While both the United States and Germany were principal combatants in the Second World War and confronted many similar challenges, the two societies differed profoundly from one another. The Nazi dictatorship, having built a brutally repressive system of domestic social control during peacetime, evolved during the war years into a machine of mass terror and extermination. Hitler supplemented the slaughter precipitated by military aggression with the murder of millions of non-combatant inhabitants of Europe in an effort to realize the objectives of genocidal Nazi ideology. The United States, by contrast, in fighting what was essentially a defensive war, preserved, with some notable exceptions, the fundamentals of a pluralistic democracy. Although the titanic U.S. military machine inflicted vast physical damage and great loss of life on non-combatant populations, this was the product not of ideological fanaticism but of a sometimes brutal pragmatism.
Nevertheless, a significant similarity of attitude shared by the two powers invites analysis and promises a more stimulating exercise in comparative history than the perhaps more obvious parallels between Germany and Japan. The United States and Nazi Germany each regarded at least one of its multiple adversaries in a manner encouraging, if not dictating, a higher degree of brutality and disregard for the laws of war than that shown to more favored enemies. For Germany, the pariah among its foes was the Soviet Union; for the United States, a comparable status was held by Japan.(1)
To be sure, atrocities occurred even in the course of combat with enemies who were regarded more positively. In the notorious Malmedy Massacre of 17 December 1944, 72 captured American soldiers were executed by members of the 1st SS Panzer Division. Less well-known, but similar in scope and nature, was the killing of approximately 75 Axis prisoners by troops of the U.S. 45th Infantry Division near Biscari, Sicily, on 14 July 1943. Both atrocities were encouraged by inflammatory pre-combat rhetoric delivered by commanding officers. According to testimony presented at the postwar Malmedy Massacre trial (U.S. v. Valentin Bersin et al.), SS-Oberstgruppenfuehrer "Sepp" Dietrich, commander of the 6th Panzer Army, had instructed his officers to remember the German victims of Allied bombing and to kill prisoners where combat circumstances required it. Multiple witnesses testified that the commander of the U.S. 7th Army, Lieutenant General George Patton, had delivered a pre-invasion address in which he directed that enemy troops who continued to resist to within 200 yards of advancing U.S. forces were to be killed, even if they offered to surrender.(2) Both atrocities occurred within the context of highly stressful combat situations. The German perpetrators had the crucial assignment of establishing a bridgehead over the Meuse river for the 6th Panzer Division during the last-ditch Ardennes offensive, an objective that strongly discouraged the delay attendant on holding prisoners. Practices learned in Russia, where the 1st SS Panzer Division had spent much combat time, may also have played a role. At Biscari, American troops new to combat were advancing against a well-concealed enemy who had inflicted casualties upon them by what they perceived as sniper fire, some allegedly directed at American wounded and medical personnel.(3)
The Malmedy and Biscari massacres were not unique occurrences on the more "civilized" battlefields of the West. But these and many similar incidents were sporadic events, precipitated by varying combinations of factors, including the elevated emotions of combat, a desire to avenge real or imagined atrocities, or acts of treachery committed by the enemy. Any or all of these stimuli might be aggravated by pre-combat indoctrination or exhortations as well as prior combat experience and the institutional ethos of the perpetrators. The perceived inherent nature of the enemy, however, did not in itself justify his destruction. The foe might often be perceived as evil--the German as "Nazi" or the American as "gangster"--but these could be construed as acquired characteristics, not shared by all enemy personnel and not necessarily indelible. Popular wartime depictions of Germans sometimes came close to denying their humanity, but this perspective was not strongly reflected in the attitudes of American troops. Surveys conducted among veteran combat infantrymen indicate that a majority of those whose battle experience was gained in Europe believed that the enemy "were men just like Us."(4) While such surveys were not conducted among German troops, German propaganda organs also did not attempt to dehumanize the Western adversary. Negative qualities were attributed instead to the corrupting influences of alien (and themselves subhuman) forces. An indoctrination leaflet distributed to units of the Waffen-SS in 1944, for example, explained blandly that:
Yes, the American soldier is racially related to us, but he does not carry
the same spirit. Most of these people are empty vessels, without any
well-founded knowledge of the great "why" of personal sacrifice and
commitment. They say, "We want to secure a new base for American commerce
in Europe." . . . But this rests on pure Jewish-materialistic thought.(5)
Atrocities in the Western combat environment between adversaries who recognized their common humanity were tangential to the war itself, but combat with enemies perceived as "subhuman".--the German struggle with the Soviet Union and the United States' conflict with Japan--was fundamentally different. Both circumstances had deep roots within the respective societies. Nazi consignment of the Slav to the status of Untermensch was based on attitudes that originated in the Drang nach Osten (Drive to the East) of the Middle Ages and assumed their modern forms in the great nineteenth-century upswelling of European nationalism. These attitudes were reinforced by the popularization of pseudo-scientific racism, the horrors of World War I, and the Bolshevik Revolution. Negative opinion in the United States toward the Japanese must be viewed within the context of the 400-year history of contacts between Europeans and peoples of color, where the tendency of the former was to view the latter as inferior and dangerous. American attitudes had already been manifested in brutal and murderous fashion in the institution of slavery, genocidal policies applied to indigenous American populations, and in the bloody "pacification" of the Philippines. Such beliefs may be traced as far back as the ancient Greek belief in the existence of "monstrous races" of wild men living in far-distant lands, a concept that was absorbed into early Christian thought.(6)
