Causes of World War ii - the Pacific Theater - Racism Propaganda

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An Essay written to answer the question as to why the war in the Pacific was much more ferocious than the war in Europe

During the Second World War, the campaign in the Pacific Theater was much more ferocious than the fighting in the European Theater. American Veterans from the European theater were dreading being transferred to the Pacific because of the reports filtering into Europe about the savageness of the battles fought in the Pacific. (3) The Japanese, Europeans, and Americans each felt superior to other races. This is well documented in Dowers Book, War Without Mercy¯. Racism contributed to the excessive brutality in the Pacific War and was a major cause of World War ii. The Japanese had been well trained in the art of War. Brutality and surprise were used to gain the advantage and to dominate (2). The Japanese set the tone for the battle. Allied soldiers retaliated. A vicious cycle of brutality arose.

European Colonial Exploitation and Attitudes

The Europeans felt superior to non-whites. Natives within these European colonies were submissive due to lack of education and widespread poverty. Thus, natives made amicable servants and Europeans made arrogant employers. Natives were often hostile to Europeans due to their treatment and allied with the Japanese after invasion.(1:29)

The Rise of Nationalism

White Americans had their feelings of grandeur, too. America was a nation formed based on liberty and justice for all. Somehow, these values became distorted when Native American Indians, Blacks and other non-whites were involved. Native Americans, after nearly being annihilated by western settlers, were placed on reservations, barely able to survive and isolated from the rest of America. Blacks, having been slaves, remained in subservient positions. Asians held subservient positions in American society, too. As in the European colonies, there was lack of education and widespread poverty among non-whites. Thus, non-whites made amicable servants and Whites made arrogant employers (1:154).

Racial slurs were used by White Americans towards American Natives ironically were used towards the Japanese during World War ii. During the Native American Indian Wars in the American West, General Armstrong Custer once said, Indians live like rats, breed like rats and must be exterminated like rat¯. An Idaho governor declared the Japanese live like rats, bred like rats and act like rats.¯ Another common racial slur used against the American Indian was The only good Indian was a dead Indianā€¯. During the Pacific War the racial slur was changed slightly to, The only good Jap was a dead Japā€¯ (1:92).

The Americans felt their culture and government was superior to all other nations. It was Americas divine mission to spread its culture westward, enlightening others of inferior races. This policy was called manifest destiny. It was just a righteous justification for taking land from Native American Indians.

The Europeans had a divine mission. The Europeans divine mission was to convert the heathen to Christianity while gaining colonies.

The Japanese had a divine mission, too. The Japanese divine mission was to rid Asia of the arrogant Whites. How dare the inferior White men colonize Asia! It was every Japanese duty to free other Asians of the White mans grip. In addition, Japanese culture being superior to all other cultures should reign throughout Asia. The eight corners of the world under a Japanese roof (1: 20) was the Japanese divine mission, Hakko Ichiu. See Japanese Isolationism

Bataan Death March

The Japanese had a reputation for brutality from incidents that occurred during the China campaign. Early in the war, the American stronghold at Bataan in the Philippines capitulated to the Japanese. Many Bataan Marines who had volunteered in the China War refused to surrender because they knew what the Japanese did to prisoners. Those Americans and Filipinos who did surrender suffered tremendously (1:61). read more about Japanese POW camps(3).

No Surrender

Americans found out early in the war that surrender meant torture, death, or worse, life in a hellhole of a pow camp. Survival instinct took over. It was much better to fight to the death than surrender (1:67).

The Japanese thought surrender was a dishonorable and a despicable act. If a Japanese soldier surrendered, his family was ostracized at home. Worse, the Japanese figured the Allies would treat prisoners of war much the same as the Japanese treated prisoners of war. To the Japanese, prisoners of war were lower than dogs. Many preferred suicide to surrender. Moreover, many had little choice in the decision of suicide or surrender. Japanese soldiers shot other Japanese soldiers and citizens who tried to surrender (1:45). A superior race does not grovel to inferior beings. The tone of battle was continuing to emerge: no mercy, and no surrender.

The Japanese employed deception to gain the advantage. In the Art of War, Sun Tzu teaches, To gain the advantage, do the unexpected¯ (4). In one incident, a group of Japanese had sent word that they would surrender. The American Marines that were sent to accept the Japanese surrender were ambushed. After stories of this event spread, Americans were not only reluctant but also refused to take prisoners (1:64). These stories of treachery filtrated into Europe. Thus, American Soldiers fighting in Europe dreaded being transferred to the Pacific when the European War ended (3). The Japanese had set the tone of battle: no mercy, no surrender, and no prisoners.

World war ii Trophy Hunting or Battle Souvenirs

Americans taking souvenirs of the war were common in both the European and Pacific theaters. In Europe, American soldiers valued the German Lugar as a prize. In the Pacific, the prize was the Samurai sword. For a few, bones from dead Japanese were valued as souvenirs. Skulls became ashtrays and hood ornaments while other bones were carved into letter openers (1: 63). Morbid souvenirs were taken to intimidate the Japanese. Everyone who practiced mutilation of the dead had his own personal reason to justify this act. Mutilation most likely was done for revenge or for release of anger. War becomes personal when comrades are killed or maimed. It should be noted that the grisly practice of mutilation of the dead enemy was not unique to World War II in the Pacific Theaters. For example, during World War I, German troops were terrified of the Ghurkha who were notorious for taking ears as trophies from dead Germans. The Ghurkha were Nepalese serving in the British Indian Army. (3) Mutilation of the dead has always been a part of war used to horrify, terrify, and dehumanize the enemy.


Racism contributed to the excessive brutality in the Pacific War and in itself was a cause of World War ii. The Japanese, Europeans, and Americans each felt superior to all other races. In the book, War without Mercy¯, Dower gives countless examples of each nation feelings of grandeur. The Japanese had been well trained in the art of war. Brutality and surprise were used to gain the advantage and to dominate. The Allies retaliated, rising to the challenge. The Japanese had set the tone of battle: no mercy, no surrender, and no prisoners.


Dower, John, War Without Mercy, Random House, Toronto, 1986

Cleary, Thomas, The Japanese Art of War: Understanding the culture of Strategy, Sambhala Publications, Inc. Boston, MA. Audiocassette