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World War II Media Propaganda in Cartoons and Film

Updated on August 19, 2020
Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Ms. Inglish has spent 30 years working in medicine, psychology, STEM instruction, and aerospace education for Active USAF Civil Air Patrol.

Japanese US citizens and Japanese-Americans traveling to an internment camp. Camps were located in Washington state, Idaho, Colorado, Texas, and other western states....The concept of "The Other" - portrayed as a Twilight Zone alien in the Cold War e
Japanese US citizens and Japanese-Americans traveling to an internment camp. Camps were located in Washington state, Idaho, Colorado, Texas, and other western states....The concept of "The Other" - portrayed as a Twilight Zone alien in the Cold War e

Being Different in America

War Without Mercy: Race and Power in the Pacific War, by John W. Dower.

John W. Dower wrote War Without Mercy: Race and Power in the Pacific War as a study of the role of racism, 40 years after World War II. In the book, he examines the importance of American and Japanese nationalism and racism during WWII in the Pacific theater.

Dower believes that the overall Japanese war threat to America equaled that of the the Germans under Hitler, but also that American propaganda was bolstered by the image of the "yellow menace" in literature, movies, and thus, the American popular mind. These images likely spurred increased racism against Japan and her peoples.

During the 1940s, even Warner Brothers' Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck cartoons depicted the "evilness" of the Japanese, termed despicable by the duck. The Japanese endured a negative cult status in America. This status was not offset by positive models such as Mr. Moto in the films and this was not helped by the fact that Mr. Moto was played by a Hungarian, Peter Lorre, and not a Japanese.

The Charlie Chan movies provided additional positive models of Asians in American film, but they also portrayed the hero with Caucasian actors. American war propaganda and the media won out with a negative profile of the Japanese.

"Blitz Wolf", Based on The 3 Little Pigs

Films & Television Portrayals of the Japanese

Mr. Dower states, "... the Japanese were increasingly represented in cartoons as gigantic, savage gorillas." (beginning on p.184). The Japanese look more different from European-Americans than these Americans did from the Germans.

Therefore, the Japanese had a greater probability of being identified at large as what anthropology calls the Other - the alien from outside the group...or outside the world in this case, since Science Fiction blossomed into pulp and conventions around 1935.

Driven by fear produced by Fu Manchu, Ming the Merciless, and other scary Asians in books, comics (Terry and the Pirates, for example), and film, American government may have found it easier to build detainment camps for Japanese-Americans rather than for German-Americans. In fact, no German-American detainment camps were either proposed or built in the USA during WWII.

However, after the war, many American school systems refused any longer to allow the German language as a class in their schoolrooms until the early 1960s, when television allowed Hogan's Heroes (war in Europe) and McHale's Navy (war in the Pacific) to air. WWII veterans were incensed over Hogan, but little to-do was made over McHale.

"... the Japanese were increasingly represented in cartoons as gigantic, savage gorillas."

— John W. Dower

Banned Looney Toons Propaganda Cartoon

Gremlins or Japanese According to the Media?

Click thumbnail to view full-size

WWII Gremlins and Extraterrestrials

Talk also spread of the "soul-less" kamikaze pilot or Japanese suicide bomber. This image was played up in films and Bugs Bunny cartoons.

It likely eased the way for America to bomb Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In fact, the US servicemen involved in the dropping of Little Boy bomb on Hiroshima were not only free from guilt, but eventually laughed about it on camera in numerous documentaries. The pilot of the Enola Gay, Paul Tibbets, living his last years of his life in Columbus, Ohio, laughed out loud about it.

An Asian would likely look more like the "gremlins" and outer space aliens that American pilots often saw on combat missions, than did either the Germans or the Italians. It is likely that these facial differences contributed to rationalizing the building of the Japanese detainment camps in which persons such as Pat Morita and Star Trek ® legend George Takei spent their youths. The Asians were seen as Fu Manchu, Ming the Merciless, and the evil alien from outer space that would crash his plane into an American building for his home world.

Dower adds, "...atrocities and war crimes played a major role in the propagation of racial and cultural stereotypes. The stereotypes preceded the atrocities, however, and had led an independent existence apart from any specific event."

