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Paper bullets: American psywar in the Pacific 1944-1945

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  • History
  • Political Science
  • Psychology


An Enemy Observed 1 Paper Bullets: American Psywar in the Pacific, 1944-1945 This article examines the ideas that underpinned American psychological war (psywar) in the Pacific. While we cannot precisely measure its effects, we can trace its intellectual history with more confidence. US psywar was a combination of scientific method and mythmaking. Assessments of the Imperial Japanese Army (IJA) tended to be careful, discriminating and increasingly sophisticated if not uniformly accurate. At the level of the battlefront, practitioners of the ‘mind war’ strove to overcome stereotypes and refine and complexify their view of the enemy. The further they moved from the battlefield towards assessments of Japanese military leadership, society and high politics, the more they became mythmakers, projecting onto Japan a powerful set of preconceived ideas. These included notions of the superstitious and malleable Japanese mind, the suicidal military elite, and the innocent symbol Emperor. In their analysis, two models of culture evolved. Their approach to the IJA mostly presented culture as dynamic, layered and conflicted, whereas their view of Japanese society was monolithic, bounded and timeless. This contradictory pattern can be explained by different levels of exposure to the subject, the practice of filling ‘knowledge gaps’ with preconceptions, and by American policymaking interests. Ever since John Dower wrote War without Mercy, most historians regard the war between the United States and Japan as one of racist brutality.1 Japanese Dr. Patrick Porter is a Lecturer in Defence Studies at Kings College, London. Except where otherwise noted, all documents were consulted at the Hoover Institution on War, Peace and Revolution, Stanford University, California. For their advice and support in the preparation of this article, I am grateful to Dr. Robert Saunders, Dr. Rob Dover,

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