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During wartime psychological operations, propagandists often search for powerfully emotional themes and vulnerable groups within the enemy military and civilian populations. In other words, they search for a weakness in the enemy society that allows them to exploit and divide their forces.
American society has always carried with it the weakness of an early slave culture. Although in theory slavery has not existed since Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation in 1862 (and that did not free all the slaves regardless of what is widely believed), a form of racism has continued to exist in the United States just as it does in many other countries around the globe.
The most visible and extreme example of American racism is the lynching of a black individual. Although I would question the accuracy of any numbers in regard to lynching, one that has been posted is 3,345 blacks killed between 1882 and 1968. Whites were sometimes lynched too. It is believed that there were 4,732 recorded lynchings between 1882 and 1951, although there were certainly many undocumented lynchings before and during that period. Most of the recorded lynchings occurred before 1930. The vast majority of lynchings took place in the South and the Border States, although lynchings were not unknown in the North and Midwest. About three-fourths of the victims were black.
During WWI, Germany did not produce many propaganda leaflets and those that were produced were disseminated very late in the war. This rare WWI leaflet is addressed to American "Coloured" soldiers and promises them a nice heated room and plenty of food in the warm south of Germany if they surrender or are captured.
During WWII, The United States Army gradually integrated black soldiers into its forces. A word on terminology. I have lived long enough to have seen the use of "negro," "colored," "black," and "Afro-American" to identify people of African descent. In this article I will use the term "black" for simplicity.
With the introduction of black American soldiers onto the battlefield, the Axis powers saw the opportunity for a propaganda campaign. Earlier they had attacked the French because of their treatment of their Colonial Arab forces and the British for their treatment of their colonial Indian troops.
This German image from the newspaper Illustrated Observer depicts a French Army officer sending a black colonial troop to the front while a Jew who might be Maxim Maximovitch Litvinov, Russian ambassador to the United States from November 1941 to August 1943 slyly hides behind him.
The Germans bitterly attacked the French use of black troops in the Rhine and other occupied territories after World War I. In fact, they complained so often and so loudly that an American Senator Hitchcock from Nebraska is quoted in the N.Y. Times of 31 August 1922 charging atrocities by French Negro troops against German women and others in the occupied portion of Germany. He said in part:
I hold in my hand a printed circular called "The Horror of the Rhine." It purports to be a complaint of the German people living in the German territory occupied by French troops... It is charged that the black African troops of France, whether Negro or Senegalese, were committing unspeakable crimes against German women and children.
So, just as the Germans had successfully attacked French black troops, they would now attack the American treatment of its own black population in an attempt to turn the minority soldiers against their officers and nation was an easy choice. In general, most of the Axis leaflets told the black soldiers that their own people were being attacked in the United States and pointed out that their white officers did not trust them and they were treated far differently from white troops.
Curiously, the Germans had their own history of murdering minorities such as Jews and Gypsies, so this anti-American propaganda was doomed to failure from the start. In fact, Adolf Hitler had made some prejudicial remarks himself, complaining during the 1936 Olympic Games according to Albert Speer, his armaments minister:
...He was highly annoyed by the series of triumphs by the marvelous colored American runner, Jesse Owens. People whose antecedents came from the jungle were primitive, Hitler said with a shrug; their physiques were stronger than those of civilized whites and hence should be excluded from future games.
What is odd is that at the same time the Germans were asking blacks to surrender because of their poor treatment in the American Army, they were pointing out to American soldiers that their black troops were thieves and murderers. One very well-known leaflet shows a black man raping a white woman. Hitler's Italian Allies depicted American blacks as savages and in one very famous image pictured a black soldier selling the Venus de Milo with a $2 price tag.
So, as we will now show, the Axis played both sides of the divide and conquer argument, telling both blacks and whites that the other was exploiting them.
Rick Atkinson discusses American blacks in WWII in The Day of Battle: The War in Sicily and Italy, 1943-1944, Macmillon, 2007:
When War II began in September 1939 fewer than 4000 blacks served in the U.S. Army; more than two years later the U.S. Navy had only six black sailors-excluding mess stewards. At the time of the Anzio landings (May 1944), the U.S. Army had 633,000 officers, of whom only 4,500 were black. The U.S. Navy was worse, with 82,000 black enlisted sailors and no black officers; the Marine Corps which had rejected all black enlistments until President Roosevelt intervened, would not commission its first black officer until several months after the war ended...
...blacks were shunted into quartermaster companies for duties such as truck drivers, bakers, launderers, laborers and the like. By January 1944, 775,000 blacks wore Army uniforms - they made up 8.5 percent of the force, but only two in ten served in combat units compared to four in ten whites....
