Lecture Description

This lecture traces the convoluted politico-cultural processes in occupied Japan that gave birth to a public image of the Japanese American fighting men as a model for postwar colorblind democracy and soldiers of new Japan in US-dominated Cold War East Asia. After the defeat of imperial Japan in 1945, the United States set up a military government in Tokyo, trying to “democratize” the former enemy on its terms. That project included the complete destruction of Japan’s military capabilities and a well-coordinated domestic propaganda campaign against militarist/feudal traditions in Japan. After late 1948, however, American occupation policy underwent a radical shift from demilitarization to rearmament of the defeated enemy. Under this new development, U.S. military brass in Tokyo turned to the World-War-II accomplishments of the famed all-Japanese American (Nisei) 442nd Regimental Combat Team to marshal popular support for the remaking of occupied Japan as a junior U.S. ally. The rise of Nisei war narrative across the Pacific was specifically tied to the problem of Japan’s rearmament that engulfed both American occupiers and occupied Japanese in the critical months between the communist takeover of China in October 1949 and the outbreak of the Korean War in June 1950. Accompanying this development was the glorification of the “American soldier with the Japanese face” as a trope for the new democratic soldier of postwar Japan. In this propaganda campaign, a few thousands of Nisei troops in occupied Japan performed a no less important role in the production of slanted knowledge about them as a paragon of good, civilized soldiers for the U.S.-dominated “Free World.” Influenced by the officially certified stories of Nisei war heroes, many Japanese nationals, especially those who had developed a stake in U.S.-led national rebuilding and an agenda of remilitarization, also engaged in their own versions of Nisei glorification under the approval of American occupiers.


Asian American Cold War

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