[April 5, 2021] It has been said, many times over, that what we see affects us in ways that we often do not know. Such can be said of an old movie, The Purple Heart (1944).1 The film dramatizes the “show trial” of U.S. airmen from the Doolittle Raid.
Americans are familiar with the bombing raid by Jimmy Doolittle on Tokyo in April 1942. The daring raid was conducted less than four months after the bombing of Pearl Harbor and had two goals. First, as retaliation for Pearl Harbor, and second, to demonstrate that the Japanese homeland was vulnerable.
For an extraordinary view of the raid’s impact and a historical review of what happened to those captured by the Japanese, I recommend Last Mission to Tokyo (2020) by Michel Paradis. His book tells a gripping saga of what happened to those imprisoned Doolittle Raiders and the internal strife caused during the American trial of those involved in the Japanese show trial.
The impact of the raid itself was far-reaching. While doing minor material damage inside Japan, Doolittle’s success raised Americans’ morale and gave hope to the peoples of China. Japan’s army and navy were humiliated, and it also pushed Japan to seek retribution. Japanese Admiral Yamamoto’s plans to attack Midway Island were moved up, and, as we know, his forces were decisively defeated.
But the old movie The Purple Heart has lessons for us as well. Here are some of those that strike me as important:
- It gave hope by showing the bravery of very young men in the U.S. Army Air Corps who managed to maintain their honor and dignity despite brutal tortures.
- It showed that torture as a means to elicit information and confessions is an evil act of debasement that should never be tolerated in a civilized world.
- It showed the malevolence of people, even those granted high levels of authority, including sentencing others to death.
- It continues to linger as a scar on the reputation of Japan’s peoples for evil acts committed by so many of their countrymen.
- And, it showed the clash of two dominant cultures in a courtroom setting and that it is not always the one in power that wins in the end.
- You can see the movie in its entirety on YouTube (1:34:07 minutes) here: The Purple Heart 1944 – YouTube