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Old 10-15-2018, 04:40 PM
Asuka Asuka is offline
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Is it racist for a World War 2 film to refer to Japanese soldiers as "Japs"?

I've noticed a modern trend with a bunch of different movie review shows/podcasts produced within the last 5 years to claim any movie set in the Pacific Theater of WW2 that has American soldiers refer to the Japanese soldiers as Japs as an examples of racist filmmaking, either as being racist for the period (1940s and 50s) or being unnecessarily racist for modern films.

Listening to somebody review Pearl Harbor (2001) and claim the film was being racist for having a character say "The Japs are attacking!" and then hearing another review mention the exact same thing makes me wonder if this is an example of knee-jerk modern reactions to any form of perceived racism and that they're wrong or if maybe I'm the wrong one here if everyone is saying it.
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Old 10-15-2018, 04:42 PM
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If it's what the people of the time used to refer to them, then it's what they used.

The recent movie about Jackie Robinson featured a whole lot of N-words. Not because of racism (the movie was anti-racist,) but because that's what people said at the time. Historical accuracy.
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Old 10-15-2018, 04:44 PM
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Or "Nigger Jim" in Huck Finn, or "The Sherrif is a nigger" in Blazing Saddles. You can't fight racism without first acknowledging racism's existence.
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Old 10-15-2018, 04:45 PM
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I always wondered how rough the part of Ben Chapman (the coach who yelled slurs during the game at Robinson) was to portray by the actor in that movie

Standing on the field yelling "N***** N***** N*****" seems like it would be hard.
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Old 10-15-2018, 04:47 PM
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I think it's fine to use the language that was used at the time by the characters being portrayed. It wouldn't surprise me that a lot of dialog from previous eras would sound offensive to our modern ears. That does't make the film "racist." How could you make a movie about Hitler and his crew without having them say offensive things about blacks and Jews?
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Old 10-15-2018, 04:49 PM
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Listening to somebody review Pearl Harbor (2001) and claim the film was being racist for having a character say "The Japs are attacking!" and then hearing another review mention the exact same thing makes me wonder if this is an example of knee-jerk modern reactions to any form of perceived racism and that they're wrong or if maybe I'm the wrong one here if everyone is saying it.
It is amazing how thoroughly fucked up the world has become in the last fifty years, isn't it?
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Old 10-15-2018, 04:55 PM
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I always wondered how rough the part of Ben Chapman (the coach who yelled slurs during the game at Robinson) was to portray by the actor in that movie

Standing on the field yelling "N***** N***** N*****" seems like it would be hard.
Alan Tudyk. He had some very interesting things to say about it.
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Old 10-15-2018, 05:16 PM
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I think it's fine to use the language that was used at the time by the characters being portrayed.
It certainly would have been common usage at the time. "Jap" was probably the politest term used for the Japanese during WWII. My father served in the Navy in the Pacific at Iwo Jima and Okinawa, and I have a copy of his ship's Yearbook. It's full of references to Japs and Nips, and more insulting terms.
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Old 10-15-2018, 05:17 PM
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terentii, surely the world was even more fucked up fifty years ago?
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Old 10-15-2018, 05:19 PM
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terentii, surely the world was even more fucked up fifty years ago?
No, it wasn't. And don't call me Shirley.
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Old 10-15-2018, 06:45 PM
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Personally, I'll take a few people complaining about racial epithets in movies over a lot of people actually using those epithets, seriously, in real life. I remember 50 years ago, and 50 years ago can suck my dick.
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Old 10-15-2018, 07:14 PM
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No because it's a matter of record that Americans called them that. Abbreviating the proper noun doesn't make one racist. Just disrespectful.
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Old 10-15-2018, 07:45 PM
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No because it's a matter of record that Americans called them that. Abbreviating the proper noun doesn't make one racist. Just disrespectful.
I think the use of such "abbreviation" these days would rightfully be considered racist.