Prejudice was not one-sided, though. The Japanese were also prejudiced against Americans. Mr. Dower shows that they saw themselves as "the leading race of the world, or shido minzoku. This may be true, but, most human groups' original names mean First People, or The One and Only People, or The People that Have Always Been Here. This Japanese assertion is redundant around the world. Perhaps everyone is nationalist?

Nightmare (gremlin) at 20,000 Feet [William Shatner/Twilight Zone]

Who Is Inhuman?

Feeling entitled, perhaps, the Japanese government bombed Pearl Harbor at the very same time that Japanese officials were visiting DC, the nation's very capital, on business. This deception greased the wheels for acting against Japanese-Americans rather than against German-Americans, although this is related to the fact that the Japanese looked much more different from Caucasians.

In wartime the enemy becomes non-human, anyway, in the minds of their opponents. Non-humanness permits us to act in a harmful way against that enemy and their families and properties -- "They're not human. They're animals. They're demons." -- At this writing 60 years post WWII, many are saying that the President of North Korea is insane and inhuman; while much of the world may think the same of Americans because of the Iraqi War.

The Nazis of Germany never made it onto US soil, but Japan bombed Hawaii. Adding this to the fact that the Japanese looked alien, dispatched a plague of "soul-less demon kamikazes" to kill us, appeared in fearful minds to be non-human enemies, and were prejudiced against the US, it is hard to say that America acted more harshly against Japan than Germany only because of American racism -- Paranoia had more of an impact.

Japanese Propaganda Cartoon

Xenophobia on the American Horizon

The Nazis paid on film, however, not only via Moe Howard's early parody of Hitler, through Jack Benny's film impersonation of a Nazi as a inside spy, and through Hogan's Heroes, but also from Mel Brooks' The Producers with it's "Springtime for Hitler in Germany" and other parodies. Jerry Lewis's period concentration camp film The Day the Clown Cried (1972) is harsher and cannot even be released.

Live action combat themes were also offered on TV in the 1960s in drama series like Combat. Although there is a movement to debunk the Holocaust, Hitler and his damaged self and the damage done to the world on his behalf will not be forgotten. Thus, Germans were attacked with the pen, while the Japanese were corralled in detainment camps.

The Nazis were prejudiced against all races and groups that did not meet the standards of their self-proclaimed superior race. At the same time, the Japanese were prejudiced against Caucasians. Americans were prejudiced against Asians as well as Blacks. In fact, groups of Americans descended from the English were also prejudiced against Italians, Poles, Spaniards, Mexicans, Gypsies, the Irish, the Scots, and many other others. There was far-flung bigotry in the world.

Bigotry and nationalism are often foundation components of war. However, the fact that Japan invaded American territory at the same time she was meeting with the US government officials at the other side of the nation must have been a major reason for US treatment of the Japanese during WWII.

Nevertheless, America pumped money into Japan after the war, just as she did for Germany - and the US proceeded to the Cold War, the Space Race, and the even wider theater of paranoia in the possibility of first contact with "evil" space aliens.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2008 Patty Inglish MS


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    • Chapter profile image


      9 years ago from Indonesia

      Japanese propaganda was success in Indonesia. They said that Japanese was Asian Leader. That is why some Indonesia young man helped Japan in World War II.

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      Fantastic information - I am trying to document past and present American concentration camps. My family in Arkansas purchased the land that held the Jerome camp. Yet when I would travel to military schools around the world - my teachers said it did not happen. When 9-11 hit us - the same kind of fear caused civil rights to disappear again. Thank you again for the information and thoughts that you provoked.

    • profile image

      chris wiebe 

      10 years ago

      i don't any of us can ever understand what these men have gone through. however, i would say that militarily speaking, and from a humanitarian view they did the right thing dropping the bomb. after Nagasaki the Japanese military attempted a coup that was barely put down by the new civilian government that wanted to surrender. and that they were not going to surrender otherwise, the japanese military at that time was of a fanaticism rivaling Wahabiism and that the country had already faced wors bombings from the USA, the firebombs which killed over

      500 000 people, made 5 million homeless and destroyed 67 cites, and they did not consider surrender until the 2nd ABomb was dropped. to not drop would have meant an invasion to end the war, and millions dead on all sides. it would have been used on the Germans but the war ended before they could field one however the GERMANS are rumoured to have used one on the Soviets, but a much weaker version, more like a dirty bomb.

