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Demonizing Our WWII Enemies

By Richard Sheaff

The world of printed ephemera reveals something interesting: WWII was the last American war in which demonizing the enemy was widely practiced, popular and totally acceptable in ways that would be politically unacceptable today. Exceptions can, of course, be found, but such blatantly vicious imagery was not widespread during the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Iraq wars or today’s “war on terror”. Though troops on the ground were and are today as irreverent and derogatory about the foe as soldiers have been since time immemorial, the enemy is not, nowadays, gleefully, graphically trashed everywhere one turns. Though some may be highly deserving.

During WWII, images demonizing the leaders of the Axis powers were everywhere . . . on official government-issued materials (including posters, ration books, pamphlets, War Bond solicitation materials . . . you name it), greeting cards, the covers of national magazines, editorial matter illustrations. Such imagery reached into every nook and cranny of cultural life.

Not all of the imagery could be labeled demonizing, but is rather simply the sort of caricature that is a staple of political cartooning. Yet even subsequent political cartooning generally avoided the sort of blatantly racist abuse directed at the Japanese, for example, during WWII.

Here are a handful of demonizing and caricature WWII images; many hundreds if not thousands of others can be found.

The Axis powers, of course, parodied the Allies as well: here is a Japanese take on Churchill, Truman, and Chiang . . .

Not all WWII imagery lashed out against our enemies . . . some emphasized traditional American beliefs and values.