The 92nd Infantry would arrive in Italy in late summer 1944 as the only African-American division to see combat in Europe.
U.S. Fifth Army combat artist Edward Reep briefly mentions the German use of race in their propaganda in A Combat Artist in World War II, University Press of Kentucky; 1987:
The German propagandists turned out predictably consistent pornography and outright lies in an attempt to terrorize Allied soldiers to turn one against another...The German leaflets were suffused with sex, bigotry and deceit; all Allied leaders were corrupt Jews, notably politicians and bankers; Negroes at home were sleeping with our sweethearts and wives while we were engaged in a useless, futile war where we would die in battle...
A reader might wonder why there are so few leaflets using race as a theme. I would tender a guess that the most reasonable answer is that the Axis powers simply did not run into that many blacks on the battlefield. It was not until February 1948 that President Harry Truman told Congress that he had:
...instructed the Secretary of Defense to take steps to have the remaining instances of discrimination in the armed services eliminated as rapidly as possible.
In July 1948, President Truman signed Executive Order 9981, which stated:
It is hereby declared to be the policy of the President that there shall be equality of treatment and opportunity for all persons in the armed services without regard to race, color, religion, or national origin.
The movement toward full integration was slow but steady. It was July 1951 before the Army announced that the integration of all its units in Korea, Japan and Okinawa would be completed within six months. In October 1953 the U.S. Army announced that 95% of African-American soldiers were serving in integrated units. Today the armed forces of the United States are fully integrated.
German Leaflet AW 36 is in the form of a see-through card. When you first look at it you just see some strange shapes and a dead body at the bottom. When held to the light, you suddenly see a black man raping a white woman. The cards were produced by the German Propaganda Company in Paris in July 1944. There were over a half-dozen of these AW leaflets, but only the above item depicted a black man.
This October 1944 uncoded German leaflet depicts black soldiers dying at the front while civilian blacks drink and dance. The text is:
The Draft-dodgers on the home front expect every Joe to do his duty
We should point out that an almost identical anti-Semitic leaflet was also produced by the Germans in January 1945 that was entitled:
The Kikes expect every Joe to do his duty.
One of the most interesting German leaflets depicts a fleeing black man being chased by a pipe-wielding hooligan. The code "AI" indicates that the leaflet was prepared by the SS-Standarte "Kurt Eggers" for Allied troops fighting in Italy. Text on the front is:
Fleeing Negro, who is already hurt, is chased by Detroit mobsters. Lead pipe (center) was later used in finishing him off.
Text on the back points out that the blacks are being used as cannon fodder and they get the lousiest jobs and the lousiest pay and the contempt of all the whites in the U.S.A.
are created free and equal
Yes, that is what the declaration of Independence says.
Well, it's just Ballyhoo, always was. The white bosses want your peace-loving, hard-working colored boys just as
In World War I they promised your father's racial equality as a reward for fighting the war.
What did they get? What did you get?
The lousiest jobs.
The lousiest flats.
The lousiest pay.
The lousiest chances.
Poverty, Unemployment, Race, Riots, Lynching, Hanging and Burning!
The general contempt of all Whites in the U.S.A.
RICH (WHITE) MAN'S WAR
POOR (COLORED) MAN'S FIGHT
RICH (WHITE) MAN'S WAR
POOR (COLORED) MAN'S FIGHT
Leaflet AI-128-10-44 was produced by the Sudstern section of the SS-Standare Kurt Eggers organization and aimed at American black soldiers in Italy. The all-text leaflet tells the story of colored workers in Philadelphia who were hired to work on the subways and trolley cars, but were unable to work because white workers went on strike and refused to instruct them. Some of the text is:
Think of your loved ones at home who are praying to the Lord every day that he may send you home uninjured. What good is it to you when a shell tears you to pieces or leaves you bleeding to death? There is only one way of returning home safe and sound.
COME OVER TO US!
The above leaflet has the same title and is in the same all-text format. It tells the story of a black dentist and friend who buy a home in a nice white area to get away from the crime and violence. The neighborhood whites are so enraged that they forced the blacks to sell their house and leave the town. Some of the text on the back is:
COLORED SOLDIERS OF THE U.S. FORCES!
The white people in the U.S.A. don't want you to live near them. But all of a sudden they now remember that you are also American citizens because they want you to fight their wars, to get killed and maimed for them.
THEY NEED YOU AS CANNON FODDER!
Another leaflet from this series is AI-129-10-44. Once again the leaflet is all text on the front and the back. Some of the propaganda message is:
COLORED SOLDIERS OF THE U.S. FORCES!