In purely military terms, the Russo-German and Japanese-American wars of 1941-45 were very different. The former was a confrontation between enormous land forces maneuvering over many thousands of square miles and continuing virtually uninterrupted for almost four years. The latter, on the other hand, involved smaller land forces in sporadic contact with one another in the course of Japanese expansion after the Pearl Harbor raid and the U.S. counter-offensive that began in August 1942 and continued until the end of hostilities three years later. The pivotal battles of this war were not confrontations between great land armies but naval engagements, highly impersonal affairs fought at long range. In contrast to the Russo-German war, enemy civilian populations were only infrequently involved, as happened in the battle for Okinawa and in the American strategic bombing offensive in the final year of the war. Germany did not conduct a sustained strategic bombing campaign against the Soviet Union, but parallels can be seen in its brutal war against Soviet partisans. Space does not permit an extensive discussion of these important issues, but it might be pointed out that both were indiscriminate, facilitated by racial hatred, and cost large numbers of innocent civilians their lives.(7)
More striking is the similarity of images held and propagated by Germans and Americans of their respective enemies. In both cases, the adversary was depicted as less than human and preternaturally brutal. The Nazis unleashed a tidal wave of venom against the army and people of the "Jewish-led slave state." In August 1941, Hitler declared that "the Russian is no more than an animal." On 2 October, the Fuhrer stated to German troops about to embark on the fateful drive on Moscow that the enemy were "beasts, not soldiers."(8) A month later, the Red Army was characterized as driven by "fear and insane animalistic fanaticism." Addressing troops of the Waffen-SS about to enter battle in the Soviet Union in July 1941, Reichsfuehrer-SS Heinrich Himmler observed:
On the other side stands a population of 180 million, a mixture of races
whose very names are unpronounceable, and whose physique is such that one
can shoot them down without pity and compassion. These animals that torture
and ill-treat every prisoner from our side . . . you will see for
To propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels, the Russians were "not a people, but a conglomeration of animals . . . "(10)
Images of the Soviet enemy disseminated to German troops differed little from Goebbels's racist fulminations. A veteran of the early stages of the war in the East recalls pre-attack exhortations replete with references to subhuman adversaries) a directive to German forces proclaimed that,"Anyone who has ever looked in the face of a Red Commissar knows what the Bolsheviks are like . . . we would be insulting the animals if we were to describe these men, who are mostly Jewish, as beasts."(11) Receiving wide circulation was the SS-published pamphlet entitled Der Untermensch, in which pictures of tall, blond, clean-cut Aryans were contrasted with the swarthy, beetle-browed "Untermenschen," whose "natural environment is a swamp."(12) The SS journal Das Schwarze Korps variously referred to Germany's eastern adversaries as "Bolshevik herd people of animal gruesomeness" and "race-bastard types," whose nature was not only subhuman but "sub-bestial."(13) These images were internalized by many German soldiers. Letters written by troops fighting in the East contain frequent references to the enemy as "subhuman,""mad dogs," and "animals." The Russians, a German soldier wrote early in the campaign, are "no longer human beings, but wild hordes and beasts." A non-commissioned officer of the 251st Infantry Division observed that if these "animalized" (vertierten) soldiers were to invade Germany, it would mean the end of all that was German.(14)
Unlike Nazi Germany, in the United States images of the enemy were not controlled by totalitarian agencies, nor were those images expressed in the language of a pseudo-scientific racist ideology. Indeed, physical anthropology in the United States had shifted from an emphasis on racial hierarchy to egalitarianism in the interwar years. The view of the Japanese adversary widely propagated--in part by governmental agencies--and accepted by Americans was, however, in many respects similar to that of the people of the Soviet Union extant in wartime Germany. Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, long-standing antipathies toward members of colored races in general, and East Asians in particular, were focused on the Japanese. These attitudes were especially prevalent in the military. "It was just a natural feeling that developed elementally," recalled one Marine Corps veteran in explaining his hatred of the Japanese.(15) Another observed that ". . . the Japanese made a perfect enemy. They had so many characteristics an American could hate. They were small, a strange color and, by some American standards, unattractive . . . Marines did not consider they were killing men. They were wiping out dirty animals."(16) John Hersey, while on Guadalcanal in October 1942, was told by a Marine:
. . . the Japs are like animals. Against them you have to learn a whole
new set of physical reactions. You have to get used to their animal
stubbornness and tenacity. They take to the jungle as if they had been bred
there, and like some beasts you never see them until they are dead.(17)
Ernie Pyle, on relocating from the European theater to the Pacific, noted that: ". . . I've already gathered the feeling that the Japanese are looked upon as something inhuman and squirmy--like some people feel about cockroaches or mice."(18)
Nor were such attitudes limited to American combatants confronting a ruthless and brutal enemy in battle. The governor of Arkansas, referring to the soon-to-be interned Japanese residents of the West Coast, declared, "The Japs live like rats, breed like rats and act like rats." Near the war's culmination, President Harry Truman observed: "The only language they seem to understand is the one we have been using to bombard them. When you deal with a beast you have to treat him as a beast."(19)
Government publications for U.S. servicemen frequently depicted the Japanese in a similar manner. Yank, the weekly magazine of the U.S. Army, referred to Japanese working on the airfield on Guadalcanal as "termites," while a piece of War Department training literature entitled The Jap Soldier, derived from an instructional filmstrip of the same title, informed GIs that Marines fighting in the Solomons believed that the presence of the enemy could be detected by their odor, described as "the gamey smell of animals."(20) Another War Department treatise likened the Japanese soldier to a poisonous snake, and urged readers to use their "better brains" in combating him. Referring to the cumulative impact of such imagery, a U.S. Army veteran remembers that "[w]e had been fed tales of these yellow thugs, subhumans, with teeth that resembled fangs. If a hundred thousand Japs were killed, so much the better. Two hundred thousand, even better. I wasn't innocent, either. You couldn't escape it."(21)
