Office of War Information


The Office of War Information (OWI) was a federal agency established by President Roosevelt's Executive Order 9182 of June 13, 1942, to conduct the government's wartime information and propaganda programs. The office came into being by integrating several agencies—including the Office of Facts and Figures (OFF)—already engaged in information and intelligence activities. The President named popular CBS radio news commentator and former New York Times reporter Elmer Davis as the OWI director. Under Davis' leadership, the OWI was authorized to 'carry out, through the use of press, radio, motion picture, and other facilities, information programs designed to facilitate the development of an informed and intelligent understanding, at home and abroad, of the status and progress of the war effort and of the war policies, activities, and aims of the Government.'[1] The OWI lasted until August 1945 when part of its function was transferred to the Department of the State, where it eventually became the United States Information Agency (USIA).

Contents

The Question of the Japanese Language Press in Wartime

The aforementioned OFF was established by Executive Order 8922 of October 24, 1941, for basically the same purpose as the OWI, or to "[facilitate] the dissemination of factual information to the citizens of the country on the progress of the defense effort and on the defense policies and activities of the Government."[2] Roosevelt nominated Archibald MacLeish, a famed poet and then Librarian of Congress, to direct the OFF. As noted earlier, the OFF was taken over by the OWI in June 1942.

During the first six months after Pearl Harbor, the OFF took an active role in the management and mobilization of the Japanese "enemy language" press in the mainland United States. When Japanese planes bombed Pearl Harbor, more than a dozen Japanese-language newspapers were being published in Washington, Oregon, and California. Major titles included: the Hokubei Jiji and Taihoku Nippo in Seattle, Oshu Nippo in Portland, Nichi Bei and Shin Sekai Asahi Shimbun in San Francisco, and Kashu Mainichi Shimbun and Rafu Shimpo in Los Angeles. Japanese Americans in Utah and Colorado were publishing the Utah Nippo in Salt Lake City, and the Kakushu Jiji and Rocky Nippon (later Rocky Shimpo) in Denver. The OFF sought to preserve and utilize, rather than ban, these publications to effectuate its own duties.

As the United States declared war against Japan, the federal government faced the difficult question of how to treat Japanese Americans and their mass media written in an unreadable Asian language. Regarding the press problem, the government was divided into two schools of thought. One school consisted of relatively liberal officials of civilian agencies such as the OFF and Justice Department who preferred a moderate and restrained approach. The other school consisted of officers of the armed forces who demanded the immediate and outright ban of the entire Japanese-language press. John L. DeWitt of the Western Defense Command and Fourth Army (WDC) was a leading figure in the latter group.

Within the OFF and later the OWI, it was the Foreign Language Division headed by Alan Cranston that took immediate responsibility for planning and practicing Japanese-language press policy. The division's task was to "sell America's war" to those who did not understand English and/or retained strong cultural or political ties with foreign nations.[3] Naturally, the first generation Issei and Japan-educated Kibei were the division's main targets. Cranston served as the Division Chief until 1944. After the war, he chose a political career and served as a U.S. Senator from California from 1968 to 1993.

Using the Japanese Language Press

Officials of the OFF and OWI viewed the Japanese-language newspapers as ready-to-use vehicles to approach Japanese Americans. The April 6, 1942 joint policy statement between the OFF and Justice Department bluntly stated that "the loyal foreign language press serves a very useful purpose as a channel of communication through which the Government can reach the foreign born."[4] On these grounds, the Director MacLeish declared that "there should be no sweeping suppression of the Japanese press because much of it had the appearance of loyalty and sincerity."[5] MacLeish and his staff, together with Justice Department officials, opposed the army's proposal to immediately terminate all Japanese-language publications. They also attempted to prevent mass incarceration, although their efforts were in vain.

While contesting the army's dictatorial treatment of Japanese Americans, the OFF was realistic enough to make full use of the Japanese press to facilitate the mass incarceration policy. In so doing, the agency had three general objectives.

First of all, the OFF mobilized the Japanese press as a medium to relay various government information to the Japanese-speaking populace. To remove an entire ethnic group from one place to another was an undertaking of enormous scale. In order to carry out this extremely delicate and complicated program in an orderly manner, it was necessary to inform the subject people of a number of detailed regulations, orders, and notices.

Secondly, the agency used the Japanese press to maintain and improve the morale of Japanese Americans. Mass exclusion orders inevitably aroused fear, anxiety, and anger in the Nikkei community. The OFF officials regarded the Japanese-language press as an effective means to soothe such emotions and to legitimize the government's drastic actions. Ironically enough, officials even anticipated that they could truly "Americanize" or "democratize" Japanese Americans by providing their vernacular press with morale-boosting material.

