In the book, War without Mercy, Race and Power in the Pacific War, by John W. Dower and Published by Pantheon Books in 1986, the author powerfully illustrates the extreme racial tensions of Japan and the United States and how they affected policies in both countries. During World War II, the altercations between Japan and the United States were often overlooked, since Germany was taking all of the attention away from the world.
But, as described by Dower, the ugly racial battles between Japan and the United States obviously point out that there was more friction between the two countries than most people believe.
Another overlooked aspect of World War II is that racism was actually a major component of the war, not just a partial element of the War. Dower demonstrates that racism was a huge underlying factor that affected how people viewed the war as well as the war itself and that racism is highly neglected as a subject of World War II.
Lastly, Dower argues how the racial stereotypes that fueled Pacific conflict did not disappear, but rather adapted to peacetime. Throughout the book Dower argues three major components of World War II; that the United States had more racist aggression against the Japanese over the Germans, that Racism was a huge influence during World War II, and that racism between that United States and Japan not only continued but also played a big role in peacetime and rebuilding policies between that two countries. Dower opens his book with the chapter: Patterns of a Race War.
The chapter explains that the beginnings of the war not only started up racial conflicts between many countries, but also “sharpened awareness of racism within the United States”. (5) In fact many Asian Americans and African Americans had many mixed feelings about fighting a war for the white people of the United States. This stresses the importance that World War II spiked up many important racial issues throughout the world, not just with the parties involved. Then the focus shifts to the racial stereotypes between the United States and Japan.
The United States viewed the Japanese as “subhuman…routinely turning to images of apes and vermin to convey this. ”(9) While the Japanese viewed the United States as “vivid monsters, devils and demons” (9) by pointing out the bombing of Japanese cities or the lynching of blacks in America. Here we can already see the foundation of one of Dowers arguments, that racial tension was often a much overlooked subject of World War II. The racial tensions between the countries were so extreme that “popular writers even declared it as a holy war”. 7) This also highlights Dower’s argument that racism was a key underlying root in the war. The book continues with the chapter: Know Your Enemy. It opens with the propagandist cinema of Frank Capras, Why We Fight. The documentaries were meant for incoming American soldiers as well as being a morale booster for soldiers already enlisted. The documentaries were admired by the military, since fifty military and civilian agencies accepted the script. Even President Roosevelt liked it so much that he made it available for public viewing in theatres.
However, when Know Your Enemy came out, also by Frank Capra, the government completely held off its release for three years. The reason this controversial documentary couldn’t be released is because the government didn’t want people to think of the Japs as “free-thinking” (19) and that it would “evoke too much sympathy for the Jap people. ” Instead the government wanted to build a blind stereotypical that the Japanese were people who should be stopped and fought against. Similarly, the Japanese had their own counterpart propaganda to Why We Fight.
A manifesto entitled “The Way of The Subject” “told the Japanese who they were-or should aspire to be-as a people, nation, and race. ”(24) The Japanese had their own form of propaganda which skewed the Japanese people’s view of the west. The result of all this propaganda resulted in both sides looking at each other with an artificial disgust, as being polar opposites of each other, and preached extermination of the other side. This is another strong argument for Dower that racism was a hugely influent force on World War II.
The Chapter War hates and War Crimes highlight the atrocities of war crimes on the Japanese side. Japan committed war crimes while knowing that defeat was inevitable. The Sino Japanese conflict also gave further evidence to the rest of the world that the Japanese were ruthless, and killers of woman. All of these instances combined with American propaganda, supports another one of Dowers arguments; that the United States was more hateful towards Japan, over Germany. Japan, in the United States eyes, was a much bigger threat Germany, in fact the “Holocaust was not even mentioned in the Why We Fight series”. 35) The fact that a big event such as the Holocaust is not even mentioned in the documentary being shown throughout the country shows how much more focus the United States emphasized on the Japanese over the Germans.
Dower also points out that the Japanese people were thought of as one singular population, while in Germany, there where the Germans and the Nazi’s. This allowed differentiate that there were some good Germans, but no good Japanese. The United States also hated the Japanese more because “they humiliated the United States…militantly in unprecedented ways, symbolized by Pearl Harbor. (35) The symbolism of Pearl Harbor allowed for much more hatred to be directed at Japan, while Germany never made a direct attack to U. S. soil. Even propaganda showed more dislike towards Japanese. In a cartoon by David Low, there shows an ape stomping on Cebu, with Hitler in the back looking on acceptingly. The mere fact that they depicted Japan as a monkey and Germany as a human, illustrates the obvious preferred hate of the Japanese over the Germans. They also consider the acts Japan is taking as more threatening.
All of this evidence further supports Dower’s argument that Japan was more resented than Germany by the United States. In the Chapter Apes and Others, there is even more evidence that the United States directed more hatred towards the Japanese, rather than the Germans. Dower believes that the true feelings towards the Japanese could be illustrated by how the United States treated Japanese-Americans inside their own country. Japanese-Americans were forced to move out of their homes, and treated less than human at internment camps. A U. S. general even said “the only good Jap is a dead Jap”. 78) This is more blatantly obvious evidence supporting Dower that racism is a major and overlooked component of World War II. This chapter also mentions how “Japanese were perceived as animals, reptiles, and insects” and “the Japanese herd” (81) while Nazis were almost always called Nazis. This provides even further evidence of the obvious dehumanization of Japanese people. In the Chapter lesser men and Supermen, an interesting pattern occurs where Americans at first view the Japanese as a much inferior society, not capable of performing any tasks that could threaten the United States.