This is the truth about how you will be treated in a German prisoner-of-war camp.
You will not be shot, You will not starve, You will not be beaten up As your white officers tell you.
The Germans seem to have believed the cliché that the black Americans are simple folk that want to play athletic games. In what is almost insulting by today's standards, they promise:
If you go in for sports, just join the football or baseball teams or play basketball. All camps have athletic fields and modern sporting equipment.
It is surprising that they don't offer musical instruments for a jazz band. The leaflet ends:
COME OVER TO US
It is better to be a prisoner of war and return home safe and sound after the war, than to die for your white bosses.
Leaflet AI-128-10-44 is in the same format and has the same title as the leaflet above. This all-text leaflet tells the story of colored workers in Philadelphia who were hired to work on the subways and trolley cars, but were unable to work because white workers went on strike and refused to instruct them. Some of the text is:
Think of your loved ones at home who are praying to the Lord every day that he may send you home uninjured. What good is it to you when a shell tears you to pieces or leaves you bleeding to death? There is only one way of returning home safe and sound.
COME OVER TO US!
This leaflet depicts a smiling black soldier. The text on the front is:
Why is he smiling?
The back explains that he has surrendered to the Germans and he is out of the fight. It says:
He is out of it!
That's why he is smiling. He and his pals have found out that the Germans give the colored man a square deal.
I have been treated very nice by the Germans since I have been captured.
Paul King, Co. F, 370 Infantry.
Thomas E. Carpenter, HQ Co., 2nd Bn., 370th Infantry.
Sept. 23, 1944.
If you should be captured you'll see for yourself. In a POW camp you enjoy PEACE and SAFETY under the supervision of the International Red Cross.
Remember, the most important thing in the war is to get home alive.
This same propaganda message was used on a number of different German leaflets; the only difference being a different black soldier was depicted on the front of the leaflet.
This leaflet depicts a black prisoner of war happily eating a big plate of food. Text on the front is:
No starving here!
The back explains that there is no need to go on a diet. The Germans have plenty of good food and are more than happy to share it with their colored prisoners.
Like the "AI" coded leaflets, the "AF" leaflets were also produced by the Sudstern section of the SS-Standarte "Kurt Eggers" organization for Allied troops in Italy. There are a number of these vary gaudy and "arty" leaflets showing black soldiers in strange positions with caricatured looks on their faces. It is clear from the codes that the Germans decided to work on getting American and British black troops to surrender in late in 1944. The leaflet shows two happy black POWs smoking a pipe and playing an accordion in the background, while their buddy is killed at the front in the foreground.
Checking my WWII Order of Battle I find that this unit named on the leaflet is identified as the "92nd Infantry Division (Colored)." It arrived in Naples in August 1944. In regard to the battle mentioned above I find the quote:
The German counterattack against the division along the Serchio drove in its outposts on 26 December 1944. The following day part of the infantry abandoned its positions and the division made further withdrawals.
It would appear that having given the division a sound beating the Germans believed that they would be ready to surrender and prepared this tactical leaflet. The leaflet says in part on the back:
BOYS OF THE 92nd DIVISION
Did you get out of the bloody Hell of the Serchio Valley unhurt: then you were mighty lucky. But how can you know that a worse Hell is not in store for you...
SLIP OVER TO JERRY
Remember: JERRY NEVER SHOOTS COLORED P.O.W.s
Leaflet AF-32-4/45 was certainly prepared by the same artist and shows a black family behind a black soldier. Once again the characters are caricatured and the black soldier has bright red lips and large piercing eyes. The text on the front is:
STAY ALIVE FOR YOUR FOLKS
AND DON'T DIE FOR EMPTY PROMISES
This leaflet is a surrender pass and a radio leaflet allowing a prisoner of war to communicate with American forces. It depicts a black man playing "Swanee River" on a saxophone at the left. It reminds the black soldiers of what a pleasure it would be to safely return home to the American South. It says that the only way to avoid injury and death is to come over to the German side. On the back there is a place for name, rank, serial number, address and a message to be broadcast on Jerry's Front Radio. The leaflet ends with a safe conduct passierschein.
Another German leaflet to black troops depicts two babies on the front and the text:
Tiny Tots want daddy back
The back is all text. Some of the divisive propaganda text is:
Have you got a wife and cute children or a girl you want to marry?
THEY WANT YOU TO COME BACK ALIVE!
Well, what chance have you to survive? Hardly any at all! Remember, back home the colored man always had to do the dirty work. On the front it is the same. Uncle Sam's colored soldiers are just CANNON FODDER.
