John W. Dower is a famous American historian born in 1938 in Providence, Rhode Island. He received numerous awards for his works including the Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction for his book ‘Embracing the Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II. He taught history at the University of Wisconsin, Madison and the University of California, San Diego now he is the Professor of International Cooperation at MIT. He also was the executive producer of the ‘Hellfire: A journey from Hiroshima’ documentary.
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In the book ‘War Without Mercy: Race and Power in the Pacific War’ the author studies the American – Japanese military and race conflicts. Dower points out that ‘apart from the genocide of Jews, racism remains one of the great neglected subjects of the World War Two’ (p. 4). In the first part of the book, he analyses the stereotypes of both sides towards their enemies: the Japanese were seen as sub-humans at the level of animals and the Americans were considered monsters. Both the USA and Japan promoted the idea of the supremacy of their own nation and this was a common feature of racism on both sides.
In the second chapter of the first part Dower mentions Frank Capra, one of the most famous American film directors who created a series of documentary war films titled ‘Why We Fight’ on the US government order in the 1940s. These films were intended to motivate new soldiers but later they got a general release in the theatres. The films depicted the Japanese as a great menace to the Americans and the whole world. The government allowed the release of the film ‘Know Your Enemy’ only in 1945, they did not like the sympathy given to the Japanese. To prove the dangerous nature of the enemy historical facts about Japanese invasions to Korea and China were used in the mentioned series of films. Further, the author switches to the propaganda from the Japanese government. The Series of films ‘Why We Fight’ had its counterparts in Japan: ‘Read This and the War is Won’ by Tsuji Masanobu and the manifesto titled ‘The Way of the Subject’ from the Ministry of Education. The Japanese analyzed the pages of American history concerning the situations with American Indians and African Americans. Both nations studied each others’ histories as a chronicle of destruction, exploitation and cruel wars.
The further parts of the book provide an in-depth analysis of racial stereotypes and wartime propaganda in the USA and Japan. The author also touches upon the differences in the American perception of the Germans and the Japanese.
In the epilogue Dower wonders how easily the wartime stereotypes and racism disappear once the war is over and suggests the only possible answer is that all the wartime stereotypes, propaganda and racial hatred are false and groundless.
In this book the author managed to find ties between war and culture, as ‘War Without mercy’ is not a book on racism its meaning is much broader. The issues of prejudice, tunnel vision and inability to see the situation from all sides are described in the present book. Overall, ‘War Without mercy’ is a thorough study of the propaganda in history, particularly in the Pacific war. It can contribute to the building of understanding and friendly relations between not only East and West but all the nations as well.
Dower, J. (1986). War Without mercy: Race and Power in the Pacific War. New York, USA: Pantheon Publishing.
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