Germans and Americans were inclined to regard behavior patterns of their enemies as concomitant with their alleged subhuman nature, or outgrowths of it. Himmler associated Soviet subhumanity with the torturing and ill-treatment of prisoners; and Das Schwarze Korps argued, with stunning hypocrisy, that only subhumans could have killed the 40 million people who had allegedly been murdered in the Soviet Union since the Bolshevik revolution. Positive qualities could be understood within the same context. A highly competent German staff officer attributed instances of heroism, as well as panic and cowardice, to the "herd instinct" of the Red Army. Instinct served the Soviet soldier better in combat than tactical doctrine that was presumably beyond his cognitive ability. The Red Army soldier, this officer maintained, "is essentially a primitive being" close to nature, accounting for his mastery of the art of camouflage and his ability to overcome natural obstacles impenetrable to the Western soldier.(22)
Animalistic qualities also served the Japanese well in battle. A Marine informed John Hersey that "[t]hey hide up in the trees like wildcats. Sometimes when they attack, they scream like a bunch of terrified cattle in a slaughterhouse . . . Other times they jabber to cover the noise of their men cutting through the underbrush with machetes." The Japanese were believed to be particularly adept at jungle warfare and better able to bear the adverse conditions of that environment, due in part to an absence of "white man's feeling." Their reputed propensity for communicating with one another by means of bird calls and their proficiency in night-fighting and infiltration implied animal cunning rather than a capacity to wage modern warfare.(23)
In spite of fundamental differences between German and American societies during the period 1941-45, a significant parallel existed between images held of their Soviet and Japanese adversaries. But was the parallel sustained in the actual conduct of Germans and Americans toward their respective enemies?
Here, similarities are less obvious, although by no means absent. The rhetoric of both countries projected apocalyptic conflicts unencumbered by the traditional restraints on war and directed toward the annihilation of the enemy. This rhetoric was more fully developed in Nazi Germany than in the United States, and had antecedents that reached back to the opening campaign of the war. The German conquest of Poland had been motivated by an ambition to enslave or exterminate the Slavic population, as reflected in extreme brutality and disregard for Polish civilian lives. This savagery, characteristic of both German military operations and occupation policies in Poland, came close to being matched in Yugoslavia. Attitudinal preparation for the assault on the Soviet Union was much more methodical, however, reflecting the key significance of this center of "Judeo-Bolshevism" in the Nazi Weltanschauung. On 30 March 1941, in an address to some 200 high-ranking German officers assembled in the Reich Chancellery, Adolf Hitler declared that the impending war with the Soviet Union would be a "war of extermination.""We must break away from the principle of soldierly comradeship. The Communist has been and will be no comrade. We are dealing with a struggle of annihilation."(24) Top commanders of the German army agreed. Colonel General Erich Hoeppner observed the same day that:
The objective of this battle must be the destruction of present-day Russia
and must therefore be conducted with unprecedented severity. Every military
action must be guided in planning and execution by an iron resolution to
exterminate the enemy remorselessly and totally.(25)
Three days before Hitler's inflammatory exhortation Field Marshal Walther von Brauchitsch, commander of the army, had urged his generals to recognize the impending war as one between separate races, requiring the utmost harshness.(26)
Prior to Operation Barbarossa, Hitler's invasion of the Soviet Union, a series of orders was issued to German forces that made explicit the expectations of the Fuhrer and his generals. The best-known of these is the infamous "Commissar Order" that directed the summary execution of Communist political functionaries captured with Soviet troops on the grounds that "these elements" constituted a threat to German security and were, in any event, "mostly Jewish."(27) It was made clear, too, that ordinary Soviet soldiers and civilians were to be treated with the utmost severity. "Guidelines for the Conduct of the Troops in Russia," issued by the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (OKW), urged "ruthless and energetic measures" and "the radical elimination of all active or passive resistance."(28)
German soldiers were informed that they were about to fight enemies who could not be expected to behave "as decent and chivalrous opponents" and that the Russian was ". . . prepared to commit any vile act, be it murder or treachery."(29) The annihilation of such an enemy was presented as a moral and historical imperative. Field Marshal Walt her von Reichenau informed the troops of his 6th Army that:
The essential campaign against the Jewish-Bolshevik system is the complete
destruction of the sources of power and the eradication of the Asian
influence on the European culture sphere.... Only in this manner will we do
justice to our historical task, to liberate the German people once and for
all from the Asiatic-Jewish danger.(30)
Reichenau added that their duty went ". . . beyond conventional combat . . . according to the rules of warfare." In a similar vein, Colonel-General Erich von Manstein instructed his 11th Army that the life-and-death struggle with the Bolshevik system could not be waged "according to the customary conventions of European warfare."(31)