The leaflet ends with a German passierschein (safe conduct pass) at the bottom.
Some German leaflets were in the form of a safe conduct pass just for the black soldiers. For instance, leaflet AI-165-11-44 depicts an all-text safe conduct pass in both English and German. Some of the text is:
TO ALL MEMBERS OF THE COLORED DIVISION
After they got you into the war they shipped you to a foreign country as CANNON FODDER to fight in the RICH MAN'S WAR...
Slip over to Jerry some night as many other colored boys have done before you. They are now SAFE in a P.O.W. camp waiting for the end of the war.
This German leaflet depicts two black civilians trying to enter a church to pray. They are blocked by a group of white parishioners. The long text explains that the two men were visiting on a Sunday and just wanted to enter the church but were attacked instead. Text on the back says in part:
In Germany anything like this would be impossible. Colored people living in Germany can always go to any church they like. They have never been a problem to the Germans. There have never been lynchings of colored men in Germany...
The Parole der Woche was the title of a weekly poster issued by the propaganda ministry of the German Reich from 1936 to February 1943. A small gummed version of these posters, 100 mm x 73 mm in size, was printed each week from August 1939 until the end of 1942. The stickers were printed by the Zentralverlag der NSDAP in Munich and are numbered at the bottom left. Private Citizens used them for many purposes and they are often found stuck on envelopes like patriotic stamps. The themes of the Parolen are always from the Nazi party and include attacks on Chamberlain, Roosevelt, Churchill, the Jews, the Russians, the French and rarely, blacks. The Parolen above was issued for the week of 11-17 June 1940. It attacks the French use of their northern African troops and says:
"In the Name of Civilization"
France, infiltrated by Jews and Negroes, pushed its black Beasts on us for the third time. It must be that last time. It will be that last time!!
The German Sudstern Organization produced an interesting multi-page Travelers-Handbook for American Soldiers coded *149-10-44 in October 1944. It is an illustrated satirical booklet for troops fighting in Italy telling a number of short stories in rhyme about the perils of joining the army to see the world. One of the panels is racially insensitive and depicts a GI sitting by a signpost that reads:
Join the Army - See the Nigger!
The soldier stares at an African and the text is:
On a cactus you may sit,
Water don't you find a bit,
Where is sunny Africa
Fred the nigger-baby saw
Rome and Berlin - Ladies curled.
Join the army see the world.
This full color Japanese leaflet depicts a black foreman with a whip striking a white woman at a factory while a second black worker kisses a white woman and fondles her breast. Since American wives were working in factories for the first time during World War Two in the "Rosie the Riveter" phase of armaments and war material, this leaflet was aimed at the soldiers on the front lines who left working wives at home. Strangely, the Japanese were telling the colored peoples of the colonial powers that they should take power from their white masters, and here they attack the workers and seem to take the side of the white power structure. A mixed message at best. Text at the bottom of the leaflet is:
Is it getting as bad as all this? Yap, Negroes are the boss of the town now.
The above Japanese leaflet depicts a black sprinter next to a black soldier. The text says that although the black man is a great racer, a great fighter and a good man, to the white man they are nothing but cannon fodder. They are sent to the front while "Whitey" stays behind where he won't get hurt.
John W. Dower mentions the Japanese race propaganda in War without Mercy - Race and Power in the Pacific War, Pantheon Books, NYC, 1986:
Japanese propaganda directed at the United States during the war did indeed attempt to appeal to nonwhites by emphasizing racial discrimination... In the mid-1930s they established a connection with the radical anti-white Black Muslim movement led by Elijah Muhammad... Before the war, the Japanese also established a relationship with Robert O. Jordan, a charismatic black sometimes called Harlem's Hitler. They also took over several American magazines, "Living Age" and "North American review" and founded a press service called "Negro News Syndicate."
Barak Kushner says in The Thought War - Japanese Imperial Propaganda, University of Hawaii Press, Honolulu, 2006:
The Japanese government maneuvered to have favorable articles concerning its movements in Asia and explaining why boycotts against Japan hurt everyone printed in prominent American newspapers. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs targeted Black American newspapers for specific attention in the hope that disenfranchised minorities would seek solace in Japan's championship of the "colored races."
This Japanese leaflet appears to have been drawn by the same artist as the one above. A black soldier looks down at an image of Africans being sold into slavery. It points out that although slavery may no longer exist, his people are still being treated like slave.
