army Air Force, he said: 'I have read with indignation of the cold-blooded execution of your airmen by the Japanese. This barbarous and unusual action reveals in a particularly significant manner the fear the Japanese have of having the munition factories and other military objectives in their homeland

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bombed. I cannot resist sending you this message to assure you that the Royal Air Force earnestly look forward to the day when they will be able to fly side by side with their American comrades to attack Tokyo and other cities of Japan and strip this cruel and greedy nation of their power to molest the civilised world.'

Mr. Churchill reiterated in his address to Congress on 19 May, 1943, his desire that the Royal Air Force should be associated with the American air forces in the punishing of Japan. 'It is all agreed between us,' he said, 'that we should at the earliest possible moment similarly bring our joint air power to bear upon the military targets in the home lands of Japan. The cold-blooded execution of the United States airmen by the Japanese Government is a proof not only of their barbarism but of the dread with which they regard this possibility.' [1]

The significance of the murder of the airmen as evidence of Japan's fear of the Allied bombing offensive was also emphasised in a leading article in The Times of 24 April, 1943, which also pointed out that there was still another reason for the outrage. 'In adding this latest act of cruel and cold-blooded murder to their long list of war-crimes, the enemy may have been actuated by two motives. The bombing of military targets in their chief cities was a surprise which must have sorely wounded the prestige and pride of the authorities responsible for home defence; and in the Far East damaged "face" is less easily forgiven than other injuries. No doubt they also hoped to deter the Americans and their allies from further attacks, although

1 It is significant that Japanese propagandists are insistent upon the absence of any such dread. One of them has declared that only 20 of 100 United States aircraft which set out to attack Tokyo would ever reach the city, and that 'in view of the number of aeroplanes in possession of the two countries and their performances, a United States air raid upon Tokyo is nothing to be feared.' (Kinoaki Matsuo, How Japan Plans to Win, English translation, 1942, p. 205.)



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the slightest knowledge of American psychology might have saved them from this monstrous and criminal error.' The leading article went on to refer to the intense anger aroused in the United States by the act, to the universal approval expressed in the British Commonwealth and in China of the President's denunciation of it, and to the proof which the act had finally afforded that the 'thin and brittle lacquer of civilisation has long been stripped from these barbarians and fanatics of the East'.

Enemy and Neutral Reactions

The German reaction to the Japanese atrocity was such as was to be expected. The Berlin radio, after referring to President Roosevelt's scathing denunciation of the crime, said blandly: 'The German people will approve the precedent established by the Japanese in executing some American airmen who deliberately bombed non-military objectives in Tokyo, as the proper answer to a form of aerial warfare which the Anglo-Americans have made their standard pattern.' There was no declaration that Germany would adopt a similar attitude towards captured airmen, and, in fact, Allied airmen who are shot down or, make forced landings in Germany are not specially maltreated. There was, however, a very characteristic implication in the broadcast, a kind of gloating, sadistic satisfaction with the display of cruelty against helpless captives. There was also an unintended admission that the Anglo-American air offensives were equally unpopular—and with good reason—in Tokyo and in Berlin.

Neutral opinion reacted in a very different way. 'The Japanese executions of prisoners,' said the Swedish paper Allehanda on 26 April, 'are the most brutal and premeditated breach of international law yet committed. The hypocritical German and Italian approval leaves a ghastly impression.' 'When the Germans bombed England,' the paper went on,

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'no German voice mentioning international law was ever heard. Now, when the same fate has befallen Germany, international law has become the favourite reading at the Wilhelmstrasse. Apparently English churches and English hospitals are in German opinion legitimate targets, but German ones are not. German fliers, for their attacks on buildings which were against international law—though surely not premeditated—received the Iron Cross or Sword. When an Allied flyer is guilty of a similar mistake he should, according to the German conception, be executed like a criminal.'

