In what ways was the Pacific war a racist conflict?

First of all, its important to realise that the American war with Japan was not intrinsically a racist conflict; by that I mean that there were political, strategic, and military reasons behind the conflict. Japans’ empire building in the decades before the war, and the attack on pearl harbour, meant that an American-Japanese conflict would have been inevitable, regardless of any racial animosity on either side.

Conversely, it can be said that the majority of American and Japanese soldiers held racist views; most Americans believed that they were intrinsically superior to the Japanese, and the Japanese felt that their way of life was superior, and deplored western individualism and capitalism.

One other point should be remembered; things that may seem racist to us today may not have seemed racist at the time of the war. A perception of what constitutes racist thought has changed from the time of the Second World War to today. This makes pinpointing exactly what was racist at the time, or even what is racist today, problematic, and so I think we have to give careful consideration on what is or is not racist.

One way of determining the mood of soldiers and civilians during the war, both in America and Japan, is to look at the propaganda of both sides. This gives us not only an indication of how each side felt, but perhaps more importantly it shows us what the leaders of both sides wanted their people to think.

Both the Japanese and American propaganda during the war tried to depict the enemy negatively, and it used race as the basis for their reasoning. I think that on the whole, the Americans had more vicious and effective propaganda, because they were simply adapting a stereotype which had existed for years. (talk about the yellow peril here).

AMERICAN PROPAGANDA.

The first thing I should talk about is a series of films, documentaries, commissioned by the US Government, made by Frank Capra. The Series as a whole was called “Why we Fight”, and consisted of 7 separate films. They were produced to be shown to the US troops due to fight in the war, but several of the films were shown to civilians. In fact, such was the success of the films in the eyes of the US government; they were translated into French, Spanish, Russian, and Chinese.

The first film, entitled “Prelude to war”, was first shown in 1942, and actually won an Academy award for being the best documentary that year. The film depicted the Japanese as being hell bent on world domination, a foe that would never surrender, and would not stop fighting until it had conquered the world. One scene of the film actually depicted a conquering Japanese army marching down Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington DC.

Another strong and simple image in the film was that of a white sphere and a black sphere, representing the allied and the axis powers. The narrative talked about “freedom verses slavery” and “civilisation against barbarism”, opposing the “Allied way of life” against the “axis way of Death”.

Another film in the series, released in 1944 was called “The Battle of China”. This simultaneously portrayed the Chinese as heroes and the Japanese as violent, remorseless killers. In typical Capra style, it used elements of the Japanese’s own propaganda and discredited it. In this instance, the commentary in parts of the film was Japans own rhetoric of co-existence and co-prosperity, while the pictures showed the mutilated corpses of Chinese men, women, and children.

The film, which perhaps most clearly shows American racist views towards the Japanese, was made too late to be of any use as a propaganda tool. It was entitled “Know Your Enemy – Japan”, and was finally released on August 9th, 1945, the day the Americans dropped the bomb on Nagasaki. The film was recalled two weeks later.

This film was so late in coming not due to poor planning, because the original idea was drafted in 1942, but because of disagreement about exactly who the enemy was in Japan. The US Government and Capra both wanted to portray the Japanese people as a whole to be the enemy, whereas several scriptwriters for the film wanted to portray the Japanese military leaders as the true enemy, and the Japanese people as normal people under despotic rule.

The film took the form of documenting the long historical build up to the war, and the final scenes depicted a massive American fleet bearing down on a tiny Japan. Along the way, the film used many pieces of captured Japanese documentaries and propaganda films, and also Samurai films and Drama’s from the 1930’s. It was Capra’s way of using the enemy’s own propaganda against them that made his work so effective. The overwhelming image of the Japanese that the film created was that of, in the films own words, “an obedient mass with but a single mind”. Everything in the film showed the Japanese to be regimented and ordered, and the films commentary went on to describe how this showed the Japanese as being unthinking, subservient parts of the Japanese war machine.

One interesting thing about American propaganda during the war is the different way that the nazi’s were depicted in comparison with the Japanese. It’s fair to state that the Americans held the view that there were bad Germans and good Germans, i.e. Nazi’s and non-nazi’s. With the Japanese however, all were tarred with the same brush. In the Capra films, when detailing some atrocity or attack carried out, for the Germans it was always described as a “Nazi” atrocity, whereas for the Japanese it was described as being simply “Japanese”.