This Japanese leaflet attempts to persuade the Australian "Diggers" to abandon New Guinea and go home because their real threat were the American soldiers, to include black soldiers, staged in Australia who were seducing the Australian women while they were dying in the jungle. The leaflet depicts an American soldier kissing an Australian wife while dead bodies are shown in the foreground and background. The text is:
Hey! you Diggers! He came, he saw, he conquered!
Thinking you diggers will never come back alive The BLACKS and the YANKS are raping your wives, your daughters and your sweethearts -- they are helpless without your protection. Your future happiness is at stake! One last Aussie simply means one more Yank safely in the house. Surely you'll not give up your lives to make this possible.
This Japanese leaflet in Pidgin-English to the natives of Papua-New Guinea may not belong in this article that describes targeting blacks. However, the Japanese dropped these leaflets on the local black natives asking them to act as their eyes and ears in case of an American attack. One individual who knows the Papuans well said in regard to this leaflet:
The Japanese occupiers of northern Papua New Guinea were, for the most part, liked by the Papuans. In general, the Japanese hired the Papuans to work for them; teaching them to drive trucks, perform rudimentary maintenance on vehicles and equipment, etc. and paying wages in the occupation currency. Better treatment than they received from their pre-war Australian administrators. From the Papuans' point of view, they just changed one occupier for another.
At the left of the leaflet an American amphibious force lands on their island. Two natives in the bush watch the landing and one says that he sees the American soldiers and the second says that they need to tell the Japanese so they can come and kill them. The text is:
GO QUICKLY AND TELL THE JAPANESE SOLDIERS
Oh! The American soldiers are very dumb. They do not know that the strong Japanese soldiers are going to kill them.
Halou! [Name of native at left] Run quickly and alert the Japanese soldiers. The [Japanese] soldiers are over there!
Another leaflet meant to drive a wedge between American black and white fighting men is in the form of a written leaflet without image. Some of the text is:
A Negro youth was lynched in Detroit, Mich. On March 12th for the reason of having raped a white girl...but as his innocence was made clear, the neighboring Negroes raised and attacked the girl's house for revenge... the nearby army unit had to rush to the scene... There were 172 dead among the Negroes after having been machinegunned...
Whites always seem to be right...When it comes to war Negroes are quite useful...but after it's over, all colored heroes will have to go back where they belong ---- Slaves again....
The Italians never really went on the offensive against the Americans so there are no leaflets that seek to divide and conquer American forces using minority troops as a major theme. However, the fascist Italian government and its German allies produced several leaflets, posters and propaganda postcards that attacked the American blacks and depicted them as uncultured animals, thieves and rapists. This propaganda targeted the Italian people in an attempt to encourage them to fight on to protect their nation and heritage from the black barbarians who would destroy the culture. I first discussed some of these postcards in an article entitled "German Propaganda Post Cards in Italy during World War II," The American Philatelist, July 1990.
Certainly the most famous of all the anti-black propaganda cards is this 1944 Gino Boccasile vignette showing a black American corporal offering the Venus de Milo for two dollars. A supporter of Benito Mussolini, Boccasile produced propaganda material for the government including several racist and anti-Semitic posters. After the war he was imprisoned and tried for collaborating with the Fascists and although acquitted, he remained an outcast. He did a second vignette called "Negro in Church" where Christ on the Cross was being taken down, possibly for resale.
One of the black and white propaganda postcards produced by the Germans for their Italian allies depicts a caricatured American and black soldier. Text beneath the card is:
Anglo-American police on the streets of Rome
(Sketched by Alberto Cossola and smuggled out of invaded territory)
In order to avoid a similar shame to the cities of Northern Italy, each man must perform his duty at work. That is the only way we can help our soldiers who are fighting against the multicolored army.
Other such cards mention the difference between the peaceful Fascist north of Italy and the occupied south of Italy. One full-color double-card depicts two Allied soldiers (one a black soldier holding a whip) laughing at a weeping Italian couple amid burning and crumbling ruins. The text is:
In Southern Italy, the occupation troops kill and burn, threaten the population and pillage. Many black troops rape women. The districts completely soiled by the black troops have to be cleaned up by Italians.
The second connected card depicts a female farmer in the north waving to a passing soldier in a tank. The text is:
In Northern Italy there reigns tranquility and order. The new Republican Italy is in full reconstruction. Above all, there dominates a steady faith in the future.
This German multi-page leaflet to Italians depicts a number of faces on one page, a black man raping a white girl with the word "Nigger!" on another, and several pages depicting blacks and their victims. The propaganda claims that they are all the same, murderers and rapists.
