“Babysan” by Bill Hume; and Japan Society Review by Kim Brandt
One of the most interesting and revealing pieces of art and history, as well as what I think to be among the most “valuable” from the U.S.-Allied Occupation of Japan, is Bill Hume’s cartoon book: Babysan: A Private Look at the Japanese Occupation.
A great review of this book can be found at the Japan Society, written by Kim Brandt:
This book gives a great glimpse into how American soldiers viewed their stay in Japan, as Occupiers, as boys who have left home, as military personnel, who were largely becoming intimate with a “Japan” through their relationships with their own ideas about “Oriental” women and Japanese women themselves. In my own work, I focus much on the more intense violent interactions in order to make points related to uneven relations, nation-building, and the tactics and thinking that create the will, desire, and the unspoken aspects of military occupation and empire-building in our world, whether past or present, and most likely the same building blocks that will be re-created in structural procedures and people’s minds in the future. Babysan looks at these these things in the intimate everyday, through their loneliness, need for affection and sex, and their position as conquerors, as male.
This book speaks to the period when the Occupation of Japan was at its height and when the United States was trying to reduce and undo the intense racism that had propelled Japan and the United States through the war to the end. To undo this, the propaganda and the teaching of “Japanese culture” was deliberate and constant. Anti-miscegenation laws and the American military attitudes and policies toward it, were being struggled with. Meanwhile, the lived life of the soldiers and commanders stationed in Japan, were diverse and crossed the gamut, from erotic attraction, love relations, sexual playground, marriage, tension-release, to entitlements to brag or commit crimes and play king to the occupied Japanese people.
The book is not meant to be an overall history or anything, but an intimate comic book that may help the soldiers understand their lives there in Japan. The book will not talk about the rapes, the crimes, the more ugly behaviors, which were more intense in the beginning two years or so, of the occupation, then gradually decreasing. However, the violences continue to the present day, and of course, are hidden from public view most of the time, in the U.S. and in Japan and Okinawa (and all other places that U.S. military bases are permanently installed).
Something that is covered in the review of this book by Kim Brandt, and which I will repeat here, is the repetition of certain phrases across continents. Certain “Asian-i-zation” of terms carry Filipino, Korean, Thai, Laotian, Cambodian, Vietnamese, Korean, Okinawan, and Japanese terms across the waters and along with these words and phrases carried by the military personnel, are the behaviors and assumptions that guide them. Terms like honcho, Mama-san, baby-san, Skosh (from sukoshi in Japanese, meaning: a little), and many others, were also used by women and the U.S. military men all across Asia, some still being used today.
Also, you get a glimpse of some of the ways of which American forms of entertainment, such as burlesque, and how the censorship of entertainment by the military brass, was taken by the soldiers themselves. In addition, these and other points in the great comic pages, are the various ways in which the Japanese culture took on American culture, adapting to it, assimilating various forms.
The thought of the Asian people-scape being a playground for the military is still in operation. The intense red-light districts of sex and music and booze, black market buying, and hidden crimes are always, in these nations, near and around the U.S. military bases. In the early days of the Occupation, they were necessary economic sites for survival amidst the devastation of war. In this sense, the Americans could build trust and dependency through threat of withholdling food or clothing or lipstick or stockings or cigarettes that were all premium desires in an exploded flatland after American bombing of 70 cities across the Japanese land.
The westernization of Japan had begun in the 15th century by Portuguese, Spanish, and Dutch travelers and settlers, but the twentieth century into the present had consolidated that western modernization along the lines of U.S. Defense department necessities and the agreed-upon, unspoken, as well as the written laws that would govern what would be Japan, and what must be given up for the sake of U.S. security in the Pacific. Relations with women, and the resulting pregnancies, as well as the raping and maiming of women and their children, were always a huge social issue wherever military occupations happened, whether they be American or any other nation’s. The abandoning of babies and the women were also an issue as Americans (or whatever traveler) would leave. The stigma would intensify to create new socially lower beings in the already-established caste-system of local and foreign, pure and impure, white, yellow, or “colored.”
Please read Kim Brandt’s wonderful review and begin to understand how young American men, between 17 and 25 years old, often from a life of having never left their homes in the U.S., and often with American girlfriends and wives back home (and most likely some secret boyfriends), to the Asian playland and how they dealt with cultural difference and their gender roles. Their ideas of being accountable to their special role of occupiers is there, but often just mediated and disciplined by their commanders. Anti-black and Anti-Asian attitudes abounded and Jim Crow forms of separation between white and black soldiers were in place in the days of occupation. However, in Bill Hume’s book, these were not things talked about. The “soldier” is white. The blacks were reminders of the division in U.S. society. In this, the Japanese also learned their attitudes toward blackness, as well as forming strong bonds with Black-American soldiers.