Hollywood Goes to War: How Politics, Profits and Propaganda Shaped World War II Movies (1987)

This is a very good book on the subject. It has a great deal of information on anti-Nazi related materials, but since my focus is on the Pacific War, most of the items I will point out will relate to that issue.

Apparently FDR, as part of his 1940 campaign for office, said “Your boys are not going to be sent into any foreign war.”

The movie Confessions of a Nazi Spy apparently was based on a real incident. The film brought up the German-American Bund “...whose purpose was to destroy the American Constitution and the Bill of Rights.”

The Bund was an American pro-Nazi organization that had begun to gather some strength prior to WWII.

The film, of course, was banned by German, Italy and Spain and by several other countries when they were pressured by Germany.

The book calls The Great Dictator with Charlie Chaplin as “the most significant antifacism film, both politically and artistically.”

The book says that when war broke out on September 1, 1939, with the German invasion of Poland, the US was the only major power that did not have a propaganda agency.

An anti-Japanese movie was Menace of the Rising Sun. The ads had a Japanese figure, “blood dripping from its buck-toothed fangs,” rising from the sea. The figure had the tentacles of an octopus and they were attacking American ships and planes.

The book calls the film “blatantly racist.”

Another film was Secret Agent of Japan.

There was also A Prisoner of Japan, (1942), which was about “the sadistic cruelty of the Japs, who kill an innocent native boy and a wounded American Naval officer forn o apparent reason other than to satisfy their blood lust.”Another film was 1942's Remember Pearl Harbor.” Danger in the Pacific, also a 1942 film, was about discovering enemy bases in the jungle. Yet another war-related movie was Halfway to Shanghai, 1942.

In discussing the movie The Devil with Hitler, the Japanese figure is descried as “sneaky” and “simpering.”

There was a movie made about the interment of the Japanese-Americans called Little Tokyo. The theme of the movie was that “...anyone of Japanese descent, whether alien or American citizen, was loyal to the emperor of Japan and a potential traitor to America.”

The army helped in the making of the film. The film pictured the entire Japanese American community as working against America. This was all based, of course, on what actual politicians were claiming and the newspapers were reporting (or, in many cases, just blatantly making up). It was no coincidence that the movie was made in a state that was known historically for its racism against Oriental individuals.

The War Relocation Authority was worried that the movie would hurt its efforts to relocation the persons of Japanese ancestry elsewhere in the country, other than on the West Coast.

Another movie that called into question the loyalty of all persons of Japanese ancestry in the US was Air Force, which was about some B-17's that arrived at Pearl Harbor during the Japanese attack. (The B-17s were not armed, so there wasn't anything they could do but try to land.)

The movie referred to the traitorous fifth columnists in the Japanese American community (which, of course, turned out to be completely false. The only really questionable ones were the ones working in the Japanese embassy and like places.)

An extremely interesting statistic in the book relates to a 1942 survey of Black people in Harlem. 49% believed that they would be no worse off if Japan won the war. 18% thought that their lives would be better if Japan won.

(Keep in mind that his is the time when segregation was still officially enforced in the US. Blacks were kept carefully segregated in the armed forces. The absurdity was carried so far that blood from Black people was kept separate from blood from White people.)

Another really fascinating polling statistic was from a mid-1942 poll. When asked to locate China on a map, 40% of the respondents could not correctly identify the country.

China was pictured in the movies as “backward, poverty-stricken, and unfamiliar with modern science and technology.” Films showed both a sinister China and a nice China. The Charlie Chan series was a major series of films about that fictional detective. From 1931 to 1945 Hollywood produced 99 films that had something to do with China; 31 of those were Charlie Chan mysteries.

More interesting poll statistics, this time related to a 1944 poll. 13% of Americans wanted all Japanese to be killed. A post-atomic bombing poll in 1945 showed that 22% of Americans were disappointed that more atomic bombs had not been used.

The book talks about anti-Japanese songs of the time, and also what various “scholars” thought about why the Japanese soldiers were so violent, one of them coming to the very profound conclusion that it was due to “drastic toilet training.”

Margaret Mead, a famous scholar of the time, called the Japanese culture “pathological.” A historian compared the Japanese character to the character of the American gangster. The book also discusses how people made a distinction between “bad” Germans (the Nazis), and “good” Germans, but made no such distinction as far as the Japanese went.

There are statistics in the book that back up the brutality of the Japanese military. As far as American and British soldiers captured by Germany and Italy, about 4% died in captivity. Of those captured by the Japanese, some 27% died.

The Pacific War was also compared to the wars against the American Indians. A Harvard historian said “We were back to primitive days of fighting Indians on the American frontier; no holds barred and no quarter.”

A 1943 film was Bataan, which was one of the darkest examples of treatment of prisoners-of-war by the Japanese.

Another film which centers on the treachery seen of the Japanese was Guadalcanal Diary, in 1943.

Objective Burma, 1945, pictured US soldiers wiping out a Japanese radar station. Some of their number, though, are killed in a horrible manner by the Japanese soldiers.

Gung Ho was a 1943 movie which apparently “stressed that the Japanese were intellectually inferior and therefore no match for American troops.”

A film about the Dolittle raid was Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo which, according to the book, avoided the severe racism of other films.

A 1944 film that dealt with how Japanese treated American prisoners-of-war was The Purple Heart.

A 1943 film called Behind the Rising Sun traced the growth of militarism in Japan in the 1930s.

Blood on the Sun was a 1945 movie about the Tanaka Memorial.

Betrayal from the East was a 1944 film along the lines of all Japanese Americans were really spies for Japan.

(Note: it might be quite difficult getting hold of these films. I've done searches on ebay and half.com and either failed to find the movies at all, or only found them in VHS format.)

Chapters: Hollywood, 1939; Hollywood Turns Interventionist; Will This Picture Help Win the War?; OWI takes the offensive; Shakeout in Hollywood; Home Front: Defining America; Putting the Russians through the wringer; Democrats Old and New: 'Classless” Britain and “Modern” China; The Beast in the Jungle; Nazis, Good Germans, and G.I.s; and Hollywood, 1945.

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