Another German leaflet to Italians that uses race as a theme is coded 0I/151. It bears four photographs of black faces on one side and four scenes on the back, including a black being mugged, a black hanging from a rope and a vandalized church. The first side has five blocks of text, four of which claim to be reports on black behavior from a private letters, news correspondents, etc. The back has five more, but each of them is just a simple propaganda statement. The title of the leaflet is in larger typeface on the front. It is:
Blacks in our House? Never! We Struggle until Victory!
The text under the lynched person tells the Italians:
The vast majority of Chicago gangster leaders are niggers and the bloodbaths in Chicago can be attributed to them. The American population knows this well and they lynch the niggers because of this.
Another message by a "Franco B" claims that three drunk niggers came to the garden and two of them attacked and killed an uncle while the third one held him. One then ran after Lisetta. She ran away screaming. Franco got out of his hiding place and I followed her. He would not leave her to her fate. Other texts mention black music and morality, the same sort of thing we hear today about "rappers." The Germans say that President Roosevelt has spoken about the black artists and their nightclubs. The "art" of these clubs consists of obscene actions, wild nude dancing and dancing to the sounds of jungle music. Another block of text warns of gangs of noisy blacks that loiter along the roads leading into cities, and how they get women pregnant and infect them with venereal diseases. In all, your usual German propaganda trying to motivate the Italians to continue the fight to protect their homeland and women from the black murderers and rapists.
Curiously, some American officers worried about the black VD rate too. John Costello mentions this in Love, Sex and War: Changing Values, 1939-45, William Collins, London, 1985:
The all-Negro regiments, which made up sixteen per cent of the theatre strength, proved to be the most sexually active with ninety-six per cent of black troops admitting to intercourse, compared to eighty-two per cent of white soldiers. Consequently VD rates amongst black soldiers averaged five times the rate for white ones, and in some units infections were being contracted by every second man. "Just why the Negro has more sexual intercourse is a matter of speculation," noted the survey, but other statistics collected by the army during the war showed that black GIs admitted to earlier and more frequent sexual activity as adolescents. When overseas, most of these troops were in supply and quartermaster regiments behind the front lines - so they had more opportunity for sexual activity. Although black troops were more likely to use a condom and take prophylactic measures than whites (sixty-two per cent compared to forty-three per cent), their far higher VD rates, the report pointed out, was because "women to whom they have access are much more likely to be diseased on the average than the white enlisted male contact."
This German leaflet to Italians coded øI-179 depicts a black American soldier on the front. The text reads:
If the opposition protests against the employment of black soldiers in combat, I can answer to the Congress that I have particular and good reasons to employ them.
Roosevelt to Congress 16 June 1944
The back is all text and a long propaganda message discusses the barbarity of black soldiers in Italy and their violations of the Italian people during the Christmas season.
In this Fascist Italian image a British "Tommy" and an American black soldier laugh at the sight of an Italian soldier apparently fighting against his brother who stayed loyal to Mussolini.
This final image shows a black American airman holding his fist over a destroyed Italian city.
In regard to the German use of race as a propaganda theme in Italy, Pradeep Kanthan told me:
My Dad was in the 8th Army and was in Italy from 1943 to 1945. As a sapper he had to stay behind to remove the mines he had laid. He spoke of being in Bari, and spoke Italian fluently by the time he came back to India. He told me that the Germans had spread leaflets to the Italian population that Indians were barbarians and would pillage and rape at will. It was very hard for Indians to get close to locals or get any support from them for this reason. My Dad learnt of this when he had to employ locals in clearing minefields.
This North Korean leaflet depicts a black lynching victim being removed from the scene of the crime by police. The text is:
American Negro soldiers! Look at this heart-breaking picture! It shows what happened to John Craft, Negro veteran of World War II, when he stood up for his rights in Magee, Mississippi.
The back is all text. Some of the message is:
LOOK AT THIS PICTURE AND THINK!
Why are you in Korea? The Chinese and Koreans are for equality and mutual respect among all races. They do not regard Negroes as inferior. In fact, they are fighting against the attempt to impose Jim Crow on them...
The Communist Chinese produced a brown monotone leaflet that depicts a group of black prisoners of war. One plays an accordion, a second plays a guitar. The leaflet is signed by the "Central Political Bureau of the Korean People's Army."
Surprisingly, very few Korean War Communist leaflets targeted African-American troops. The Chinese and North Vietnamese would later produce dozens of racially divisive leaflets in the 1960s, but the North Koreans showed little interest in attacking that "soft underbelly" of America. There is one known case of six American prisoners released on 7 January 1951 and sent back to their own lines carrying three North Korean leaflets. The very odd text is:
COLORED MEN OF U.S. FORCES. FIND THE ONLY WAY TO LIVE!
