War Without Mercy: Race and Power in the Pacific War
Following the surprise Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the American people reacted violently with fear and anger at the suddenly ominous power of the Japanese nation. The forms this rage took in the portrayal of the enemy in political cartoons, propaganda films, popular songs, and psychological studies often presented the Japanese variously as apes, bats, octopuses, vermin, giants, rapists, midgets and children. Paralleling this we find that the Japanese, in their crusade to drive the Anglo-Americans from the Pacific, portrayed the enemy as demons, cannibalistic ogres, gangsters, Napoleonic megalomaniacs, and even dandruff.
The changing perceptions of the Allied and Japanese protagonists of the Pacific theatre of World War II are the subject of John W. Dower's superbly researched and documented book. Divided equally into discussions of the propaganda methods and perceptions of both sides, War Without Mercy also contains a section of illustrations with fourteen American and British and fifteen Japanese political cartoons.
It is Dower's central premise that racial fear and hatred were major factors that determined how both sides, Japanese and Anglo-American, perceived and dealt with the respective enemy, the "inferior other." Dower makes this clear in a telling passage of the introductory section:
In this milieu of historical forgetfulness, selective reporting centralized propaganda, and a truly savage war, atrocities and war crimes played a major role in the propagation of racial and cultural stereotypes. The stereotypes preceded the atrocities, however, and had led an independent existence apart from any specific event. [p .73]
In the section entitled "the War in Western Eyes" the author surveys in great detail the development of stereotypical images of the Japanese, especially in American sources. The Japanese were often represented in a depersonalized manner as the "Jap hordes" although the wartime population of Japan was only 73 million. Behind such a characterization was the nightmare fantasy of the "Yellow Peril" fostered in part by the "Fu Manchu" novels of Rohmer. Real or not, the fear that the billion-strong masses of the Orient would pour into Australia, New Zealand and the western United States was foremost in Anglo-American minds. Japanese propagandists themselves made use of this in a leaflet which depicted a teeter-totter with figures representing seven Asian nations weighing down one end while Roosevelt and Churchill are seen flying off the other end. The caption reads "Greater East Asian War: One Billion Asians against Anglo-Americans" (illustrated on p. 248 of Propaganda: The Art of Persuasion: World War II, by Anthony Rhodes, NY: Chelsea House, 1976).
Prior to Pearl Harbor and the extraordinary military success of Japan in 1942, notably the seizure of Singapore from the complacent British, the Anglo-Americans had failed to take the Japanese seriously. They rated the Japanese as poor and unintelligent fighters, incapable of flying advanced aircraft, unable to build quality battleships, and incapable of the invention of new weapons or methods of battle. In the months following the outbreak of war, the Allies swung to the opposite view, exaggerating the fanaticism, willingness to die, and mysterious, "occult," Oriental qualities of the Japanese soldier. This shift can be seen through the large number of portrayals of Japanese as apes. In a January
1942 issue of Punch, monkeys with helmets and machine guns are drawn swinging through vines, underlined with a quotation from Kipling's Jungle Book (War Without Mercy, p. 183). By 1943 the Japanese were increasingly represented in cartoons as gigantic, savage gorillas (pp.184,187). Six months after the April 18, 1942 Doolittle-led B-25 raid on Tokyo, three captured airmen were tried and executed. The American people reacted in a paroxysm of anger and one especially graphic and now famous cartoon depicted an…