by Dale Schlundt
Humans are emotional beings, an aspect that we all can agree with, since most of us are aware of our feelings on a daily basis. However, do we realize how driven we\’re by such? While beginning discussing The second world war with my students, with the highly significant role that propaganda had around the masses and the similarities of Pearl Harbor with 9/11, emotions are certainly at the forefront of my lecture. The final outcome that I attempt to instill in my students is the fact that for better or worse, history proves that our actions are a direct consequence of our emotions at the time.
I asked my students to assume the movie Titanic. Immediately one pictures the love story between Leo and Kate. The fervour between the two portrayed within the movies is undeniably strong and moving. For all of us softies, we are heartbroken as we watch Leo sinking towards the bottom, with Kate looking on in complete loss.
Now, I ask my students to experience along with me for just a moment. I keep these things imagine the movie without music. For whatever reason the emotion, the sentiment that we felt, is perhaps not gone, but significantly dwindled. Why? The movie\’s plot, characters, and story haven\’t changed. What\’s changed? Nothing, except our own emotions, the way we felt at the end. It is difficult to assume, is it not? Showing how invested we\’re in the music, which boosts our feelings about the actual events taking place in the film.
We check this out in history too. The examples are without end, yet incredibly numerous prior to and during the Second World War. The lack of support for becoming involved in the conflict was substantial. What did we want? More specifically, what did FDR have to rally support for becoming involved?
What was needed was for that nation to become, for lack of a better term, emotional. The answer came with the attack on Pearl Harbor. The threat was always there, as both Japan and Germany\’s aggression wasn\’t a secret. Yet, what was lacking was for that circumstances to become personal. For that American public to wish revenge.
In class I compare 9/11 to Pearl Harbor, as they produced similar responses both in terms of the public opinion as well as the government. Prior to 9/11 the masses hadn\’t truly considered Osama Bin Laden, and maybe many didn\’t even know he existed. Yet once we watched the terrible tragedy occur on our televisions, President Bush was quickly criticized for simply sitting in that classroom taking a moment to soak up the news of the attack. Why did he not move faster? Perhaps this outcry was for the president to consider a defensive response to prevent further casualties. Regardless, the sensation — more importantly, the emotion — soon transitioned right into a public response for retribution.
As an individual, my support for the military reaction to both Pearl Harbor as well as the World Trade Towers could be and was in line with the rest of the public. However, as a historian, my goal isn\’t to promote anyone \”correct\” action, but to indicate the catalysts in society that trigger these changing contexts. Certainly, emotion is at the top of my list. As my mentors and past professors have taught me, I try to teach my students the same. This being that regardless of what discipline or professions they pursue, throughout life one should be consistently critical. Not in the negative sense that people initially consider when that word is heard, but critical in terms of having a full knowledge of any situation before making a judgment. Going as far as to use myself within an example, saying that \”despite their trust in me, simply because I say that doesn\’t mean it is necessarily correct or maybe the entire story.\”
Propaganda during WWII applies well to my argument that emotion drives decisions of the masses. Norman Rockwell\’s Four Freedoms continue to be very moving in my experience. That being said, we cannot overlook the parts of history which are difficult to discuss. By simply doing a Search for support of the war effort, one will discover posters of the Japanese soldier holding a knife with blood dripping from it. In almost every picture japan soldier has fangs rather than teeth and quite a few of these images provide us with some sense of insecurity even on the domestic front.
The idea behind this propaganda was not to entice individuals to use their logic, but to stir their emotions. To state to themselves, \”is my loved ones safe?\” \”Will these Japanese soldiers be lurking nearby in the future when we do not act now?\”? To some large extent this propaganda was both very useful and ultimately effective. Yet much in the same manner that I place the question to my class, I will include it here. Did we differentiate these Japanese soldiers in the pictures using their company Asian Americans? Were we like a nation conscious of the effects they\’d have on the Asian American community? Japan internment camps answer that question.
On an optimistic note, we do not see that type of crude war propaganda today when referring to Al-Qaeda and the Taliban. A definite measurement we have grown as a nation rooted in human freedoms (although it could also be argued that Muslim Americans have experienced increased discrimination since 2001 among U.S society).
Coming back to emotion, the number of individuals have, without a good enough reason, changed their perspective once they see someone of Middle Eastern decent walking across the street? Muslim Americans who\’re productive and law abiding members of their communities have experienced the American view unjustifiably change.?? Regardless of the ethical argument here, emotions once again prove to be an integral part of our being. Yet to some large extent we\’ve drastically improved like a nation when it comes to Civil Rights in the 21st century.
Perhaps that\’s the reason being critical is so vital in any culture: to avoid the mistakes in our past, which are so easily made in a period of high stress, both on a personal level too on a national scale.
Of course, emotions have tremendously positive impacts on our way of life. Next time you\’re in a \”chick flick\” with your spouse and they lean to give you a kiss, think about the argument in this piece. (Disclaimer: Let me say that you risk being regarded as unromantic, to say the least.) However, it presents a great opportunity for understanding society who are around you. I would suggest you are the same person you had been before you entered the movie. However for some reason the motivation to exhibit those feelings dramatically increases in that specific moment. What has changed? The variable is this \”romantic propaganda\” if you will. The film, this \”influence\”, while not concrete is nonetheless strong in its effect.
I end my lecture with a final statement. Regardless of good or bad, emotions without a doubt dictate actions.
Dale Schlundt holds a Master\’s Degree in Adult Education having a concentration in American History in the University of Texas at Dallas and is currently an Adjunct Professor for Palo Alto College. Dale\’s new book Education Decoded (A Collection of My Writings) has become available on Amazon in paper back in addition to Kindle Edition.