Themes

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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 230

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One of the primary themes that John Dower explores is the importance of race and racism in World War II, especially in the Pacific Theater. Within this overarching theme, Dower explores the ways that racist ideologies and stereotypes were used by both the United States and Japan. In addition, he lays out the theme that racism within the United States increased because of the war. This ties in closely to the theme of propaganda and the media as vehicles for promoting racism, sometimes dominating patriotism even more than they supported it. One significant contribution is Dower’s exploration of racism in association with nuclear weaponry used against Japan but not against Germany.

Because the United States entered World War II after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, most people in the United States blamed Japan for U.S. involvement, including loss of service members’ lives. Blatantly racist caricatures and rhetoric greatly accelerated from December 1941 onward, quickly overtaking anti-German sentiments expressed in various media. The idea that imperialist aggression was racially motivated was one component of the criticisms against Japanese invasion and takeover of Pacific territories. Dower’s research, however, uncovered that in Japan, the same rhetoric appears in attacking U.S. motivations and actions, including the U.S. presence in the Philippines and Hawaii. Furthermore, condemning U.S. hypocrisy because of anti-black racism was a prominent feature of Japanese propaganda.

Themes

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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 133

One theme central to War Without Mercy is the illusory good-versus-evil mentality harbored by participants on any side of a war. Both Japan and the United States perceived themselves as fighting a depraved, inhumane opponent. In reality, both countries committed atrocities against mankind, including acts of terrorism; for example, Japan obliterated Pearl Harbor, and the US dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima.

Another theme is the ability of mass media to propagate perceptions and assumptions that are blatantly incorrect. The author suggests that both the US and Japan artificially inflated public opinion about the war effort using sophisticated propaganda machines. By cultivating a mentality of the patriotic home nation fighting against the primitive, violent "other," both countries succeeded in creating a reductive popular perception of the complex and valid motives of their opponent.

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