Lately I’ve been working on a set of lesson plans for the National Endowment for the Humanities. At the moment I’m designing an activity about American attitudes toward the Japanese after Pearl Harbor, and how these affected the way that the Pacific War was fought. Many of the quotes I’ve encountered (most of which are mentioned in John W. Dower’s influential book War Without Mercy: Race & Power in the Pacific War) call to mind the briefly-controversial statement made by Lt. Gen. James Mattis about a month ago. Here are some examples:
Admiral William Halsey’s instructions to his men: "Kill Japs, kill Japs, kill more Japs."
From the popular 1944 film Purple Heart, in which a U.S. pilot confronts Japanese officials: "You can kill us--all of us, or part of us. But, if you think that’s going to put the fear of God into the United States of America and stop them from sending other fliers to bomb you, you’re wrong--dead wrong. They’ll blacken your skies and burn your cities to the ground and make you get down on your knees and beg for mercy. This is your war--you wanted it--you asked for it. And now you’re going to get it--and it won’t be finished until your dirty little empire is wiped off the face of the earth!"
From a briefing to U.S. Marines going off to fight: "Every Jap has been told that it is his duty to die for the emperor. It is your duty to see that he does."
My, can you imagine the kerfuffle that would result if General Mattis had said anything like that? Now, at the time, I made the comment that Mattis’s remarks were a red herring; that the only ones who professed outrage over what he said were the same ones who oppose Bush’s foreign policy in general, and that they were looking for yet another stick with which to beat the administration. I made the claim that, if liberals approved of the administration’s efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq, there would be no outcry over what Mattis said.
Well, how much of an outcry do you think there was during World War II, when the statements I listed above were made?
I think we all know the answer to that question.