“Kill the Americans!”
“Don’t let the Americans live!”
“Don’t let a single American devil survive!”
“Each one kill ten! Butcher the American devils!”
Al-Qaeda propaganda? No, slogans printed in the December 1944 issue of Shufu no tomo (“Housewife’s Friend”), a very mainstream women’s magazine that was published from 1917 until May of this year (a total of 91 years).
December 1944 issue of "Housewife's Friend"
I’m not one of those who are interested in continuing to flog the Japanese for offenses committed more than 60 years ago by people who are almost all dead now. But this particular issue is so stunning and extreme in its vitriol that I couldn’t help blogging about it. Most of the information and all of the images (except the cover of Girls’ Club)here come from a website titled “Kyokô no teikoku” (“The Empire of Lies” or “The False Empire”), which is maintained by an interesting gentleman named Tadanori Hayakawa. Hayakawa is someone who wants to continue criticizing Japan for its actions in WWII, but unlike most others, he does so with a sense of humor. As the tone of Hayakawa’s commentary suggests, the over-the-top propaganda in this particular publication seems both funny and frightening 66 years later. Hayakawa’s site is basically dedicated to looking at the war through the lens of things published in Japan during the war, which frankly makes it more interesting to read than sober analysis of bureaucratic records or grim eyewitness accounts. Here’s a taste of the content. According to Hayakawa,
What’s amazing is that 21 of the magazine’s 52 pages are imprinted with the four slogans, ‘Kill the Americans!’, ‘Don’t let the Americans live!’, ‘Kill the American soldiers!’, ‘Don’t let the American soldiers live!’. Turn one page and you see ‘kill!’, turn the next and see ‘don’t let them live!’ I was stunned. A strange hatred and frenzy fills the page. The editors’ incantation-like slogan of “kill!” continued through the June 1945 issue, which was the last issue published before the Japanese surrender.
Kill the Americans!
War historian Ryuuji Takasaki (and it’s not clear if Hayakawa spoke with him directly or is referring to something Takasaki wrote) apparently says that this particular issue of Housewife’s Friend is extremely rare, and speculates (plausibly, it seems to me) that the editors retrieved and burned as many copies as they could in order to avoid being charged with war crimes.
Even while you sleep, don't forget: the American devils must be killed!
Apparently “kill!” was not strong enough for the editors, because at the back of the magazines the editors offer a 30 yen [about U.S. $80 in today's money] prize for “one hundred million phrases urging the extermination of the American devils!”*
The issue’s theme is “The Bestial American People,” and an unattributed article titled “This Is the Enemy!” (no shortage of exclamation marks here) explains:
The Americans, who gleefully eat raw meat dripping with blood, are particularly fond of baseball, boxing, and automobile racing, and when someone is killed or seriously injured, the women screech with joy and the entire arena becomes uproarious with joy.
Yeah, the writer uses the word “joy” (yorokobi) twice (actually three times, if you count the adverb I translated as “gleefully”) in the same sentence. Either he’s a bit excited, or editorial standards have seriously lapsed by this time. Who knew baseball was so dangerous back then?
Another unattributed article is titled, “The Americans Outrageous Plans for the Aftermath of the War”.
Men who can work will all be used as slaves in the development of New Guinea and Borneo. The women will be married to Negroes. Children will be castrated. Thus will the Japanese race be wiped out.
Negroes! Why!? But wait! There’s more!
The best thing to do with the children is cripple them. Gouge out their eyes, cut off an arm or a leg…create every kind of cripple possible. Seeing these children wandering the streets like animals will certainly make a delightful spectacle.
Wow. Who knew the U.S. government had such a plan? Whoever wrote it could have gotten a job in the Bush 43 White House. Needless to say, the plan must have undergone some serious revision by August 1945. Reading this today, you don’t know whether to laugh or cry. Hayakawa argues that these absurd allegations would be taken seriously by readers because that was in fact the kind of things the Japanese army was doing. Keep in mind that Hayakawa is an extreme leftist, and may have a tendency toward hyperbole. Besides, the average Japanese on the home-front never heard a word about any war crimes the Japanese military may have been committing. But Hayakawa does make one good point:
This was a woman’s magazine, and it is riddled with items that would make the virtuous women of the divine Japanese nation tremble with fear; to wit, losing the war means “women will be raped and children castrated and turned into sideshow freaks.” The final psychological weapon used to mobilize the people for the war was repeatedly drilling into them a fear of the enemy.
When I think of the tragedy in which, because of this, many women in Saipan and Okinawa, afraid to surrender to the American military, took their own lives, I feel an intense anger well up towards the anonymous bastards who wrote this crap.
Pretty strong stuff. But there is now evidence that many, if not most, of the women who leaped from that cliff in Okinawa were forced to do so at gunpoint by Japanese soldiers. A tragedy either way.
Hayakawa’s report leaves me with a couple of questions. First, was it just this one issue that was so completely over the top, and if so, why? Second, was anyone actually reading this in December of 1944?
Hayakawa says “This issue of Housewife’s Friend stands out”, and says he’s never seen “such direct agitation to ‘kill’.” He wonders if the editors were trying to revive the war spirit at a time when the people were weary of war, and it looked like Japan was losing. “But this was a women’s magazine, you know?” he comments, as if puzzled himself. Although the slogans apparently continued through the last six war-time issues, it seems this issue really does stand out in terms of sheer vitriol, which makes you wonder why. Was it short-term pressure from the government? If so, why the hell pick Housewife’s Friend? Was the publisher trying to curry the favor of the government and just got carried away? Did the editor-in-chief lose a loved one in the war and use his magazine to vent? My curiosity is piqued now, so I’m trying to see if I can acquire (reasonably-priced) copies of the magazine from this period. (Unfortunately, I can’t find a library that has a collection of the magazine.)
The last wartime issue of "Girls' Club," July 1945
The second question, about who was reading this stuff, is one I’ve been wondering about for a long time. I’ve seen children’s magazines published in the last year of the war, and they are indeed grim and filled with propaganda (though nothing nearly as wacky as this). But by this time, people were having trouble just feeding their families. They were eating grasshoppers, for god’s sake. Even the content of the magazines suggests that, to put it mildly, the population was collectively tightening its belt. People regularly relied on the black market for essentials that simply could not be had through officially sanctioned sources. This issue of Housewife’s Friend has a slick color cover (featuring a virtuous, pretty young thing working hard in an airplane factory), but as far as I know, the last few wartime issues of the few remaining magazines of any kind in Japan were nothing more than folded, black and white pamphlets. (When I saw an actual copy of the last wartime issue of Girls’ Club at the International Institute for Children’s Literature in Osaka, I actually broke down and cried. It was that sad.) So I’m wondering, how many people, apart from government and business elite, were reading any kind of magazine in December of 1944? I don’t know.
As the Bard put it, “Cry ‘Havoc,’ and let slip the dogs of war.” Crazy, sad stuff.
* Note that Japan’s population in 1944 was hardly more than seventy million, so the editors were apparently counting on every single reader to send in dozens if not hundreds of unique slogans. One of the slogans in this issue, by the way, was “Fling a hundred million ‘human bullets’ (against the enemy)!” “Human bullet” (literally, “flesh bullet,” nikudan
) was a term coined in the Russo-Japanese War to refer to soldiers, presumably out of ammunition, literally attacking the enemy bodily. Apparently the editors expected their housewife readers to pump out another twenty-five million “human bullets,” pronto. How they would do this without the assistance of their husbands, most of whom were on the front lines or dead, is a bit of a puzzle. BACK TO TEXT