Japan's Record in the Air

It might conceivably leave been possible to find some shadow of excuse for Japan's act if she had adopted from the first a firm and consistent attitude of opposition to the bombing of towns from the air. If she had refused to let her own air force drop bombs on urban objectives and had made clear by her action her determination never to resort to this mode of warfare, she would have had some sort of case for doing what she did, though even then it would not have been a really defensible case. Her own record, however, denies her the right to plead such a justification. It is a black record. The facts are grim and they are beyond dispute. It is no waste of time or paper to set them down here. The whole story could not and need not be told. What the Japanese air force did at two Chinese cities—Canton and Chungking—is sufficient to condemn that air force to extinction; and extinguished it will be. There will be no more Japanese air force after this war ends.


The Air Raids on Canton

Canton's worst ordeal came in the end of May and the beginning of June, 1938. There were heavy raids on the

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crowded city on 28, 29 and 30 May. On the last of these three days a special correspondent in Canton reported to his paper as follows:

'First-hand investigation of the areas bombed in the last three tragic days leaves no doubt whatever that the Japanese have changed their raiding tactics, which during the last two months have been relatively humane, if the epithet is permissible. Giving them the benefit of the doubt, perhaps 70 per cent of their bombing has had some conceivable relevance to military, administrative or industrial objectives; the rest has been either completely malignant or wildly maladroit. Even if not altogether indiscriminate in intention, the raids have been indiscriminate in effect.' [1]

The attacks were resumed on 31 May and again there was a heavy toll of life. The same correspondent reporter on that day:

'In the majority of cases the Japanese appear to have interpreted the term "military objective" as including all buildings housing departments of the civil administration, the private residences of officials wherever situated, and non-military factories and public works. If they were better shots, they might have cleaner hands; as it is, for every hit on something which could possibly be called a legitimate target at least 10 bombs have fallen far wide and accomplished nothing but butchery. There have, in addition, been many areas—about one-fifth of the total areas bombed—where there was no discoverable objective of any kind. This, and the fact that there has been a certain amount of obviously indiscriminate machine-gunning from a fair height, makes it seem that a certain percentage of the bombs dropped had no mission to fulfil save terrorism through slaughter. This analysis puts the most liberal interpretation possible upon the raiders' intentions. What the Japanese have done, as opposed to what they

1 The Times, 31 May, 1938.


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may have meant to do, can hardly be analysed dispassionately.' [1]

Protests Against the Raids

On 1 June the Chinese Ambassador in London delivered to Lord Halifax, the Foreign Secretary, a Note addressed to neutral Powers, appealing to them to 'take such urgent and effective measures as would restrain Japan from continuing the wholesale slaughter of innocent non-combatants, largely women and children.' The Note said: 'The present bombing of Canton has proved even more barbarous and disastrous than any of the previous visitations by Japanese aircraft.' Our Government did what was possible in the circumstances. 'Instructions have been sent to His Majesty's Ambassador at Tokyo,' said Mr. Chamberlain in the House of Commons on 3 June, 'to protest urgently against this indiscriminate bombing of civilian areas and thickly populated centres.' [2]

The Raids of June and July, 1938, on Canton

The protest had little effect. Canton was again raided heavily on 4 and 5 June. The Sun-Yat-sen University was damaged and many private houses and other buildings were wrecked. The hospitals were filled to overflowing. Worse still was to come on 6 June, when the city had its most destructive raid up to that time. The main street, Winghon Road, became a shambles. Next day, 7 June, there were three raids, and two more on 8 June. By the latter date it was estimated that one-third of all the houses in the city were empty and that half a million people had been evacuated. [3] After that there was a short respite but

1 The Times, 1 June, 1938.

2 Mr. Chamberlain stated in the same reply: 'The reports indicate that, whatever may have been the objects aimed at, most of the bombs fell on places which cannot be considered as of military importance.'

3 The Times, 9 June, 1938.


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the raiding was not over. During July there were repeated attacks.