Finally, although to a lesser extent, the OFF regarded the Japanese press as a defense against Axis propaganda. From the earliest phase of war, government officials were concerned about the menace of Japanese propagandists trying to reach the Nikkei populace. Officials expected that the Japanese-language press, if used properly, could serve as an effective barrier to block the entrance of enemy propaganda.

These activities of the OFF were continued by the OWI. The OWI kept sending official information throughout the war to the remaining Japanese vernacular papers in Utah and Colorado, which survived mass incarceration. According to Greg Robinson, the OWI once considered to purchase one of them, the Kakushu Jiji in Denver, in order to literally make it a government mouthpiece, although the idea was eventually dropped.[6] The OWI also sent releases to "relocation" camp newspapers with the cooperation of the War Relocation Authority (WRA). (See newspapers in camp.) For the OWI, the news media of Japanese Americans, either inside or outside the camps, were in a sense public relations arms.

Changing the Image of Japanese Americans

Meanwhile, the OWI exploited Japanese Americans in its own mission to advance wartime propaganda both at home and abroad. First and foremost, the OWI hired a number of Japanese Americans, most of whom were bilingual and politically anti-Japan and/or pro-America, to develop counter-propaganda against Japan. Their prewar occupations included editors and publishers of Japanese-language newspapers, writers, artists, political activists, and educators. Principal figures who cooperated with the OWI included Shuji Fujii, Ryoko Ishigaki, Yasuo Kuniyoshi, Shigeki Oka, Taro Yashima, and Karl Yoneda.

Working with the WRA and other federal agencies, the OWI also produced a variety of propaganda material on Japanese Americans for domestic consumption. Notably the OWI made a series of documentary films hoping to improve public understandings of mass incarceration. These documentaries included Japanese Relocation, A Challenge to Democracy, Go for Broke, and The Way Ahead. (See OWI/WRA documentaries.)

In this connection, the OWI even took a role in creating the Nisei-only 442nd Regimental Combat Team. In October 1942, the OWI Director Elmer Davis recommended to President Roosevelt that Nisei be allowed to voluntarily enlist in the military. Davis wrote that how the federal government would treat Japanese Americans "is of great interest to OWI" in order to combat "Japanese propaganda [which] insists that this is a racial war."[7] Eventually, approximately 33,000 Nisei served in the armed forces, and due in part to the efforts of the OWI the Nisei soldiers received wide and generally positive publicity in not only the Japanese American community but also general American public.[8] (See Japanese Americans in the military during World War II.)

Authored by Takeya Mizuno, Toyo University

For More Information

Bishop, Robert L. and LaMar S. Mackay. "Mysterious Silence, Lyrical Scream: Government Information in World War II." Journalism Monographs 19 (May 1971): 1-39.

Mizuno, Takeya. "Federal Government Uses of the Japanese-Language Press from Pearl Harbor to Mass Incarceration." Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly 82 (spring 2005): 148-166.

Mizuno, Takeya. "The Federal Government's Decisions in Suppressing the Japanese-Language Press, 1941-42." Journalism History 33 (spring 2007): 14-23.

Mizuno, Takeya. "Tekikokugo" Journalism: Nichi bei kaisen to America no nihongo shinbun. [The "Enemy Language" Press in Wartime: The Pacific War and Japanese-Language Press in the United States]. Yokohama, Japan: Shunpu Sha, 2011.

Winkler, Allan M. The Politics of Propaganda: The Office of War Information, 1942-1945. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1978.

Yamamoto, Taketoshi. Black Propaganda: Bouryaku no Radio. Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten, 2002.

Footnotes

  1. Executive Order 9182, June 13, 1942.
  2. Executive Order 8922, October 24, 1941.
  3. Alan Cranston, Chief, Foreign Language Division, OFF, to Raymond Rich, "Work of the Foreign Language Division," February 1942, RG 208, Entry 222, Box 1079, File Foreign Language Division, National Archives, College Park.
  4. OFF and Department of Justice, "Control of Foreign Language Press," April 6, 1942, RG 208, Entry 7, Box 11, File Committee on War Information, National Archives, College Park.
  5. "Procedures of the Censorship Policy Board: Sub-Committee Meeting," April 16, 1942, Box 52, File Office of Facts and Figures, Minutes of Meetings, Archibald MacLeish Papers, Library of Congress.
  6. Greg Robinson, A Tragedy of Democracy: Japanese Confinement in North America (New York: Columbia University Press, 2009), 342.
  7. Elmer Davis, Director, OWI, to President Roosevelt, October 2, 1942, RG 220, Box 119, File 9 (Protest and Disaffection), National Archives, College Park.
  8. Patricia A. Curtin, "Press Coverage of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team (Separate -- Nisei): A Case Study in Agenda Building," American Journalism 12 (summer 1995): 225-241.