The attacks on Pearl Harbor were part of the Japanese armies’ Total War strategy. Like blitzkrieg or pre-emptive action, it’s goal was ruthless ‘shock and awe.’ Part and parcel of their military expansionism, at first it was directed towards their Eastern neighbours.
For many Chinese, the Second World War went into full swing with the Invasion of Manchuria in 1931.
I still remember sitting in a Canadian high school flipping through a history textbook and stopping dead at this photo of the bombing of Shanghai. I think it truly captures the horror war inflicts upon children and ‘the innocent.’ I saw it again in a museum in Shanghai, but only at the Nimitz Museum did I feel like it had appropriate context. The museum does an amazing job of grounding the events of the Pacific War in history. There is an almost overwhelming about of wall text, and it’s a real shame that most visitors likely must bustle through (This is a museum I wish I could have given several days to—in fact, I hope to go back.) At the same time, even walking through the galleries gives one the headlines of the war.
Taken by Wong HS, this was one of the most circulated photographs in history at the time, and reached a worldwide audience well before the official beginning of the War. It both begs the question of when military intervention is appropriate, and highlights the role of image making and propaganda in War.
The Japanese government first said that the photo was fake. And then that it was staged, pointing to a second image the photographer produced. In the second photo, the smoke in the background is diminished and a man crouches over the child. Today, general consensus is that the photographer was honest in his response, saying that the second photo was the next frame, of a man (perhaps the father) coming to comfort the child, even as the smoke dissipated in the background. At the time, while sentiment was strongly anti-Japanese, allegations that the photographer was a Leftist were persuasive to some journalists. At the same time, internment of Japanese Canadians during the war is a dark period in my country’s history, and was racism homegrown. Not only were families forced to relocate, they were dispossessed, and their assets sold below market value.