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1st Reply: From: Dylan Cyr <firstname.lastname@example.org> Subject: RE: COMMENT: The Pacific and Racism Date: March 17, 2010 2:28:30 PM EDT To: H-NET Military History Discussion List <email@example.com> Re: Tom Hanks' "Racism and Terror" define the soldier experience of the Pacific War. I suspect that the issue here is not Tom Hanks. He is not a trained historian and so when the subtleties of the greater historiography of the soldier experience during the Pacific War escapes him, we should not be surprised. Hanks seems to derive his concept of 'racism-as-definer' from, in a very broad sense, a period in history writing where the focus was largely on the social-triad. The standard example is J. Dower's War Without Mercy (1986) in which the Pacific War was branded a "race war". This reasoning has become, by default, the short-hand on answering 'what defined the Pacific War?'. P. Schrijvers' The GI War Against Japan (2002) exemplifies the standard explanation when he noted that "American soldiers had deep sources of racial prejudice to draw from: contempt of blacks, but also of American Indians, of Asian immigrants, and of colored peoples encountered in the course of imperialist adventures in Latin America and the Pacific Basin" (103). However, the position is probably best summed up by Stephen Ambrose who in To America (2002) wrote that the "difference between the war in Europe and the Pacific came about for many reasons, but chief among them was racism" (202). This analysis, however, is problematic because it ignores a critical component of what veterans have been noting since the war, the predominance of "the twin enemies of the Pacific, the jungle and the Jap" (Robert Leckie's Helmet For My Pillow, 1957, 33 in the 2001 ibooks, inc version). If Hanks remains faithful to Leckie's memoir, The Pacific should, in part, reflect Leckie's words. For New Britain Leckie wrote that "here the jungle and the men were locked in a conflict far more basic than our shooting war with the Japanese–for here the struggle was for existence itself" (258). This statement suggests that, perhaps, a geo-military perspective would best bring to life the soldier's experience in the Pacific. If Leckie's and E.B. Sledge's memoirs are analyzed with a lens of environmental adversity (a framework that I used in my recent dissertation; largely inspired by war correspondent George McMillan's The Old Breed, 1949) we see that the infantry's Pacific War was defined by the pursuit of trying to survive not only combat but physical exposure in uniquely hostile, primordial lands, and with minimal materiel support in a daunting logistics challenge. Factoring in human and environmental interactions has been, largely, marginalized in the historiography of the Pacific War; both during the tactical/operational-heavy generation of military history (40s-60s) and during the social-triad explorations of social-military history (like the presentation of Sledge's words in S. Terkel's 1984 The Good War). This is changing slowly, like with Rottman's World War II Pacific Island Guide (2002), A. Cowdrey's work on medicine, C.E. Wood's work on mud, E. Gergerud's Touched With Fire back in 1996, and even on the environmental history side (Tucker and Russell, eds, Natural Enemy, Natural Ally, 2004) but the racism-as-definer discourse remains dominant. How many of us on H-War assign War Without Mercy to our students? Part of the problem is that War Without Mercy's source-base is problematic for its purpose: Dower utilized "songs, movies, cartoons, and a wide variety of popular as well as academic writings published at the time" (x) instead of "the formal documents and battle reports upon which historians normally rely" (x). There's no problem with departing from battle reports, and War Without Mercy was a welcomed breath of fresh air, but the stated sources represent cultural fabrications and are not particularly convincing sources for understanding the conduct of war. Songs, movies, cartoons, etc. are all relevant indicators of cultural trends, but they are many steps removed from the event and reflect what the created wanted to tell, not necessaily what was happening. A veteran's memory might be awash with holes and even falsehoods, but what does a Hollywood movie actually tell us about troops in the field compared to an eye-witness account? Is Guadalcanal Diary the movie (1943) an adequate source for exploring actual soldier experience? It is no surprise that historians lean towards cultural answers first in our works. Racism, as we understand it, can definitely be read into American culture in the 30s and 40s. But if one had to define the Pacific War in such brevity as Tom Hanks did, how is racism more definitive than, say, malaria? Consider, in the South Pacific three species of Australasian anophelines, carrying the deadly protozoan Plasmodium falciparum, tortured troops and reduced entire divisions in parasitic attrition. For instance, the Army's 32nd Div was unavailable for the invasion of Cape Gloucester due to thousands of recurring malaria cases. The standard example is of the 1st Mar Div being declared unfit for active duty in Dec '42 for a variety of reasons, but chiefly malaria. As George McMillan wrote about the 1st Mar Div on Guadalcanal, "malaria had done what the Japanese had failed to do" (134). Yet, malaria is eerily silent in all the service's official histories (save Condon-Rall's/Cowdrey's US Army medical history) and equally marginalized by later historians in favor of answers that fit with the trends of the times. If mutilation of the enemy derived from 'frustration and rage', as Schrijvers' contends, did that rage come from abstract cultural musings or daily physical realities? This isn't to tip the scale too far over to the environmental determinism camp, merely to suggest that we risk myopia by over-using the social-triad. Despite how central our cultural understandings are, environmental agency can't be ignored. Anyway, it appears Tom Hanks isn't the real issue. If the right-wing media blasts him, its because they dislike revisionism and his "racism" interpretation is just that. I presume Hanks means well and is attempting to defer to the historical opinion (ie: War Without Mercy). He seems to be taking his cues from us--and that's the problem because our understanding of the soldier's experience in the Pacific War needs an overhaul as we transition into post-revisionist thinking. Dylan Cyr London, Ontario. 