SHORT MEMORIES & NICE PEOPLE -GIs CHANGING ATTITUDES IN THE OCCUPATION OF GERMANY AND JAPAN

From YANK Magazine

In 1935, in the period of comparative quiet between World War I and World War II, an advertisement appeared. Its illustration was a wounded, disabled veteran. Its caption was “Hello, Sucker.”

The text of the advertisement went on to explain the shocking waste of World War I and how little all the struggle had accomplished in spite of the high ideals of the cheering section.  “Hello, Sucker” seemed a brutal thing to say, but when you got through reading the ad, and thinking about it, the tag seemed quite appropriate.



There is a danger that the double of that advertisement might appear in 1962 to be just as true of World War II. It is a danger that is being spotlighted increasingly every day in newspaper reports and word-of-mouth stories from Germany and Japan. It is a danger we can avert only if all of us—the soldiers of this war and no less the officers—wise up and wise up quickly.

The report from Germany, in a paper as unsensational and correct as the New York Times, tell of incidents like this:

An American General (later kicked back-upstairs) stated that 95 per cent of the members of the Nazi Party were forced into the party against their will.

An American major in Munich said that he didn’t believe all those stories about atrocities in the nearby concentration camp at Dachau.

U.S. enlisted men have decided that the cleanliness and friendliness and efficient plumbing of the Germans are irrefutable evidence that the Germans are nicer people, “more like us” than the Frogs or even the Limeys.

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American medics view the bodies of Nazi victims at Dachau

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Women wash their clothes on a Berlin street near a destroyed German half track in July 1945 during the Allied occupation of Germany

An enlisted man just back from Japan, a GI who had pretty strong feelings about the importance of the war, reports the following disillusionment:

Many GIs, even GIs who had fought from Guadalcanal on, are quick to forget their dead, and why their dead died, in the face of Japanese correctness and cooperation in surrender, and the pretty faces of Jap girls.

A feeling is growing up that the Japs are a fairly decent, efficient and Westernized people for the Orient, probably much nicer and more like us than the Slopeheads.

It begins to look as if “Hello, Sucker” is a label quite a few of us could wear already.



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Allied prisoners of war cheer freedom and the end of the war in Aomori, Japan.

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An American GI reads comics with Japanese Children at Atsugi, Japan.

There are things we are forgetting, things we will have to remember if that label is not to be stamped indelibly on all of us. Gen. Eisenhower, for one, has recognized the danger in his repeated directives to his subordinates in military government, reminding them of the terms under which Germany surrendered and of our obligations as victors to the ideals for which we fought.

We must remember that the general who analyzed Nazi percentages, although a good general in war, evidently never studied his history lessons beyond the military sections and that, whatever he may think, it did take millions of willing Nazis to arm Germany for war—millions of willing Nazis to inflict, in that war, 700,000 casualties on American troops. And it is frivolous and dangerous for anyone of any rank to compare the political tactics of these Nazis to a Democrat-Republican squabble back in the U.S.

We must remember that the major in Munich was lazy physically as well as mentally; it would have taken him only a short ride to visit Dachau and to see, by evidence still available, that the atrocities there were no pipe dream. Or he could have asked the GIs who first liberated Dachau. After they had puked a few times, their only impulse was to slug any German who had anything to do with the Nazi Party.

The GIs who think cockeyed and rosy thoughts about the Germans are not a majority and may not even be entirely to blame for their own thinking. If their leaders are sometimes confused and contradictory, it is difficult to blame the men. Rules laid down to insure a hard and just peace are often broken by the very officers supposed to enforce them.

If soldiers have forgotten the reasons for this war, they must be reminded of them. If they fought only in the sudden hate of battle, they must remember that the ending of that hate does not mean a complete turnabaout, an excusing and apologizing to their late enemies. Fraternization is natural, but it is possible for an American soldier to fraternize without being played for a sucker, to mingle with Germans without swallowing all their opinions, to treat Germans as human beings without treating them as unfairly beaten supermen.

A concentration camp cancels a clean bathroom, and attempted mass extermination of a race over-balances a sunny disposition. The Nazis have been living on the loot of a continent for years, while the Frogs and Limeys were nursing their wounds and living on not much more than the hope of making that continent free again.



The GIs in Japan who are misguided about the Japs present the same problem as the misguided GIs in Germany. They, too, must wise up. They must learn that we need more insurance than an explosion in New Mexico to save our children for peace. Perhaps they must remember friends who died and how they died and friends who were captured and how they were treated.

We must remember, for those who cannot or will not remember, that the pleasant Westernization of the Japs was a meaningless veneer on an old and cruel and internationally unmoral state. The cute tricks the Jap learned from the West, brewed in his undeveloped, not-yet-ready mind, exploded before Pearl Harbor in Manchuria and China and will explode again unless some drastic changes are made in Japan’s attitude toward the rest of the world. The Jap is going to be even harder to re-educate than ourselves.

We must remember all these things not just on Memorial Day or on Sundays, but all the time. Unless we remember them, unless we are prepared to work for peace as hard as we worked for war, the “Sucker” sign is going to be back.

We don’t have to be brutal conquerors, but we do have to avoid a sentimental good fellowship with the people who started World War II. There will be time for that when they have proved their worthiness and, for most of them, the proving will take some time. We do not need to, we must not “compromise with the devil.”

Because if ever people can point at us again and say with justice, “Hello, Sucker,” it will be our own fault. Our own bloody fault.



For More Reading Check Out:

Savage Continent: Europe in the Aftermath of World War II


Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II




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