Tom Hanks Thinks America Is Racist

Fox News clip on actor Tom Hanks' "controversial" comments


In a recent interview with Time Magazine, Tom Hanks said:

Back in World War II, we viewed the Japanese as ‘yellow, slant-eyed dogs’ that believed in different gods. They were out to kill us because our way of living was different. We, in turn, wanted to annihilate them because they were different. Does that sound familiar, by any chance, to what’s going on today?

Tom Hanks is the executive producer of a new HBO miniseries titled The Pacific, a 10-part series that focuses on the United States Marines during the Pacific Theater of World War II.

From Japan Probe:

Those who have read a bit of academic history books about the Pacific War probably won’t see anything particularly terrible or inaccurate about Hank’s view on racism in the war. […]

However, conservatives in America have exploded with anger of Hanks’ statements. Blog posts, editorials, and TV appearances on Fox News have taken Hanks’ remarks and twisted them into ridiculous exaggerations like “TOM HANKS SAYS RACISM WAS THE ONLY REASON FOR THE WAR” , “TOM HANKS THINKS AMERICA IS RACIST” , and of course – “LIBERAL HOLLYWOOD HATES AMERICA.”

WWI? He was talking about WWII, dummies.

The post on Japan Probe also includes two more Fox News clips on YouTube, all of these being interesting in their own right1, and some more interesting commentary I recommend clicking over to read.

What do you think?

  1. Do you agree or disagree with Tom Hanks comments?
  2. Do you agree or disagree with how some people, like Fox News, have interpreted Tom Hanks’ comments?
  3. “Does that sound familiar, by any chance, to what’s going on today?”
  1. I say so because they’re examples on how to steer discussions towards your favor, something all of us understandably enjoy doing in the comments. Mind you, this is actually good, as the practice of doing so and practice of identifying so actually sharpens our minds, making us more resilient to others’ influence, such as the government, but — admittedly — probably making us more dangerous at the same time. Good thing we’re all enlightened monarchs of our own power to influence others, right? []


Stay in touch with the conversation, subscribe to the RSS feed for comments on this post.

  • Some HTML can be used to format your comment.
  • Add a picture to your comments with Gravatar.
  • Please be civil. Comments may be moderated.
  1. You know the more I think of it, the more I am convinced that Chinese bloggers should do the same as us, go to America and do USA-blogs in Chinese language to analyze all the crazy stuff going on in that country.

    I think this would be really interesting and I am sure they would never run out of interesting stuff to tell about, just like we do here. Hey, wait a sec, perhaps those USAblogs already exist (!)

  2. KrSund70

    It’s well-known that back then, when your outfit finished training and was going to ship out, your average American soldier much preferred to fight in Europe than in the Pacific. Why? The Germans, nevermind that they were Nazis bent on genocide back then, were still considered a civilized enemy. On the other hand, Western-style warfare could not fathom the Banzai Attack, and the Kamakazie.

    No one can honestly question that the Pacific war was more brutal. Hank’s point about racism, and a desire to destroy that which you do not know, but fear, certainly played a plain part. The images of the European war are images of Germans surrendering. The images of the Pacific war are images of Japanese being roasted alive in bunkers by a flamthrower. It’s easy to fear the enemy that would rather die and fight you than surrender to you. And that does indeed sound very similar to events today.

  3. Okay, you have lit a fuse as this blog will generate thousands of deeply divided replies which in the accumulation may tell us more about your readers than about your topic.

    The first stumbling block is the term “racism.” Unfortunately, we tend not to use the term impartially, hence, virtually no debate is possible if the key term is so inflammatory. The term “racism” incorporates–or should connote–racial prejudice linked with authority. Accordingly, only “Whites” can be racists in the USA as blacks do not possess the amount of control as exerted by whites. Consequently, a USA white racist living in China, where Han racism presently runs rampant, ceases to be a racist thereat.

    Leading up to WWII multiple regional “racism” collided. Note, during the Rape of Nanking, the outcome of Japanese racism. Thus, Hanks is correct, to state that USA and Western Europe were racists at the time because they virtually controlled world commerce. Nonetheless, he would have been more profound in his observation if he recognized that they were only relative racists as regional racists, e.g. Japan, sought to displace them as world-racists.

