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The Politics of Rage

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B.B. Sams, © SEPS

America has witnessed heated presidential campaigns before, but seldom with the level of vociferous anger being expressed this year. While much of the rage seems to be directed at “others” — Mexicans, Muslims, and immigrants from all over — many have pointed out that its true source is the enormous social and economic shift brought about by technology. As author Michael Kimmel argues in his book Angry White Men, many voters feel “betrayed by the country they love, discarded like trash on the side of the information superhighway.”

Where does reasonable anger at bad luck or circumstance end and irrational hatred begin? For historical perspective, a lesson can be drawn from World War II, when rage against the Japanese bubbled over following the attack on Pearl Harbor. At the time, motion pictures, cartoons, and propaganda depicted the Japanese as buck-toothed, semi-human caricatures. No less a figure than General John L. DeWitt, head of the Western Defense Command, told Congress at the time, “The Japanese are an enemy race. We must worry about the Japanese all the time until [they are] wiped off the face of the map.”

Even at the height of World War II, most Americans were outraged by such rhetoric. In a 1943 editorial, the Post lauded “the wave of indifference which greeted the recent effort of a small group of super-duper patriots to make the rest of us feel guilty for not hating the enemy enough.”

More hate, the editors pointed out, was not an answer to the world’s problems, nor would it lead the Allies to victory:

“Undoubtedly, there are plenty of reasons to hate our enemies. Those who know what the Japanese have done to captured soldiers and civilians could not exclude hate from their hearts if they wanted to. But this has not much to do with winning the war, and certainly nothing at all to do with making the peace.”

“We wonder why people deplore our lack of interest in hatred,” added Pacific-based Staff Sergeant Hobert Skidmore in an article published a few months later. Speaking for his fellow soldiers, he continued, “We know the quality of hatred. But charity is greater in us than hatred. [Anger] is not an abiding and continued feeling. It is the thing that makes a soldier in combat achieve the nearly impossible. But it must be controlled. An angry man has his guard down. He endangers himself and the other members of his ship, or plane, or gun crew, or foxhole. There is a word we have in the Army for a guy who is always filled with anger and hatred. It isn’t a pretty word.

“At the right time and for the right thing, anger is valuable. A continuing hatred isn’t worth a damn. Do our civilian law officers hate criminals and lawbreakers? No, they have contempt for them and arrest them and punish them. It is a very satisfactory and democratic solution.

“Hatred we know. We are fighting an enemy capable of hatred. They really loathe us and no fooling about that. They hate us with a blind fury: You probably have noticed that they are losing the war, will lose the peace, will lose something the people of a nation should never lose.”

Today, as campaign rhetoric becomes increasingly inflamed, these reasonable words bear repeating.


Research by Saturday Evening Post archivist Jeff Nilsson.

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  • Everet Adams

    Politics of rage?
    Being a 90 year old history buff, I find things different. Most Americans realize that Washington politics are a mess. Indeed, all politics are messy somewhat, but at a national level they are awful. Many years ago, following the civil war, the Republican controlled government produced the fourteenth amendment o our constitution it was designed to help the black people newly freed from slavery. The big clause it stated that all men, born in the United States or naturalized, should have equal protection under the laws. The Republicans were the good guys. The Democrats (mostly Southerners) were the bad guys. This was followed with Jim-Crow politics for years. Democrats were bad guys; Republicans were good guys. Nothing much happened. Then one day, the bad guys realized that their grip was slipping away. Somebody got smart, “lets change tactics, we will use the press to make us look like good guys.” So propaganda began along with promising anything under the sun. Promises were made to mean nothing but with clever political talk they resumed control over the black people. Cleverly they slipped them crumbs from the political table, with the slave collar attached, “either you support our party or no crumbs.” Now they poise as the good guys, and the Republicans are too stupid to catch on.
    As for me, after ninety years of politics, I expect nothing and I am never disappointed.

  • Terry, I do not understand you. Pres. Obama has rescued the economy from the Great Recession and protected us from another 9/11. Unemployment has been cut in half and middle-class wages are rising again. The stock market has tripled and until this year, the budget deficit was at a 10-year low. More people have health insurance than ever before, inflation is at record lows, and how do you like those gas prices?

    Illegal immigration is the lowest it’s been since its peak in 2007 and ISIS is clearly on the run. Do you remember when our troops and contractors were being killed on a daily basis in the Middle East? Obama ended that–AND killed our #1 enemy, Osama bin Laden.

    But if all you listen to are the lies on talk radio and mistake poltically divisional propaganda to be the truth, then of course you will be angry. But much of what you think you know is simply not true.

  • Allan Siemers, EdD

    We need to study history (yes, Deborah Cutter). And we need to employ teaches of history to do it. Not those whose college majors were anything but, and who fill in as social studies teachers all too often.

  • Allan Siemers, EdD

    We need to study history (yes, Deborah Cutter). And we need to employ teaches of history to do it. Not those whose college majors were anything but, and who fill in as a social studies teacher all too often.

  • Sue Rux

    As an 85 year old woman born in the south where the “colored” were hated and gone through the 2nd world war and the Korean War and the Viet Nam War and the civil rights war , etc etc, I have found the only solution to the hatred is KNOWLEGE of the “other”. My husband an I lived in Pakistan for 3 years in the early 60s and found the Muslims mostly wonderful people burdened by the same hatred of “others” by their own people. It has to be a human nature thing that has not been completely eradicated. Only time and genetic engineering can solve this I fear.

  • Deborah Cotter

    Ignorance, fear, and unwarranted hatred are the culprits. Too bad more press is not given to all the positive things Democrats have done since this great nation got its start. Yes, we need to study and learn from history in order to avoid repeating its mistakes.

  • terry

    Really??? Do you have to succome to the left PC narrative to get your biased point across. Most people are really really angry at the administration –for ruining our country, our morals,and our constitution and rights. If we got rid of thos bastards, few people would be mad, and this stupid article wouldias. be moot. The dems are paying people to start fights and uprisings at conservative events. Got it??? Stick your b