YOU MUST LIVE. YOU MUST GO HOME AGAIN. Your family is awaiting your return. How sad were it when your death be informed to them. Who will support your family's lives after your death? You are now defeated on every front and are surrounded in many areas by brave Korea People's Army and voluntary Army of China. You continuous fight brings nothing else but worthless death in a strange land.
YOU MUST HAVE YOUR JUST RIGHT TO ENJOY FREEDOM AND EQUALITY.
You certainly remember that you have been mistreated with racist discrimination and in slave life. American capitalists are plotting to colonize Korea by military intervention. We should cut this chain.
HATE WAR AND COME OVER TO KOREAN'S PEOPLE'S ARMY. IF YOU WANT TO FIND THE ONLY WAY TO LIVE.
Korean People's Army will treat you very well and send you home soon.
Another leaflet that uses race as a theme is folds out into six pages and is signed by the Korean People's Army and the Chinese People's Volunteers. A picture on the cover depicts Private First Class James Wilson shaking hands with his Communist captors. Some of the text is:
Did you ever stop to think why you should be in Korea, fighting other colored people, while lynchings, murders and insults pile up against the Negro people at home?
We say: No U.S. soldiers have any business in Korea. Korea for the Koreans. China for the Chinese. America for the Americans, Negro and white.
...We didn't come 5,000 miles across the sea to fight. We didn't come to America with guns and bombs and we never will. Don't risk your lives here. Ask to go home where you can fight for your own rights as a human being. Leave us in peace in our homes here.
The leaflet goes on to report lynchings and crimes against black men both in the United States and in the U.S. Army in Korea. It discusses politics in the United States and points out how few black Congressmen and Senators hold office. It reminds the black soldiers of how few black officers have been commissioned in the military.
The Communists produced a great number of divide and conquer leaflets during the Vietnam War. Some showed the American people marching in anti-war protests; others mentioned the treatment of black civilians and troops. Most were very well done, printed in Hanoi and shipped to both the battle front and the United States where they would be distributed by fellow-travelers and anti-war activists. A very few were printed in the South by the Viet Cong and they are crude on poor quality paper. One must always beware the crude leaflets though, since they could have purposely been printed in the North in a crude manner to make them appear to be battle-front leaflets.
Whereas most American leaflets were dropped from the air over selected targets, the Communists never had that ability. Therefore, Communist leaflets were usually left where it was thought that Americans would pass by; along trails, near base camps, and of course in bars or other places that American troops might congregate.
Jerry Berry says in Psychological Warfare Leaflets of the Vietnam War:
Another popular theme of Communist leaflets was the existing racial prejudice against African Americans in the United States. The Communist propagandist used this advantage to specifically target the Black GIs fighting in South Vietnam. Messages on leaflets attempted to convince them that they were being used unfairly by their superiors and forced to suffer the brunt of the fighting and casualties on the battlefield. Black GIs were often described in Communist leaflets as "cannon fodder for the American aggressors in South Vietnam". Photos of African Americans depicting racial injustice against them were favorite choices of Communist propaganda writers.
If the reader wants to see more examples of Communist leaflets from the Vietnam War I recommend he read my article on this subject.
Some of the text on the back of the leaflet is:
EVER HEARD THIS LITTLE DITTY?
I wish I were an Alabama trooper,
that is what I would truly like to be.
I wish I was an Alabama trooper,
cause then I could kill the niggers legally.
A similar leaflet depicts another anti-War crowd carrying signs such as "Weapons cannot win the people" and "Bring the troops home now." Some of the text on the back is:
The Vietnamese are not exploiting you nor discriminating against you. No Vietnamese shoots and kills Black freedom-fighters in the streets of America. The Vietnamese are fighting for their own independence and freedom.
Your true enemy is not the Vietnamese people. Your true enemies are those who are calling you niggers.
Unite with your Vietnamese brothers to fight our common enemy: the ruling clique in the United States who are carrying out an extremely cruel war of aggression in Vietnam and an extremely barbarous policy of exploitation and racial discrimination in the United States!
