What Should Students Know About WWII?
• Large numbers can not name the Allies
• Confused about when the war was fought
• Most can’t name the President
• Fewer still can name key Generals
• Almost no one can remember key battles
• Pearl Harbor a mystery
• Many believe US & Germany fought against the Soviet Union
• Most do know about the Holocaust
• They do identify Hitler correctly
One class of college Freshman
1. When was WWII fought?
2. What caused US to join WWII?
3. Who was President of the US during WWII
4. When you think of WWII what do you think of?
1. One of 36 1939-1945
2. 16 of 36 said Pearl Harbor
3. 1 said FDR--others ranged from George Washington to George Bush
4. violence 22; Iraq 2; generals riding horses
Today, World War II is often remembered and romanticized as the “Good War”.
• America helped defeat fascism
• A Japanese victory in the Pacific would have been bad
• Rosie the Riveter
• John Wayne, Hollywood
• Ending the Holocaust
• Democracy over Fascism
• We won!
Why the Japanese and not the Germans?
• Germany was a good customer.
• Surveys showed that many Americans felt that Jews did have too much
power and influence.
• Japan attacked us.
• The white, dominant culture identified more with Europe and many were
Germany and Italian themselves. They shared common
religion, arts, heritage, history, and culture.
• Greater physical differences between white Americans and Japanese
versus Germans and Italians.
• The brutality with which the Japanese had attacked China shocked people.
It seemed unnatural, un-human.
Surveys on Attitudes Towards the EnemyPerceptions: Japanese could…
• see in the dark
• kill for the pleasure of killing
• were totally at home in trees--hence monkeys
• always wore glasses
Americans asked to describe the…
A 1944 public opinion poll
13% of Americans wanted the Japanese exterminated as a nation
A 1945 public opinion poll
22% expressed regret that more atomic bombs were not dropped on the Japanese
“We are drowning and burning them all over the Pacific, and it is just as much
pleasure to burn them as to drown them.”
-Admiral William “Bull” Halsey (US Naval Commander in the Pacific):
“I wish we were fighting the Germans. They are human beings. But the Japs are
like animals . . .”
-An American soldier in the Pacific told John Hersey (American Journalist)
“In Europe we felt our enemies . . . were still people but in the Pacific (they
were) subhuman and repulsive; the way some people feel about mice or
-WWII Journalist Ernie Pyle
Anti-German propaganda was directed against the Gestapo, Hitler, the SS, etc.
Anti-Japanese propaganda was directed towards all Japanese.
General John DeWitt
Army General in charge of “evacuation” and Interment Camps
1943 stated: “the Japs must be wiped off the face of the
CombatHow did Japanese Americans contribute to the US
war effort? What was the nature of combat
between the US and Japanese?
“…the Japanese made a perfect enemy. They has so many characteristics that and American
Marine could hate. Physically, they were small, a strange color and, by some standards
unattractive…Marines did not consider that they were killing men. They were wiping out
LIFE Magazine, May 22,1944
Caption: Arizona war worker write her boyfriend
a thank-you note for the Jap skull sent to her.
An American officer told Charles Lindbergh in 1944
that he had seen Japanese bodies with ears and
noses cut off:
“Our boys cut them off to show their friends in fun, or
to dry and take back to the United States when they
go. We found one Marine with a Japanese head. He
was trying to get the ants to clean the flesh off the
skull, but the odor got so bad we had to take it away
A Marine Corps veteran recorded in his memoirs the
horrific scene of another Marine extracting gold
teeth from the jaw of a wounded but still struggling
Japanese, a task which he had attempted to facilitate
by slashing the victim’s cheeks from ear to ear and
kneeling on his chin.
Japanese-Americans at War
Of 127,000 Japanese Americans
living in the continental United
States at the time of the Pearl
Harbor attack, 112,000 resided on
the West Coast. About 80,000
were nisei and sansei. The rest
were issei (immigrants born in
Japan who were ineligible for U.S.
Japanese Americans, in Hawaii
comprised 1/3 of the population.
Because they were essential to in
keeping the economy and naval
bases operating, very few were
interned (approx. 1%).
• 100 Battalion and the 442
fought in Italy
• Most decorated in US history
• 21 Medals of Honor
• 52 Distinguished Service
• 9,486 Purple Hearts
“Will you swear unqualified
allegiance to the United States of
America and faithfully defend the
United States from any or all
attack by foreign or domestic
forces, and forswear any form of
allegiance or obedience to the
Japanese emperor, or any other
foreign government, power or
Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961) - Mr. Yunioshi
Poster outside of a restaurant
in Guangzhou, China.
United Kingdom 16%
United States 11%
Mainly Negative View of Japan – 2010 (BBC)