Know Your Enemy: Japan
uses newsreels, re-enactments, and captured enemy footage to create an appalling wartime document that was considered too incendiary for wide release. Initially meant to be part of director Frank Capra's Why We Fight
documentary series, it was intended to prepare American soldiers for Operation Downfall, the forthcoming invasion of Japan. In early 1943, Capra hired Dutch filmmaker Joris Ivens to supervise the project. Ivens then brought on famed screenwriter Carl Foreman (The Bridge on the River Kwai
, High Noon
) to script the film's narration. After Capra viewed the pair's rough cut, he subsequently fired them both, finding their work far too sympathetic to the Japanese people. Ivans and Foreman had portrayed the Japanese as open-minded and peaceful, placing the blame for their involvement in WWII squarely on Emperor Hirohito, insisting he was a power-mad dictator that should be tried as a war criminal. Capra restructured the film as an indictment of the Japanese as a whole, calling them "a warring, bloodthirsty people" who "live on rice and fish, and are proud of it." For them, "to be a soldier is the highest human achievement." Dying in battle is "the attainment of an ideal" to the extent that "mothers and wives accept the ashes of their dead soldiers without grief of sorrow." Adding graphic war footage and unintentionally comic re-enactments, Know Your Enemy: Japan
now portrayed the Japanese as little more than barbaric savages. Capra's intentions are best summarized by the line, "We shall never completely understand the Japanese mind...but then, they don't understand ours, either." Because of the strife behind the scenes, the film was not completed until summer 1945. Perhaps wary of its racist tenor, Assistant Secretary of War John McCloy added an opening title noting the bravery of Nisei (Japanese-American) soldiers overseas. It finally screened for soldiers on August 9, 1945 -- the day the atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki. With Operation Downfall now cancelled, the film was completely withdrawn by the end of August, never garnering a wide release like Capra's other war documentaries. Seen today, Know Your Enemy: Japan
is a jaw-dropping piece of xenophobic propaganda that illustrates just how far we've come since the end of World War II.
BONUS: Recognition of the Japanese Zero Fighter (1943): A young pilot, played by Ronald Reagan, learns how to distinguish enemy planes from friendly ones in this WWII-era instructional film made for airmen about to enter the Pacific Theater. Starring Ronald Reagan, Craig Stevens. Directed by Bernard Vorhaus.