2nd Reply From: William D. O'Neil <firstname.lastname@example.org> Subject: Re: COMMENT: The Pacific and Racism Date: March 15, 2010 11:10:35 PM EDT To: H-NET Military History Discussion List <H-WAR@H-NET.MSU.EDU> Jim Dingeman makes a good point regarding the important but not central role of race in the Pacific War, both in its coming and prosecution. Of course Japan did not go to war in retaliation for the 1924 Japanese Exclusion Act, or anything so simplistic as that. But this and other racist exercises served to cut the ground from beneath the feet of Japanese who favored constructive engagement with the west in preference to conflict, severely compromising their ability to act as counterweight in Japanese policy. While Japanese racism aimed at westerners was certainly not absent in that period, it is difficult to see how it contributed significantly to the development of the conflict. It certainly is true, however, that Japanese elites in 1940-41 utterly failed to comprehend the American strategic view and as a result pursued policies of aggressive provocation in the illusion that they were deterring Washington in some way. Remarkably, one of the central figures in this bizarre misestimation was MATSUOKA Yosuke, who had spent his adolescent and college years in the United States, was fluent in English, and was nominally a Presbyterian. At the same time, whether there was much racism in the conventional sense involved in this may be doubted. For instance, the leaders of Wilhemine Germany were equally uncomprehending of the world views of other European elites in the years leading up to World War I. The actual role of racism in the Pacific War itself, by contrast, is very difficult to disentangle from the demonization of the enemy that is characteristic of all mass wars. The cartoons of bestial Japanese usually adduced in testimony of racism's influence in America are all but indistinguishable from those of bestial Germans in 1917. And of course the Japanese imagery of their western and Chinese opponents was equally vile. Modern mass wars tend all too easily to savagery, and there is no question that the Pacific War was an extreme example. But my past conversations with veterans of the conflict, together with what I've read, leave me believing that the primary factor in this was Japanese refusal to conform to the laws and conventions of western war, and even the historical patterns of Japanese warfare. There is certainly a case to be made that Japanese neglect of logistics combined with Japanese unwillingness to capitulate even when resistance was impossible or ineffectual to kill more Japanese troops than Allied action ever did. It is hard to see that Japan ever reaped any real military benefit from this, in net, and it lost a great deal. Disentangling the effects of garden-variety demonization from those of what we usually think of as racism is by no means simple. My sense is that racism potentiated demonization by increasing the sense of cultural difference and providing ready stereotypes. But once the wartime demonization was switched off, the expressions of racism faded with dramatic suddenness. In the years following the war I was an adolescent living in California, earlier the epicenter of anti-Japanese racism in the United States. My contemporaries and I all regarded anti-Japanese racism as a particularly stupid and disgusting manifestation of adult nuttiness when we learned of it, but we scarcely ever saw it first-hand. This is not to say that my Japanese-American contemporaries all felt entirely accepted, but their elders remarked at how much had changed from pre-war conditions. ---------- William D. O'Neil Analysis for Decision email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org http://www.analysis.williamdoneil.com/ 703.256.4146 or 703.256.0066 3rd Reply From: email@example.com Subject: Re: COMMENT: The Pacific and Racism Date: March 15, 2010 10:37:50 PM EDT To: H-NET Military History Discussion List <H-WAR@H-NET.MSU.EDU> OK, was there significant racism in the US prior to Pearl Harbor? Absolutely. In fact, racism been around in many societies forever, was widespread in the world in the first half of the 20th century, and exists still in varying degrees in many today. Did American racism about Orientals in general or Japanese in particular contribute to the US going to war with Japan? No, absolutely not, it was the attack on Pearl Harbor that did that. Did the racist attitudes of individual Americans have some effects on their joining up to fight? Certainly. But it was not principally a racist war from the US side. On the other hand, the rampant racism of Japan under the militarists was a major factor in their imperialist ambitions for the Greater Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere. And the brutal training of their army combined with that racism made them a fearsome enemy who could and did perpetrate numberless terrible acts in China and everywhere else they occupied. It also conditioned men to fear disgrace much more than death, so that they would choose to fight to the death or commit suicide en masse rather than surrender. Their treatment of prisoners was manifestly horrible, and American veterans have testified to both finding the bodies of comrades taken prisoner and then tortured