Published online by Cambridge University Press: 21 November 2020
America spent close to four years entangled with the Japanese in the Pacific War. It was a brutal and bloody conflict. In total, some 1.75 million military were killed on the Japanese side, more than 110,000 on the American side. The battle of Iwo Jima, a speck in the Pacific Ocean, alone took more than 25,000 lives and left as many wounded. The atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki killed almost one in every three citizens of each city.
Hatred and prejudices ran deep on both sides. Racial stereotyping added further venom. Technological advances had given greater power to propaganda machines, which became ferocious throughout the war. Sophisticated tools in photography and mass media meant that not only anti-American/anti-Japanese propaganda campaigns were far more efficient compared to wars of earlier times, they were also reaching vaster numbers of the population, in ways that would have been inconceivable in past battles.
Caution and distrust, before and in the early phases of the Occupation, were constants. America's civilian and military decision-makers neither liked nor trusted Japan, seemingly even less so than they liked or trusted Germany. Ernie Pyle, the legendary American journalist killed while covering the Pacific War, wrote of the hatred the Americans cultivated for Japanese in raw terms: ‘In Europe we felt that our enemies, horrible and deadly as they were, were still people. But out here I soon gathered that the Japanese were looked upon as something subhuman and repulsive; the way some people feel about cockroaches or mice. ’ Such observations shock today, but they were quite representative of the times.
The Americans, like the Japanese later, also expected the worst from the other. In a flow of ‘Top Secret Directives’ prepared by the State-War-Navy Coordinating Committee and signed by the secretaries from the three branches, the fear of the Japanese is palpable, resulting in minute and detailed considerations regarding every probable scenario and outcome for an occupation. In a directive dated July 10, 1945, for example, one reads:
The conditions which will bring about a Japanese collapse or surrender and the situation which will exist at the time cannot be accurately foreseen. However, there does exist the definite possibility that a collapse or surrender may occur any time prior to a total defeat.