The Fifteen-Year War in Asia and the Pacific was a period of time marked by increased confrontations between the USA and Japan. During this period (started at the Mukden incident in 1931) the anti-Japanese propaganda was used in order to create a fear and antipathy towards Japanese people and their values. The content of propaganda was much the same as that of broadcast propaganda: emphasis on the Allies’ growing war potential, ridicule of the more preposterous assertions of the National Socialists, evidence of self-contradictions in the various speeches of Hitler and his allies, messages of hope and encouragement (or advice to exercise caution) to the inhabitants of the enemy-occupied territory. Thesis race and racism were dominant factors in the outbreak and conduct of the Fifteen-Year War.
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Before the war, anti-Japanese propaganda created an image of an enemy and rival based on unconscious perceptions and images of Japanese as an underdeveloped nation. In sum, anti-Japanese propaganda was based on emotional responses and appeals aimed to create an image of enemy and killer. So populations on which propaganda was target could concentrate their hate and fear. Anti-Japanese propaganda portrayed enemies at all levels and in all campaigns. Concentrate the passions of targets on one enemy did not let them become dispersed and thereby weakened (Dower 54).
Once a propagandist has declared that final victory was just around the corner his position became stronger. And each of these had been successfully implemented then there is little doubt that they would cumulatively have ‘remade’ the Japanese government, economy and society in major ways, and would have left its relations with its neighbors on a different footing than that which eventually transpired. Whether any remnants of the pre-war historic bloc would have survived such an onslaught is doubtful. In any case, many of the reforms were less than successful, to begin with, and many were left unfinished or were reversed. In what follows we consider first the two reforms that are generally regarded as the greatest failure and the greatest success of the Occupation – the purge and the constitution – before moving on to discuss the other initiatives identified above (Dower 61). This resulted in the absurd situation whereby the purge was undertaken by the same people largely responsible for Japanese policymaking and implementation during the war in the first place! Under such circumstances, it was relatively easy for these officials to name rivals or adversaries as undesirables, for those named to retire or step aside in favor of an appointed successor, and for many simply to avoid being named at all. The results of all this can be quickly described. The surface changes effected on behalf of the occupation authorities by their Japanese subordinates, and displayed in the media in the US and elsewhere, did in fact change very little: either the same people occupied the same jobs after the purge as they did before, or they were filled by individuals of like mind (Dewer 43).
The relations between Asians were marked by political impact of Europe and colonization of India. Before World War II, Asians had been generally segregated from and excluded from participation in the mainstream of life. Between the war era and, Asians were encouraged to value the ideal of racial assimilation There were few other viable options. Jade Snow Wong and other Chinese American writers had discovered that certain aspects of their Chinese cultural heritage could serve as their “point of distinction,” as long as none of these were threatening to white society. Exotic euphemization of Chinese culture and Chinese life could enhance the acceptability of the Chinese and provide harmless entertainment for the non-Chinese (Jung n.a).
In many ways, their postwar bilateral relationship locked Japan into the ‘Western’ camp of the superpower confrontation and restricted Japanese leaders from making independent foreign policy decisions. As a result, consecutive Japanese administrations focused upon building Japan’s economic power, and in the field of political and security affairs took refuge in what critics regard as passivity and immobilism (White 98) For some commentators, particularly Japanese ones, the fact that Japan has been able to develop a more balanced set of relations with the US indicates a certain weakening of the international position of the US and the freeing of Japanese dependency upon it. Economic issues have always been an important, and often contentious, side of Japan-US relations. Japan’s new approach to Asia was also facilitated by a changing American posture towards Japan’s regional role (Dewer 87).
Japanese officials began to acknowledge limited responsibility for addressing the unfolding crisis in the rest of Asia, but continued to emphasize the need to supplement bilateral assistance activities with cooperation within international bodies. Eventually, a domestic capital injection and aid package to Asia were proposed, but only after much prompting from the international community. Interestingly, growing contacts and problems with Asia also prompted many authors to intensify their discussions over what constitutes an ‘Asian’ identity, and to consider whether or not Japan can be classified today as a member of Asia (White 41) But such references to an Asian identity founded upon the ‘discovery of a common perception’, or the ‘natural desire for empowerment on the world stage’, render homogeneous a collection of disparate political histories, economic conditions, and institutional constraints. Japan’s own participation in Asia has not been constant, as is shown by the way its domestic crisis and the currency turmoil in the rest of the region have altered the parameters of Japan’s Asian policies. Therefore, while regional forums may grow, the rationale behind their development is more likely to relate to the specific agenda they have to offer, rather than encompassing all activities within any attempt to create an ‘Asian’ identity. Moreover, the forums that have been developed are not merely ‘Asian’ (White 87)
At times, Japanese values and traditions are depicted as sustaining and valuable, Japanese “virtues” are secondary because they serve primarily to justify and perpetuate both the authoritarian aspects of the community structure and the injustices existing outside the community. Since the tyranny of the dominated community is closer at hand, some writers concentrated their efforts on exposing what they thought was a mask of hypocrisy and self-deception. Some writing focuses on the conflicts between the immigrant and American-born Japanese, potentially growth-producing conflicts rendered debilitating and noxious by the context of race hatred and oppression. But not all values and traditions can be seen as the relationship between the generations as an adversary one. And some who created portraits of the Japanese American community emphasized the way people lived and interacted in a variety of settings and situations without ever addressing the problems of race prejudice directly (White 98). Indeed, such a point represents in a fair and genuine way the Japanese life of the community, particularly prior to the war: although the values system might have raged against discrimination, they had other concerns as well, and although everyone was affected by prejudice and discrimination, they were also preoccupied with their economic and social lives, the relationships between parents and children and between men and women, their friendships and their urges towards freedom and creativity. These concerns were not completely determined by external forces. Without a doubt, life in the Japanese community was not always satisfactory, but community life had its strengths as well (Dewer 63).
