Pillaged Skulls and Looted Gear: The Racialization of the Japanese and its effect on United States Trophy Hunting during the Second World War

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Dahl, Lawrence
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Middle Tennessee State University
My research is on the racialization of the Japanese and how it affected looting during the Second World War. Though it focuses on the looting of Japanese teeth, ears, and skulls during the war, it begins with the years prior to the war where anti-Asian sentiment played a pivotal role in policies limiting the immigration of Asian peoples. By carefully analyzing propaganda posters utilized by the American government during the war, a conclusion can be made that there was a stark difference between the depictions of the Japanese and the Germans. This racialized propaganda led American soldiers serving in the Pacific to dehumanize their enemy to the extent of treating them like game animals. While often this topic is overlooked in historical writings, with many focusing on the brutality of the Japanese soldiers towards the Americans, I plan to utilize photographic evidence, first hand memoirs, and newspaper articles from the war that specifically showcase the barbaric mutilation of Japanese soldiers by Americans serving in the Pacific Theater. Life Magazine, as well as many newspapers, featured photographs and articles showcasing and describing the looting of Japanese skulls and body parts. In addition, many personal accounts, such as Eugene Sledge’s With the Old Breed, describe the presence of post-mortem mutilation of Japanese soldiers. Much of the research of the Pacific Theater in WWII highlights Japanese brutality rather than American brutality, perhaps because many prefer to idolize rather than criticize American soldiers. My research will fill a void in the discussion of the role of racism in the American treatment of Japanese enemy combatants by specifically showing the effect of that racism on the battlefield, compared to the relatively civilized treatment of European enemies.