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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 141

War Without Mercy is backgrounded by a bitter war between the United States and Japan during World War II. However, it frames the war largely as a race war perpetuated by the former, arguing that the US strategically utilized national support of the war effort to reassert Western primacy, particularly the primacy of American nationalist identity, over US-Japanese relations. Similarly, the Japanese side during the war sought to solidify public perception of the United States as a domineering Western evil.

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The book uses a variety of sources spanning different mediums to illustrate the complex ways in which each country leveraged mass media and racial biases to rationalize committing atrocities against other humans. It arrives at the insight that war will probably always be the most crude and depraved tool humanity can fashion for absolving itself of its intrinsic fears and biases.

War Without Mercy

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2612

A virtue of John Dower’s study of the wartime attitudes of Japanese and Americans toward one another is that it forces American readers to question their own opinions about the war. As with the war against Nazi Germany, the war against imperial Japan seemed to have clear-cut, black-and-white issues. Americans are still ill at ease when discussing the war in Vietnam, which divided society—the same can be said about the Civil War and other, lesser wars in American history. World War II, however, stands out in popular consciousness as a source of legitimate pride. It was a war that had to be fought, as the peaceful policies of the United States were challenged by the aggressive actions of Germany and Italy and their ally, Japan; as a result of the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the United States fought a war that merits the epithet “defensive” more than any other in American history since the Revolutionary War of 1776 to 1783. Dower is a specialist in twentieth century Japanese history, and he subjects this assumption to detailed analysis.

There was a unique ferocity displayed in the battles of the Pacific during World War II, and this is Dower’s point of departure. The correspondent Ernie Pyle, transferred from Europe to the Pacific in February, 1945, noted that the enemy in Asia was different: “In Europe we felt that our enemies, horrible and deadly as they were, were still people. But out here I soon gathered that the Japanese were looked upon as something subhuman and repulsive; the way some people feel about cockroaches or mice.” Charles Lindbergh, a civilian observer with United States forces based in New Guinea, expressed increasing concern in his diary about American atrocities committed against Japanese prisoners: “A Japanese soldier,” he wrote, “who cuts off an American soldier’s head is an Oriental barbarian, ’lower than a rat,’ whereas an American soldier who slits a Japanese throat ’did it only because he knew the Japs had done it to his buddies.’”

During the war, Pearl Buck and Lin Yutang repeatedly warned of the danger that hostilities could escalate into a more generalized race war, Japanese and Chinese becoming a solid, antiwhite racial bloc against the British and Americans. This danger was especially acute because of the British-American alliance and Asian memories of Great Britain’s earlier imperial conquests. In a speech in 1943, Pearl Buck said, “It is possible that we are already embarked upon the bitterest and longest of human wars, the war between the East and the West, and this means the war between the white man and his world and the colored man and his world.” Dower describes the progress of this “race war” from its imperialist beginnings to the denouement of the dropping of the atom bomb in...

(The entire section contains 2812 words.)

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