22 November 2005

Japan's Very Effective Thought War

In last Sunday's Japan Times, Donald Richie reviews The Thought War: Japanese Imperial Propaganda, by Barak Kushner (U. Hawai‘i Press, 2006).
This completely individual and very interesting account of the uses of propaganda in Japan concludes with the observation that it would be historically naive to pretend that Japan had changed overnight after its defeat in World War II. After all, Japan has had a very long history of socially mobilizing its people....

Modernization, it was thought, would put Japan on the same level as those imperialistic powers that were perceived as menacing Asia. Hence the useful concept of the Far East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere, a structure that envisioned a completely modern Japan shepherding the needs of a still backward Asia.

Here propaganda had new uses. For Japan, the problem of convincing China that Japan's mission was to liberate Asia hinged on the idea of "shisosen" or "the thought war." This was the term consistently used to describe the fight for ideological supremacy in Asia and later against the West....

Japan's Asian adventures ... had majority national support. A hapless populace in the grip of a relentless military machine is a later conception. During the war itself, popular support was strong -- the population believed in its mission.

Japan, says the author, had -- largely through propaganda -- mobilized its population to an extent unattainable in Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, or Franco's Spain. Japan faced little discontent, no attempted coups, and very few intellectuals and anti-fascists fleeing the country.

Consequently, perhaps, Japanese wartime propaganda survived the war. This was because a small coterie of bureaucratic cronies did not dominate, as they did in Nazi Germany. Instead, a large body of individuals created both the wartime and the postwar propaganda.

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