John Dower’s book War Without Mercy does a great job at talking about, and showing images of the many ways that race played a role in the propaganda and deep racially coded hatred the United States and Japan had for each other. Any good history of Japan or US-Japan relations that covers the war can now hardly avoid the topic.
The wonderful online exhibit Dr. Suess Went to War also has a wonderful catalog of the kinds of images found depicting the enemy, including a whole section on Japan.
Many of the propaganda images dehumanize the enemy by portraying them as some kind of animal, monster, or insects. They go well beyond the kind of racial caricatures of the enemy that depict certain racial stereotypes in terms of exaggerated features. The latter can be found not only in propaganda images but was used even in official documents. To take one example of this I recently came across, the cover for 1945 Field Order 31 of the US 8th Army, which contained instructions for the early occupation of the Japanese islands, shows the 8th Army, represented by a large arrow, attacking the protruding ass of a Japanese soldier, depicted with standard slanted eyes and enlarged teeth.1
As Dower and many others have pointed out, the more dehumanizing portrayals of the enemy create an environment in which the soldier feels that the enemy race is itself a kind of disease or vermin that needs to be exterminated. Though examples abound, I recently came across a particularly elaborate example of this that I had never seen before and which I thought I would share: A “License to Hunt Japanese” issued to an American who did not fight in the Pacific War but would later serve as a US advisor in occupation Japan. The image and accompanying text simultaneously captures a number of the features found in the more disturbing propaganda images.
The license, clearly designed to be a work of humor, is stamped by a fictional “Department of Jap Extermination” in the “Alaska Sanitation Commmission,” which is said to have as its motto, “Exterm the worm.” Imitating a hunting license, it declares an “open season” on the Japanese, with “no limit.”
Japanese are not the only ones mentioned or depicted in this mock hunting license. The body of the license, which refers to the Japanese as “genus bastardi” and “black-livered Japanese,” announces that “Germans taken incidental to the hunt will be counted two for one in claiming bounty. Italians will not be counted.”
UPDATE: I received an email which pointed out that the image of the soldier in the first image is a most likely a caricature of Hirohito.
- Robert Eichelberger Papers Box 62. Microfilm version: Japan and America, c1930-1955: the Pacific War and the occupation of Japan. Series 1 Reel 31 [↩]
- I have blurred out the names on the license and I’d rather not publish the origins of the document here. Contact me if you want more information on how to find the original document. [↩]