The Danger of the “Other”

WWII Dr Seuss editorial mental-insecticide

Learning from our past history,  America could use a good dose of mental insecticide to vanish the racism and vitriol that has been infecting our country recently. 1942 Political cartoon by Theodor Geisel – Dr. Seuss, from NY newspaper PM.

Be Afraid….Be Very Afraid

We need to be on high alert

The threat is real.

We need to be vigilant not only about extremist terrorists who wish to do us harm, but about the ramped up stereotyping and creeping xenophobia that is growing, thanks to the red white and blue home-grown extremists like Donald Trump whose vile comments cloaked as patriotism are becoming numbingly familiar.

Both threats are real…both are dangerous…both pose a grave danger to American freedom.

Identifying the Other

Against a boosterish backdrop of cheering crowds, Trump announced his plan to make America great Again by banning all Muslim’s from entering our country, beaming at what he saw as a public service.

Encouraging the public’s vigilance to keep their round eyes peeled for Arabic speaking neighbors and hijab wearing plane passengers, his solution would keep people safe.

Turban Primer from Redeye 2012

A How-To to determine turbaned friends from terrorists. This “Turban Primer” originally appeared in a Chicago publication Redeye in 2012, two days after a gunman shot and killed 6 worshipers at a Sikh Temple in Milwaukee. Image: Redeye 2012

Since turban wearing folks seem to confuse to most Americans, unable to distinguish between a Sikh or a follower of Islam, how exactly would we know which tourists and immigrants are Muslim?

Other Wise…

Easy as apple pie and just as American.

Airline representatives, custom agents and border guards would simply ask folks for their religion, Trump explained matter of factly. “They would say; ‘Are you a Muslim?’” Trump said on MSNBC’s Morning Joe Tuesday morning. If they say no, they’d be allowed in the country.

Simple. Safe. Stupid.

Identifying tourists and immigrants as the “other” seems so simple, it’s a wonder no one has thought of it before.

Except they have.


Dr, Seuss Political cartoon anti Japanese WWII

An anti-Japanese political cartoon by Dr. Seuss. From 1941 to 1943 Theodor Geisel created more than 400 political cartoons for NY Newspaper PM. Along with subjects such as racial discrimination and social injustices, he did create anti-Japanese propaganda and supported Japanese internment. After the war he questioned his beliefs about the Japanese. Years later Dr. Seuss wrote “Horton Hears a Who” ( a metaphor for American postwar occupation of Japan) in part as an apology to the Japanese that he had demonized during the war.

Identifying the “other” has long been a stock in trade in a racist America.

A panicked American public consumed with fear from a recent December terror attack is something we have witnessed before. The demonization of Japanese Americans during WWII could serve as a history lesson in what happens when racist propaganda is disseminated as patriotism .

And it didn’t take long.

A mere two weeks after the attack on Pearl Harbor, a racist guide geared to the hapless American to differentiate a Jap from the Chinese was published in two  highly respected periodicals Life Magazine and Time as a public service to a frightened public.

Slap the Jap –That’s Life

WWII Panic about the Japanese

After Japan’s surprise attack on America fear and hysterics ran high.

Like most Americans in December of 1941, Bob White was in a state of anxiety. Shaken to the core by this violent act of terrorism perpetrated against America in Pearl Harbor , he was left confused. Like others Bob simply didn’t know who to trust.

This native of Newberg worried…was the Chinaman washing his shirts really Chinese or a Japanese spy. Maybe the Oriental whose family fix-it shop had been there for generations might be sending signals back to Tojo. Who could tell if they were even Japanese?

Life magazine understanding this confusion came to his rescue.

Life Magazine December 22, 1941 Cover flag waving

In a world of insecurity and uncertainty, Bob White could count on 3 things. A white Christmas, the regular delivery of the U.S. mail and the reassurance from his favorite magazine Life.

Like most Mondays, Bob looked forward to his weekly copy of Life, the eyes and ears and voice of America to entertain, inform and instruct him.

But this December 22 was not like most Mondays. Only 2 weeks earlier President Roosevelt had appeared before Congress  asking them to declare war on Japan. The date that would live in infamy was fresh in  American minds.

So when the doorbell rang at noon, Bob could count on it being the mailman making his delivery. As Sam the mailman shook off the snow and handed Bob his weekly copy of Life, he smiled and said winking: “It’s a keeper!”

Long May She Wave

Bob’s heart swelled with pride at the image of the majestic waving American flag that filled the cover of the magazine.

Flipping through the thick periodical he pored over the graphic photos documenting the devastation from the attack in Hawaii, fueling his hatred of the cruel and barbaric enemy. The jingoistic copy confirmed what Bob knew in his heart – harnessing America’s might we would pull together to beat the Japs!

Reading onward, his eyes fell on the bold-face heading  “War and Terrorism” under which he noted a series entitled “The Handbook for Americans.”

This former Eagle Scout knew that to win this war both on the battlefield and on the  home front, Americans needed to be prepared.

Americans needed to mentally awake and morally straight and most importantly, keep informed.Like any good handbook this one offered practical, useful information.

The first article in the handbook was a handy guide for identifying dangerous Japanese warplanes.

But more urgent than the planes was the vital information on how to identify a Jap.

Friendly Persuasion

Yes, not only does the reader learn to recognize enemy Jap warplanes, identifying them by their unique markings, they learn to distinguish Japanese Americans from Chinese Americans.

Not unlike most Americans, Bob tended to lump all member of the “yellow race” together.