An English lady who visited Canton in July, 1938, and witnessed three air raids in one day, thus described what she saw:

'We walked on to another bombed area, and then another. Here had been a school where seventy-five children had perished; here sixty people had been blown to pieces or buried beneath the fall of masonry; here ten houses had been demolished, there twenty. In the area a mile away from the station, which was completely deserted and nothing but a mass of rubble and stone, five hundred houses had been demolished. And so on from place to place. A map with red points marking where bombs had fallen showed hardly a single area, except the British concession, untouched. Occasionally one saw a poor family still living in a room with three, or even only two, walls left. One place was as safe as another.' [1]

(The same writer also describes pitiable scenes at Hankow and Hangyang; children searching for their mothers buried under fallen walls, horribly mutilated bodies, dead babies, mangled messes of human limbs and sand, screams of agony from the wounded, ruins everywhere. [2] )

A Japanese official spokesman attempted to explain away the losses suffered by the inhabitants by attributing them to the Chinese anti-aircraft fire. A counterblast was issued by eight foreign doctors in Canton, who stated that only a very few casualties had been caused by shrapnel, and affirmed their belief that it was the settled intention of the Japanese to destroy Canton. [3]

1 Freda Utley, China at War, 1939, p. 27.


2 Ibid., pp. 44, 195.                   3 The Times, 9 June, 1938.


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The Raids on Chungking

Chungking, the new capital of China, had its first raid on 15 January, 1939, when Japanese bombers attacked the Government offices, the arsenal and the wharves; and also dropped bombs in the poorest quarter of the city, near the East Gate. A good deal of damage was done, but it was insignificant in comparison with that inflicted by the raids of 3, 4 and 5 May, 1939. That of 4 May was the heaviest of all. The Japanese aircraft dropped two lines of bombs across the heart of the city, including the district in which the British, French and German Consulates were situated. Madame Chiang Kai-Shek was in Chungking, and she described in a letter of 19 May, published in The Times of 14 June, 1939, how the city suffered on that occasion. She wrote:

'The bombing was the worst exhibition of cold-blooded mass murder that the Japanese have so far been able to perpetrate. . . . The areas affected were raging infernos. I never saw anything like it. Most of the houses which climb the hillsides are made of timber, perched on long piles. They burned like tinder. The phosphorus kept the fires raging and a breeze extended them. Chungking is a city of houses packed tightly together on a long, high tongue of land, girt with cliffs. . . . Three-quarters of a square mile of houses were in flames. Wall after wall tumbled down. Tongues of fire on every side leaped and crackled and devoured furniture, woodwork, everything. . . . From where I stood I could see the whole west side of the city burning. The flames raged for hours. At dawn the sky was still angry with crimson light-crimson with fire and, indeed, with the blood of thousands of victims who perished. Fathers, mothers watched their children burn alive. . . . The cries and shrieks of the dying and the wounded resounded in the night, muffled only by the incessant roar of the ever-

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hungry fire. Hundreds tried to escape by climbing the old city wall but were caught by the pursuing flames, and, as if by magic, were shrivelled into cinders. . . . Everyone was helpless, even the fire-fighters. They used up all the water out of reservoirs and had to depend upon wells. A bomb broke a main, and the reservoirs could not be re-filled. . . . It was a terrible holocaust, and perhaps quite satisfactory to the Japanese, whose lust to kill is not yet satisfied.'


The Casualty Lists

In the raid of 5 May, the casualty list was still further increased. About a hundred women and children were trapped against the city wall and burned to death. Official figures estimated the casualties caused by the three days' raiding at more than fifteen hundred killed and a similar number wounded. General Chiang Kai-shek ordered the evacuation of all civilians, including foreigners, whose presence was not strictly required in Chungking. Many of the displaced people went to Chengtu, which had its own disastrous experience a month or so later, on 12 June. The losses there were severe, mainly because dug-outs could not be constructed as a result of the presence of surface-water within a few feet of the ground-level.

A rather higher estimate of the casualties than that quoted above was given by Mr. R. A. Butler, the Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs, in reply to a question in the House of Commons on 15 May, 1939. The raids of 3 and 4 May had caused the death of 1,600 non-combatants, he stated, and approximately the same number of wounded: 'It is feared, however,' he added, 'that the full casualty list will be found to be even higher when excavations are completed.' Mr. Butler also stated that His Majesty's Ambassador at Tokyo had made 'strong representations to the Japanese Government, urging that, from a humanitarian point of view, as well as in Japan's best interests, stringent

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instructions should be sent to restrict attacks to recognised military objectives. Sir Robert Craigie observed that in the case of the Chungking air raid, casualties appeared to have been suffered almost exclusively by the civilian element of the population.' Mr. Butler added that representations on very similar lines had been made to the Japanese by the Ambassadors of other countries.

