American Portraits

The Selfless Courage of the Doolittle Raiders

In this lesson, students will learn about the actions of the Doolittle Raiders in April of 1942. They will understand how the pilots’ sacrifice and selfless actions helped to advance the cause of freedom. Through this example, they will understand how they can be more selfless in their own lives.

Founding Principles

Private Virtue image

Private Virtue

The idea that only a knowledgeable and virtuous citizenry can sustain liberty.

Narrative

On December 21, 1941, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt met with his Joint Chiefs of Staff at the White House. The topic of the meeting was the same as it had been the previous weeks: the war effort. Roosevelt was eager to act. He knew the attack on Pearl Harbor and other American bases across the Pacific nation had disheartened Americans. He wanted to take a bold action both to bolster American morale and show the Japanese that they too were vulnerable. The President wanted to bomb Japan….

Narrative PDF

Compelling Question

How can the actions of the Doolittle Raiders inspire you to be more selfless in your own life?

Virtue Defined

Self-sacrifice is purposeful action exchanging personal loss for the good of others.

Lesson Overview

In this lesson, students will learn about the actions of the Doolittle Raiders in April of 1942. They will understand how the pilots’ sacrifice and selfless actions helped to advance the cause of freedom. Through this example, they will understand how they can be more selfless in their own lives.

Objectives

  • Students will explore the actions of the Doolittle Raiders.
  • Students will understand how their selfless acts helped the American cause.
  • Students will understand how they can be more selfless in their own lives.

Background

In the early morning hours of December 7, 1941, Japanese aircraft lifted off over the Pacific into the early morning light. Their mission was one of war. Without any prior warning, the Japanese flew into U.S. airspace and attacked the American naval base at Pearl Harbor. By the end of the day, over 2,000 Americans were dead, and hundreds more injured. Across the Pacific, other American installations at the Philippines, Guam, and Wake Island were attacked.

The United States was outraged. War was officially declared on December 8, and the nation began to make its plans for the fight. Its ability to strike back at Japan, however, was limited. Its Pacific fleet had been severely damaged at Pearl Harbor and would need to undergo significant repairs before it would be an effective fighting force.

Fortunately for the Americans, their aircraft carriers had not been in port at the time of the attack. These would be the tools of reprisal. Military planners knew the nation had become disheartened by the surprise attacks and looked for a bold and risky stroke that would give the country hope. One brave group of men came forward to execute this mission.

Vocabulary

  • Installations
  • Reprisal
  • Disheartened
  • Morale
  • Bolster
  • Pitching
  • Radically
  • Daunting
  • Auxiliary
  • Escort

Introduce Text

Have students read the background and narrative, keeping the Compelling Question in mind as they read. Then have them answer the remaining questions below.

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Questions

Walk-In-The-Shoes Questions
As you read, imagine you are the protagonist.

  • What challenges are you facing?
  • What fears or concerns might you have?
  • What may prevent you from acting in the way you ought?

Observation Questions

  • What was the Doolittle raid?
  • What did the United States military hope this raid would accomplish?
  • How did the selfless action of the Doolittle Raiders help the American war effort against Japan?

Discussion Questions
Discuss the following questions with your students.

  • What is the historical context of the narrative?
  • What historical circumstances presented a challenge to the protagonist?
  • How and why did the individual exhibit a moral and/or civic virtue in facing and overcoming the challenge?
  • How did the exercise of the virtue benefit civil society?
  • How might exercise of the virtue benefit the protagonist?
  • What might the exercise of the virtue cost the protagonist?
  • Would you react the same under similar circumstances? Why or why not?
  • How can you act similarly in your own life? What obstacles must you overcome in order to do so?

Additional Resources

  • Doolittle, James H. and Glines, Carroll V. I Could Never Be So Lucky Again: An Autobiography. New York: Bantam Books, 1991.
  • Nelson, Craig. The First Heroes: The Extraordinary Story of the Doolittle Raid—America’s First World War II Victory. London: Penguin Press, 2002.
  • Glines, Carroll V. The Doolittle Raid: America’s Daring First Strike Against Japan. New York: Orion Books, 1988.

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