“Japanese soldiers and civilians, intensely propagandized by their government, usually carried their own caustic prejudices about their enemies, seeing them as brutish, subhuman beasts or fearsome ‘Anglo-Saxon devils.’ This racism, and the hatred and fear it fomented served as an accelerant for the abuse of Allied prisoners.”
This passage takes place in Chapter Nineteen, when Louie is at Ofuna. Ofuna was technically not a POW camp. Instead, it was a secret interrogation center where men were treated in ways that might lead to their divulging military secrets. Several pages into the chapter, Hillenbrand pauses to offer context for the guards’ treatment of the prisoners at Ofuna. Hillenbrand contextualizes this treatment in terms of the corporal punishment that the soldiers received and the “transfer of oppression” to the soldiers. Additionally, just before this passage, Hillenbrand also explains that the Japanese culture at that time believed in the superiority of their race.
This passage directly explains the guards’ attitudes toward the prisoners. They had racist prejudice against these prisoners, believing them to be lower forms of humans than they were. The phrase “Anglo-Saxon devils” captures this extreme racism. The passage is a true turn-of-the-tables for Western -- especially Caucasian -- readers, who do not often read about racist views other cultures historically had of them. The perspective can be eye-opening, as the Japanese racism conveyed here also characterizes Westerns in ways Westerners have been guilty of describing other cultures whom they have seen as less civilized than they are, using words such as “brutish” and “subhuman.” This can help readers understand prejudice and hatred.
This passage shows the dangerous power of propaganda to teach people lies and to encourage racist attitudes. She shows the capacity humans have to be swayed by such propaganda too, to see one culture as fundamentally better than another and to justify the cruel treatment of another culture. Hillenbrand uses this pause to help readers understand how these soldiers in war could possibly treat the prisoners in such horrible ways. The explanation she gives allows readers to transfer understandings to other contexts, including Germany, where anti-Semitic propaganda served to justify for Nazi guards the murders of millions of Jewish people. At the end of this passage, Hillenbrand uses a powerful metaphor. She says that racism served as an accelerant for the abuse of prisoners. An accelerant is something that spreads fire. Here, the fire is cruelty, and racism is what allows that cruelty to spread. This perspective helps the reader understand why racism is so dangerous.