1944 Psychological Warfare Propaganda Leaflets dropped on Japan, World War II

生命線の危機 / [Lifeline Crisis], 次は日本?/ [Is Japan Next?]. - Main View

1944 Psychological Warfare Propaganda Leaflets dropped on Japan, World War II


American Psychological warfare in World War II.


生命線の危機 / [Lifeline Crisis], 次は日本?/ [Is Japan Next?].
  1944 (dated)     10 x 8 in (25.4 x 20.32 cm)


An extraordinary set of airborne propaganda leaflets, dating from 1944 and 1945 respectively, produced by the U.S. Army's Psychological Warfare Branch in the closing months of World War II. These highly ephemeral objects offer unique insight into American psychological warfare during World War II. They were distributed by air on the Home Islands to demoralize Japanese troops and civilians, convince them of the inevitability of an Allied victory, and encourage surrender.
A Closer Look
The first image illustrates Admiral Chester Nimitz standing on the deck of an aircraft carrier and General Douglas MacArthur dominating the newly-liberated Philippines choking off the lifeline of supplies, especially oil, flowing from Southeast Asia to the Japanese home islands. Japan's relative paucity of fossil fuels and other essential industrial inputs had motivated the invasion of European colonies in Southeast Asia, especially the Dutch East Indies, in tandem with the Pearl Harbor attacks in December 1941.

The following image displays Japanese text on the verso of the lifeline image. The message cleverly begins with a quote from Japan's own Dōmei News Agency about the fall of the Philippines to the Allies, and then extrapolates to portray the situation of the Japanese soldier as hopeless, while also being careful to maintain his honor. The next image provides an English translation of this text.

The final two images exhibit a different propaganda leaflet that was produced later, likely just before or perhaps just after the atomic bombings. It asks 'Is Japan Next?' and depicts American forces spreading out from recently captured Okinawa (沖縄) and Iwo Jima (硫黄島). The text points out that American forces are gaining greater strength by the day as more forces arrive from Europe. It highlights the suffering of the Japanese people, placing blame at the feet of hardliners in the Japanese military, and concludes with a call for unconditional surrender, which it emphasizes is not tantamount to national annihilation or enslavement. The image carries a stamp related to the occupation of Nagoya and is posted after the Japanese surrender; most likely this leaflet was dropped on Nagoya in the closing days of the war and then was picked up by a U.S. servicemember and mailed home.
Psychological Warfare in the Pacific War
Although forms of psychological warfare are as old as warfare itself, in the Second World War it became formalized and was employed on a mass scale, aided by advances in printing technology and aviation, allowing for massive amounts of leaflets to be dropped behind enemy lines. U.S. Army officer Bonner Fellers was a major figure in this development, leading the Psychological Warfare Branch (PWB) in the Pacific Theater. Fellers had served in the Philippines before the war and had authored a paper on 'The Psychology of the Japanese Soldier' which became influential after the Pearl Harbor attack.

Although the PWB engaged in a wide array of psychological warfare operations, including sabotage and diversion or confusion tactics, they were primarily focused on convincing Japanese soldiers to surrender. Fellers determined that the most effective tactic would be to focus on the suffering of Japan and blame a clique of militarists rather than the emperor for the country's predicament. This approach presaged Fellers' actions during the U.S. occupation of Japan, where he coordinated among top-level defendants of the Tokyo Tribunals to whitewash Emperor Hirohito's involvement in war crimes.
Publication History and Census
These leaflets were produced by the Psychological Warfare Branch of the U.S. Army in 1944 and 1945. They are only known to be held by Waseda University.


Psychological Warfare Branch (1944 – 1945) was a psychological warfare unit within the U.S. Army that operated in the closing months of the Pacific War against Japan. Similar to the Psychological Warfare Division in the European Theater, the PWB mostly produced leaflets to be dropped in large numbers from airplanes that were meant to demoralize the enemy, encouraging them to surrender, and to provide information on Allied victories to civilians. These efforts were influential on the development of psyops in the early Cold War, including their widespread employment during the Korean War. More by this mapmaker...


Average. First leaflet has loss along the left side, likely where holes had been punched for binding. Crease and some loss at top-left. Small area of loss at right-center at edge.


Waseda University Wartime Propaganda Database (戦時宣伝ビラ・データベース), Psychological Warfare Branch Leaflet No. 10-J-1, 136-J-1. Herbet Bix, Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan (Harper Collins, 2000). Tsuchiya Reiko (土屋礼子), The Pacific War Read from Propaganda Leaflets against the Japanese [対日宣伝ビラが語る太平洋戦争] (Tōkyō: Yoshikawa Kōbunkan, 2011).