But, 75 years ago (or so) we were at war with the Japanese. It would seems strange if they refereed to the Japanese (or Germans, or Italians) with any kind of respect.
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Old 10-15-2018, 07:48 PM
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It will only be racist if the Japanese insist it is, and people take it at face value. In any case, it's not. I could call them "J's" for all I care.
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Old 10-15-2018, 08:20 PM
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...But, 75 years ago (or so) we were at war with the Japanese. It would seems strange if they refereed to the Japanese (or Germans, or Italians) with any kind of respect.
WWII tended to make a distinction between German and Nazi (or Italian and Fascist) while lumping all Japanese together. The Japanese-American community was treated very differently than the German-American and Italian-American communities. The Japanese weren't white, which made them easy to be singled out and dehumanized in a way that other Axis members weren't. Going by most Allied propaganda the Japanese may has well been an alien species. A film would not be racist for having a White character say "The Japs are attacking!"; racist would be depicting the Japanese in the same manor actual films made during WWII did.
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Old 10-15-2018, 08:58 PM
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No, it wasn't. And don't call me Shirley.
Fifty years ago was 1968. You sure you can't think of anything going on in the country in 1968, in terms of race, that's worse than people getting a little wound up about antiquated racial slurs showing up in period films?

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Old 10-15-2018, 09:53 PM
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Boy...sure is a good thing we weren't involved in a brutal war with the British, then, isn't it?
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Old 10-15-2018, 09:56 PM
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Alan Tudyk. He had some very interesting things to say about it.
Thanks for that link!
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Old 10-15-2018, 10:11 PM
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I always wondered how rough the part of Ben Chapman (the coach who yelled slurs during the game at Robinson) was to portray by the actor in that movie

Standing on the field yelling "N***** N***** N*****" seems like it would be hard.
I think it would be hard but well within the wheelhouse of a good actor. Actors are called on to do all kinds of challenging things. One example, and it's maybe not the best: Having to repeatedly kiss another actor passionately who you personally find repugnant (I'm thinking personality-wise, not physically, but both would be tough).

It speaks to the necessity of having experienced professionals on the set. Folks who understand what is going on and won't bat an eye at the repeated "N***** N***** N*****." It's not a good place for naifs who need a trigger warning before discussing bitches having puppies.
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Old 10-15-2018, 10:18 PM
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Personally, I'll take a few people complaining about racial epithets in movies over a lot of people actually using those epithets, seriously, in real life. I remember 50 years ago, and 50 years ago can suck my dick.

I remember 50 years ago, and 50 years ago can suck my dick.


...needs to be a bumper sticker.


ETA: It'd be AWESOME if the bumper sticker was on a car driven by a woman who 50 years ago HAD a dick that you could have sucked.

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Old 10-15-2018, 10:41 PM
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I think it would be hard but well within the wheelhouse of a good actor. Actors are called on to do all kinds of challenging things. One example, and it's maybe not the best: Having to repeatedly kiss another actor passionately who you personally find repugnant (I'm thinking personality-wise, not physically, but both would be tough).

It speaks to the necessity of having experienced professionals on the set. Folks who understand what is going on and won't bat an eye at the repeated "N***** N***** N*****." It's not a good place for naifs who need a trigger warning before discussing bitches having puppies.
Burton Gilliam, the Texan actor who played Lyle in Blazing Saddles, talked about how uncomfortable he felt using the N-word to Cleavon Little and the other black actors. Finally, Little had to tell him that if it were real life, he’d kick Gilliam’s ass for using that slur; but he and the rest of the cast knew it was for the purposes of the story. Gilliam essentially needed permission to use the word.
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Old 10-15-2018, 11:10 PM
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I think it would be hard but well within the wheelhouse of a good actor. Actors are called on to do all kinds of challenging things. One example, and it's maybe not the best: Having to repeatedly kiss another actor passionately who you personally find repugnant (I'm thinking personality-wise, not physically, but both would be tough).