Further evidence of this is shown in the Propaganda on the handouts, particularly in number two. This depicts the Japanese as an ape, which was typical at the time. This turns the Japanese into something less than human, primitive in action and thought, literally bestial in behaviour. The idea of the Japanese mimicking Hitler is forwarded here, with Japanese atrocities in the Philippines being compared to those committed by Germans in Czechoslovakia. The German atrocities are shown as being committed by the Nazi’s, shown by Hitler, whereas the monkey doing the damage in the Philippines has a hat labelled simply “Japs”. This links the Japanese as a whole, as a people, with the horrible acts committed by a small portion of the troops.

The first piece of propaganda simply shows monkeys swinging through the jungle; it was published at the time when Japans early war victories shocked Americans. The monkey figure again was dehumanising the Japanese soldiers.

Propaganda piece number three was in direct response to the Doolittle flier’s case of 1942. This involved eight American pilots, led by James Doolittle, who bombed Tokyo and several other cities before being forced to land in China, and being captured. They were sentenced to death under a new law in Japan, passed only a week earlier, making it illegal for enemy fliers to Raid Japanese territories. Three of the men were executed at gunpoint, the remaining five given life sentences. This naturally evoked great anger in America, and the caption to the cartoon was taken from The Mikado and read “Let the punishment fit the crime”. The implication again is of an uncivilised, unjust race that needs to be exterminated.

This exterminationist sentiment is shown again in the louseous Japanicas, which featured in the US Marine monthly magazine Leatherneck. It was released in March 1945, the same month that the US started low-level incendiary bombing of Japanese cities.

JAPANESE PROPAGANDA

The Japanese were not without their stereotyping too, and their propaganda also played on racial issues.

We’ll look at the cartoons first; the first of which was published in 1942. It might well be useful to give you the translations for this. It was entitled “purging one’s head of Anglo-Americanism”. The caption reads “Get rid of that dandruff encrusting your head!” The characters falling from the woman’s head are these Anglo-American ideals, which are extravagance, selfishness, hedonism, liberalism, materialism, money worship, individualism, and Anglo-American ideas. I think its interesting that they chose wording similar to that of an advert, slyly criticising Western Commercialism by the very format of the cartoon.

Another cartoon shows China’s nationalist leader on the ropes in a boxing match, when Churchill and Roosevelt, overweight and old, step in to save him. Naturally a fit and agile young Japanese boxer trounces them. Two interesting things to note. Firstly, Old and fat westerners, decadent, privileged, old showing time for a change – younger Japanese boxer. Secondly, the white audience is shocked by the victory in the final frame – except for the blacks who are jumping for joy. This issue is somewhat problematic, showing as it does African Americans seemingly supporting the Japanese. Obviously the point being made that the Americans were racist to their own people cannot really be refuted, and the cartoon suggests discontent in the West, which their invariably was. But of course, throughout the whole Japanese propaganda mill, whenever they tried to show their sense of racial acceptance in their positive propaganda, they had to discreetly not mention that they were allied with the Nazi’s, who were attempting to systematically wipe out the Jews.

One cartoon depicts Churchill, Roosevelt and Chiang Kai – sek – this time walking all over the natives of their colonies. This was shown in mid 1942, and helped to justify to the Japanese the policy of pan Asianism which they adopted, not only by showing the cruelty of the white oppressors, but by darkening the skin colour of the other Asians and enfeebling them, they showed their inferiority and the fact that they needed Japanese help.

One other piece of propaganda should be mentioned. A booklet that was based on Colonel Tsuji Masanobu’s report on why the Japanese needed to fight in south East Asia was given to all officers and enlisted men. It was called Read this and the war is won (Kore dake Yomeba Ware wa Kateru). As the name suggests, it told of not only how to survive in tropical combat zones, but explained to the Japanese soldiers in simple terms exactly why they had to fight in these other Asian countries. Tens of thousands of soldiers had this booklet before the bombing of pearl harbour.

There was also a civilian equivalent, reaching the public in August 1941, entitled The way of the Subject (Shinmin no Michi). It told the Japanese public who they should aspire to be, how to behave to be a model citizen. Like Frank Capra’s “know your enemy – Japan” – it also offered the official Japanese version of the history of the west, telling of how the west were the ones hankering after world domination, proven by their rampant colonialism in Asia.

