Alexandria Digital Research Library

Rising sun over America : imagining a Japanese conquest of the United States, 1900-1945

Hough, Kenneth Charles
Degree Grantor:
University of California, Santa Barbara. History
Degree Supervisor:
Paul R. Spickard
Place of Publication:
[Santa Barbara, Calif.]
University of California, Santa Barbara
Creation Date:
Issued Date:
History, United States and History, Modern
National defense
Film history
Japanese Americans
World War II.
Civil Defense
Dissertations, Academic and Online resources
Ph.D.--University of California, Santa Barbara, 2014

In the early 1900s, the political, economic, and strategic ambitions of the United States and Japan became more intertwined. Many in the United States celebrated Japan's culture, its rapid modernization and its ascendency on the world stage, believing that a special friendship existed between the Pacific powers. However, in the wake of Japan's stunning victory in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905, appreciation of this emergent Asian militarism bloomed into anxiety, and some observers predicted that a U.S.-Japanese conflict was on the horizon. The defeat of the Russians had been accomplished through Japan's apparent command of both nationalistic fighting spirit and technological proficiency. For those already concerned about America's own social and political transformations at the turn of the twentieth century, Japan's success posed a challenge to American power in the Pacific, as well as seeming to upend the belief in white racial supremacy.

Out of the ashes of the Russo-Japanese War germinated a psychic conflict between the United States and Japan, which spanned the majority of the next four decades. Its battles were fought in newspaper editorials, political speeches, military war games, and in films and other popular culture productions. The most extreme form of this culture of fear was what I call the Japanese invasion sublime: a powerful rhetoric that insisted that a Japanese invasion and destruction of the United States was inevitable. While fiction writers crafted speculative phantasms of America's apocalyptic defeat and overthrow by Japanese invaders armed with outlandish weapons, analysts within the U.S. military assembled war games and sought funding for more expansive missions using images not far removed from fiction. Politicians, media moguls, and special interest groups also exploited the fear of a Japanese invasion of the United States for their own agendas of promoting military preparedness, boosting newspaper circulation, and passing exclusionary laws. Even detractors, who railed against the dread of a Japanese attack as both preposterous and irresponsible, were forced to walk a fine line when negotiating with the emotionalism inherent in the sublime, especially during the numerous war scares that punctuated the early twentieth century and threatened to bring the United States and Japan to actual blows.

The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor drew the United States into World War II, and gave a momentary validation to the adherents of the Japanese invasion sublime. American military planners and administrators at the Office of Civilian Defense attempted to mollify civilian concerns by promoting more heroic counter-narratives foresaw American fortitude in the face of possible foreign assaults on the contiguous United States. Yet, after a small-scale attack was made by a Japanese submarine on a California oil field in the early days of the war, the Japanese invasion sublime was briefly reignited, leading to a moral panic over Japanese American fifth-column subversion and the justification of the mass internment of Japanese and Japanese Americans in the United States.

Physical Description:
1 online resource (303 pages)
UCSB electronic theses and dissertations
Catalog System Number:
Inc.icon only.dark In Copyright
Copyright Holder:
Kenneth Hough
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