Thursday, July 12, 2007

From Wartime Enemy to Cold War Ally

Yes, Friday the 13th laziness on your bloggy menu today! Here's my survey of shifts in American representations of Japan between 1941 and 1973, delivered last Saturday at the JASF.

Last week, I focused on John Dower’s analysis of the use of animal imagery in American war propaganda to dehumanize Japanese soldiers during the Pacific War. This week, I want to interweave his emphasis with that of University of California at Riverside Asian American Studies scholar Traise Yamamoto, who in Masking Selves, Making Subjects demonstrates how Japanese people and culture were infantilized and feminized in American popular culture over the course of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Combining Dower’s and Yamamoto’s focuses allows me to illustrate how sharply American images of Japan shifted over the course of the 1940s and 1950s and to suggest what’s at stake in that transformation.

Consider this series of cartoons from the beginning, middle, and end of the Pacific War. Throughout, Japanese soldiers are represented as monkeys and apes, but note how the imagery, style, connotations, associations, and allusions shift from treacherous to rampaging to cute. Now examine the gender politics of these wartime images of Japanese soldiers and female victims and how they contrast with these Occupation-era images of Japanese women and American military personnel. Taken together, these images provide an index of changing American representational strategies toward Japan. Indeed, they might even be said to construct for their American audiences a series of versions of Japan: from pesky and annoying enemy, to dangerous and powerful enemy, to savage and bestial enemy, to welcoming and inviting subjects in a demilitarized society. The kimonos the Japanese women wear are particularly significant; they not only allude to pre-modern Japan, but also evoke the “Madame Butterfly” image that many feminist scholars have shown to be so influential on Western perceptions of Japan. Indeed, whether the metaphor is of husband and wife, parent and child, or teacher and student, the underlying story these images tell is of the power relations between the U.S. and Japan during the years of the Pacific War and Occupation.

Such shifts were even more prevalent and overt in materials prepared for those Americans being sent to defeat, occupy, and reconstruct Japan in the mid-1940s. In the 1945 propaganda efforts of On to Tokyo and Know Your Enemy--Japan, Japanese barbarism and lack of individuality were emphasized, according to the established wartime script, yet just a few months after they were released, images of women and children flooded the screen in Our Job in Japan just as its narrative shifted from a critique of Imperial Japan to the prospects of a thoroughly reconstructed, demilitarized, and democratized society. We should pay equal attention to the continuities between this Occupation training film and practically concurrent war-time propaganda as to their disjunctures, for the tension between them signals the divisions among those planning the Occupation of Japan.

As John Dower documents in Embracing Defeat, conflicts between the “Japan crowd” and the “China crowd” among U.S. foreign policy elites intensified as the tide of battle turned in America’s favor in the Pacific War. Soon after August 11, 1945, when Dean Acheson replaced Joseph Grew as undersecretary of state, it quickly became clear that the China crowd--associated with a desire for a more radical reconstruction of Japan than the more conservative reformists among the Japan crowd were advocating for--had won this intellectual, political, and institutional debate. Thus, although the noted Japanologists of the 1940s worked together to craft a U.S. Office of War Information report in December 1944, they were almost completely excluded from General MacArthur’s administration during the Occupation.

In retrospect, however, the distance between both crowds seems rather small. Both urged General MacArthur to rule indirectly through the Emperor, his advisors, and the Japanese state bureaucracy, in order to capitalize on the loyalty of the citizenry to familiar and traditional authority figures. Both were blind to the colonialist structures and implications of the Occupation, particularly in Okinawa. Both saw Japan primarily through the lens of American histories and interests.

And those interests would shift dramatically by the late 1940s, with serious implications for Japan, Asia, and the world. The “reverse course” in the American Occupation of Japan has been covered by a host of distinguished historians; the shifts from purging militarists to purging Communists, from demilitarizing to remilitarizing Japan, and from political to economic reform are too large and complex to cover here. But a quick look at two non-fictional films that focus on the U.S.’s role in East Asia during World War II, the first from 1944 and the second from 1953, can serve to illustrate how dramatically the “home front” image of Japan changed from World War II to the Cold War. The Battle of China, one of the final films in Frank Capra’s Why We Fight war propaganda series, emphasizes the heroism of the Chinese resistance to Japanese imperialism and war atrocities at a time when U.S. war planners thought the road to defeating Imperial Japan ran through China and geopolitical strategists hoped that supporting Chinese nationalist forces against Chinese communists and Japanese imperialists would lead to post-war benefits for the U.S. By contrast, the celebrated Victory at Sea television documentary series, produced after the communists won and the U.S. “lost” China--after, that is, Japan had shifted from wartime enemy to Cold War ally--surveys the exact same history, but this time with an emphasis on the Anglo-American joint effort with their colonized subjects in India and Southeast Asia to free China from Japanese imperialism. This is a story tailored to the Third World in the mid-1950s, implying that American leadership can protect them from Soviet or Chinese domination; the earlier pro-China, anti-Japan narrative is almost completely submerged in this effort to make the East Asian and Southeast Asian theaters in World War II relevant to the needs of the Cold War U.S. in the final months of the Korean War.

Hollywood, too, followed suit during the 1950s, promoting the U.S.-Japanese alliance in films whose plots hinged on American military personnel’s relationships with Japanese women. In sharp contrast to U.S. W.W. II movies like The Purple Heart (1944), which make violent and brutal acts of male Japanese soldiers against U.S. POWs representative of Japan itself, the relationships between male American soldiers and female Japanese civilians in movies such as Japanese War Bride (1952), Teahouse of the August Moon (1956), and Sayonara (1957) allegorized the new relationships between their respective countries. As these movies were produced just as and after new American immigration laws were dramatically transforming policies established in the nativist 1924 Johnson-Reed Act, they represent and enact the continuing stereotyping as well as challenges to racial prejudice happening in the United States during the 1950s around citizenship rights for descendants of Asian immigrants and civil rights for African Americans. Some aspects of American power in Japan and attitudes toward Asians are romanticized and naturalized in these films, but others are questioned and criticized. The love plot and its vicissitudes in each of these 1950s films makes possible a reeducation of sorts of American movie-going audiences. Their domestication of U.S.-Japan relations brought the Cold War home, helping to normalize the drastic shifts in U.S. policy toward Japan over the previous two decades.

Thus, even as some U.S. officials began calling for the rapid remilitarization of Japan, even as Japan became a crucial workshop during the Korean War, even as the American reconstruction effort shifted from the Occupation to a kind of East Asian Marshall Plan, even, that is, as Japan became the hub of American diplomatic, military, and economic efforts to contain Soviet and Chinese communism, the representative images of Japan in American popular culture came to be modernized geisha figures. Even as Pearl Harbor and Hiroshima, Nanking and Nagasaki, and the Tokyo Tribunals and Article 9 came to symbolize the poles and polarities of American representations of and responses to Japan, so, too, did the samurai and the geisha. In part due to the emphasis and efforts of state and civil society within Japan and in part due to American preoccupation with communist enemies in the Soviet Union, China, Korea, and Vietnam during the 1950s through early 1970s, however, the feminized, receptive image of Japan seemed to have eclipsed the aggressive, militarist image of the late 1930s and early 1940s.

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