Introduction: America and WWII

World War II was a war unlike any other to happen to the developed world; not only did it destroy a decent portion of Europe, but it also caused a change in the balance of power. America emerged from the destruction as the dominant world player, and with good reason. It managed to fight a struggle with two enemies on either sides of its ocean borders and come out as the ultimate victor; it was also the first (and only as of yet) country to unleash the power of the atomic bomb as a tool to end the Pacific side of the war. Even though the Japanese and the Germans were both labeled as “evil,” the American public treated the two enemies inherently different. While Nazi Germany is popularly characterized as an individual, its leader Adolf Hitler, the Japanese were seen as a monstrous, collective race. This, along with a lack of understanding of eastern culture, pushed the American perception of the Japanese beyond them being evil but also barbaric, savage, and quite unpredictable. Conversely, Germans were a part of western culture: they were easier to understand. The Japanese, unlike the German, were also the ones to attack on American soil. Therefore, criticism of the Japanese was bound to be characteristically different; it would become an attack on culture rather than a political party.

Americans were extremely involved on the home front. (Think: Victory Gardens, war bonds, Rosie the Riveter.) Whatever thoughts their men abroad had about the enemy were surely reflected by their loved ones at home. Cultural differences played a huge role in the animosity between the two; a lack of understanding furthered the hatred. Sidney Phillips, an Alabama native who fought in the Pacific War as a Marine, explains this military-to-military hatred:

(If you’re having trouble watching this video, click here.)

Phillips was a main contributor for the HBO miniseries “The Pacific.” In the following clip from the show, you can see the affected relationship between American and Japanese soldiers, even when the Japanese soldier is a prisoner of war and unarmed. [Warning: Graphic language in the next clip.]

(If you’re having trouble watching this video, click here.)

This sentiment easily found its way to American shores and into civilians’ minds. World War II was arguably an example of total war; everyone was involved. Therefore a parallel of civilian and military opinion is not strange in this case. Pearl Harbor also left a mark on the public brain. All of this presented itself in the form of cartoons, ads, and other methods that attacked the Japanese. Media would leave a substantial effect on American opinion that would influence the way its citizens handled Japanese-Americans and the later use of the Atomic bomb; this sentiment would not change within the war generation for the most part, as seen fifty years later in the controversy over the Smithsonian’s Enola Gay exhibit. Media played a huge role in fanning the flames of hatred towards the Japanese, exaggerating the anti-enemy perspectives in American collective memory.


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