402-472-2531 archives@unl.edu

Psychological Warfare in World War II

This online exhibit highlights selected propaganda leaflets used during World War II to influence Japanese soldiers serving in Japan and the Philippines, as well as Japanese civilians. The exhibition provides images of original leaflets and their translations. Items are drawn from MS 30, Robert Sandberg & Frank Hallgren, Propaganda Collection, which includes propaganda leaflets and related material created by the Psychological Warfare Branch of U.S. military forces operating in the southwest Pacific area during World War II.


Propaganda, or the process of influencing the thoughts and the emotions of an individual or a group of people, has been used throughout history, particularly in warfare. During World War I propaganda became accepted as a modern military weapon, crucial to successful military campaigns. The use of propaganda by military powers on both sides of the conflict increased exponentially during World War II. At that time, the term psychological warfare or “psy-war” replaced the word propaganda.

 Psychological warfare developed as a non-violent weapon meant to influence enemy soldiers and civilians through the use of paper leaflets or ” paper bullets.” Psy-war aims to demoralize a soldier, to weaken their resistance, or to convince a soldier to surrender to a stronger military force.



During World War II, the Psychological Warfare Branch (PWB), under the command of General Douglas MacArthur, operated in the southwest Pacific arena. The PWB used leaflets against Japanese soldiers occupying the Philippines and later towards Japanese soldiers and civilians in Japan. Selected military personnel appointed to the PWB received training in psychological warfare. J. Robert Sandberg and Frank M. Hallgren, both from Lincoln, Nebraska, were trained to work with the crews of airplane bombers and drop leaflets over target areas in the Philippines and Japan.

For more information, see  MS 30, Robert Sandberg & Frank Hallgren, Propaganda Collection.

Leaflet 508

Serial Number: 508

Purpose: To manifest to Japanese troops that Japanese soldiers have surrendered to Americans in the past.

Comments: The text not only cites the number of Japanese who surrendered to American forces on Saipan, but points out that although the officers among those who surrendered realized that Japan was losing the war, they had deliberately assured enlisted personnel that Japan was winning. Such comments should at least create doubts in the minds of enlisted men concerning the veracity of statements made by their own officers and the wisdom of making a futile stand.

Format: Text in heavy brush work on white paper 6″ x 9″. A single Japanese character for “thought” is on the reverse side.



Text:  In the Saipan operation more than 2,174 Japanese officers and enlisted men came over to the American forces. They were glad to save their lives and were surprised at the good treatment accorded them. Many even became friends of American soldiers.

What they said was interesting. The officers said they knew that Japan is losing the war and that defeat is inevitable. The enlisted men, on the other hand, had been told that Japan was winning. When they realized, however, that their navy and airforce could not aid them, they finally knew the truth. They realized that American industrial might was too great to be opposed by inadequate forces poorly equipped and supplied.

You can’t fight alone! don’t throw away your lives in vain!



Propaganda leaflet 508 written in Japanese
Japanese text on propaganda leaflet 508

Leaflet 509

Serial Number: 509

Purpose: To assure Japanese civilians that they will be treated well by American forces.

Comments: By citing the number of civilians who came over to American troops on Saipan, and by urging civilians to select representatives to observe American conduct toward the foe, it should be possible to allay their false fears of American cruelty toward Japanese.

Format:Text on white paper 6″ x 9″. Caption on reverse side is addressed to civilians.

Text: Japanese Civilians!

In spite of what you have been told, Americans have no quarrel with civilians. On Saipan alone 18,125 civilian men, children, and women came over to us and are now safe and happy under the kind care of Americans. Only a few who believed false stories of cruelty perished foolishly.

Do not believe falsehoods about American cruelty. See for yourselves! Select representatives to come forward and observe the treatment they will receive. Then these representatives can return and guide you to safety. You will receive food, water, clothing, and medical treatment.

Come during daylight and wear white or colored clothes. We do not wish to mistake you for troops.

