Sea of Thunder

In 1943, American sailors and soldiers entering the harbor at Tulagi, the front-line U.S. Navy base in the South Pacific, passed a billboard telling them to

Kill Japs, kill Japs, kill more Japs!

The billboard was signed by Adm. William F. Halsey, Jr., their commander. As the war progressed, newspapers quoted Halsey as saying about the Japanese, "We are drowning and burning them all over the Pacific, and it is just as much pleasure to burn them as to drown them."

To twenty-first-century ears, Halsey sounds like a racist monster or a sadist. In his own time, however, he was regarded by the public as a war hero, a little outspoken, too crude perhaps, but refreshingly blunt about the true nature of the enemy and the hard job ahead. In the wartime America of the 1940s, Halsey's attitude was unexceptional. Americans routinely referred to the Japanese as "Japs" and "Nips," and often as animals or insects of some kind (most commonly, monkeys, baboons, gorillas, dogs, mice, rats, vipers and rattlesnakes, and cockroaches). The Japanese were just as bigoted. They depicted Americans and other Westerners as reptiles, worms, insects (rendered in cartoons with the faces of Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill), frogs, octopuses, beached whales, and stray dogs. Dehumanizing the enemy to make it easier to kill them is an ancient practice between warring nations, but rarely has it been practiced with more depraved creativity than in the Pacific War...[read more]

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