Monday, March 24, 2008

Nationalism, racism or a time that tried men's souls?

Here's a picture from the MAMAS collection that Kathleen ran across today:

Unpleasant, but typical of war photography, right?

Now here's the picture with the caption scanned in:
MAMAS E44-78-35

The caption reads, "This is no horror picture for these are Good Japs, sinister minions of Tojo who were caught in a murderous cross fire of machine guns and rifle bullets as they attempted to make one last [fanatical] break through [our] lines at Tanapag Harbor, Saipan Island, on July 7th. This picture will supply the warlords of Japan a rough idea of what lies ahead and serve to remind them that the road to Tokyo is becoming a pretty un-healthy place for Tojo-san and his warriors." W-CPA-44-6755 July Laudansky. 10/1/1944.

As a policy, we use the caption that the picture comes with, although we'll add additional information in brackets if necessary. This caption? It's unpleasant, but it's probably not propaganda as it was never meant to be seen except by the Museum staff who received it. Unfortunately Mr. Laudansky was almost certainly on Saipan taking photographs when these Japanese soldiers attacked (to the last man), so I think we can understand this caption as an expression of something more than either nationalism or racism too. I'd like to hope that we as a society have moved beyond some things, but if I was in Laudansky's shoes, I have no idea what I'd write. I know I'd have been terrified though.

Although in our numbering series for the Museum & Medical Arts Service, I think this photograph is a re-photograph of by MAMAS staff of Luadansky's picture for the Central Pacific Area Signal Corps group.

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