It speaks to the necessity of having experienced professionals on the set. Folks who understand what is going on and won't bat an eye at the repeated "N***** N***** N*****." It's not a good place for naifs who need a trigger warning before discussing bitches having puppies.
Bolding mine. speaking of challenging things actors must do reminds me of a quote I read, from Sir John Gielgud, one of my favorite actors. He said "I'm an actor! Of course I can play a heterosexual!"
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Old 10-15-2018, 11:30 PM
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It is amazing how thoroughly fucked up the world has become in the last fifty years, isn't it?
For you, maybe. It has gotten exponentially better for me and mine, the last couple of years notwithstanding.
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Old 10-15-2018, 11:35 PM
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A lot better 50 years ago.
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Old 10-15-2018, 11:50 PM
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I'd say that dialogue in the film, for the dialogue to be an accurate portrayal of the time, would of necessity include the slur provided the characters portrayed actually used those slurs in that time. For the film promotions today, it would not be anything other than blatant racism to use the slurs in the promotional material.
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Old 10-15-2018, 11:54 PM
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A lot better 50 years ago.
It must be tough there in Kandahar.
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Old 10-16-2018, 12:24 AM
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As a rule, soldiers don’t make much of an effort to be polite toward people trying to kill them.
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Old 10-16-2018, 12:41 AM
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As a rule, soldiers don’t make much of an effort to be polite toward people trying to kill them.
True, but characters in films aren't actually in a warzone talking off the top of their heads. There are all sorts of things that actual soldiers say and do in the heat of battle that would never be portrayed in a movie, just for 'colour' or supposed verisimilitude.
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Old 10-16-2018, 01:36 AM
DavidwithanR DavidwithanR is offline
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I've noticed a modern trend with a bunch of different movie review shows/podcasts produced within the last 5 years to claim any movie set in the Pacific Theater of WW2 that has American soldiers refer to the Japanese soldiers as Japs as an examples of racist filmmaking, either as being racist for the period (1940s and 50s) or being unnecessarily racist for modern films.

Listening to somebody review Pearl Harbor (2001) and claim the film was being racist for having a character say "The Japs are attacking!" and then hearing another review mention the exact same thing makes me wonder if this is an example of knee-jerk modern reactions to any form of perceived racism and that they're wrong or if maybe I'm the wrong one here if everyone is saying it.
The character saying it is a racist character. I don't think it's possible or desirable to eliminate all the racist characters from a show about a war. If you find it necessary to eliminate the racism from a war film, logically you have to remove the fighting as well. Leaving you with a very strange (and probably stupid) story.

In the end, it's all storytelling. "There was racism, there were racists, and those facts affected the way things happened" means IMO you can't easily take it out.

Even if someone claims "Yes, but this particular comment or scene was gratuitous - it didn't drive the plot" - I think it could be argued that that very gratuitousness emphasizes just how bad it was. (And again, if you must sanitize, then get the killing out of there first; nasty comments are nothing compared to the brutality of a war in the first place.)
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Old 10-16-2018, 02:53 AM
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What are the option? What non-racist words did WW2 soldiers actually use to refer to the Japanese enemy?
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Old 10-16-2018, 02:59 AM
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"Them fukin' chapa-knees!"

Last edited by Sloe Moe; 10-16-2018 at 03:02 AM.
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Old 10-16-2018, 05:52 AM
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What are the option? What non-racist words did WW2 soldiers actually use to refer to the Japanese enemy?
I wasn't there, but the people I've met who were there, when talking about the war (if not at all times) refer to those they fought against using terms that are either specifically racist or generally derogatory.

It's apparently significantly easier to kill someone when you first deny that they're human. I think it would be disingenuous to try to take that out of a war film.
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Old 10-16-2018, 07:11 AM
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I have to admit that it's kind of creepy listening to a comedy that talks about Japs or Nips (e.g. I've been listening to old episodes of "Fibber McGee and Molly"). But a serious historical film would be a different matter.
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Old 10-16-2018, 07:46 AM
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From what I understand, when soldiers are about to go into action, they are given training to put them into a frame of mind of hatred where they will find it easy to kill the enemy without question. They are worked up into an adrenaline fuelled war and sometimes drug induced war frenzy where the enemy is not human, but some kind of wild animal to be killed.

