Thursday, November 16, 2006

# Posted 9:05 AM by Patrick Porter  

PSYOPS IN THE PACIFIC: A really cool book I came across while researching an article on Japan, Britain and cross-cultural perception in wartime, Allison Gilmore's You Can't Fight Tanks with Bayonets.

The Pacific war between Imperial Japan and the Allies is often cast as a race war, a story of racist brutality and mutual cultural antagonism. While there is much to this, some historians go to the extent of morally relativising the American and Japanese causes and campaigns.

But as Gilmore argues, the 'race war' debate isn't the whole story. She demonstrates, with some neglected sources, that Australian and American psychological operations were effective even against an enemy widely assumed to be radically different, partly because PSYOP personnel overcame crude stereotypes. They recognised that only a small minority of Japanese combatants had the psychological profile of samurai fanatics. Based on the belief that their propagandist literature could penetrate the psychology of their opponents, their operations demoralised significant sections of the target audience and overcame Japanese military indoctrination, contributing to surging cases of indiscipline, desertions, surrenders, demoralisation and a growing sense of fatalism, while surrendering Japanese soldiers yielded valuable intelligence about Japanese operations.

Gilmore tries to explain this: they were increasingly successful because they avoided attacking the Emperor, who remained an unshakeable figure of trust for most soldier-diarists. They told the truth about combat and conditions, so that Japanese’ own experiences seemed to confirm what Allied propaganda told them, giving the propaganda credibility. And they organised their propaganda around the tempo and timing of Allied military victories. The impact was suggested by record of Japanese diarists and efforts of Japanese High Command to insulate troops from ‘dangerous thoughts.’

In other words, they succeeded partly because they overcame the assumption that Japanese combatants were psychologically impenetrable and shielded from external influences beyond their political and national loyalties. Its worth a read.

(6) opinions -- Add your opinion

If you're winning, the truth may be the best propaganda. If not, it's a little harder to pull that off.
indeed, and its notable that the successful, penetrating propaganda usually followed combat victories, so that the former depended on the latter for its credibility.
Gilmore's facts are not even wrong. Only 400 of 20,000 Japs surrendered on Iwo. Thousands of mass suicides by cornered Japs on Saipan. Jap soldiers committed unspeakable horrors on brit wounded and prisoners in the China-Burma-India theater. What war on what planet is Gilmore referencing?
Hi David,

On the other hand, there are increasing surrenders in late 1944 through 1945 in the Philippines and other places.

But Gilmore argues that surrenders are not the only symptom of weakening morale or successful propaganda.

She cites internal Japanese reports of 'ceaseless desertions', and also gives evidence that quite a few suicides are driven by a sense of helpless fatalism that Japan with its material deficiencies will be overwhelmed by American industrial power.

there's a complication here: given the Japanese state's taboo on surrender, and given that Japanese are indoctrinated that they will be horribly maltreated by their captors, desertion and suicide are often more acceptable 'exit strategies' for the demoralised.

And generally, she cites sources that indicate a weakening of morale and a decline in combat effectiveness among units that aren't able to surrender or reluctant to surrender.

ps your own book looks interesting!
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