The most profound cause of anti-Japanese sentiment outside of Asia had its beginning in the attack on Pearl Harbor. The Japanese attack propelled the United States into World War II. The Americans were unified by the attack to fight against the Empire of Japan and its allies, the German Reich and the Kingdom of Italy.
The surprise attack at Pearl Harbor prior to a declaration of war was presented to the American populace as an act of treachery and cowardice. Following the attack many non-governmental “Jap hunting licenses” were circulated around the country. Life magazine published an article on how to tell a Japanese from a Chinese person by the shape of the nose and the stature of the body.12 Japanese conduct during the war did little to quell anti-Japanese sentiment. Fanning the flames of outrage were the treatment of American and other prisoners of war (POWs). Military-related outrages included the murder of POWs, the use of POWs as slave labor for Japanese industries, the Bataan Death March, the Kamikaze attacks on Allied ships, and atrocities committed on Wake Island and elsewhere.
U.S. historian James J. Weingartner attributes the very low number of Japanese in U.S. POW compounds to two key factors: a Japanese reluctance to surrender and a widespread American “conviction that the Japanese were ‘animals’ or ‘subhuman’ and unworthy of the normal treatment accorded to POWs.”13 The latter reasoning is supported by Niall Ferguson, who says that “Allied troops often saw the Japanese in the same way that Germans regarded Russians sic — as Untermenschen.”14 Weingartner believes this explains the fact that a mere 604 Japanese captives were alive in Allied POW camps by October 1944.15 Ulrich Straus, a U.S. Japanologist, believes that front line troops intensely hated Japanese military personnel and were “not easily persuaded” to take or protect prisoners, as they believed that Allied personnel who surrendered, got “no mercy” from the Japanese.16 Allied soldiers believed that Japanese soldiers were inclined to feign surrender, in order to make surprise attacks.16 Therefore, according to Straus, “senior officers opposed the taking of prisoners, on the grounds that it needlessly exposed American troops to risks …”16
An American propaganda poster from World War II produced under the Works Progress Administration.
An estimated 112,000 to 120,000 Japanese migrants and Japanese Americans from the West Coast were internedcitation needed regardless of their attitude to the US or Japan. They were held for the duration of the war in the inner US. The large Japanese population of Hawaii was not massively relocated in spite of their proximity to vital military areas.
A 1944 opinion poll found that 13% of the U.S. public were in favor of the extermination of all Japanese.1718 Daniel Goldhagen wrote in his book “So it is no surprise that Americans perpetrated and supported mass slaughters – Tokyo’s firebombing and then nuclear incinerations – in the name of saving American lives, and of giving the Japanese what they richly deserved.”19
Decision to drop the atomic bombs
See also: Debate over the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki
Weingartner argues that there is a common cause between the mutilation of Japanese war dead and the decision to bomb Hiroshima and Nagasaki.20 According to Weingartner both were partially the result of a dehumanization of the enemy, saying, “The widespread image of the Japanese as sub-human constituted an emotional context which provided another justification for decisions which resulted in the death of hundreds of thousands.”21 On the second day after the Nagasaki bomb, Truman stated: “The only language they seem to understand is the one we have been using to bombard them. When you have to deal with a beast you have to treat him like a beast. It is most regrettable but nevertheless true”.1522