    Mr. Hanks will learn three lessons; first, the subject of racism is a third-rail topic with no hope of winning or even surviving; secondly, “racism” is not an absolute term that may be applied haphazardly, rather it is a relative term which mainly addresses the issues of control and its various expresses; and thirdly, the term racism is not an exclusive term that may be applied to only one race during at any time in world history.

    • Teacher in C

      “The term “racism” incorporates–or should connote–racial prejudice linked with authority. ”

      Your whole first paragraph is my stumblng block your whole comment.

      I’m always cautious with connotations of words, as it seems it’s somewhat subjective. Going strictly by the dictionary definition, it has nothing to do with authority, simply

      “1 : a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race
      2 : racial prejudice or discrimination” (Merriam Webster).

      Hence, as a white male in the USA (in power and with authority) I can employ racism in my hiring practices and make racist jokes, but so can an African American, an Asian, etc.

      That being said, a word always has connotations to it, but I still don’t agree that authority is a requisite part of the term. A group of disenfranchised African Americans can still call me a “cracker” and not let me into their bar, and I can still call them racists for doing it and be correct in my usage of the term; see definition #2 above.

      Billy Bob Joe can be living in China and say something along the lines of “Chinese women don’t like Chinese men because none of them know how to f@ck; they love us westerners because our dicks are so big” (that’s a pretty good summary of chinaSMACK…), and we can rightly accuse him of being a racist sh@thead; see definition #1 above.

    • W Strickland

      This is well-said. However, I do think that Hanks knows that racism is a third-rail topic, and there may be no hope of changing easily-held racist opinions. I admire his speaking out so clearly on the subject while the spotlight is on him now. As I have said before, I grew up in a violently-racist Birmingham, Alabama, during the ’60s, and I never thought then that ugly racism could possibly still thrive in the US 50 years later. We (the US) missed the opportunity to teach the lesson of acceptance. We need to start shouting it any way we can, no time to waste. Hanks has voluntarily taken a hit from the history-ignorant, ethnocentric US right-wing for a noble cause: the enlightenment of young Americans who haven’t yet been corrupted. It’s too late for those my age who still hate, but it’s a changing world.

  4. Just finished watching HBO Pacific epi 2 on youku,

    seen the numbers, it is becoming the highest watch “foreign” series.

    I was out of the “father” or “mother” land 中国 for awhile. Grabbed a copy of both newsweek and the times, they both had articles about forest gump,
    as you know its tough to get those mags(american propaganda) here!

    –thats censorship

    he is totally not racist, but makes a strong claim.
    One dude called him a history professor,

    nice follow up to Red Dawn…


    So this is where ever one comes now…

    IIIIIAMMMMM HERE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    keep it real
    keep it 50cents
    五毛党 forever

  5. Certainly, the US played off the stereotypes Hanks describes in war propaganda. I’m not sure suggesting that’s why we went to war is accurate, but also not sure why people are so worked up about it. America IS racist now, and it was even more racist sixty years ago.

    As a sidenote, Japanese propaganda from WWII was equally if not more racist. I can’t remember the name of it now but there’s a fantastic full-length animated film from Japan that illustrates this brilliantly. The Japanese are small, cute, intelligent animals; other asians take the form of larger, dumber, but still likable enough animals, while Americans are ugly, stammering humans with — literally — horns growing out of their heads.

    • Custer, I don’t think Hanks is suggesting that racism alone is “why” America as a country went to war, just that racism was prevalent amongst the propaganda and the soldiers themselves. Same for the Japanese.

  6. Joe

    Hanks is correct. The racial overtones that the Americans AND Japanese overtly expressed against each other existed well before Pearl Harbor. Hanks is not saying that the US went into WWII because of race. WWII clearly was the moment when the US got into the war, but if you have taken an objective look into history (just look at old copies of Life/Time), then you would understand that it was American and Japanese animosity towards each other (bred by competitiveness and the belief that each culture’s race was superior) that led to the eventual clash of the two countries. It’s clear that Japan underestimated the will/resolve/capacity of the US and overestimated its own capacity/strength, blinded by its own racial superiority mindset. This is a widely agreed upon reason as to why Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. Hanks is not saying that we went to war with Japan BECAUSE of race, but he is saying that American attitudes/prejudices/beliefs of racial superiority were an inherent part of American political/military policy as well as an ingrained part of the average American brain/household.

