World War II: Race


Figure 1.--Here we see New York City primary school children in 1942. This is an illustration of anti-Japanese sentiment following the attack on Pearl Harbor. American war propaganda directed at Japan was often overtly racist. This was not the case of propaganda aimed at the Germans. Note the sign promoting a scarap drive to the left. The anti-Japanese prejudice of the time was often intense and was reflected also in the disgraceful internment of Japanese-Americans simply on grounds of their ethnicity.

Racism was a key aspect of World War II. Racism was a primary factor within in the Axis military alliance. World War as conceived by Adolf Hitler was a racist war. Hitler clearly conceptualizes a great conflict against Jews and the only slightly more preverable Slavs. The Jews Hitler believed had to be purged from German life. This process ebolved into the Holocaust. Aat least some of the Slavs would be allowed to survive because slave labor was needed for the new Reich. And Hitler saw the war as not a German war, but an Aryan war. For this reason, the people of the Nordic countries, the Neterlands, and the British would fit into the new Aryan nation. Hitler was frustated at the beginning of the War because he found himself fighting the British and allied with the Soviets. What he wanted of course was to bee alied with the British and fighting the Soviets which he saw the worst possible combination of Jewish Bolshevicks overseeing the Slavic masses. Not all the people in Germany and racially acceptable countries were acceptable to Hitler. Gyneology became big business in Germany. To enter the SS one had to prove an Aryan ancestry back centuries. Had the NAZIs won the War, the SS would have evolved as a new aristocracy in Germany. The Japanese also had highly racist attitudes which showed in their treatment of Koreans, Chinese, and other subject peoples. Japanese attrocities are less publicized, but resulted in the deaths of even more people than fell victim to NAZI racist policies. Italy was less affected by racist notions. Italian Fascism rather emphasized Italian nationalism and cultureal identity, but Italy proved to be a largely ineffectual military partner in the Axis war effort. Racism was not, however, limited to the Axis. America entered the War as a still largely racist country. The South was still strictly seggregatated with black Americans denied civil rights and precvented from voting. America fought the War with a segregated military. The anti-Japanese prejudice of the time was often intense and was reflected in the disgraceful internment of Pacific-coast Japanese-Americans simply on grounds of their ethnicity. One interesting aspect is that with all this anti-Japanese feeling, it virtually disapperated after the War. And all kinds of restrictions on Asians as to citizenship, employment, iniversity admission also disappeared. It is a phenomenon I do not fully understand, but have been meaning to address. Such overt descrimination did not exist in Britain, but Britain at the time did not have a substantial minority population. The situation in the colonies was different. The situation in the Soviet Union is more difficult to assess. Communist doctrine was race neutral which was one reason that it appealed to many Jews. Of course Communist neutrality on race does not mean that racist beliefs were no prevalent among Soviet officials.

The Axis

Racism was a key aspect of World War II. Racism was a primary factor within in the Axis military alliance. World War as conceived by Adolf Hitler was a racist war. Hitler clearly conceptualizes a great conflict against Jews and the only slightly more preverable Slavs. The Jews Hitler believed had to be purged from German life. This process ebolved into the Holocaust. Aat least some of the Slavs would be allowed to survive because slave labor was needed for the new Reich. And Hitler saw the war as not a German war, but an Aryan war. For this reason, the people of the Nordic countries, the Neterlands, and the British would fit into the new Aryan nation. Hitler was frustated at the beginning of the War because he found himself fighting the British and allied with the Soviets. What he wanted of course was to bee alied with the British and fighting the Soviets which he saw the worst possible combination of Jewish Bolshevicks overseeing the Slavic masses. Not all the people in Germany and racially acceptable countries were acceptable to Hitler. Gyneology became big business in Germany. To enter the SS one had to prove an Aryan ancestry back centuries. Had the NAZIs won the War, the SS would have evolved as a new aristocracy in Germany. The Japanese also had highly racist attitudes which showed in their treatment of Koreans, Chinese, and other subject peoples. Japanese attrocities are less publicized, but resulted in the deaths of even more people than fell victim to NAZI racist policies. Italy was less affected by racist notions. Italian Fascism rather emphasized Italian nationalism and cultureal identity, but Italy proved to be a largely ineffectual military partner in the Axis war effort. Racism was not, however, limited to the Axis.

