WASHINGTON – The United States waged a secret propaganda campaign in Japan through films, radio programs and intellectuals during the 1950s in an effort to keep the nation from leaving the Western bloc, a recently found report shows.
The “Report on USIS-Japan,” written by Mark May, then chairman of a U.S. advisory group on information, said the objective was “to achieve Japanese identification with U.S. policies.”
The United States Information Service was an overseas operational institution meant to influence foreign citizens in promoting U.S. national interests. May, a Yale University professor and expert on psychological warfare, visited Japan for five weeks from June to July 1959 and wrote the report after interviewing various USIS and U.S. Embassy officials.
In the confidential report, he revealed that about half of the USIS programs in Japan were not attributed to U.S. sources. Out of 50 USIS programs “to keep Japan aligned with the Free World and cooperating closely with the U.S.,” 23 were not attributed.
“This document includes an extraordinary level of information on ‘unattributed’ operations, surpassing any other documents I have found in the archives for its comprehensive, illuminating detail on USIS gray propaganda,” said Kenneth Osgood, an assistant professor of history at Florida Atlantic University.
Osgood found the report at the National Archives in Washington and is the author of the book “Total Cold War — Eisenhower’s Secret Propaganda Battle.”
“The USIS didn’t want to be attributed because it might provoke anti-U.S. sentiment in Japan,” said Fumiko Fujita, a professor at Tsuda College in Tokyo and an expert on USIS activities in Japan.
One area that was not attributed was financial aid to the production of movies, TV and radio programs. Five unattributed USIS-assisted commercial movies were produced. The scripts were USIS-approved, and the Japanese contractors were guaranteed a strong box office return.
The most successful was “Jet Vapor Trails in the Dawn,” released in December 1957, which depicted the training of Japanese air cadets, according to the report. The report said the movie, starring Ken Takakura, was shown in some 2,200 theaters and seen by 15 million Japanese.
“The film points out the need during the jet age for longer runways and serves to counter leftwing propaganda and agitation against a current U.S.-Japan program of runway extensions,” it said.
The USIS also engaged in the production of radio news and commentary shows “which are tape-recorded and utilized by commercial stations, yet the listening public is unaware of the source of these programs,” it said.
The USIS activities’ No. 1 target was the intellectual class. “Japanese professors are shamefully underpaid and many write to supplement their income,” the report said. “Financial arrangements are usually by contract. This activity has the merit of giving moral and financial support to writers who wish to work cooperatively with USIS.”
One Japanese intellectual writer on economics, with USIS financial support, took a basic document of the U.S. State Department, titled “The Sino-Soviet Economic Offensive in Less Developed Countries,” and succeeded in publishing it in book form.
Leftist groups began to infiltrate the Kyoto University campus in the 1950s.
According to the report, after Shunjiro Hattori, then president of the university, met with USIS staff in late 1952 and revealed his concern over the leftist infiltration, the USIS sent five young, antileftist faculty members to the U.S. to see America’s systems and strengthen their arguments as leaders of the conservative group.
After witnessing industrial developments in the United States, the young professors praised the country for its liberalism, economy and educational system. They later became deans of faculties, denounced Marxism, and exerted influence to bring the leftists under control.
“Had the leftists succeeded, Kyoto University would eventually have become a major weapon for the Japan Communist Party,” the report said.
The professors who had contact with the USIS also lectured in the U.N. Association of Japan seminar series, which was secretly supported with materials and funds by the USIS, the report disclosed.
The report also reveals that one of the purposes of U.S. public diplomacy was to alleviate Japan’s nuclear aversion caused by the terrible memories of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Because of the active American and Japanese “Atoms for peace” sales pitch, the percentage who equated “atom” with “harmful” dropped from 70 percent in 1956 to 30 percent in 1958, the report said.
“The Japanese had been isolated from the outside world during the war and were poor, so they were eager to know the world and come to the USIS events,” Fujita of Tsuda said.