This colonialism, the white control of Asian popularities, was greatly criticised in Read this and the war is won. It tells oh how, in total, in India, Malaya, the East Indies, Indochina, and the Philippines 800,000 whites controlled the lives of 450 million Asian people. The whites were described as exploitative, arrogant people who lived in luxury, whilst people around them starved and toiled for a pittance.

Interesting fact about the American and Japanese propaganda. What one side felt was their strong point, when one side would cast a positive light on what they did, the other side would see this in a negative way. It could well be argued that the Americans and Japanese were not altogether too different during the war. They seemed irrevocably different, but strangely enough they sounded the same.

Just as the west saw Japan as hell bent on World domination due to its empire building, so Japan saw the west as expansionist due to its colonialism.

When Japan talked about unity, this got changed to mean conformity and fanatical unthinking thought. When Americans talked about freedom and individualism, the Japanese took this to show decadence and selfishness.

The Japanese were labelled by the west of brutal, savage creatures, which would never surrender and would willingly lose their lives for their country. This sentiment seemed to have support from the ferociousness of fighting in Asia, and in the final stages of the war, the increasingly desperate tactics used, such as the Banzai charges and the now infamous Kamikaze pilots used. In Japanese, these people were considered hero’s, doing their duty for their country, and became martyrs. In America, they were seen as the killing machines that they had been purported to be.

Yet there were times when American soldiers were told not to surrender under any circumstances. When Americans were killed in Japans early victories, they were shown as heroes rather than mad fanatical fighting machines.

So it seems that whenever one side were to promote one of their own ideals, the other side did not disagree – they merely interpreted it in another way – that is why so much of Japanese’s own propaganda was used by the Us to prove their point, and visa versa, albeit to a lesser extent.

Decided not to go into the wartime atrocities and that aspect of the pacific war, it seems very problematic with many examples of brutality on both sides, and I think to give it a fair consideration would need a lot more than the 2 hours we have in class.

Pan-Asianism

The Pacific war was not confined to conflict between Japan and America. Indeed, the title of the war as the “east Asian” or “pacific” war itself implies a larger scale conflict. During the war, Japan had at some point had forces in not only Japan, Korea and China, but also Burma, Siam, Malaya, French Indo-China, Sumatra, the Philippines, Borneo, the Dutch East Indies, Papua New Guinea, and at one point had advanced to within 200 miles of Calcutta, in India.

When we consider racism them, we should not believe it applies only to America and Japan. Furthermore, we shouldn’t think that All the countries in East Asia shared Japan’s view, nor that America’s allies necessarily shared the same views, or even the same objectives as America.

As the war progressed and Japan’s strength diminished, Japan increasingly turned for aid from its East Asian neighbours. In doing so, they attempted not only to stir up hatred of the west, but also to engender a sense of unity and racial oneness.

This concept was first really put forward when the Japanese succeeded in expelling American troops from Malaya in March 1942; “new Malai”, as the country was renamed, came under direct control of Tokyo. Japan’s declaration to the people of Malaya went as follows;

“Nippon has no thought of establishing any regimented sphere of imperialism in East Asia. That would be contrary to her principles. Fundamentally, it is to be a union of neighbouring states, sharing to a greater or lesser degree common racial and cultural origins and geographical propinquity, founded by their voluntary agreement for the purpose of assuring their common safety and promoting their common happiness and prosperity”.

This is perhaps a good overall explanation of Pan-Asianism. It was an attempt by Japan to forge a united Asian collective of countries, with all considered to be of one race. This collective was to be based on the principle of “Hakko Ichiu” which means “All nations in one Family, each enjoying its own proper place within it”

Japan of course was to be head of this family of countries, to provide the leadership, because it had shown it had the strength to expel Anglo-American influence from East Asia.

So when in 1942 Japan defeated allied forces in the Dutch east Indies, they declared the Japanese and Indonesians to be of one race, and went about changing the nature of the Dutch East Indies society from one of a heirachial European one, to a more equal Japanese one.

The forwarding of Pan Asianism was based on anti Anglo Saxon sentiment, which was fuelled by Propaganda. Much of this propaganda was based initially on Britain’s governing of India, with the riots of 1942 and the famine in Bengal of 1943 being contrasted with Japan’s intention to give India autonomy in it’s plans for a pan Asian sphere of influence.

Japanese aid to its East Asian neighbours manifested itself in military and non-military groups set up by the Japanese. In Malaya roughly 20,000 troops from the British controlled Indian Army joined a newly formed Indian National Army, to fight against the British.

