Propaganda and the devastating effects it had on the Japanese public during WWII

“Government Censors at Work” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Propaganda_in_Japan_during_the_Second_Sino-Japanese_War_and_World_War_II) Accessed 3/17/2022

From a western perspective, we have always been taught that the Japanese were fierce and did not fear death, they had a burning hatred in their hearts for the west. We grew up with stories and films depicting Japan as a evil machine, and the west as the swift deliverer of justice. What we don’t get to see is the amount of misinformation and propaganda that the Japanese government was putting out to the general public. The wool was over their eyes, and they shouldn’t be viewed as monsters because of choices that were made given bad information.

Takashi Yoshida details what happened is his article, Mobilizing the Nation, Sanitizing Aggression. “The atrocities in Nanjing did not exist in official Japanese accounts, nor did most Japanese learn of these atrocities which had destroyed hundreds of thousands of lives… [Authorized newspapers] emphasized Chinese atrocities in sensational reporting designed to stir public antagonism toward the enemy nation and its people” (Yoshida 3). The government was solely responsible for this. They ran what they wanted the public to hear in the newspapers and brushed their atrocities under the rug. The average citizen could be none the wiser, with their government sending reports of enemy nations committing war crimes. It is easy to see how quickly the average civilian could be brainwashed.

The photo depicts a room full of government censors reading over material and making sure it was acceptable to the governments needs. This level of misinformation and propaganda could have only been ordered by the top levels of Japanese command. The most important distinction to make is that the Japanese people were helpless to what the government was doing. Japan culture always leaned more toward the idea of diving right and ruling. People fully believed that the emperor was appointed by god and made no mistakes. The Emperor himself had also been hoodwinked at the time to believe that Japan was winning the war. Multiple letters from son-less parents were censored and not allowed to reach him.

Japanese culture was also very conditioned to view anybody but themselves as lower, savage, dumb, etc. We can still see some remnants of this idea today as Japan remains one of the most Homogenous societies to this day. Kawamura Minato explores this concept more in Popular Orientalism and Japanese Views of Asia. “late 1920s and early 1930s Japan was the very theme of “Barbarity” discovered by “Civilization”” (Minato 2). Because of the pop culture at the time and the general attitude, the generation of Japanese during the WW2 period were conditioned from very young ages to believe that they were the civilized administering peace to any savage lands they came upon. The most influential people to someone is proven to be their family, and in 20th century Japan, the government was your family.

We should also take a step back and examine ourselves, the propaganda that Americans were subjected to during WW2 was more than you may have thought. Not only were the Japanese frequently drawn as grotesque figures or rats, but the racist attitude towards Japanese easily rivaled any hatred that Japan harbored back. The government issued orders of putting Japanese people in internment camps under the guise of national security. It was a modern day imprisonment and only now are we being taught the serious consequences and the distrust that came from that event. America devastated Japan with nukes, missiles, and invasion. We must not forget that our own teachings most likely bias the west while portraying the east as savages.

Propaganda is a double-edged blade, it can be used to draw attention to situations that are desperate, it can be used to stir sympathy for a crisis, but it can be also used to misinform and brainwash entire nations. When reading an article, it is crucial to look at the author and at the sources to make sure that it is credible. It is also worth looking at articles that are purposeful propaganda to deconstruct it and to examine why it worked. No country had a propaganda machine quite like Japans, and because their government controlled virtually all forms of media, getting the real information would have been next to impossible. This is still happening today, as in the world Russia and Ukraine are in conflict. Russia took the move to start banning social media sites such as twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. They have shut down all external medias that portray the real situation. State media broadcasts to the Russian people are prerecorded and only talk about the peace that Russia is bringing to the world. We must stop propaganda from taking ahold of the world like it did in WW2, and that begins with looking back at history and how to do things differently.

--

--

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store