    Take a look at old “Time” or “Life” photos/covers/articles and see how differently the German(European) image of the enemy is portrayed vs that of the “other” race of Japan, totally racially depicted. Why are the Germans only depicted through the image of Hitler, where as the Japanese were literally depicted as MONKEYS. Again see your Time/Life magazines.

    Here is a famous photo from “Life” magazine with the caption: “Arizona war worker writes her Navy boyfriend a thank-you note for the Jap skull he sent her” Could you imagine the uproar in the US if that had been a German skull??? German ancestry surpasses even that of the Irish even today.

    The racist overtures were strong on both sides, the Japanese doing equally disturbing propaganda about Americans, but we Americans should stop trying to embrace the idea that the glow that our country provides is ALWAYS a bright and positive one. We have our issues/problems just like anyone else, but just because somebody like Hanks brings it up doesn’t mean he’s anti-American or unpatriotic. It’s not possible to live in a country full of varied peoples/races/cultures without having some conflict or negative consequences withine this “melting pot”…the only thing we can and SHOULD do is to understand, accept and learn from these sort of things. It doesn’t make us a bad country because racist elements exist in our country, on the contrary, it just means we are a society that is continuing to grow and develop. Our positives outweigh our negatives. I love the US and being an American, but that doesn’t mean I have to like everything we do. Do you like everything your parents/siblings/best friends do?? No, but you still love them. So before you jump on Hanks or anyone else because it clashes with what you know, think you know, or thought you knew, take some time to learn more about it. If you’re willing to commend him on his roles in other movies which he had to do research on, you should at least give him the benefit of the doubt that he’s at least done some research on this matter.

    Read this and ask yourself “Does Hanks make a point?” Try to crawl out of the cave of “this is what i was taught”, “this is what my grandfather told me” or “this is what Fox News reported”…it’s not always easy to find information/facts you can trust, but until you try, you never really have an understanding of anything.

    What Fox News is trying to do is exactly both governments did in WWII, exploit a story, sensationalize a matter, prick at a sensitive topic like patriotism and spin it in a way that can best manipulate or distort a group of people they are trying to control. Don’t be one of those people, for your own good.

  7. Joe

    If you don’t think the US has a history of racism (just like most, if not all) then go borrow or buy this book:

    “Latin America in Caricature” – a direct indictment on the way we characterized “lesser” peoples

  8. hm

    US would have continued happily making money off both sides if the Japanese didn’t bomb Pearl Harbor. So was it about racism? Maybe in Germany, it was about racism. For the most part, the reactions from the bombing of Pearl Harbor was racism because they started opening internment camps. So was WWII about racism for US? To some extent yes.

    Fox news takes things out of context all the time, I don’t know why people bother watching.

    What’s going on now isn’t really about racism, IMO. But reactions were racist.

    Hanks’ claims aren’t wrong. US employed policies to help other countries ‘democratize’ themselves.

  9. King Tubby

    The will to kill in war. Borrowed read written by a US staff officer…..I know, I know. Generally, in an open society, it is pretty hard to get the average conscripted foot soldier to kill an enemy. The number of bullets fired to actual enemy casualities is extremely high. And think how much more effective 20th century weaponary has become. Waverers have to be cajoled, kicked and shamed in front of their friends. Firing away in the air is a commonplace. In the last resort, the glue which makes an effective soldier is the desire not to let your mates down. Sniping is impersonal, but face to face combat with shovels, knives, teeth is another thing….the primordial instinct to survive kicks in with a vengeance.

    WW11 Japanese rank and file were mostly illiterate farmboys, already living is an extremely heirarchial non-democratic society, who went thru an *incredibly* brutal training program. Thoroughly degraded by their officers, slapping sessions, etc and inculcated with a belief in their Divine mission. The horrors of Nanjing were a direct result and extension of their training (ie orchestrated by their officers)….there are memiors which make this point. This was a training process of dehumanisation par excellence.

    You have to precise when discussing the will to kill. An examination of the WW11 Russian German conflict would identify different factors (of which racial stereotyping is but one element) operating on troops.

