Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Hating the Enemy, Then and Now

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.

Discussions - 7 Comments

Exactly, John. In the context of the Rape of Nanking and the Bataan Death March there was little predisposition to give the Empire of Japan a pass. It should also be recalled that FDR, during the Germans’ December 1944 Ardennes offensive,inquired as to whether the atomic bomb was ready for deployment. The fact that the U.S. contemplated using the atomic bomb on "white" enemies places the actual use of the bomb on Asians in better perspective. I also suspect based on my reading that the Battle of Okinawa led more directly to Hiroshima than racism.

Ah, but in those days, the U.S. still knew how to win wars, and the peace. Part of the reason for the Japanese not rebelling against their conquerors was the realization they could lose still more.

PC has led to 4th generation warfare against our troops, and the fifth columnists(a WWII term) in this country today make that warfare much more effective. I would like to see the federal government prosecute for treason those who aid and abet the terrorists.

Most of the problems we face regarding external threats to our country today are the result of failure to apply laws which exist.

Ah, the 1940s in World War 2 America. The days of segregation and intolerance. Of course it was ok to deal out a true American war on those who threatened our freedom, and the freedom of their neighbors. The idea of being "P-C" creates an uncomfortable situation: sacrifice tolerance for "the cause", or overuse P-C-brand tolerance and loose entirely too much ground on a real war with a real threat. My question is this is there a way to shy away from the hatred of Islamics and those from the middleast that is being fostered in some circles? It’s a fine line to walk when you have to convince the world (specifically Americans I suppose) who the enemy really is. Terrorists come in all shapes and sizes, and fight all kinds of terror wars everywhere from Tel Aviv to Eugene, Oregon.

You might want to check out the chapter on the Pacific war in John Lynn, Battle. I briefly mentioned it in my Claremont review essay, but Lynn makes a convincing case that race was not the driving factor in the brutality of that fight, contrary to John (not Paul) Dower.

Tom and Ken are right to express skepticism over Dower’s thesis--that the Pacific War was a "race war." Eric Bergerud devotes some time to challenging this idea in his excellent book Touched with Fire: The Land War in the South Pacific. But the point I was making still stands--for whatever reason, it was clear that this was a particularly brutal war, and we didn’t hear liberals complaining then. Heck, even the ACLU was willing to back the internment of Japanese-Americans.

Also, thanks to Tom for pointing out my dumb error in the author’s name. Sheesh, I even had the book right in front of me! Anyway, it’s been fixed.

John: Bergerud is excellent. Peter Schrijvers, The GI War Against Japan, is also interesting, if a little flighty at times. (I am literally working on a section about the brutality of the Pacific war in my dissertation right now.)

Your point does stand. I think the competing cultural values in the Pacific war is a pretty solid analogy to the current war with radical Islamic fundamentalists. They are willing, even anxious, to die for their cause of killing Americans. Americans are willing to kill them to stop them from achieving their goal. I know which side I’m on. That is the reality of the war, and it is shocking that more people have not grasped that.

Where the analogy gets weak is in the kind of broad support the Japanese view had at home. It appears that the radical Islamic fundamentalists do not have all that much deep support around the Middle East. I, for one, was wrong about that, and I tip my hat to the Bush administration for its restraint in prosecuting the battles in Afghanistan and Iraq. They have had a pretty singularly clear vision of who the bad guys are, and limiting the killing to just them. No serious person should have any trouble with that, and since that is exactly what Mattis said, no serious person should have any trouble with that either.

Hi Folks
Charlie Company, 126inf., 32nd Division is a Kalamazoo, Mich unit that was activated Oct. 15, 1940. There are 8 members of Charlie Company left and I drive my uncle, Shirley Hugh Weber, to the breakdasts each month. I just finished reading Touched With Fire and I wonder if there is any interest in talking to the 8 remaing veterans, all of which were at Buna, Sanananda and then the Philippines. My interst is in the PLANS for the invasiosn of Japan, which of course, was not necessary. A member of Charlie Comp. was in the code room in Manila and thus knew much about the plans for the coming invasion of Japan. Another Charlie Compl veteran, now deceased, told us that he had obtaind a partial copy of the invasion plans. Much discusion occurs when the A-bombs are mentioned and the veterans all say that the A-bombs were the humane thing to do instead of invasion of Japan. Both for the American casualties as well as for the Japanese casualties. Does anyone have any information on the plans for the invasion of Japan??

Regards, Dennis Weber
[email protected]

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