No comparable body of ideologically charged statements, orders, and directives appeared during the United States' war with Japan. Although it had long recognized in Japan a threat and potential enemy, the United States did not launch a racial-ideological war against the Japanese people. Instead, the United States saw itself as the victim of an attack. This view gave the resulting war some of the characteristics of a moral crusade. It is true that the prewar musings of figures such as General Billy Mitchell had suggested a degree of enthusiasm for the idea of an expansionist racial struggle, but this view was not reflected in U.S. planning for a possible war with Japan. Nevertheless, the combination of deep-rooted racial antipathies, the outrage and humiliation produced by Japan's spectacularly successful early Pacific offensive, and a record of atrocities reaching back to Japanese aggression in China in 1937, gave rise to rhetorical gestures that resembled German fulminations. In January 1942 Admiral William Leahy, chairman of the new Joint Chiefs of Staff, observed that ". . . in fighting with Japanese savages, all previously accepted rules of warfare must be abandoned," to which he added some months later the opinion that the United States should destroy Japan "utterly."(32) General John DeWitt of the U.S. Western Defense Command opined that the Japanese threat could only be eliminated by destroying the Japanese as a race. Paul McNutt, chairman of the War Manpower Commission, stated that he favored the complete extermination of the Japanese people.(33) In May 1943 Captain H. L. Pence of the U.S. Navy, a member of a State Department committee shaping policy for postwar Japan, recommended "the almost total elimination of the Japanese as a race."(34)
The significance of similarities to German annihilationist rhetoric must not be exaggerated, however. Calls by some American officers and civilian officials for the extermination of the Japanese people, while no doubt authentic manifestations of a deep, visceral hatred of the Japanese that was common in the United States, were not policy statements or formal operational directives comparable to those accompanying Operation Barbarossa, nor did they go unchallenged by more humane perspectives that would ultimately prevail. Pence's views, for example, were not shared by other committee members who looked forward instead to postwar U.S.-Japanese cooperation. Official U.S. policy toward Japan came to embrace reform rather than annihilation, although the United States proved willing to apply extremes of force to achieve that end.(35)
But whether the product of official propaganda and state policy, or simply popular opinion shared by some government and military leaders and fanned by war with an aggressive and brutal enemy, images of the foe as a subhuman to whom the laws of war should not apply affected both the German war against the Soviet Union and the American war against Japan. The German paradigm was by far the more horrendous and is appallingly reflected in the fate of Soviet prisoners of war. During the period 1941-45, German forces captured approximately 5,700,000 Red Army troops. Of these, roughly 3,300,000 or about 58 percent perished. These deaths are partially attributable to inadequate German preparation for the enormous number of Soviet prisoners who fell into their hands, especially during the first five months of the campaign. Such a degree of negligence can only be described as criminal. By September 1941, the mortality rate among Soviet POWs was on the order of one percent per day.
But more than negligence was responsible for this enormous loss of life.(36) On 8 September 1941, General Hermann Reinecke, chief of the General Wehrmacht Office in OKW, issued guidelines for the treatment of Soviet prisoners that noted such prisoners had no right to be treated as "honorable soldiers." An order from General Erich von Manstein to his 11th Army the following month was more specific and forbade giving German supplies to Soviet prisoners or the civilian population "out of a misguided sense of humanity," if they were not in the service of the Wehrmacht. Prisoners were often robbed of their cold weather clothing by ill-equipped German troops during the winter of 1941-42 with fatal results,(37)
In addition to deaths caused by "natural" factors, large numbers of Soviet POWs were murdered outright. SS-Obergruppenfuehrer Reinhard Heydrich's Sicherheitsdienst (Security Service) and the German army cooperated in identifying "dangerous" or otherwise undesirable elements among Soviet prisoners and arranged for their "liquidation," many in German concentration camps. Estimates of the numbers of prisoners murdered in this fashion run to more than 100,000; the true total may be much higher, for between June 1941 and May 1944 about 10 percent of all Soviet prisoners in German hands were turned over to Himmler's murder squads, the SS-Einsatzgruppen. Moreover, these figures do not include an indeterminate, although certainly very large, number of Soviet troops who were killed immediately after surrendering. Although the murder of prisoners, aside from political functionaries, had not been sanctioned in pre-attack orders, it is dear that many German soldiers were not inclined to make distinctions. Nor do these figures reflect the enormous death toll among Soviet civilians, many killed in the course of alleged anti-guerrilla operations and in the often overlapping mass killing of Jews.(38)
It is on this point of comparison--from the moral perspective, the most significant--that parallelism is most precarious. The millions of Soviet prisoners who died of disease, malnutrition, and exposure, and the many thousands murdered outright, contrast sharply with Japanese prisoners in the United States who were comparatively well-fed, well-clothed, and adequately housed. Only three Japanese POWs were killed by their captors, and only when the prisoners in question allegedly attacked their guards. However, the number of Japanese prisoners held by the United States was far smaller than the number of Soviet prisoners held by Germany. The maximum number of Japanese detained in U.S.-run camps was a mere 5,424, a figure reached only near the end of the war. Until the beginning of the campaign for the recapture of the Philippines in October 1944, a total of only 604 Japanese had been taken prisoner by all Allied forces. One of the most striking characteristics of engagements between Japanese and U.S. ground forces is the disparity between Japanese troops reported killed and those captured. For example, in five days of fighting on Guadalcanal in January 1943, the 2nd Marine Division reported that it had killed 643 Japanese and captured two. On that island at roughly the same time, the U.S. Army's 35th Infantry Regiment killed 558 of their enemies and took 17 prisoners in the course of capturing the heights known as the "Sea Horse." On Eniwetok in February 1944, 23 prisoners were taken out of a total Japanese garrison of about 800. In the fierce fighting for Iwo Jima in February and March 1945, fewer than 200 Japanese were captured out of over 22,000. Only on Okinawa, site of the last major ground campaign of the Pacific war, were Japanese captured in significant numbers.(39) The crucial issue, of course, is why?
