Book Report (War Without Mercy: Race and Power in the Pacific War)

Throughout the course of history it is apparent that racism is present in most societies. During times of war people of a certain race may choose to segregate themselves in order to become the leading power in their society. In his book, War Without Mercy: Race and Power in the Pacific War published in New York by Pantheon books and copyrighted in 1986, John W. Dower presents arguments for both the United States and Japan which constitute similarities in the belief of a superior race as well as illustrates contradictions on how each side viewed the war. The book begins with “Part I: Enemies” which is made up of the first 3 chapters.

Part I starts off with a summary of the idea of a race war because of the race issues that erupted everywhere in World War II. Dower mentions that “apart from the genocide of the Jews, racism remains one of the great neglected subjects of World War Two. ”(page 4) Dower swiftly narrows focus to just the American and Japanese race conflicts. The first chapter briefly discusses the stereotypes each country had for one another, like the “subhuman” interpretation that western allies had towards the Japanese and the “demons and monsters” interpretation the Japanese had towards Americans. pages 9-10) Dower also briefly touches on the similarities of both the Japanese and American racism, like when he suggests that “The propagandistic deception often lies, not in the false claims of the enemy atrocities, but in the pious depiction of such behavior as peculiar to the other side. ” (page 12) Chapter 2 looks into the 7 documentaries by Frank Capra titled Why We Fight. These films were very controversial in America though originally intended for orientating new soldiers. Know Your Enemy-Japan was the most controversial.

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What was interesting about this film is that it was not released until after 3 years because the government did not like the way the Japanese were portrayed. They did not want the public to see Japanese as “free thinking” because it would evoke “too much sympathy for the Jap people. ”(page19) The government wanted to paint the picture to the American people that the Japanese acted out of obedience. After the Japanese got hold of these films they decided to look at western and American History in the same way that Americans were looking at the Japanese history: “as a chronicle of destructive values, xploitative practices, and brutal wars. ” (Page 24) Dower argues that both the Japanese and the Americans painted their enemy as the complete opposite of themselves in order promote propaganda. In chapter 3, the last chapter of Part I, John Dower answers the question of why the Japanese were seen as worst than the Germans. He reflects on the fact that the Americans only saw the Japanese as the “Japs” whereas they saw the Germans as either “Nazi or German,” meaning they believed there were still some good Germans. Dower brings up the war bombings and the 2 sided views the American people had of it.

Pearl Harbor was seen as “the arch symbol of the stab in the back” to the U. S. by the Japanese. Dower suggests that because there was a direct attack of the American people by the Japanese that that is what led to the different feelings towards them and the Germans. Dower shines light on how the Americans did not think badly of themselves though they did send bombs just like the Japanese did in Pearl Harbor, to American’s this was a way to halt the spread of communism and for the Japanese this was an attempt to move towards Nationalism and Independence.

Part II: The War in the Western Eyes consists of chapters 4-7. In this part the author restates the dehumanization of the Japanese. He argues that the American propaganda directly subjected the Japanese people and made them subhuman and almost animal like. Dower gives many examples of this dehumanization taking place, like when the Marines would tell sailors when they got on boars that “Fighting the Japs was like fighting a wild animal… The Japs take all kinds of chances, they love to die. (Page 89) Oddly enough, John Dower points out, the United States and Britain changed their perspective of their Japanese opponents to that of an angry and dangerous superhuman.

Part II is very interesting during chapter 6 when Dower presents studies conducted by psychologists and other scientists that suggest that the Japanese are mentally inferior to Americans. “By 1944, a considerable number of social and behavioral scientists had thus turned their attention to Japan…they agreed that…immaturity was a critical concept in understanding Japanese behavior. (Page 131) In the last chapter of Part II dower alludes to the history of racism in America. The Chapter is called “Yellow, Red, and Black Men” which refers to the different groups that the United States oppressed because of the color of their skin. In this chapter Dower relates the racial topic from chapter 6 to the different races oppressed by the United States. In Part II dower uses the hypocrisy of the United States to point out that the United States is not as “perfect” as they make themselves appear.