Come quickly! You will be treated well!



Propaganda leaflet 509 written in Japanese
Propaganda leaflet 509, front side with Japanese text

Leaflet 520

Serial Number: 520

Purpose: To induce Japanese troops to surrender.

 Comments: This text is intended to make Japanese soldiers wonder why their leaders have been so insistent in impressing upon them the belief that surrender is synonymous with disgrace. The fact that there have been exceptions to the “no return to Japan” idea is casually mentioned, and an appeal is made to them to consider the ideals introduced during the ninteenth century by the Emperor Meiji.

 Format: Text on paper 5″ x 9 1/2″. Picture of Mt. Fuji on reverse side.


Text: In olden days, before Japan became a powerful nation, citizens were forbidden to visit other countries. If they returned to Japan after such a visit, they were put to death.

With enlightened rule of the Emperor Meiji, such practices were abolished. After the Russo-Japanese war, More than 2,000 Japanese soldiers taken prisoner by the Russians returned to Japan. Some of these men hold important positions in Japan today.

Who is trying to make Japan go back to former customs, against the wise policy of Emperor Meiji? Who is trying to prevent the return of soldiers who have devoted themselves to the nation’s welfare?

Are the Gumbatsu ashamed of their conduct of the war? Do they fear to have their mismanagement known at home? Do they fear to have you loyal soldiers see what they have done to the country? Will you allow them to succeed in their policy of deceiving you?



Propaganda leaflet 520 written in Japanese
One side of propaganda leaflet 520 featuring Japanese style artwork

Leaflet 704

Serial Number: 704

Purpose: To assure the non-combatant Japanese colonists that they will receive friendly treatment at American hands.

Comments: Japan’s failure to aid them and kind American treatment are both stressed. The procedure for surrender is also indicated.

Format: Text in violet ink on yellow paper 5″ x 7 1/2″. The illustration on the reverse side has a pagoda design with an inscription “To Japanese Colonists!!”

Text: Japanese Colonists

 You have come to the South Seas to till the soil and develop the myriad islands of the Pacific. You have worked hard. You are far away from the home land and from your friends. Life has not always been easy. But you endured because the military leaders promised to send ships. But they are all hiding in NAICHI. The Arawashi will not come out to save you in the South Seas. All their promises have been broken.

 Now the American fleet and land forces have come to occupy this island. The American air force has driven the Arawashi away. They have already taken the GILBERTS, the MARSHALLS, and the MARIANAS. They have driven back the Japanese fleet.

 But you need not die. You can build a new life like the hundreds of thousands of Japanese in HAWAII. After the fighting is over you will be returned to your farms and your homes will be rebuilt. You will be given food, water, and medical care immediately.

 Here is what to do: Come out unarmed in the daytime, wear white or colored clothes, and carry white flags held high. Show the American troops that you are friendly and they will treat you as friends.

 Save your lives.


Propaganda leaflet 704 written in Japanese
One side of propaganda leaflet 704 with artwork and Japanese text

Leaflet 806

Serial Number: 806

Purpose: To convey the idea that voluntary cessation of hostilities does not involve disgrace.

Comments: Again reference is made to Japanese history to indicate the fallacy in the thought that surrender under honorable circumstances is an ignominious act.

Format: Text on paper 5″ x 9 1/2″. Deer shown on reverse side.

Text: Many Japanese believe that it is a disgrace to cease hostilities at one’s request after fighting to the best of one’s ability.

Where did you get this idea? Who made you think this?

There was no such idea when the Tokugawa submitted to the Emporer Meiji.

There was no such idea when more than two thousand Japanese prisoners were returned to Japan after the Russo-Japanese War. Many of these men are now in high positions in Japan. Why has the Gumbatsu suddenly taught that it is a disgrace to return to Japan?

Should you not think deeply about this matter?


Propaganda leaflet 806, written in Japanese
Japanese style artwork on one side of propaganda leaflet 806