How you capture that, especially the pungent dialogue, in a war film for public consumption might be a bit of challenge for film-makers. There are a lot of sensitive souls out there.
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Old 10-16-2018, 08:15 AM
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Also enjoyed reading the Tudyk comments on the movie 42.

As for historical movies, I guess it all has to do with execution. The movie 42 is a good example; every scene makes you cringe and wince. I understand Rachel Robinson (Jackie's widow) participated in the movie and felt it really told the truth. Other movies, like Tarantino's, use the words gratuitously and feel smug. If people say "a movie can't do this" it's one thing, if they say "this particular movie feels hamhanded," it's another. It can even be both historically accurate and tone deaf. Winds of War is accurate, Wouk was actually there, but the number of "J---s" per chapter does start to take its toll. If he'd written it even a decade later he might have found himself pulling back a bit. It's not like we need a constant shower of "the J word" to get it.
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Old 10-16-2018, 08:20 AM
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As a rule, soldiers don’t make much of an effort to be polite toward people trying to kill them.
"Kill Japs, kill Japs, kill more Japs! " - Bill Halsey

A bit rude by modern standards.
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Old 10-16-2018, 09:00 AM
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Wouk had some harsh words for him too.
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Old 10-16-2018, 09:56 AM
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I think you guys are oversimplifying this. Yes, you are depicting the time in the past, and people in the past used these words. On the other hand, you're also making this film in the modern day, for modern audiences to watch. So I would argue there is a balance, and it depends on the type and purpose of the film how you go about it.

I think it depends on how realistic your depiction is. Sometimes you want a version of the past that isn't fully accurate but captures the feeling of the past. No film is entirely accurate, but some aren't really even going for accuracy, while some mix and match. Only in the most realistic versions would I find racist slurs to be okay.

There's audience, of course. Surely you agree it would be a bad idea in a children's film, even if it is supposed to be an accurate look at the past. You'd just kinda avoid situations where those words would come in, or even just fudge them a little.

Then there's the aspect of "what are you trying to say?" Someone brought up Huckleberry Finn. There was a purpose in the epithet before Jim. The argument wasn't just "They used that word back then." Every word of should have a purpose. If another word can accomplish that purpose, there's no need to use the slur.

Finally, there's the underlying message of the film. Is it just using these words as an unfortunate reality back then? Or is it portraying it as if it should be acceptable now? Is it showing racism, or excusing racism? Is it honoring this use, or showing that even people we admire can be flawed? Stuff like that.

So, while I agree that use of a slur like "Japs" is not inherently racist in a film, I think it's far more complicated than "Did they use that word back then?" It's more about "Why are you using it?"

As for Pearl Harbor, I've never seen it. I've heard it's not very accurate and is more of a love story, though. If so, then I can see someone thinking it hasn't earned "j-word" privileges. But I don't know. I do know I'm fine with other people disagreeing, and don't think it's my right to tell people not to be offended on stuff where I have no skin in the game.
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Old 10-16-2018, 10:20 AM
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I'm trying to remember the recent films I've seen that portray the war in the Pacific and I think they avoid using the term. Like I don't remember hearing it in Hacksaw Ridge, about the conscientious objector Desmond Doss, who won the Medal of Honor for saving 75 soldiers. But I could be wrong.
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Old 10-16-2018, 11:07 AM
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They get around this in The Man In The High Castle TV series by inventing a slur. In the timeline portrayed, the resistance call the Japanese "Pons".
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Old 10-16-2018, 11:12 AM
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The term 'Jap' was an important part of US propaganda during WW2. Any correct portrayal of the time would use the word.
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Old 10-16-2018, 11:16 AM
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The only way to ever get rid of racism is to make everyone forget its existence. The only way, from there, to keep it gone, is to make sure that everyone remembers that it exists.
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Old 10-16-2018, 11:38 AM
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There's an Izaak Walton quote, from the introduction of The Compleat Angler that goes 'There are offences given, and offences not given but taken'.

