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Depicting Japan in British propaganda of the Second World War

In the first few years of the Second World War, Britons’ knowledge of and interest in the situation in Japan was low. The Ministry of Information, which was responsible for producing propaganda to inform and influence people in Britain and its empire, generally concentrated on attacking and undermining Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany and, to a lesser extent, Mussolini and Imperial Italy.

At the end of 1941, the British government and its Ministry of Information had to adapt to a radically new situation. On 7 December, Japan launched its surprise attack on Pearl Harbor which caused the United States to enter the war in the Pacific and in Europe. Germany and Italy subsequently declared war on the USA and Japan launched attacks against the allies in British Hong Kong, British Malaya and the Philippines. Suddenly Britain had a new powerful ally and a new dangerous adversary, and the Ministry of Information had the task of introducing them to the British people.

In a Home Intelligence Report from 17 December 1941, it was stated that the public feeling was ‘divided between satisfaction that the United States is now actively in the war on our side, and dismay at the strength of Japan’ 1.

Despite Japan’s alliance with Great Britain in the First World War, the British people did not know very much about the Japanese people before 1941. Even during the years following, knowledge and interest was limited. A Home Intelligence Special Report on public attitudes to the Far Eastern War and Japan, dated 11 July 1944, found that ‘at the most about 50% of people know even a few simple facts about the Far Eastern war’ 2. This was no doubt due to Japan’s distance from Britain and the comparisons to the direct experience of German bombing, however it has led to the Pacific campaign being neglected in cultural memory even today.

The Ministry of Information did attempt to address this problem during the war by producing creative and aggressive propaganda about the Japanese enemy.

Read entire article at National Archives (UK)