Racism in Japanese in U.S. Wartime Propaganda

By Brcak, Nancy; Pavia, John R. | The Historian, Summer 1994 | Go to article overview

Racism in Japanese in U.S. Wartime Propaganda


Brcak, Nancy, Pavia, John R., The Historian


During World War II, propaganda produced by Japanese and American artists reflected and shaped the emotions and attitudes of that era. The messages that these two nations conveyed through their graphic propaganda reveal a good deal more about those cultures than was intended by either nation. Graphic propaganda on both sides revealed an undercurrent of racism that affected how the war was conducted and perceived on both sides.

The most natural theme in all modern propaganda is defense: no nation wants to be perceived as the aggressor. Not surprisingly, Japan and the United States chose to present their participation in the war as a defensive act. As seen from Tokyo, Japan was an innocent victim of Western aggression. Japan was pure, sincere, and was fighting to establish its proper place. For the Japanese, Pearl Harbor did not mark the beginning of a war, but was the continuation of a conflict that began as a struggle between Japan and China in 1937. On 12 December 1941, the Japanese media announced that the war, including the "China Incident," was officially to be known as "Dai Toa Senso," the Greater East Asia War. For Japanese, Pearl Harbor evoked images of a new age in the Pacific. On the other side of the Pacific, the Pearl Harbor attack colored all American responses and removed the element of choice: after the attack, surrender was unthinkable, and the United States would fight to the end using its massive industrial resources. Defeat was not even considered. In the popular image, Americans were strong, good, innocent, had experienced treachery, and would now set things straight; the U.S. would, to quote a well-known song of the era, "Remember Pearl Harbor as we did the Alamo."

Used most effectively, propaganda turns the symbols and values of the enemy against them. During World War II, the United States was forced, out of necessity, to utilize existing stereotypes and a few familiar symbols (e.g., the rising sun), but Japan had additional opportunities rooted in a traditional use of Kanji, the Chinese-derived ideograms in which much of Japanese is written. In Japanese art, objects can be arranged to form a word, or a character can be written to depict an object; and propagandists frequently did this. For example, one cartoon showed a crucified Franklin D. Roosevelt threatened by knives (bearing a Japanese-flag motif) in each quadrant of the cross. The caption "Beikoku no bei no ji" translates as "the character for America," and, the ideogram Bei (America), is a cross with a short stroke in each of its quadrants ( ).(1)

Race was an integral component of propaganda for both sides. For years East Asians referred to Westerners as "long-nosed, red-skinned barbarians." To this day Japanese, when angry with Westerners, are apt to spit out, Bata kusai, "stink of butter." For the United States, race played an equally important role. This suggestion raises the hackles of many participants and contemporaries. After all, Americans saw themselves as the "good guys." The Nazis were racists, and the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, mistreated prisoners, and committed atrocities. Yet racism was clearly part of U.S. propaganda. It is important to recall the degree to which racism was accepted, and even legal, in the United States until recently. In 1941 it was still tacitly understood that blacks and Asians in the segregated armed services would not be allowed to man the weapons for which they had been trained, and segregation and Jim Crow laws were still in effect. Racial hysteria lay at the heart of the forced internment of Japanese Americans. In 1942 the odious "sneak attack" was viewed as quintessentially Japanese. Beyond the prevalent racial stereotypes Americans knew or cared little for things Japanese. The Japanese, as Asians, were perceived as inherently inferior.

The Japanese saw Americans as racist, gross, coarse, and lacking in sincerity; Americans were also viewed as thrill-seeking drunkards, who committed atrocities as a norm, and as demons (oni and kichiku). …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Racism in Japanese in U.S. Wartime Propaganda
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.