A major component of the answer lies in the battlefield ethos of the Japanese armed forces. Victory was to be achieved primarily by the spiritual rather than the material superiority of the Japanese soldier over his enemies. Such superiority was to be demonstrated by an indomitable offensive spirit and, ultimately, a willing acceptance--even an enthusiastic embracing--of death in preference to retreat or surrender. The internalization of this ethos by many Japanese was demonstrated repeatedly to American combatants throughout the Pacific war and culminated in the fierce Kamikaze assaults on the Allied fleet off Okinawa. But the Japanese preference for death, instead of seemingly more rational alternatives, reinforced the image of inhuman "otherness" that American soldiers already attached to the enemy, an image further enhanced by other elements of Japanese conduct on the battlefield. The same code of ethics that demanded suicidal resistance also permitted the adoption of expedients such as feigned surrender or booby-trapped corpses and even the torture and murder of enemy prisoners if these practices might contribute to victory. American experiences with Japanese "fanaticism" and "treachery" were embodied in U.S. training literature. The War Department's The Jap Soldier explained to the GI that reading the pamphlet would not permit him to understand the "Jap," "because his way of thinking and acting are so different from yours." Some readers might laugh, others fear, still others hate, "a mild hatred compared to that which will well up within you when you meet the tricky foe in the field." The conclusions the GI was encouraged to draw were grim: "From the evidence, it looks as though only death can change a Jap's point of view. Not that death really changes it--it just ends it."(40)
It should occasion no surprise, therefore, that accompanying Japanese reluctance to surrender was a hesitation on the part of American troops to take Japanese prisoners, even when the opportunity presented itself. This involved not only an American spirit of war "to the knife" that effectively denied the enemy an opportunity to surrender--arguably a rational course, given the suicidal resistance of many Japanese soldiers--but also hatred for a subhuman foe, reflected in the killing of many Japanese who did manage to surrender. Charles Lindbergh, while serving as a technical adviser in the Pacific, was told that at a particular locale,"only a hundred or two" Japanese prisoners were turned in out of a "couple of thousand" taken. "Oh, we could take more if we wanted to," Lindbergh recalled being told, "but our boys don't like to take prisoners."(41) Lindbergh's numbers were probably exaggerated, but the principle was real enough. "You had no mercy for them whatever by the end of the campaign," an American veteran of Okinawa remembered. "Nine Marines in ten would shoot them. If you saw a Jap trying to surrender, you'd let him have it fast."(42)
Japanese who did succeed in surrendering were to be turned over to military police, but this was not always done. Commanders sometimes issued camouflaged orders to kill prisoners by directing troops to escort them to regimental headquarters that might be 30 minutes distant, but to return in five. Long before the battle for Okinawa, these practices were so widespread and accepted that they were discussed openly in the pages of Yank. In an article on the fighting on Bougainville, the author noted that ". . . our men preferred killing Japs until a case of beer was offered for each captive," an offer made so the prisoners might be interrogated for intelligence purposes,(43) Although half a world away, General George Patton seemed well aware of the fate of many Japanese willing to surrender. As his own role in the "non-racial" Biscari massacre was being investigated, Patton wrote to his wife, "Some fair-haired boys are trying to say that I killed too many prisoners. Yet, the same people cheer at the far greater killing of Japs."(44) Patton's language cannot always be taken at face value, but his suggestion that combat ethics in Europe and the Pacific differed substantially seems well-founded. The disadvantages of the conduct alluded to by Patton in terms of lost intelligence opportunities and enhanced Japanese resistance eventually were recognized by U.S. theater commanders and corrective measures adopted, but not until late in the war. For similar reasons, Hitler was persuaded to lift the Commissar Order in May 1942, and living conditions for Soviet prisoners improved somewhat.(45)
In contrast to mass German killings of Soviet prisoners that were largely in programmatic response to official policy and ideology, American killings of smaller numbers of Japanese who had surrendered or were willing to do so were primarily the spontaneous products of a popular racism sometimes reinforced by inflammatory training literature and aggravated by the peculiar and repugnant fighting qualities of the enemy. A facet of the Pacific war that has no exact counterpart in the German-Soviet conflict effectively illustrates the elemental character of American excesses against the Japanese.
