The image of the ape-like Japanese dominated the American portrayal of our enemy during WWII. It proved to be a malleable and versatile representation. Before the war, the apes were seen as greedy and stupid. As Japanese successes in Southeast Asia made this vision untenable, political cartoons in the United States began to use an enormous, terrifically strong and barbaric gorilla as the emblem of Japan. After the war, when Japan fell under U.S. control, the last few monkey-cartoons held the Japanese to be most like Curious George - cute and harmless when under the watchful eye of the Americans. Insects were less often used to represent the Japanese.

Intellectuals in the United States did not rely on such crude imagery, though their contrived analyses of Japanese national character lead to many of the same conclusions as the monkey-model of the political cartoonists. Though these analyses had widely ranging bases, the conclusions usually fit the following lines: the Japanese are homogeneous, resenting free-thinking; they are violent; they are neurotic and illogical. 'Experts' like Geoffrey Gorer developed entire psychoanalytic models of the Japanese people, extrapolating diagnoses of national psychosis from cultural rituals like flower arranging and habitual neatness. Common among the conclusions of these analyses was the realization that the Japanese 'could not be reasoned with.' They were like spastic adolescents, a view which came to dominate the American mindset after the war was won.

The Japanese, for their part, viewed the United States as an indolent and overweight giant, lashing out at Japan out of jealousy and fear of her vigor. Traditional Japanese legends, like that of Momotaro (the Peach boy), were adapted as allegories of Japan defeating the U.S. Their victory would follow from the U.S.'s lack of resolve, our internal racial divisions and the dependence of our government on the whims of rich businessmen with no martial virtue. Their soldiers were therefore expected to follow rigid codes of discipline and honor, as explained in the Senjikun (Field Service Code). Our desire to stifle the spirit of the Japanese manifested itself in an attempt to colonize lands in their legitimate sphere of influence, conclusions drawn in part from an analysis of U.S. textbooks on our Asian policy.


from my homework for Historical Studies B-54, December 2, 1991.

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