The media’s role: Japan’s media help fan support for war
As it was for the Japanese government and military, the Manchurian Incident of September 1931 was also a major turning point for the media. After the incident, each newspaper sent many correspondents to China and reported each action by the military in detail. The reports inflamed the Japanese people, who subsequently became increasingly hawkish. Public opinion that Manchuria and Inner Mongolia should be protected by all means because they were the Empire of Japan’s lifeline became entrenched thanks to media coverage.
Each newspaper followed developments such as the concept of establishing Manchukuo as an independent nation, the Lytton Report produced by a League of Nations commission to resolve the Manchurian Incident and Japan’s withdrawal from the League of Nations. Reports on war-related matters sent newspaper circulations soaring. For newspapers, the pursuit of profit gradually became a higher priority than the media’s mission as organizations for press freedom. It was also true that the Kwantung Army spared no effort to utilize the newspapers to gain the public’s support for Manchukuo. However, the military leadership was not so powerful around the time of the Manchurian Incident. If media organizations had universally chided the move, military operations could have been restrained.
After the Sino-Japanese War started after the February 26 Incident, the government quickly tightened its media controls. After the Marco Polo Bridge Incident, the Konoe Cabinet, which by then had decided to dispatch troops to northern China, summoned representatives of media organizations and asked them to cooperate for the sake of national unity. Thus, the government focused on a strategy to publicize its propaganda, and newspapers in principle went along with the plan. Each newspaper devoted most pages to coverage gushing with praise for events such as the conclusion of the Tripartite Alliance and the military’s advance into southern French Indochina which led to the Japan-U.S. War. Despite resistance from some journalists, newspapers fanned pro-war sentiment and influenced the people to accept Japan’s foolhardy war against the United States and Britain.
At the time, Soho Tokutomi, a leading journalist and chairman of the Dainippon Genron Hokoku-kai, an organization formed to gag press freedom, “supported control of the media and supported the government’s conduct of the war.”
A major rally calling for the annihilation of the United States and Britain, jointly sponsored by various newspaper organizations, was held two days after the attack on Pearl Harbor. “The Greater East Asia War is a just war,” Tokutomi said during a lecture at the gathering.
When the war against the United States started, the Cabinet Information Bureau notified the media that reports other than announcements by the Imperial Headquarters were prohibited from being published. Even if they had misgivings about the official announcements, newspaper firms had to be prepared to be closed down if they wanted to carry independent reports. They steadily reported the Imperial Headquarters’ announcements with sensational headlines to whip up war sentiment although they knew most of the stories were not true. As such, they totally abandoned and betrayed their mission as free speech and press organizations.