Dower changes things in Part III by implementing the idea that Japanese racism differentiates from that of American racism in that it does not necessarily have to do with Race. Chapter 8 explains that Japanese racism has more to do with genetics. The Japanese believed themselves to be “historically purer then other peoples genetically and morally,” and these attributes they associated with the “divine origins of the Yamato race. ” (Page 215) In chapter 9 Dower brings afloat the idea of “the insider and outsider” in the Japanese culture. Page 234) Dower explains that to the Japanese “outsiders” could possess certain skills that can be helpful to the community, or they can possess skills that can seem harmful or bear evil. Dower explains that during the “Tokugawa period (1600-1868) Christianity had been known as the Barbarian sect. ”(Page 239) He argues that in this time period the Japanese thought of the Western civilization as “Barbarian” in nature. Interestingly enough John Dower alludes to the fact that the United States is portrayed as an “Oni,” which in the Japanese culture is a demon-like character.

Dower argues that Japan used these characters to say that “the mission of the Yamato race was to prevent the human race from becoming devilish. ” The last chapter of Part III, chapter 10, proceeds to go over the document that acted as a stepping stone for policy makers in Japan, the Investigation of Global Policy with the Yamato Race as Nucleus. This chapter can be summarized as this, all the races in the world are completely different and it is Japans Job to out these races in their place. The Final part of the book, Part IV is made up of only 1 chapter.

In this chapter Dower reflects on the death tolls of the war as well as question how all this hatred between the 2 races could just disappear relatively quickly. He believes that it may be because all in all most of the stereotypes were not true. He also stressed that maybe some of the stereotypes have been modified in order to fit the situation. Dower uses as an example the fact that the Japanese reversed their portrayal of the “oni” which represented the United States. They made it so that the United States would be the good version of the “outsider. He concludes by saying that World War Two in Asia gave us a graver understanding “not only of our past, but of the present as well. ”(Page 317) I found this book very insightful. The fact that it contradicts a lot of history books, in that it does not sugar-code the United States role in this war, is fascinating. I thought Dower made a great point saying that “the problem of racism is often approached by a one-way street named White Supremacism. ”(Page 179) I being from another country can see that skin color is not the only determining factor of racism.

Sometimes Ancestral background could determine your hierarchy in society. I found it interesting that a lot of the subjects he touched upon I had very little knowledge of before this book, like the fact that Japanese people were racist towards their own people. This struck me because from past history classes I to believed that it was a war between “The Japs” and the United States. I did not realize that they had social and racial conflicts in their own country in the time of World War II. Whilst reading War Without Mercy, I enjoyed the examples of the propaganda flyers in chapter 2.

Examining the pictures at this day and age made me cringe. Now-a-days people get so offended by the smallest of things in America that it is hard to believe that this kind of Propaganda was in some acceptable. This brings me to my next point, why did the United States think that ridiculing a country as harshly as they did to Japan was ok? Dowers explanation could not be clearer. The idea that Americans saw the demise of Japan as a way to stop communism makes sense. It was rather disturbing to read that the United States sort-off fabricated Documentaries to get the American People on board with the “War against Communism”.

The government specifically asked for the documentaries to make people uncompassionate towards the Japanese. I believe this was probably easier to do back in the 1940’s because with our great access to the internet we can figure out for ourselves who we think is the enemy and who isn’t. My favorite part of the book is Part II. In this part I could see what Dower was trying to illustrate, which, I believe, is the United States trying to justify racism. The great lengths that the United States went to prove the inferiority of the Japanese race is so discombobulating.

They did not only say the Japanese were inferior but they got psychologists, sociologists, etc. coming out in this era and ruling on behalf of the “superior race,” in this case, whites. This part also alludes to the fact that the United States, though it stands as one, is a country divided in itself. I really liked that Japan would say this from time to time. Not only were the United States hypocritical because of this they were also kind of delusional if they thought they had nothing at all in common with Japan.

John Dower wrote a great book that dealt with race and the racial tension experienced during the war between the United States and Japan. He brought forth many points that make the reader second guess America’s purpose in the Pacific War. Did the United State just want to prove that Whites are smarter, better, faster, stronger, etc, or where the intentions of the United States really to “end the spread of communism” for the sake of the American people? We might never know, but John Dower’s book does shine some light in the gray areas of the Pacific War that can really change your perspective.

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Book Report (War Without Mercy: Race and Power in the Pacific War). (2017, Jan 23). Retrieved from