The mutilation of Japanese dead for souvenirs or trophies was a popular activity among U.S. combatants during World War II. Skulls, noses, ears, teeth, and other portions of the Japanese anatomy were prized as symbols of victorious confrontations with an inhuman foe (no similar practices emerged in combat with the European Axis). If, as an American general observed, "killing a Japanese was like killing a rattlesnake," then it was not inappropriate to preserve as a token of the fatal encounter something analogous to the reptile's rattle or skin. This was not an ambition that developed only in the course of long and brutalizing combat with a fanatical and ruthless enemy, but one American troops carried into the earliest counteroffensives against Japanese ground forces. Richard Tregaskis, in his classic Guadalcanal Diary, quotes Marines aboard a troop ship steaming toward the Solomon Islands: "They say the Japs have a lot of gold teeth. I'm going to make myself a necklace," and, "I'm going to bring back some Jap ears. Pickled,"(46) Many GIs did just that, to the extent that the importation of Japanese body parts by U.S. servicemen became a matter of concern to the U.S. Customs Service. The practice was widely reported in the American press, including The Washington Post and Life, and occasioned official anxiety, particularly on the part of the U.S. State Department, which feared Japanese retaliation against U.S. prisoners of war and civilian detainees. Nor did the practice find favor with some private citizens and religious groups. But trophy gathering at the expense of Japanese dead (and sometimes the living) proved impervious to efforts to halt it and persisted until the end of the war.(47)
Despite profound political and ideological differences, Germany and the United States waged wars marked by striking parallels. Each society fought two categories of enemies, one regarded as its racial equal and another dehumanized by negative racial stereotypes. Perceptions of biological equality did not preclude atrocities motivated by factors other than racial hatred; the murders of prisoners of war at Biscari, Malmedy, and elsewhere were appalling crimes, but they fall into the category of "heat of battle" offenses common to all wars--although the ambient temperature might have been elevated by specific stimuli. As Ernst Juenger, the analyst of the World War I "trench experience" has noted, "A man cannot change his feelings again during the last rush with a veil of blood before his eyes. He does not want to take prisoners, but to kill."(48) Yet such incidents occurred as anomalies within the context of a general willingness to respect the laws and usages of war by combatants who recognized in one another a common humanity. In contrast, the relegation of the Soviet and Japanese enemy to the category of "subhumanity" greatly weakened, if it did not entirely nullify, those restraints, and rendered normal the wholesale violation of the generally accepted rules of warfare.
But differences between the German and American models are at least equally striking. German annihilationist rhetoric and practice were related instrumentally to geopolitical objectives--the conquest of Lebensraum for the German people and the destruction of Communism, the latter imperative sharpened by post-World War I German chaos and fears of revolution. In the minds of the Nazi leadership and much of the German military, these goals, in order to be fully realized, required the extermination or enslavement of the population of the western Soviet Union. German conduct, therefore, was inseparable from and conditioned by the objectives of the war. The Soviet Union and its population, moreover, were inextricably intertwined in the Nazi mind with the purported Jewish world conspiracy, with which there could be no compromise and for which there could be no mercy. For the United States, on the other hand, extermination of the enemy, no matter how appealing it might have seemed to some Americans, was not central to the attainment of the war's objective--the neutralization of Japan as an expansionist force in East Asia and the western Pacific. German conduct, moreover, was "legitimized" by an official, if nebulous, ideology of Social Darwinism that accepted, even glorified, cataclysmic racial conflict as the engine of human progress. American racism, on the other hand, coexisted with a humanitarian and pluralistic tradition that worked at cross-purposes to it. Its wartime manifestations could be horrifying, but they were not the products of formal policy, as were their more murderous German counterparts. American conduct toward the Japanese adversary, moreover, was in part stimulated by the traumatic experience of having been the victim of devastating acts of aggression, and further conditioned by suicidal Japanese resistance. Germans, too, perceived themselves as victims of "Jewish-Bolshevik" aggression, but in a more abstract and nebulous sense that was integral to the ideological underpinnings of the Nazi state, although this was reinforced by tangible experiences of brutality by the Red Army. Genocidal inclinations in the United States, while in part reflecting a long-standing popular racism, remained essentially incidental to the war against Japan, permitting American conduct to assume a benevolent, paternalistic attitude after the surrender of Japan. Nazi racism, on the other hand, stood at the core of the German war against the Soviet Union, and a German victory would have almost certainly resulted in a permanent helot status for those Soviet citizens whom the Nazis permitted to survive.(49) (1) See Omer Bartov, The Eastern Front, 1941-45: German Troops and the Barbarisation of Warfare (New York, 1985); and John Dower, War Without Mercy: Race and Power in the Pacific War (New York, 1986).
(2) James J. Weingartner, "Massacre at Biscari: Patton and an American War Crime," The Historian 52, no. 1 (1989): 25-30.
(3) Charles B. MacDonald, A Time for Trumpets: The Untold Story of the Battle of the Bulge (New York, 1985), 89, 217-21; James J. Weingartner, Crossroads of Death: The Story of the Malmedy Massacre and Trial (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1979), 102; Max Hastings, Overlord: D-Day, June 6, 1944 (New York, 1984), 211-12.