In fact, when Pearl Harbor first happened many U. S. generals believed that the Japanese weren’t advanced enough to pull of a pilot attack, and that possibly white mercenaries attacked Pearl Harbor. Yet “after Pearl Harbor, the polarity switched and the Japanese became superhuman”. (99) The propaganda in the U. S. drastically switched the perception on how the Japanese fought in wars. Early losses in the war to Japan quickly brought out polar views in how the Japanese were viewed before. The U. S. saw Japan as a “more formidable adversary than the Germans”. 99) These views that the Japanese were either lesser man or supermen highlight the fact that the U. S. never viewed them as regular human beings. These propaganda techniques still made it acceptable in American society to not view the Japanese as people. In the Chapter; Primitives, Children, Madmen, the U. S. ran lots of character studies on the Japanese.
These studies led to the belief that Japan as a whole, was a primitive, childlike, country. “The metaphor of the child was used in a manner that highlighted the overlapping nature of immaturity, primitivism, violence, and emotional instability as key concepts for understanding the Japanese. (143) The treatment of Japanese people as a childlike society almost occurs on an unconscious level in the U. S. Both Churchill and Roosevelt believed the best policy for Japan (before the war with Japan) would be to “baby them along” (142) and when Japan invaded South East Asia their army was rumored to be “half-trained 16-year old kids” (142) The Chapter Yellow, Red, Black Men focuses of the history of American culture and how it comes back to relate to some of the scenarios presented in the racial tensions between the United States and Japan. Throughout the U. S. there was a fear of ‘yellow peril’ and how the U.
S. must protect themselves from this threat. However, the United States was actually much separated on the subject by race. Many Black Americans felt as if they were “Fighting a White Man’s War”. (177) A black man who was just drafted said “ I want you to know I ain’t afraid. I’ll fight Hitler, Mussolini, and the Japs all at the same time, but I’m telling you I’ll give those damn crackers down south the damn medicine. ” (177) The fact that Japan defeated Russia in the Russo-Japan War in 1905, and slowed down the ‘white supremacist’ gave blacks reason enough to somewhat support Japan.
World War II also broke out several racial awareness groups, especially for the blacks in the United States. The fact that such racial tension rose out of this even with people who were not directly involved with the war, showed that racial issues had to be a major component of World War II. In the Chapter, The Pure Self, the attention now shifts from how the United States viewed the war to how the Japanese viewed the war. This chapter emphasizes how the Japanese version of racism greatly differed from the American version. The Japanese viewed people not in terms of color but rather ‘purity’.
The Japanese saw themselves as “neither physically nor intellectually superior to others, but inherently more virtuous. ” (205) In a way, the view the Japanese is almost not racist, since it focuses so much on ‘purity’ rather than skin color. They thought their uniqueness as a race is what made them superior to other races. The Japanese declared that they were “fighting for their very existence, for the liberation of Asia, and ultimately the construction of a new global order” (224) while “the Americans were fighting to preserve their own luxury. ” (224)
In The Demonic Others, the Japanese go outside the boundaries of their own country to focus on how the portrayed the allied powers as “monsters, demon, or devils and of fellow-but deranged or degenerate-humans. ” (242) Through these views you can see that the Japanese version of racism was very different than the American version. Americans were also viewed as an outsider who could “be the bringer of calamity, the bearer of evil. ” (234) Through these beliefs that the Japanese shared, you can tell that there were lots of complexities in their culture, which the Americans severely ignored, especially through their propaganda.
Japans version of racism was very intricate, while Americans only viewed them as savages or animals. In, Global Policy with the Yamoto Race as Nucleus, the chapter basically summarizes the belief that the Japanese had a mission to put all races on earth into their proper position since they are unequal. The report claims to “confront the issue of racism directly. ” (264) The Japanese also claim they would have a policy for “planting Japanese blood on the soil of Asia. (265) These views further demonstrate Japans belief that they were the superior race, not by skin color, but by a spiritual responsibility. In the Chapter, From War to Peace, the focus swiftly changes to the mood of the world, post-World War II.
Dower brings up another argument for how race hate throughout the world can disappear so quickly after the war. One simple answer is that the views depicted on both sides were extremely false, however there is evidence that “the same stereotypes that fed super patriotism and outright race hate were adaptable to cooperation. (302) For example, Leatherneck, a western marine magazine that depicted the cruelest portraits of the Japanese during the war, now had “a smiling marine with an appealing, but clearly vexed monkey on his shoulder, dressed in the oversized uniform of the Imperial army. ” (302) This portrait still displays the Japanese on a animal level, however, the picture seems to portray that the U. S. will take Japan under its wing, and forge a parent-child relationship. This is undeniable evidence that the same stereotypes that depicted the Japanese as savages, now only adapted to the current situation, but were still as blatantly racist as before.
Before I read this book, I felt like I was somewhat knowledgeable on the subject of World War II. However, after reading this, I feel like my eyes have been opened to a completely new dimension about the war that I never knew existed. All of the propaganda the U. S. used, as well as U. S. presidents and Generals making blatantly racist statements toward the Japanese completely stunned me. While reading this book I couldn’t believe some of the statements that both sides said about each other. I found myself constantly asking, what if these remarks were made by todays politicians?
But I also quickly realized that there is still a lot of propaganda in today’s media which skews a lot of views. The book itself was very well written. You can tell the Dower tried to be a very fair and unbiased author, which he did. He also brought up numerous supporting examples to support his arguments throughout the book. In Conclusion, I really enjoyed reading this book since it kept me interested and thinking the whole way through. But, the biggest reason I enjoyed it was it brought me back to that time period to understand it clearly and I feel like it taught me a whole new view on World War II and the world in general.
Cite this War Without Mercy, History Paper
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