      the cartoon are rare finds, i remember the anti-nazi ones when i was a kid. bugs bunny beat Goring everytime. these cartoons are very telling of hitorical biases and attitudes torwards different races that we have, just look at Arab propaganda against the jews or Sihk racism against Whites in Canada. however, to even the argument, many Japanese Americans served with the distinction in the war, and most the relocation was on the west Coast, Canada did it too. the government was worried about sabatours, but should have been much smarter about it, the relocation was stupid but i think the worst was their neighbors who swindled them out of their properties because these people couldn't take their stuff with them. another factor in the German lack of persicution, if you will, was that until Pearl Habour that the magority of the USA wanted to get in the war. and it was not the Germans who attacked them, it was the Empire of Japan and although Hitler was stupid and declared War. hell, the germans sure were beaten on during the first world war over here, 48 000 german americans were imprissoned during WW1 and the Nazi movement as well a sympathy for Germany's grievences were part of the mood of pre-war America.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      11 years ago from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation

      Some of the cartoons were banned for several years, and I'm sure there is much more then the few things I found.

    • contentmaster profile image


      11 years ago

      very interesting hub. there were many views and examples i didn't know about such propaganda.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      11 years ago from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation

      cocopreme - I've enjoyed it for the same reasons. Each time I see an episode, I think of another applciation in today's societies. Thanks for reading!

    • cocopreme profile image

      Candace Bacon 

      11 years ago from Far, far away

      Very informative hub. I like how you incorporated the Twilight Zone as a way to visualize how "the other" was depicted. I have always loved the Twilight Zone because of the way that it depicted social issues in a way that made them readily understood.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      11 years ago from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation

      Thanks for posting your comments.

    • profile image


      11 years ago

      Dear Patty:

      First of all, I thank you for presenting what is the first (at least that I've seen), examination of U.S. Wartime Propaganda against Japan, and people of Asian descent. The detail presented in your article is commendable, and covers an issue that few if any in today's U.S. (much less the U.S. of the 1930's and 40's) are aware of. The United States, rightly or wrongly, is one of premier propaganda generation machines in the history of man. There are many other examples that could be cited in your article, such as the war-time "news reels" showing pictures of large black and white globes, with Germans on one side, and Japanese on the other side, and each coming around to the center (The United States) in their quest for world domination.

      For the benefit of your readers, what is also not covered in U.S. history texts is the fact that Japanese and German ambitions were highly localized in the war, and not ever intended (at least by the Germans and Japanese, but not so by the Americans and British) to become global conflicts. Also not widely known, is that the entire Japanese Naval apparatus was originally built with British technology and direct assistance. One could further say, that after watching decades of British and American "merchant" vessels blow the tar out of Japanese harbors in the name of "opening markets," the Japanese could be justified in not seeing anything at all wrong with creating a little empire of their own.

      2) Stated from purely a geopolitical standpoint, and not one of either condemnation or support, the Japanese could be perceived as militarily justified in bombing Pearl Harbor. Another all-too-common missing element in American history texts is the fact that the U.S. placed crushing Naval blockades and other embargos on Japan before any subsequent Japanese bombing occurred. The U.S. acted by some presumed and misguided loyalty toward French interests in Asia, and moralistic judgment as to what it thought Japan should or should not be doing in Southeast Asia. And these blockade ships sailed from where?....Pearl Harbor.

      3) That said, as a point of fairness to add in your article, one cannot paint the Germans with one brush, the Asians with another, and the U.S. with yet another. The fact still remains that propaganda was used, and atrocities committed on *all* sides of the war, United States included (Japanese internment, mass civilian death in Europe and the Pacific, displacement of 3M + Germans, etc.). The U.S. had FDR's Fireside Chats, the Japanese had their teams of "Tokyo Rose's" (which were actually several people over the course of the war, not just one), and the Germans had Goebbels. Some texts even consider what the Japanese did in China and Korea to be among the most "barbaric" acts of the war. Understanding Western and Jewish obsession with justifying their role in the war, however, such atrocities could have been blown out of all reality, has been demonstrated by the multitude of factual documents debunking any concept of "holocaust," at least as it is portrayed and understood in western media.

      Thanks again for bringing these important matters out of the hidden corners of history and shining light on them for a new generation.




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