(4) Charles H. Sydnor, Jr., Soldiers of Destruction: The SS Death's Head Division, 1933-1945 (Princeton, 1977), 106-107; George H. Stein, The Waffen SS: Hitler's Elite Guard at War (Ithaca, 1966), 276-77; Bernd Wegner, Hitlers Politische Soldaten: Die Waffen-SS 1933-1945 (Paderborn, 1982), 51-52; Hastings, Overlord, 211; Robert Abzug, Inside the Vicious Heart: Americans and the Liberation of Nazi Concentration Camps (New York, 1985), 93; "Summary of Reports of Investigation, pursuant to direction of Theater Commander, dated 18 July 1945, into compliance with provisions of the Geneva Prisoners of war convention by United States Forces" U.S. National Archives, Record Group 332; National Archives Microcopy No. T-77, Records of Headquarters, German Armed Forces, Reel 1458, Frames 00160,000161, 000187; Lee Kennett, GI: The American Soldier in World War II (New York, 1987) 159; National Archives Microfilm Publications Pamphlet Describing M 1103: Records of United States Army war Crimes Trials, United States of America v. Kurt Goebell et al., 6 February-21 March 1946, and United States of America v. August Haesiker, 26 June 1947 (Washington, D.C., 1981), 4-5; Samuel A. Stouffer et al., The American Soldier, vol. 2, Combat and Its Aftermath (Princeton, 1949), 161.
(5) "Warum sind sie uns nicht gewachsen?" Politische Wochenschau; Informationsdienst der Abt. VI, LSSAH, National Archives Microcopy No. T-354, Reel 625, Frames 000145-6.
(6) Michael Burleigh and Wolfgang Wippermann, The Racial State: Germany 1933-1945 (New York, 1991), 23-43; Detlev Peukert, "The Genesis of the `Final Solution' from the Spirit of Science," in Revaluating the Third Reich, ed. Thomas Childers and Jane Caplan (New York, 1993), 237-47; George L. Mosse, Towards the Final Solution: A History of European Racism (New York, 1978), 161-62; Leonard Dinnerstein et al., Natives and Strangers: Ethnic Groups and the Building of America (New York, 1979), 14-21; Richard Drinnon, Facing West: The Metaphysics of Indian-Hating and Empire-Building (New York, 1980), xvii; David E. Stannard, American Holocaust: Columbus and the Conquest of the New World (New York, 1992), 165-67; John Dower, War Without Mercy, 147ff.
(7) Ronald Schaffer, Wings of Judgment: American Bombing in World War II (New York, 1985), 153-54; Michael S. Sherry, The Rise of American Air Power: The Creation of Armageddon (New Haven, 1987), illustrations 11, 12, 16; Matthew Cooper, The Phantom War: The German Struggle Against Soviet Partisans (London, 1979), 82-86; Timothy B. Mulligan, "Reckoning the Cost of People's War: The German Experience in the Central U.S.S.R.," Russian History/Histoire Russe 9 (1982): 47-48.
(8) Cooper, Phantom War, 1-6; Arno Mayer, Why Did the Heavens Not Darken? The "Final Solution" in History (New York, 1990), 243-44, 296.
(9) Stein, Waffen SS, 126-27.
(10) Cooper, Phantom War, 6.
(11) Omer Bartov, The Eastern Front, 1941-45, 83.
(12) Jay W. Baird, The Mythological World of Nazi War Propaganda (Minneapolis, 1974), 161; Josef Ackermann, Heinrich Himmler als Ideologe (Goettingen, 1970), illustrations preceding 193.
(13) William L. Combs, The Voice of the SS: A History of the SS Journal `Das Schwarze Korps' (New York, 1986), 138, 144.
(14) Omer Bartov, Hitler's Army: Soldiers, Nazis and war in the Third Reich (New York, 1991), 154-58; Ortwin Buchbender and Reinhold Sterz, Das Andere Gesicht des Krieges: Deutsche Feldpostbriefe 1939-1945 (Munich, 1983), 85-87.
(15) John Morton Blum, V Was for Victory: Politics and American Culture During World War II (New York, 1976), 31-39, 45-46; Elazar Barkan, The Retreat of Scientific Racism: Changing Concepts of Race in Britain and the United States between the World wars (Cambridge, 1992), 104, 342; Craig M. Cameron, "Imagining settle: The Marine corps and the barbarization of the Pacific war paper delivered at the Annual Meeting of the American Historical Association, Chicago, 1991, 2-3; Studs Terkel, `The Good War:' An Oral History of World War II (New York, 1984), 58-59.
(16) Andrew Rooney, The Fortunes of war (Boston, 1962), 37.
(17) Sheila K. Johnson, American Attitudes towards Japan, 1941-1975 (Washington, D.C., 1975), 37.
(18) Ernie Pyle, Ernie's War: The Best of Ernie Pyle's World War II Dispatches (New York, 1986), 367; see also Dower, War Without Mercy, 87-93.
(19) Blum, V Was for Victory, 160; Schaffer, Wings of Judgment, 171.
(20) Arthur Goodfriend, The Jap Soldier (Washington, D.C., 1943), 54.
(21) Yank: The Army Weekly, 28 October 1942, 2; Military Intelligence Division, War Department, The Punch Below the Belt: Japanese Ruses, Deception Tactics, and Anti-Personnel Measures (Washington, D.C., 1945), 1; Terkel, `The God War' 64.
(22) Combs, The Voice of the SS, 138, 151; F. W. von Mellenthin, A Study of the Employment of Armor in the Second World War (Norman, 1956), 293-99.
(23) Johnson, American Attitudes towards Japan, 19; Kennett, GI, 167-68; Yank, 12 March 1943, 3; Eugene B. Sledge, With the Old Breed at Peleliu and Okinawa (Novato, CA, 1981), 115.
(24) Juergen Foerster, "The Wehrmacht and the war of Extermination Against the Soviet union," Yad Vashem Studies 14 (1981): 18; Christian Streit, Keine Kameraden: Die Wehrmacht und die sowetischen Kriegsgefangenen 1941-1945 (Stuttgart, 1978), 25-26, 34.
