© The Boston Globe 2001. Used by permission.
The Secret History of World War II
PART VIII: THE WAR OF WORDS
by Mark Fritz / Globe Staff / December 3, 2001
Page 6 of 7
Continued from page 5
Members of the OSS's Detachment 101 would ambush and kill a Japanese mail courier, then spirit the material by submarine to agents like McIntosh.
"We had a bunch of postcards and would change all the meanings," she says of the missives, which had already passed through Japanese censors. "Most were written in pencil. They'd say things like, `We are here defending the emperor.' We'd erase it and change it to `We are hungry and we are starving. Why have you deserted us?"'
The records on the China-based missions show how elaborately propaganda encompassed efforts to incite resistance and sabotage, discredit collaborators and demoralize Japanese troops who had "become depressed over the developments in the war, particularly the news of bombings of Japan," according to one early 1945 OSS report on the China theater.
Another report described how US Army soldiers and local Chinese sent hundreds of water-tight bamboo tubes filled with leaflets, news briefs, and posters down the Yangtze River, towards enemy-occupied territory. Included were cartoons "designed to make the Japanese ridiculous, hateful and contemptible." Field agents also spread posters showing how to immobilize a Japanese staff car by urinating in the gas tank.
For its part, Japan's government told countries it was invading that World War II was a fight against European colonialism. The Americans got one of their first looks at how Japan was portraying the war in late 1942, when the two sides repatriated groups of foreign nationals. The declassified files contain the OSS debriefings of Americans returning home after Japan bombed Pearl Habor. "Pearl Harbor Day was made into a monthly observance," one report noted.
By 1945, the OSS propaganda effort was so sophisticated that the types of rumors being spread had nicknames. "Boogie Man," was a rumor used "to create terror and panic; secret weapon, death ray, etc," one OSS report said.
Vatican intelligence, not always considered reliable, nevertheless said fear among the Japanese citizenry was palpable, and that the people expected the war to end in a "strange and sudden" manner. In August 1945, President Harry S. Truman dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Media glut hinders control of information
Fear, in fact, is one of the most potent components of propaganda. After the Sept. 11 attacks, bin Laden turned up on television gloating about the fear gripping America. And while the lethal string of anthrax-laced letters could have come from any combination of crackpots and copycats, it is adding to the omniscient facade bin Laden has sought to create.
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