Wednesday, December 10, 2014

They Laughed All the Way to Pearl Harbor

The persistent sneering devil of American racism led to a grave military error in the Pacific.
“(A)s the 1930s drew to a close, most American officers in the Philippines regarded conflict between the United States and Dai Nippon (literally Great Japan, as in Great Britain) as inevitable,” wrote biographer William Manchester in American Caesar: Douglas MacArthur 1880-1964. “But few of them doubted a swift U.S. victory.
Japanese propaganda art from World War II
“Even MacArthur was misled by racial chauvinism; when he saw the skill with which Japanese warplanes were flown in the first days of the war, he concluded that the pilots must be white men.
“The Japanese, Americans agreed, were a comical race. They wrote backward and read backward. They built their houses from the roof down and pulled, instead of pushing, their saws. Their baseball announcers gave the full count as ‘two and three.’ Department-store bargain basements were on the top floor.
“Japanese women gave men gifts on Saint Valentine’s Day. Papers were stapled in the upper right-hand corner. To open their locks, you had to turn the key to the left. If they fell in the mud, they laughed; telling you of grave personal misfortunes, they grinned. Japanese murderers apologized to the victims’ families for messing up the house, and the Japanese host who received you into his home with exquisite courtesy might, upon meeting you in the street, shove you rudely into the gutter.
“They were stocky, bandy-legged and buck-toothed. Their civilians wore rumpled hats, dark alpaca suits and tinted glasses in public. Their soldiers suited up in uniforms resembling badly wrapped brown paper parcels. The notion that they could shoot straight — not to mention lick red-blooded Americans — was regarded in Manila as preposterous.” But, as Manchester observed, “Really it was the Americans who were comic, or, considering what lay ahead, tragicomic.”

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