Nguyen, Bich-Tram

1942xthis_is_the_enemy_us_2 Anti-Japanese Propaganda Poster

On December 7, 1941, Japan bombed Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, effectively bringing the United States into World War II. This event would result in the intense growth of anti-Japanese sentiments and the demonization of Japan. Prejudice against the Japanese was sharply reflected in American propaganda. Countless posters were distributed with racist depictions of slanted, weak eyed Japanese or illustrations of a monstrous, animalistic Japanese soldier. World War II was an era of war where enemies were demeaned and turned into evil caricatures. Their humanity was extinguished and, instead, they were displayed as inhuman antagonists that needed to be defeated. This attitude was especially prominent towards the Japanese and was easier to act upon because of race (it was easier to identify the Japanese than Germans or Italians). As a result, “Jap Hunts” became popular, where faux-official documents purported to “authorize open season on hunting the Japanese.” Even respected media sources such as Life Magazine aided to this, running articles like “How to Tell Japs from the Chinese.” (Life Magazine, December 22, 1941, 81.)

In the minds of many Americans was the planted notion of Japanese treachery. A 1944 opinion poll even found that 13% of the U.S. public were in favor of the extermination of all Japanese. This fear and prejudice would soon lead to the incarceration of Japanese-Americans. On February 19, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066. This order authorized the assembly, evacuation, and relocation of nearly 122,000 men, women, and children of Japanese ancestry, two-thirds of whom were American citizens. While racism against Japanese-Americans very much existed before Pearl Harbor, this new period of total war created a world where the enemy—and anyone associated with the enemy—is demonized and feared. World War II, then, initiated the rapid escalation of prejudice and racist attitudes, intensifying fear and paranoia to the point of radical government action.