to death, and wounded Japanese calling for help, who tossed grenades when Americans came close. Such events resulted in the Americans taking no chances with wounded or surrendering Japanese at best, and sometimes descending into hate-filled brutality themselves at worst. I have known three veterans of the Pacific campaign, all of whom admitted to coming to hate their foe with time, and adopting extreme caution in taking prisoners, such that the least misstep by any of the Japanese resulted in instant death for all. But none of them started out with those attitudes. I know some of the people who were responsible for the day to day making of the Pacific series, and they tell me it is not a political work at all, it is very parallel to Band of Brothers in how it was made. I feel confident it will prove to be an excellent series. However, the unfortunate remarks made by Tom Hanks, and actor of impeccable credentials, certainly honorable and patriotic, were seriously inaccurate and seemed to display major misunderstanding of the realities of that war. The published article that I think most worthwhile that relates to this entire subject can be found at http://www.parade.com/news/2010/03/14-a-fight-to-the-death.html It is by the son of Stephen Ambrose, and the most salient paragraph in it is reproduced below. "Fortunately, the war did not end with vengeance but compassion. By helping to build a free Japan and showing that friendship and stability can be born from brutality, America also won the peace. This is the proud heritage of the brave men—like Gene and Sid—who fought in the Pacific." R J Del Vecchio > Original Message: > > From: jim Dingeman <firstname.lastname@example.org> > Subject: THE PACIFIC > Date: March 12, 2010 9:58:40 PM EST > To: H-NET Military History Discussion List <H-WAR@H-NET.MSU.EDU> > > > > I have watched four of the episodes of THE PACIFIC. I will not spoil it for those who have not seen it yet. > > It does take one of the finest memoirs of the Pacific War ,WITH THE OLD BREED , I would go so far the American experience of the war itself, and does do it justice and respect given all the limitations of it being Hollywood and all that. > > The series will spark tremendous interest in the subject and lay the seeds for future historians of World War Two as did BAND OF BROTHERS. It is a great jump off point for many who have never been bathed themselves in the subject matter like many of us...and that is good in my mind. > > It is clear that the directors immersed themselves in the photographs and art of the Pacific War..including the haunting paintings of Thomas Lea. > > I note that a comment by Tom Hanks with Douglas Brinkley for the TIME piece has sparked a fierce reaction from some in our body politic... > Here is his comment on MORNING JOEand some of the reaction > http://bighollywood.breitbart.com/jjmnolte/2010/03/12/tom-hanks-war-on-terror-war-in-pacific-driven-by-racism-and-terror/ > > http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/the_big_picture/2010/03/the-pacifics-tom-hanks-the-right-wings-new-boogie-man.html > > and Victor Hanson into the fray > http://pajamasmedia.com/victordavishanson/is-tom-hanks-unhinged/ > > and Don Imus > http://newsbusters.org/blogs/anthony-kang/2010/03/12/don-imus-s-take-tehran-tom-hanks-another-panty-wearing-liberal-dickwee > > > and the Wall Street Journal > http://www.marketwatch.com/story/tom-hanks-why-did-he-merit-times-cover-2010-03-12 > > and the New York Post > http://kylesmithonline.com/?p=5656 > > > I enjoy and will continue to savor the great works of Victor Hanson. I have enjoyed him since his first book many years ago and the first time I heard him at Yale many moons ago.But,I must diasagree with the assessments that race did not play a factor in our reaction to Japan. Victor Hanson should know better. Anybody familiar with the highly volatile debates inside the United States over Asian and in this case Japanese immigration. Hanson ignores completely the politics of the Immigration Act of 1924, or Johnson-Reed Act. Here is a contemporary analysis of this acthttp://pds.lib.harvard.edu/pds/view/4907177?n=1&s=4It is common knowledge that such works as Madison Grant's book of 1916, The Passing of the Great Race,influenced this debate. That book argued for the supremacy of the Nordic race. Grant argued that > The Nordics are, all over the world, a race of soldiers, sailors, adventurers, and explorers, but above all, of rulers, organizers, and aristocrats in sharp contrast to the essentially peasant character of the Alpines. Chivalry and knighthood, and their still surviving but greatly impaired counterparts, are peculiarly Nordic traits, and feudalism, class distinctions, and race pride among Europeans are traceable for the most part to the north.These ideas of the time and their influence on the Immigration Act of 1924 cannot be washed away and Hanson simply glosses over this. > > The idea that race and racism from both sides did not play a role in the Pacific War is simply ridiculous and ahistorical. While I feel John Dower tends to minimize in WAR WITHOUT MERCY the racism of Imperial Japan( on that I would agree with Hanson) to then jump and downplay racism from the United States or other Europeans powers in the war is equally absurd.A series like this happens in the midst of two wars abroad and a global war on millienarian Islam at the same time. We all know these conflicts are subject to much debate and soul searching. Hence, it is inevitable that if Hanks makes a analogy to today, that will spark debate and furor. But again, to deny that we have not a tad bit of American exceptionalism/hubris/myopia in what has happened since 911 is also ahistorical. > > Check the series out. > > Jim Dingeman > > ----- For subscription help, go to: http://www.h-net.org/lists/help/ To change your subscription settings, go to http://h-net.msu.edu/cgi-bin/wa?SUBED1=h-war -----