Origins of Japanese POW Reeducation

From The Enemy Within Never Did Without: German and Japanese Prisoners of War At Camp Huntsville, Texas, 1942-1945, by Jeffrey L. Littlejohn and Charles H. Ford (Texas Review Press, 2015), Kindle Loc. 1284-1310:

Despite the terrifying power of America’s military campaign in the Pacific, few people in the U.S. government believed that the war against Japan would be over in a matter of months. In fact, Japanese soldiers and civilians had regularly fought to the death or committed suicide rather than surrender to American forces. At Tarawa in the Gilbert Islands, for instance, only eight of 2,600 Japanese soldiers had survived the U.S. attack. Then, later, on Saipan in the Mariana Islands, hundreds of Japanese civilians had jumped from cliffs to kill themselves in acts of desperation to avoid capture by American forces. This tragic tactic was also embraced by more than 1,900 kamikaze pilots who sacrificed themselves in suicide attacks against the American fleet off Okinawa in May 1945, seeking to halt the U.S. effort there. Although this strategy ultimately failed, it confirmed the widely-held American belief that Japanese soldiers and civilians would stop at nothing to defend their honor and homeland. More ominously, it also demonstrated how arduous and costly an American invasion of the Japanese home islands was likely to be.

As American military leaders planned the final stages of the war against Japan, a variety of U.S. diplomatic and academic experts analyzed the enemy’s behavior in an attempt to coordinate both the end of the war and the planning of the post-war era. Following the lead of influential thinkers, like Franz Boas, Margaret Mead, and Ruth Benedict, anthropologists of the period encouraged policy makers to reject commonly held American stereotypes that portrayed the Japanese as mindless drones following their god-emperor, and to instead view them as devoted warriors who were products of their own educational, political, and cultural surroundings. This new interpretation of the Japanese, historian John Dower has written, provided that their national character was not racially fixed or permanent, but was, like the American character, open to change based upon new experiences and educational opportunities.

A long-time disciple of this view, John Emmerson of the U.S. State Department, spent the period from October to December 1944, in the new communist capital of China, Yan’an, in support of the U.S. Army’s Observation Group (or Dixie Mission), which was gathering intelligence and making connections with the revolutionary leaders of China. After meeting the top communists leaders, including Zhou Enlai, Mao Zedong, and General Chu Teh, Emmerson spent most of his time in the area with Chinese and Japanese communists who were re-educating Japanese POWs. Chief among the Japanese leaders in Yan’an was Nosaka Sanzo, a native of Yamaguchi prefecture, who had been orphaned at 14, before becoming an outspoken critic of the Japanese oligarchy and its apparent disregard for the concerns of the working people. As a young man, Sanzo attended Tokyo’s Keio University and the London School of Economics, and he became a cosmopolitan Marxist theorist, who served as a founding member of both the Japanese Communist Party and the Japanese People’s Emancipation League. The later organization ran a Workers and Peasants School in the caves of Yan’an to transform Japanese POWs into good communists. It was this school—with its enlightened procedures and successful indoctrination—that Emmerson hoped to emulate with Japanese POWs in the United States. Based on his first-hand experience at the school, Emmerson began to devise a plan that called for the American government to select the most compliant of the 5,000 Japanese POWs in the U.S., teach them about western-style democracy, and then persuade them to help shape the “pacification” effort and post-war “political orientation” of a democratic Japan.

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Filed under China, democracy, education, Japan, military, nationalism, U.S., war

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