(25) Juergen Foerster, "The German Army and the Ideological war Against the Soviet union", in The Policies of Genocide: Jews and Soviet Prisoners of War in Nazi Germany, ed. Gerhard Hirschfeld (London, 1986) 18.
(26) Ibid., 17.
(27) Theo Schulte, The German Army and Nazi Policies in Occupied Russia (New York, 1989), 215, 317.
(28) Hans Adolf Jacobsen, "Kommisarbefehl und Massenexekutionen sowjetischer Kriegsgefangener," Anatomie des SS-Staares, vol. 2 (Munich 1967), 187.
(29) Juergen Foerster, "Das Unternehmen `Barbarossa' als Eroberungs und Vernichtungskrieg" Der Angriff auf der Sowjetunion. Das Deutsche Reich und der Zweite Weltkreig, IV (Stuttgart, 1983), 443-44.
(30) Bartov, The Eastern Front, 84-85.
(31) Mayer, Why Did the Heavens Not Darken?, 252-53.
(32) Dower, War Without Mercy, 141-42, 154. (33) Ibid., 55, 81.
(34) Akira Iriye, Power and Culture: The Japanese-American War, 1941-1945 (Cambridge, Mass., 1981), 15-23, 122-23.
(35) Iriye, Power and Culture, 122-23.
(36) Foerster, "Barbarossa." 418; Bartov, The Eastern Front, 110-11.
(37) Bartov, The Eastern Front, 107; Mayer, Why Did the Heavens Not Darken?, 252-53; Cooper, Phantom War, 173; Foerster, "Wehrmacht," 19-22.
(38) Mayer, Why Did the Heavens Not Darken?, 253, 366; Streit, Keine Kameraden, 90-94; Foerster, "Wehrmacht," 19; Christian Streit, "The German Army and the Politics of Genocide," in Hirschfeld, The Policies of Genocide, 7; Helmut Krausnick and Hans-Heinrich Wilhelm, Die Truppe des Weltanschauungskrieges: Die Einsatzgruppen der Sicherheitspolizei und des SD 1938-1942 (Stuttgart, 1981), 251-54; Alfred Streim, Die Behandlung sowjetischer Kriegsgefangener im `Fall Barbarossa' (Heidelberg, 1981), 61ff.
(39) Arnold Krammer, "Japanese Prisoners of War in America," Pacific Historical Review 52 (1983): 71-72, 82-83; John Miller, Jr., Guadalcanal: The First Offensive (Washington, D.C., 1949), 279, 290; Philip A. Crowl and Edmund G. Love, Seizure of the Gilberts and Marshalls (Washington, D.C.), 360; Bill D. Ross, Iwo Jima: Legacy of Valor (New York, 1985), 336; Meirion Harries and Susie Harries, Soldiers of the Sun: The Rise and Fall of the Imperial Japanese Army (New York, 1991), 440; Arnold G. Fisch, Jr., Military Government in the Ryukyu Islands, 1945-1950 (Washington, D.C., 1988), 42-43; George Feifer, Tennozan: The Battle of Okinawa and the Atomic Bomb (New York, 1992), 484.
(40) Harries and Harries, Soldiers of the Sun, 102, 323, 481; Goodfriend, The Jap Soldier, foreword and 112; Stouffer et al., The American Soldier, vol. 2, 161-62.
(41) Charles A. Lindbergh, The Wartime Journals of Charles A. Lindbergh (New York, 1970), 856.
(42) Feirfer, Tennozan, 485.
(43) Barrett McGurn, "Second Battle of Bougainville," Yank, 19 May 1944, 5.
(44) Martin Blumenson, ed., The Patton Papers, 1940-1945, vol. 2 (Boston, 1974), 431.
(45) Jacobsen, "Kommisarbefehl und Massexekutionen," 154-55.
(46) Richard Tregaskis, Guadalcanal Diary (New York, 1942), 15-16.
(47) "Memorandum for the Chief of Staff: Importation of Japanese Skulls into the United States by Members of the Armed Forces," 9 January 1944, U.S. National Archives, War Department and Special Staff, Record Group 165; James J. Weingartner, "Trophies of War: U.S. Troops and the Mutilation of Japanese War Dead, 1941-45," Pacific Historical Review 61 (1992): 53-67; Dower, War without Mercy, 64-66; Paul Fussell, Wartime: Understanding and Behavior in the Second World War (New York, 1989), 120; Ronald H. Spector, Eagle against the Sun: The American War with Japan (New York, 1985), 410.
(48) Richard Holmes, Acts of War: The Behavior of Men in Battle (New York, 1985), 381.
(49) Norman Rich, Hitler's War Aims: Ideology, the Nazi State, and the Course of Expansion (New York, 1973), 5-10, 212-13; Eberhard Jaeckel, Hitler's World View: A Blueprint for Power (Cambridge, 1981), 106-107; Richard Breitman, The Architect of Genocide: Himmler and the Final Solution (New York, 1991), 177, 245-46; R. H. S. Stolfi, Hitler's Panzers East: World War II Reinterpreted (Norman, 1991), 92; Edwin O. Reischauer, The United States and Japan (New York, 1957), 223-34; Dower, War Without Mercy, 302-303; Joachim C. Fest, Hitler (New York, 1975), 682-83.…