6/16/10 - ugly japanese stereotypes

In today's excerpt - the treatment and descriptions of the Japanese by the American media during World War II, the controversial suggestion that those descriptions helped justify dropping the atomic bomb, and the more controversial suggestion that dropping the bomb helped the Communists come to power within China:

"[Concern] for the fate of the Japanese people had certainly not been evident in [Time and Life] magazines' coverage of the Pacific war. Time had expressed no concern about the Japanese-American relocation in 1942 and had reported sunnily on the 'decent treatment' that these interned American citizens received. Time, Life, and even Fortune had joined eagerly in the extraordinarily racist depictions of the Japanese that pervaded most of the American media throughout the war—depictions that many contemporaries and some scholars have argued were significant factors in justifying the use of the bomb. Portraying the Japanese as savage, even barely human, made it easier to authorize unusually harsh assaults. One of Time's first covers after the attack on Pearl Harbor had presented an almost simian portrait of Admiral Yamamoto, the commander of the Japanese Pacific fleet, in which both the background and the admiral's face were colored entirely in a vivid and lurid yellow.

"Another cover in early 1942, at the time the Dutch East Indies fell to the Japanese, had portrayed a Dutch naval officer, with a small picture behind him of a monkey wearing a Japanese helmet and carrying a gun swinging by his tail from a tree. 'What would the [American] people say in response to Pearl Harbor?' Time asked shortly after the Pearl Harbor attack. 'What they said was . . .

"Why the yellow bastards!' Life light-heartedly captioned a photograph of American soldiers in a Pacific jungle: 'Like many of their comrades they were hunting for Japs, just as they used to go after small game in the woods back home.' There is no evidence that [Time-Life owner Henry] Luce personally encouraged these racist stereotypes, but—like almost all American editors during the war—he did little to stop them (although he did publish an anguished letter to Time from Pearl Buck reminding him that using 'yellow' pejoratively would offend many non-Japanese Asians). Nor had Luce raised objections to the horrendous firebombings of Tokyo and other cities, which had produced more carnage than either of the atomic bombs.

"Whatever his views at the time, Luce's ultimate concern about the atomic bombings had less to do with Japan than with China. The demonization of the Japanese in the Time Inc. magazines was, in part, an effort to distinguish them from their portrayal of America's valiant Chinese allies. Life once ran a notorious photo essay, 'How to Tell Japs from Chinese,' concluding that the Japanese—'squat ... massively boned head [had] aboriginal antecedents,' as compared to the more refined and cultured features of the Chinese. But most of all, the atomic bomb contributed to what Luce considered the 'massive failure' of the United States to stabilize China. 'If the bomb had not been dropped,' he wrote years later in an unfinished memoir, 'and if the well-laid plans for the MacArthur invasion had been carried out—then, almost certainly ... there would have been a major Chinese offensive, with American-trained Chinese divisions. ... It would have been successful. ... Chiang Kai-shek would have been in a position to move armies up to Peking and Manchuria.' As a result 'Chiang would have had a chance.' But the abrupt end of the war against Japan led instead to the introduction of Soviet troops into Manchuria, the rapid disengagement of American troops in China, and the ability of Mao's Communist forces to conserve their strength for the battle against the Nationalists. His views in 1945 never changed. Even in the year before his death, Luce continued to insist that sustained American support would have provided China with the 'great chance' to create a democratic nation."


Alan Brinkley


The Publisher: Henry Luce and His American Century


First Vintage Books a division of Random House, Inc


Copyright 2010 by Alan Brinkley


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