The Allies

America entered the War as a still largely racist country. These racist ideas, unlike Germany and Japan, did not significantly affect its foreign policy. The South was still strictly seggregatated with black Americans denied civil rights and precvented from voting. America fought the War with a segregated military. The anti-Japanese prejudice of the time was often intense and sharply reflected in American war propaganda that is today very disturbing. There are lots of blatantly racist images of slanted, weaked eyes Japanese with over-sized glasses. Of course this was exacerbated by Pearl Harbor. Anti-German propaganda was not racist, of course, because so many Americans looked like Germans. Anti-Japanese racism was reflected in the disgraceful internment of Pacific-coast Japanese-Americans simply on grounds of their ethnicity. The internees included American citizens and not only Japanese nationals resident in America. One interesting aspect is that with all this anti-Japanese feeling, is that racist attitudes toward Asian Americans declined sharply atter the War. And this process continued even when the Korean War turned into a war with China. All kinds of restrictions on Asians as to citizenship, employment, university admission also disappeared. It is a phenomenon I do not fully understand, but have been meaning to address. Such overt descrimination did not exist in Britain, but Britain at the time did not have a substantial minority population. The situation in the colonies was different. We are less sure about France.

The Soviet Union

The Soviet Union needs to be considered as a third force in World War II. It was the Soviets along with the Germans who launched the War as a result of the NAZI-Soviet Non-aggression Pact (August 1939), as unlikely allies. The Soviet Unuin unlike Germany was a multi-national state. Both countries, however, proceeded to carry out a long series of aggresons against neighboring countries and terrible attrocities in the countries they occupied. The NAZI attrocities were more race based than the Soviets, but the Soviets carried out ethnic attrocities of their own, deporting several national groups and like the NAZIs set you to destroy Poland as a nationality. And Stalin sought to alter the ethnic balance in the Baltics by deportung Balts and incouraging Russian emigration. The NAZI-Soviet alliance was abruptly broken with the German invasion. And as a result, the Soviets finished the War as key part of the victorious Allied coalition. The racial policies in the Soviet Union is more difficult to assess. Communist doctrine was race neutral which was one reason that it appealed to many Jews. And none other than Lenin was of mixed race origins, includung central Asian ancestors. Of course Communist ideological neutrality on race does not mean that racist beliefs were not prevalent among Soviet officials or as we have noted, Stalin did not pursue a range of racist policies. As far as we can tell, however, they were based on his assessment, not without some justifictions, tht ethnoc groups in many cases held anti-Soviet views. His repressive policies were this not biological, but political. Of coure the same is partially true of the Germans who vilified the Jews as part of their stab-in-the back charge regarding World ar I and their World War II belief that the Jews were a traitorous group. This was, however, only an adjunt to biological racism. It is probably fair to say that racist sentiment was probably less important in the Soviet war effort than in any other of the major combatant countries. The Red Army was composed of many nationalist-formed units including the Ukranian and Polish formations. And we see mixed ethnicities in Red Army units. Unlike the Allies, there were no segregated units. We see many Asian faces in the photogrphs of Red Army soldiers who so valiantly fought the Germans. And we have not noted accounts of racial tension among Red Army soldiers in the World War II literature. Of course this would have been supressed in Soviet historiography if it existed, but it is a topic we have not noted. We do know that after the fall of Communism in ussia, we see vitriolic racial sentiments being expressed.

Asia

Discussions of racism in World War II primarily focus on the German NAZIs. A central tennant of Fascism swas hyper-nationalism and with it racism. The NAZIs were only the most extreme manifestation of this. And the Allies also had racist sentiments as well. All to commonly ignored are the racist attitudes prevalent in Asia. This is a complicated issue given the number of countries involved, but racist feelings were prevalent in the three major countries and many smaller countries as well. Chinese racism existd, but was not a major factor in the War. The Chinese from the strt of the War were on the defensive and not involved in occupying other countries. India was a British colony. Again Indian racism was not an important factor in the War, but very strong racist sentiment existed in India. People woth lighter complexions had greater status and skin color was an important factor in Indian marriages. India is a large country and racist attitudes varies regioinally and toward people from different regions. And of course untouchavility was a major problem. This was a caste, but there were racial overlaps as many untouchables had farker skin that the higher-status castes. The Japnese had very strong racist attitudes. While professing pan-Asian values, in fact theuy looked down on other Asian peoples, a factor in their savage behavior in China and conquered Asian countries. Another country with strong racist attitides was Iran. The country cjanged its name from Persia to Iran before the war, in part to emphasize the Aryan origins of the Persian people.







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Created: 7:47 PM 11/15/2006
Last updated: 3:52 PM 10/1/2014