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Superficially, everything seems “normal” and wholesome as it seems to the innocent narrator. But beneath the surface are violent undercurrents, situations fraught with dangers and potential sorrows of which the narrator is only vaguely aware. The reader has premonitions that eventually the callow nisei will come to know those sorrows firsthand (White 54) Although certain patterns can be discerned, the impression that remains is one of diversity and variation. One recurrent theme with many variations is the theme of Asian racial and social identity, especially in relation to Vietnam, American racism, and relationships with other minority groups. Also recurrent is the theme of restoring the foundations of the Asian American past and finding links between the generations (Dewer 55).
Many works of contemporary Asian literature express intense empathy with the people of Vietnam. This empathy is frequently racial rather than overtly political, because many Asian Americans viewed racism as a political issue and because of the emotionally charged appeal of this dimension of the art form. Sometimes empathy is aroused by a sense of the similarity between languages, histories, and traditions of peasant life in Vietnam as compared with the Asian American writer’s ancestral land. Identification with the people of Vietnam among Asian American writers extends beyond racial and cultural similarities to the question of shared oppression (White 98). The contradictions were particularly keen for some Japanese Americans, who could reflect upon the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II as well as on internment. To some, it seemed clear that it was primarily the dark-skinned people of the world who were threatened with destruction at the hands of American foreign policymakers and military leaders. The anguished battle cry of many racial minorities against racism was a rejection of the notion of assimilation into what they viewed as the spiritual bankruptcy, cultural sterility, imperialism, materialism, and racial self-denial of the ideal (Dewer 23).
Japanese have expressed intense resentment that they had been encouraged to emulate Anglo-Americans as their superiors or to objectify their racial heritages into exotic jokes for the benefit of Anglo-American ethnocentrism. In particular, the Wakayama Group of Vancouver, British Columbia, asserts that the “acceptance” of the Asian Canadian or Asian American into white society has been only an illusion, contending that the option of “assimilation” is in fact “cultural genocide” because it threatens to rob Asian Americans of their true past while preventing them at the same time from full and equal participation in the present (Willmott 51). Intermarriage between whites and Asians has been seen in recent times by some Asian Americans as evidence of racial conquest and cultural genocide rather than social acceptance and success for the Asian minority. In a racially sensitive environment, Asian Americans felt they had no distinct cultural identity and often found that they had to choose between identifying with either Afro-Americans or with whites, especially if they were unable to speak an Asian language fluently and did not feel comfortable with people who were culturally and linguistically Asian (Dower 11).
The rage of contemporary Asian American poets against racism and oppression emerges not only as a rejection of old stereotypes but also as a celebration of a new, self-determined identity, of new heroes ‘and heroines whose first task is to speak the unspeakable, to reverse attempts to destroy Asian American culture and identity, both by fighting injustice now recognized and admitted and by reaching out to one another in love and communion (Willmott 71). The anger expressed in the new Asian American literature is not the anger of alienation: it is a fierce urge towards affirmation, unity, and community, for artists, like true revolutionaries, can achieve greatness through love for humanity as manifested in hatred for injustice (Dower 76).
Race and racial differences determined the outbreak of war and relations between Japanese and their neighbors. Creditable as these changes were, serious questions remain as to the quality of democracy that these institutions bestowed upon Japan. At the very least, the absence of a tradition of democratic accountability and practice casts doubt on the efficacy of the institutions created to serve the needs of the state and civil society and the pathways between them in occupied Japan. Such skepticism is borne out by the subsequent suppression of media and labor freedoms imposed by the very institution whose task it was to create those democratic institutions and pathways and encourage those social movements in the first place. Racial prejudices and the inability to enter the world system of political relations particularly led Japan to confrontations and increased conflicts between the USA, Japan and other states of the Asian region.
Dewer, James. W. War Without Mercy: Race and Power in the Pacific War. Pantheon, 1987.
Dower, John. Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II. W.W. Norton & Co., 2000.
Jung, K. The Shadow Dance—Understanding Repetitive Patterns in Relationships.2002. Web.
White, Geofrey. et al. Perilous Memories: The Asia-Pacific War(s). Duke University Press, 2001.
Willmott, Herbert. T. Empires in the Balance: Japanese and Allied Pacific Strategies 1942 Naval Institute Press; 2 edition, 2008.