Summary

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War Without Mercy, by John Dower, focuses on the effect of propaganda during World War II, and how its prevalence in Japanese and American culture escalated racial tensions, and from the American side, promoted evolutionary racism. At the start of the war, Japan considered itself superior to America and distrusted Americans and their western ideals. America, however, considered itself superior to Japan and viewed the Japanese people as “subhuman.” In large part, the media fueled these sentiments. The American media dehumanized the Japanese people, spreading the idea that these people were lower than white people on the evolutionary scale. This justified horrendous crimes against these people, and even their extermination. The Japanese media also denigrated the Americans. This incited distrust, fear, and hatred, and it escalated the events of the war, as the press in each country tried to mold public opinion to make the “enemy” seem exceptionally heinous.

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When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, they showed the Americans that they were innovative planners and shrewd warriors. Yet American propaganda still portrayed them as subhuman creatures, and the American media continued to promote the idea that Japanese people were evil and should be destroyed. In War Without Mercy, Dower conveys the brutality of the battles in the Pacific, and he stresses the brutality of the propaganda that contributed to atrocities committed on both sides, and ultimately, to the subjugation and oppression of the Japanese people as they were herded into internment camps.

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Analysis