    BTW. I think Jane Fonda went thru a struggle session and renounced her Hanoi visit.

  10. AndyR

    Is this blog even about China anymore? Perhaps you guys should change your mission statement. Seriously, THIS is the topic you choose to write about? Is this just a begging for traffic post? First you guys have two practically identical articles taking on random US blog’s op-eds about Google/China which to me sort of goes against your quest to “share insights into what the Chinese themselves are saying” i.e. why the heck does a blog with this mission statement continue to focus solely on the American media. Now you post something straight out of tabloid journalism.

    Man I expected a lot more from this blog….

    • AndyR,

      And I was expecting this. What does this have to do with China? Wrong question. What does this not have to do with China?

      china/divide features social and political commentary relating to modern China. We seek to go beyond knee-jerk stereotypes, nationalism, and prejudice to engage in genuine discussions of contemporary issues, both in our writing and together with our commenters.

      Our mission statement suggested that would also offer translations, which would share some insight into what the Chinese themselves are saying. Our Google posts did not fall into that part of our offering, though I can’t say we didn’t share plenty of what the Chinese themselves have voiced themselves in those posts, just in our own words.

      American media is a dominant force in our world. There’s much about the “divide” surrounding China to learn and think about from observing it.

      Thank you for your comment.

      • W Strickland

        The preeminence that the US enjoyed will shortly be China’s. I think that a lot can be learned from the historically self-destructive path that we (the US) took: the justification of slavery in a “free” society’s laws, the inability to end it politically which led to the Civil War, and the continued stubborn refusal to face the social implications of having created a permanent underclass. The cause of our wasteful downfall should be examined by Chinese who would like to avoid the mistakes that doomed us.

  11. Got to love the spin doctors at Fox – they can make even the best at the Ministry of Propaganda in Beijing look like rank amuteurs with “news pieces” like this. But honestly – if you take a look at even Dr. Seuss’ work during the War, old Tom was not too far off the mark.

  12. xian

    Well of course there is a racial element to is. This is why the Germans were called Nazis, as to distinguish between the German people and Nazi soldiers. Whereas Japanese were just plain “Japs”, doesn’t matter who it was. This was though, back in the day when racism was still rampant around the world. The kind of imagery displayed in WWII propaganda would be completely inappropriate for war propaganda today.

  13. lolz

    To distinguish and dehumanize your enemies is the first rule when fighting a war. Having sympathy for your enemies would result in your own death and the easiest way to prevent this is to go for the negative stereotypes. I guess that bigotry/racism is inevitable in wars.

    The reason for this article to be posted on this website is because Kai maybe sees a parallel in US-Sino relationships? I agree with this to some extent.

    I disagree with Hanks’ premise that Americans wanted to eliminate Japanese they are “different” though. Americans wanted to eliminate Japanese because they were the enemy.

  14. Some Guy

    One major piece of the puzzle you guys haven’t brought up yet is the role of racism in changing Japan from a country that saw the West as a mentor to a Japan that saw the West as an enemy and a bunch of kichiku beiei (鬼畜米英). Specifically I’m referring to the removal of the racial equality clause from the League of Nations covenant, and anti-immigration laws in North America, Australia, etc.

    When coupled with the trade protectionism following the Great Depression, Japan had no realistic options except to carve it’s own empire/markets in Asia, leading to the takeover of the militarist faction.

    So I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to say that racism was a cause of WWII, at least in the Pacific.

  15. AEC WPB

    I think we also need to keep in mind the internment of Japanese Americans, many of whom were literally uprooted forcefully and shipped like cattle to camps. A close family friend lost a lot of her youth to one such camp. But were there any similar camps for German Americans?

    BTW, part of the reason that someone from Hollywood might feel this way is because his industry continues to churn out vicious anti-foreign sentiment via it’s movies. Red Dawn is just the latest… even sickly sweet tripe like Sixteen Candles and Breakfast at Tiffany’s features some really nasty steeoptyping.

  16. Hmmm…

    Let me see. I saw three not very bright telegenic European-Americans express righteous outrage at Tom Hank’s statement that race was a factor in WWII on both sides.

    I think that says it all. What more is there to add?