The Raids of August, 1940

The representations had little effect. Chungking had another severe battering on 12 June; and still worse experiences on later occasions. It had to stand up to two heavy raids on 20 and 21 August, 1940. That of the 20 August was the most destructive attack since the terrible raid of 4 May, 1939. High explosive and incendiary bombs caused widespread damage; an area nearly a mile long and three blocks wide within the walled city was swept by fire; which a high wind helped to spread, and about 20,000 people were made homeless. In the crowded business centre of the city a further area covering half a square mile, was devastated on 21 August by conflagrations started by incendiary bombs. 'The fire was the largest and most destructive in the history of the raids on Chungking,' said the local correspondent of The Times. 'Many more tens of thousands have now been made homeless and hundreds of buildings have been destroyed, though the casualties are not numerous. Yesterday's fire had not been put out when today's attack set the adjoining part of the city alight.' [1]

The raids of August, 1940, Mr. O. M. Green has pointed out, could by no pretence be represented as having been directed against military objectives. They were aimed at the suburbs which spread along the level ground below the steep promontory which runs between the Yangtze and a tributary stream. 'These,' he says; 'con-

1 The Times, 22 August, 1940.


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tained nothing but business and residential houses, some hospitals, and the headquarters of foreign Embassies. All Government offices, as the Japanese knew very well, for everyone else did, were well underground in the rocky sides of the old town, which has also been honeycombed with refuges for the public. Yet it was against this purely non-official, non-military part of Chungking that they directed their bombs, reducing almost the whole quarter, including the American hospital, to ruins. Even after three years of war the Japanese had not realized that such barbarism has no effect but to lower them still further in the world's black books and to score up another mark against themselves in China's memory.' [1]


A Chinese Indictment

The story of Chungking's sufferings under the bludgeon-strokes of the Japanese air force was summarised in a Chinese official publication issued in 1943. Here is an extract:

'In this compact city [Chungking], the nerve centre of of China, the Japanese have dumped thousands of tons of incendiary and high explosive bombs. Block after block of houses have been wiped out, not once, but twice or even three times in the past three years, but the indomitable spirit of the Chinese people, which the Japanese have been seeking vainly to destroy in their numerous merciless raids, remains constant.

'The first severe raid on Chungking took place on 3 and 4 May, 1939, when the Japanese air force transformed the mid-town section of the inner city of Chungking into a mad inferno of flames. Seven huge conflagrations were counted at night-fall, roaring through the heart of the city in a swath a mile and a half long and a half mile wide. By the time night fell the red glow of the flames illuminated

1 O. M. Green, China's Struggle with the Dictators, p. 179.


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the countryside for miles around. Yet more disastrous bombings battered the city on 19 and 20 August, 1940, when 250 Japanese planes showered missiles on the closely built-in quarters on two successive days. More than 30 fires broke out on the first day. The few blocks left intact were finished on the following day, when some 20 blazes raged simultaneously in the business section.

'On both occasions the fires burnt froth afternoon to late night. Billowed by a brisk north-easterly wind, the rolling flames eventually merged into a huge mass puffing skyward to darken the eastern horizon. When night fell, the entire down-town area was engulfed in flames. The full moon rising over the Yangtze was blood-red in the fire-lit sky. The conflagrations razed four-fifths of Chungking's once busy down-town district. Streets, lanes and shops and civilian quarters were turned into heaps of charred ruins, and in between them stood a forest of gaunt walls bearing testimony to the wanton raids.' [1]

The Caves that Saved

There is not a shadow of doubt that the Japanese airmen set themselves deliberately to destroy Chungking, to blast and burn it to the ground, to wipe it out utterly. What saved its inhabitants from the full measure of death and mutilation which would otherwise have been their fate was the wonderful system of cave-shelters with which the city was fortunate enough to be provided. 'The answer to the intense and destructive bombings of the first days of May,' 1939—more than five thousand persons were killed in three days' raids and a huge section of the city was burned flat—was not panic, but the construction in record time of the safest dug-outs in the world,' says Mr. Herry-

1 China After Five Years of War. Prepared under the auspices of the Ministry of Information of the Republic of China. Preface by Dr. V. K. Wellington Koo. London, 1943, pp. 158-9.