It was Life’s mission to carefully point out the differences concerned that our anger and contempt not be directed at our good Chinese friends but at the Japanese.

Bob sighed in relief. Finally a helpful guide to identifying the real enemy.

It was a major task, but Life made it so much easier .

How to Tell Japs From the Chinese headline Life Magazine WWII

Life Magazine December 22, 1941

Entitled “How to Tell Japs From the Chinese:” Bob read with interest as  the article explained:

“In the first discharge of emotions touched off by the Japanese assaults on their nation, US citizens have been demonstrating a distressing ignorance of the delicate question of how to tell a Chinese from a Jap. Innocent victims in cities all over the country are many of the 75,000 U.S. Chinese whose homeland is our staunch ally.

So serious were the consequences threatened, that the Chinese consulates last week prepared to tag their nationals with identification buttons.


Photos How to Tell a Jap From Chinese 1941

These photographs are marked with crudely notated facial features such as an anthropologist might compare one animal to another. Life Magazine December 22, 1941

Lest you engage in a friendly conversation with a Japanese American store clerk this handy guide would protect you from this dangerous encounter.

To dispel some of this confusion between Asian friend and foe , LIFE provided a rule-of-thumb for characteristics that distinguished friendly Chinese from the enemy alien Japs.

As in the warplane article, Bob learned how to differentiate between Japanese and Chinese people, with “instructive, easily interpreted diagrams and photographs.

The article’s “helpful captions” explain distinctive bones structures and facial features” with the arbitrariness and stereotypes worthy of an instructor of eugenics .

Life Magazine Dec 22 1944 How to Tell a Jap From Chinese

American racism 100% proof . The second page of the article is framed between two columns of advertisements. Americans consume their racism along with their whiskey.

The Chinese we learn, are smiling and  friendly the Japanese is frowning and angry.

The engaging Chinese man is described as a “public servant,” while the Japanese man ( General Tojo)  is listed as a “Japanese warrior” whose face “shows the humorless intensity of ruthless mystics.”

Across the street, Bobs neighbor Mary was picking up her own mail, anxious to read her issue of Henry Luce’s other publication Time. It too carried its own helpful article “How to Tell Your Friends From the Jap.”

How To tell Your Friends from the Japs Time Magazine 1941

Arbitrary instruction from Time December 22, 1941

It wasn’t long before distinguishing between a Jap and Chinese would be as easy as identifying a an enemy airplane with their handy-go-to guide. Everything you needed to prevent you for mistaking your friendly Chines store keeper for a Japanese American traitor

Life would help you identify the enemy and properly direct your hatred to the appropriate source.To a frightened hysterical public it came in the nick of  time.

Hatred of the other because of fear is dangerous. Deplorable acts of racism  somehow justified and even honorable in the time of terror and war end up with predictably terrible consequences.

© Sally Edelstein and Envisioning The American Dream, 2015

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  1. Pierre Lagacé

    Reblogged this on Lest We Forget and commented:
    So easy to forget the past isn’t?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. john denino
    could this article be any more simplistic? Obama and most of the Democrat party are in complete denial.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. john denino

    Where is my comment?


  4. It is interesting how we are jumping on Donald Trump, and only Donald Trump, for his xenophobia. Have we forgotten how racist, and xenophobic, many of the so-called conservative broadcasters are? Like Rush Limbaugh and Michael Savage? Have we forgotten how the Republicans in Congress have been calling for a fence along our southern border? Have we forgotten the Republicans who have called on President Obama not to bring Syrian refugees to the United States? Have we forgotten that it was Marco Rubio who wanted a religious test for all refugees? Christians in, Muslims out? Have we forgotten that 30 Republican governors are saying, “No Syrian refugees in my state?” The Republican party has supported race baiters for years and not said one word. Seems to me that the chickens are coming home to roost.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. It is an alarming trend, and Mr Trump is the loudest and most provocative mouth piece, while other equally xenophobic voices are almost drowned out by his blustering but are just as damaging.


  6. geraldine lent

    It is not always accurate to judge events that happened 74 years ago with the eyes and reasoning of today.
    The situations portrayed in the article seems xenophobic, racist , insensitive as per today. But do not forget that the Japanese ATTACKED us , so we went to war to win, kill and destroy the enemy. Well done !

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Reblogged this on Rcooley123's Blog and commented:
    An excellent essay illustrating earlier renditions of the sort of xenophobic hate-mongering most recently spouted by Donald Trump in his call for banning followers of Islam from entering this country.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Reblogged this on Ned Hamson's Second Line View of the News and commented:
    Know history or repeat it


  9. Marcus L

    I am utterly flabbergasted an American could possibly think like you. I read your blog and think, what PLANET does she live on? ? I am firmly convinced progressive liberalism is a mental disorder that interferes with one’s ability to grasp reality. Liberals seem to be suffering from a mass delusion in which jihadists, all of whom are Muslims, are not psychotic murders. Despite repeated atrocities, you seem to believe that not giving all “Muslims” the benefit of the doubt is somehow racist and xenophobic. It’s not. In fact, it’s perfectly sensible. Permitting someone into this country, absent concrete proof they have zero ties to radical Islam, would be masochistic insanity. Protecting American lives TRUMPS all other principles and ideals. Providing safety/security for the citizenry is the foremost responsibility of government; one that eclipses all others! Those who would jeopardize the safety of their fellow American’s in the pursuit of some noble, Pollyannaish ideal, are beyond dangerous, they are traitors.


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