Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 322
Since War Without Mercy is an historical work rather than a work of literature, it does not have characters driving the story in the same sense that a novel does. Instead, author John W. Dower plunges into a large variety of historical sources to provide voices for the era.
Two of the most important "characters", as such, are the war correspondents Ernie Pyle and Charles Lindbergh. Both testify to the racial nature of the war waged and the contrast between seeing the German enemy as human and the Japanese enemy as subhuman. Lindbergh explains how a Japanese soldier who beheads an American soldier is considered a barbarian, while an American soldier who uses a knife to kill a Japanese soldier can be forgiven, since he is only avenging his fallen friends. They provide eyewitness accounts of the fighting and brutality, explaining how both sides in the conflict used a racial lens for propaganda and morale, thus dehumanizing the "other."
Other voices are heard throughout the story, such as that of the Chinese writer Lin Yutang, who warned that the war in the Pacific might devolve into a war of "yellows and whites," meaning the Japanese and Chinese against the Americans, Australians, and British. The American Pearl Buck, who lived much of her life in China, agreed with this racial characteristic of the war, noting that World War II had become a war of the white man in his space against the non-white man in his own space.
Dower draws upon the voices of American journalism in the war, such as Reader's Digest and Time. He thus expands the "characters" of the story to include civilians, politicians, and the average American writing letters to newspaper editors, identifying aspects of racism and racial identity. He then writes about Japanese concepts of race, both biological and cultural, explaining the Japanese vision for an Asia that supports Imperial Japan by making all other peoples second-class citizens.
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