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mon Maurer. It was the dug-outs which, he states, gave Chungking its amazing imperturbability. The Japanese aircraft would come over in formations of fifty machines and drop their bombs at a signal from the leader. Streets were demolished, houses hurled in the air, whole areas of the city were devastated, but still business went on. The inhabitants sought shelter in their wonderful caves while the fury lasted and then emerged to resume their interrupted activities. The casualties were practically confined to the soldiers, policemen and firemen whose duties necessitated their remaining on the surface. [1]

Japanese Raids in Burma

The raids in Chungking did not cease in August, 1940, but enough has been told above to illustrate Japan's conception of air warfare; and it is not necessary to add to what has been written the no less tragic story of many another Chinese town. Nor were the barbarities of the Japanese air force reserved for employment against China. Burma, too, had bitter experience of them. Reuter's correspondent at Maymyo reported on 22 April, 1942, that the Japanese had then bombed almost every major town in the country. Bombing, he stated, was deliberately aimed at civilians and seemed to be intended to spread panic and alarm. 'By this ruthless bombing of civilians throughout Burma the Japanese are laying up for themselves a terrible reckoning when the tide turns.' [2] A few days later the special correspondent of The Times at Mandalay reported: 'Today many of the cities, towns and villages of Burma are blasted by Japanese bombs. Misery and devastation have spread through lower and central Burma.' [3] It must in fairness be added that in Malaya the Japanese appear to have been more considerate. 'Broadly

1 Herrymon Maurer, The End is Not Yet, 1942, pp. 71-3.

2 The Times, 25 April, 1942.                  3 Ibid., 27 April, 1942.



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speaking,' says an eye-witness, 'the Japanese confined their bombing to legitimate military objectives, and the number of civilian casualties was comparatively small when one considers the constant aerial activity.' Airfields and docks were the chief targets. [1]

Retribution for Japan

The terrible record of the Japanese air force in China, briefly summarised above, must form part of the indictment which will eventually be framed when Japan's military power has been crushed. It establishes beyond all possibility of questioning the responsibility of Japan for inaugurating the practice of bombing cities indiscriminately and mercilessly. Her airmen set in China a precedent to which there is no parallel in anything that happened in 1914-18. The raids carried out in that war were petty affairs and the destruction which they caused was almost trivial in comparison with that which can be accomplished by modern heavy bomber formations. Nor were the attacks on Durango (31 March, 1937) and Guernica (26 April, 1937) [2] really comparable to the Japanese raids in China. They were disastrous, of course, for the unfortunate people who were their victims, but they were, after all, only attacks on villages. It was the scale of the bombing and the importance of the cities attacked which made the Japanese air offensive on China a landmark in the history of war.

Japan will have to pay the price for her misdeeds. Her own towns must be made to taste the bitter medicine which she forced the Chinese towns to swallow. The vast flotillas of the American and British air forces will have spoons sufficiently long to administer it. Japan will have

1 Ian Morrison, Malayan Postscript, 1942, p. 93.

2 See G. L. Steer, The Tree of Gernika, 1938, pp. 161-7 and 236-41 for these raids.


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to learn in fire and flame a lesson more sharp and salutary than that which Admiral De Kuyper's fleet taught her at Kagosima in 1863. But that will not be enough. Two other things will remain to be done. They are both things for which there is already a warrant signed and sealed. One is the complete disarming of her in the air, as well as on land and sea. That has been foreshadowed in the Atlantic Charter. The other is the bringing to justice of all the officers of the Japanese Government who had any part in the judicial murder of General Doolittle's airmen. That was foreshadowed in the American Government's note of April, 1943. If those who were responsible for the Tokyo outrage are not war criminals, deserving punishment, who are?