Warning: Contains racially-offensive but historically accurate language and sentiments. It wouldn’t be realistic if all my WWII-era characters had humane, progressive views towards the Japanese, or stopped at “only” referring to them by racial slurs. Historical writers have to accurately depict another time and place, even if that includes depicting attitudes and language one otherwise condemns.
Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. This week’s snippet comes right after last week’s, when 20-year-old Mireena Kalvik decided to speak up and express sympathy for the civilian casualties in Hiroshima. The soda jerk is horrified by both Mireena’s comments and the follow-up comments from her identical twin Milena.
The soda jerk speaks first, and then Mireena responds.
“What are you, a Jap sympathizer?”
“No, I’m the daughter of a proud Socialist who raised me and my siblings to think for ourselves instead of mindlessly following along with what the media tells us to believe. The people who died were made in the image of God just like you and I. Didn’t you see what happened in Europe because of the Nazi belief that some people are sub-human and don’t deserve life?”
“Don’t try to bring up Pearl Harbor,” Milena says. “That was a tragedy, but it was a military base, not a city full of innocent civilians. Two wrongs don’t make a right.”
“Their civilians are just as monstrous as their soldiers,” the soda jerk sneers. “The women will just breed more monsters, and the children will grow up to become rapists and murderers or breeders of more villains. They need to all be exterminated before their monstrous race produces even more vermin.”
This final comment catches Darya’s attention, and finally compels her to speak up.
According to a 1944 opinion poll, 13% of Americans were in favor of exterminating all Japanese. A lot of this prejudice was due to the fact that the Japanese were so much more “other” in comparison to the Germans, who at least had a familiar religion, physical appearance, and Western cultural heritage.
In spite of all this open, matter-of-fact anti-Japanese sentiment, there were rare instances when the enemy was humanized. The 1945 James Cagney film Blood on the Sun treats all the Japanese characters, even the antagonists, as multi-faceted human beings instead of racist caricatures and automatic villains.