The Viet Cong also cleverly used the war protestors in the United States, those that Vladimir Lenin called "useful idiots of the west" to further their political aims. For instance, in the fall of 1967 a black civil rights demonstration in Washington, DC was viewed by the Communists as an opportune time to play the race card for their own propaganda purpose. They prepared two black Prisoners-of-War along with white Master Sergeant Dan Pitzer, a Special Forces medic, for release. It took the three Americans about a month to reach Phnom Penh, Cambodia walking and traveling on sampans along the many canals in the Mekong Delta area bordering Cambodia. Anti-war activist Tom Hayden was their escort on the final leg of the trip home. They reached safety on Veteran's Day, 11 November 1967. Dan Pitzer recalls:
In October, we were told we had been selected for release as part of an arrangement worked out with a "peace committee" in the United States. All we had to do, the Viet Cong said, was to write a letter asking to be allowed to go home to our families. Disbelieving, we took a chance and wrote the letters. At the end of October, Staff Sergeant James Jackson, Master Sergeant Edward Johnson and I set out.
A similar leaflet depicts the same crowd holding the same signs in a different part of their march. Some of the text on the back is:
In conflict in Vietnam you are forced to:
- Go first.
- Withdraw last.
- Stay in the outer ring.
- Do the hardest and most dangerous jobs.
In Vietnam, casualty rates of black GIs are much higher than for whites.
In the States you are called niggers!
The Vietnamese people are not your enemy!
Your enemies are those who are carrying out harsh exploitation and extremely barbarous racial discrimination against American blacks, and have forced you to serve in this war of American aggression against Vietnam...
Another leaflet shows a black man being arrested by a club-bearing white police officer. A picture on the back depicts a black soldier crawling in a swamp. Some of the text on the back is:
The Vietnam is 'a hell hole of racism for the Negroes GIs over and above the usual hell of war' (Philadelphia Independent). Your real enemies are those who call you "Niggers." Your genuine struggle is on your native land. Go home now and alive!
Another National Liberation Front leaflet featured the myth that minority troops were dying in greater numbers than their white comrades. The leaflet has a cartoon on the front where a staff sergeant says to his assembled frightened black troops:
Back home in the States, negroes are at the end of the line, but here in Vietnam it's different - we put you right up front.
The leaflet is very crude and was probably designed to look that way so finders would think that it was printed in the field. It was certainly printed in Hanoi in a modern printing shop.
False claims are made on the back that:
HOW DEMOCRACY OPERATES
11 percent of the U.S. population are Negroes.
30 percent of the G.I.s in Vietnam are Negroes.
40% of G.I. deaths in Vietnam are Negroes.
If you're reading this, you're one of the 30 percent.
Stay out of the 40 percent column!
In reality, in Vietnam white deaths were about 86 percent of the total losses while black deaths were about 12.5 percent.
Some leaflets are all text. One such leaflet says in part:
20 million of your fellow-countrymen in the U.S.A. are being abused, oppressed, exploited, manhandled, murdered by racist authorities. You know it well, don't you?
Another all text leaflet found in Binh Thuan Province in 1968 bears a long message that says in part:
Over the past two months, more than a million of Black men in your Homeland, armed with weapons, have risen up against U.S. racial administration's terrorism and cruel suppression. This movement of struggle has been becoming ever more fierce and wider, prevailing throughout over 90 cities and provincial towns in 28 states of U.S.A. Detroit of Michigan was especially considered the theatre of combat. Being afraid of this resolute and powerful struggle, the U.S. racial capitalist authorities sent ten of thousand policemen and soldiers to Detroit, tanks and helicopters were applied to suppress it. Blood is shedding. The Black casualties were about one hundred killed and wounded, thousands arrested. But the endless shots were heard and their struggle for the rights of EQUALITY and FREEDOM kept on going stronger all over U.S.A.
YOU, BLACK MEN HAVE BEEN DECEPTIVELY SENT TO SOUTH VIET-NAM. HOW DO YOU THINK ABOUT YOUR AFRO AMERICAN PEOPLE'S STRUGGLE AT HOME?
I like the fact that during the decade of war the Viet Cong used every term for Afro-Americans that existed in American history. I am old enough to remember when the term "Colored" was in use. In a railway station in the old south I was once warned by an elderly gentleman not to drink from a water fountain with the overhead sign, "Colored only." When Joe Louis was the American heavyweight boxing champion he was a "Negro." When the "liberation" movement got stronger after WWII we had "Black Panthers" and "Black Muslims." These days of course, the popular term is "Afro-Americans." In the above South Vietnam Front for National Liberation leaflet, colored soldiers are told that they are committing the same atrocities that the Ku Klux Klan did to their families in the old South. The text on the back says in part:
Those who are killing and shooting at our people and those who have caused bloody repression against negro people in the U.S.A. are the same; They are the U.S. Imperialists.
How can you stand on their side against our people!
This ends our brief look at the use of race as a propaganda theme. There are certainly dozens more such leaflets. Readers with additional leaflets or questions about this story are encouraged to write to the author here.