We try to eliminate given offences, but encourage taken offences, so nothing is really being done to change things. 'Jap' is just a contraction that ought to be no more offensive than 'Brit'.
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Old 10-16-2018, 11:52 AM
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Jap, at the time, was stronger than Brit. 'Jap' represented monkey like creatures with small round heads and buck teeth that bayoneted babies and tortured American prisoners.
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Old 10-16-2018, 12:06 PM
Exapno Mapcase Exapno Mapcase is offline
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Go to a newspaper database and search for the word "Japs" in 1941. I found 109,332 hits. Yes, Japanese was also used even more often but Jap was so commonplace that no one could have imagined that anyone would consider it racist.

It was the common word earlier and the common word for decades after the war.

1921: 93,515 matches
1931: 46,195 matches
1951: 54,090 matches
1961: 32,499 matches

After that it settles down to 10-20,000 matches through 2001. 2011 is much different. Only 2,834 matches and most of those in stock names.

Propaganda during the war worked hard to make "Japs" look offensive. Other than the war years, though, it was used similarly to Brits or Yanks as a headline shortener and not a slur.

"Nips" was probably the word used to be offensive. It doesn't appear often in newspapers in that context, probably because it was offensive.
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Old 10-16-2018, 12:15 PM
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It's important to remember the anger after Pearl Harbor. There was genuine fear there might be a West coast invasion.

There was a successful invasion of the Philippines. Our Pacific fleet was badly damaged. The US was not prepared to fight a war.

Propaganda used harsh words to get broad support for the war. Sacrifices were needed. Many items were rationed and a generation of our young men went to war.

Any film depicting that period can't ignore the attitudes and words commonly used.

Last edited by aceplace57; 10-16-2018 at 12:18 PM.
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Old 10-16-2018, 12:30 PM
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America was racist enough in 1942. They didn't really need any extra help.
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Old 10-16-2018, 12:52 PM
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"Nips" was probably the word used to be offensive. It doesn't appear often in newspapers in that context, probably because it was offensive.
Actually, "Nips" was regarded as less offensive than Japs, at least after the war. In McHale's Navy (1962-1966), the Japanese were initially referred to as Japs, but this was changed to Nips as being less offensive. Notably, an episode from 1965 is entitled "A Nip in Time," referring to their POW-cook, Fuji.

Last edited by Colibri; 10-16-2018 at 12:55 PM.
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Old 10-16-2018, 01:03 PM
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WWII tended to make a distinction between German and Nazi (or Italian and Fascist) while lumping all Japanese together. The Japanese-American community was treated very differently than the German-American and Italian-American communities...
Americans lumped Japanese together because they were terrified over the Niihau incident. What if Japanese Americans elsewhere in Hawaii, or in any area populated with Japanese Americans could be influenced to kill people?
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Old 10-16-2018, 01:10 PM
Exapno Mapcase Exapno Mapcase is offline
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Actually, "Nips" was regarded as less offensive than Japs, at least after the war. In McHale's Navy (1962-1966), the Japanese were initially referred to as Japs, but this was changed to Nips as being less offensive. Notably, an episode from 1965 is entitled "A Nip in Time," referring to their POW-cook, Fuji.
Could be. OTOH, A Bugs Bunny wartime cartoon, when all the Axis nation forces were caricatured, was titled Bugs Bunny Nips the Nips. Japanese pressure forced its removal from the Cartoon Network in 1991 and from a laserdisc compilation in 1992.

Judging levels of offensiveness is next to impossible today (see ATMB) and even more so for times past, so all speculations should be regarded with a grain of salt, including mine.

Last edited by Exapno Mapcase; 10-16-2018 at 01:11 PM.
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