Once again, it is the anniversary of that fateful Sunday in December 1941 when the Imperial Japanese Navy attacked Pearl Harbor. As homefront collectors, enthusiasts, and historians we simply cannot forget the deeds of December 7th
and the sacrifices made by those on that day and the ensuing years. The attack on Pearl Harbor has left us with a plethora of artifacts to help us "Remember Pearl Harbor." The circumstances of the attack taking place on a Sunday while the United States was still negotiating with the Japanese government, as well as the loss of over 2,000 American lives, make this day one that will never be forgotten.
In addition to the many items that depict the theme Remember Pearl Harbor, there are also a large number of propaganda items directed at the Japanese people themselves. Unlike propaganda items made for the European axis members, which focused primarily on Hitler and Mussolini rather than the citizens of Germany and Italy, the anti-Japanese propaganda was an assault on the people of Japan. While sometimes these propaganda items portrayed either Emperor Hirohito or Military Dictator Tojo, it is just as frequent to see items that show average Japanese soldiers or citizens. This took place in part due to the nature of the attack on Pearl Harbor, often referred to as a "sneak attack," as well as being partially due to the fact the two cultures were vastly different and had little understanding of one another. Additionally, this is a time not far removed from when racist attitudes toward Asians were prevalent and even supported by the U.S. government, and while government policy had changed, public opinion had not. These factors led to the creation of propaganda items that are very collectible today despite the fact that they are politically incorrect. While it would be impossible to cite examples of all of the different images and types of anti-Japanese propaganda, the following are selected examples of some of the most sought after items by collectors and notable examples of propaganda from World War II.
Propaganda that epitomizes the way the Americans felt about Japan after the attack on Pearl Harbor was the creation of the Japanese Hunting License. These licenses to hunt and kill the Japanese like animals appeared in many different formats and were sometimes produced by companies with large means for production as well as by individuals who, for example, might print one on the back of their business cards. One can find examples of these as pinback buttons, postcards, greeeting cards, cachets on envelopes, certificates, and just about any piece of paper available for printing. Only occasionally did such licenses include a reference to hunting Germans or Huns as well as the Japanese. If the idea of a Hunting License doesnt illustrate the degree of hatred, the wording on the items would drive that point home. One license actually read, "Open Season for Jap Snakes will be recognized by the S S S Sound of So Sorry Please and are known for Back Stabbing." It is signed by the Viper Extermination Company.
In 1942, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which established internment camps for Japanese Americans living on the West Coast. Many Americans supported this effort in the name of defense, but others felt even more drastic measures were necessary. William Linto designed many cachets for postal covers during the war, and he often was outspoken when it came to his prejudice against Japanese Americans. While his covers are not great works in terms of artistic design, as they are often simple and sometimes with text only, the messages tell the entire story. One cover reads, "Apes in American zoos are in cages, but Japs are running loose! WHY?" Linto sometimes directed his message-laden covers at President Roosevelt and Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes to pursue a more aggressive policy. There are many cachets with Anti-Japanese messages, but Lintos appear to be the only ones that address internment. Of course, the reality is that the internment camps themselves were already an overly aggressive policy, as even those Japanese Americans whose own families were fighting in the European Theatre, including those who were part of the famed 442nd Regiment, the most decorated American unit in the war, were forced into the camps.
Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, Douglas Aircraft, the southern California company responsible for a great deal of aircraft production, including the B-17 and B-24, introduced the memorable propaganda caricature known as the Tokio Kid. The Tokio Kid appeared on the back cover of the monthly Douglas publication titled Douglas Airview during 1942 and 1943. The cartoon image featured a monster-like Japanese villain with fangs thanking American workers for breaking tools, working slowly, or wasting materials and time. The image can also be found in poster format. This is another classic image from the war years when examining propaganda.
Children were not exempt from the production of anti-Japanese propaganda. Comic books of the era featured images of the enemy being punished by the great heroes of the day, such as Superman (number 17) and Batman (number18). Many of the other comic books of the era supplanted the typical heroes and villains with our soldiers and wartime enemies. Alex Schomburg designed many covers that featured anti-Japanese imagery. One classic Fighting Yank cover shows Japanese soldiers releasing snakes into a school playground where they have tied up the children. Animated cartoons also featured some amusing stories with the popular characters of the day doing battle with the Japanese. In 1942, Popeye takes on the Japanese Navy in Youre a Sap Mr. Jap in a black and white classic that also features the song of the same title that can be found in both sheet music and 78 record format. In 1944, Warner Brothers released Bugs Bunny Nips the Nips. This color cartoon features Bugs on a Pacific island taking on the Japanese Army, including a classic scene where he tricks them all using hand grenades disguised as ice cream bars.
There are many other examples of anti-Japanese propaganda from the war. The aforementioned items represent a sample of the variety of propaganda that was used in World War II to fuel the fire of the war in the hearts and minds of the American people. It is important to note that this imagery not be viewed as validation to subscribe to any ethnic prejudice today. Its value is in the exact opposite: to show the dangers inherent in wartime fervor, as well as for its historic value for those who want to learn more about one of the great events of the 20th century.