In Burma, the better-trained and disciplined Burma Defence Army of almost 200,000 troops replaced the Burma Independence army.

And in Java, the former Dutch East Indies, the Volunteer Army Peta set up by the Japanese, recruited 34,000 troops.

How much these military groups were genuine attempts by the Japanese to further a wider political sphere is debatable; because by 1943 the Allies had regrouped and were now heading back towards the East Indies in greater numbers.

Perhaps of more interest was the non-military groups set up to promote Japans idea of a “New Order”, a new political sphere of influence in East Asia. At their most basic these groups focused on trying to arouse nationalist sentiment in east Asia, with movements such as the “School for a free Indonesia”, and “the Committee for the Study of Former Customs and Political Systems”.

The Putera movement in the East Indies was set up specifically to promote an East Asian co-operation against the Anglo-Saxons.

In the Philippines, all the previous political parties were replaced by the Japanese with the Kalibapi movement, set up both to promote the concept of the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, and to support the Japanese forces on the Islands.

Similar groups were set up by the Japanese in the Philippines, French Indo-China, and in China itself, although this particular group was relatively unsuccessful.

Japan also tried to promote its ideals and aims through various types of religious pressure. In Japan itself the government put pressure on the protestant churches within Japan, and they then renounced the “perverted” western concept of their religion, promoting as it did imperialism and racism, and promoted instead an Asian version of the faith based on purity and idealism.

Pressure on the Roman Catholic Churches in the Philippines made them come out in support of the Japanese movement. In Burma, the Japanese tried to take advantage of the fact that both countries has Buddhism. They tried to prove Japan’s religious freedom and broadmindedness, and even consulted with Muslim leaders in the Dutch East Indies, and even attempted to control Indonesia’s Islamic organisations.

Japan was essentially trying to make the war a holy war, a sacred one, and to galvanise opposition to the west.

However, all these moves towards pan Asianism had obstacles in its way, and did not meet with ultimate success. This is perhaps principally because the idea of one Asian race denied the fact that different countries in East Asia did have different cultural roots and traditions, but more importantly, had different aims as well.

The most obvious example of course, is China, which fought on the allied side because of the Japanese invasion before the war.

The pan-Asianist movement in India faltered along with the joint Japanese and Indian National Army attack, which never managed to reach India and incite the uprising they had hoped for. Besides, there were many in India who still supported the British, and indeed fought for them in the war.

In fact, in all of the East Asian countries, there were groups who were either pro-west, for one reason or another, or who were both Anti west, and anti-Japanese. Japans movement to create nationalist sentiment worked all too well, and people in many places wanted independence from the west, and from Japan.

In Malaya, the Chinese population of that country were strongly anti Japanese, and collaborated with the west.

In the East Indies, the Hukbalachap guerrilla army, or the peoples Anti-Japanese army, claimed responsibility for the deaths over 5,000 Japanese soldiers.

And even in countries which had at first accepted and welcomed the Japanese, discontent grew after only a few months. The Indian National Army was disbanded in 1942 after their disastrous campaign to free India – its leader was imprisoned by the Japanese, bringing about greater anti-Japanese sentiment in India.

In Burma, the Japanese were treated much better than the native Burmese peoples, to their great discontent. In Indonesia as well the treatment by the Japanese was met first with disapproval, then with outright hostility.

In essence, Pan Asianism was borne from necessity; Japan obviously had ulterior motives in attempting to set up a co-prosperity sphere. The idea was to gain much needed resources from the other East Asian countries to help Japan’s defence, and to stir up anti-western feelings at the same time.

John Alison, working for the American Embassy in Japan, in his Autobiography “Ambassador from the Prairie”, he narrates his wartime experiences in Japan after pearl harbour. He describes how after the declaration of war the Japanese police placed him under house arrest. Contrary to popular belief, he describes how he was treated with respect by both the Japanese servants in his home, and the Japanese police who protected and imprisoned him before he was released back to America in an ambassador exchange. He tells of one instance when he found American passports at the embassy which were meant to be destroyed, and instead of punishing him, the Japanese police helped him to destroy them. He comments on how he found it very difficult to associate the Japanese with those who were involved in the rape of Nanking in China in 1937. Racial stereotypes broken down that the Japanese were nice to Americans, possibly a lot nicer than most Americans would believe.