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War Without Mercy: Race and Power in the Pacific War [Paperback]

John W. Dower
3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (60 customer reviews)

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Book Description

February 12, 1987 0075416522 978-0075416524 1st

Now in paperback, War Without Mercy has been hailed by The New York Times as “one of the most original and important books to be written about the war between Japan and the United States.” In this monumental history, Professor John Dower reveals a hidden, explosive dimension of the Pacific War—race—while writing what John Toland has called “a landmark book . . . a powerful, moving, and evenhanded history that is sorely needed in both America and Japan.”
Drawing on American and Japanese songs, slogans, cartoons, propaganda films, secret reports, and a wealth of other documents of the time, Dower opens up a whole new way of looking at that bitter struggle of four and a half decades ago and its ramifications in our lives today. As Edwin O. Reischauer, former ambassador to Japan, has pointed out, this book offers “a lesson that the postwar generations need most . . . with eloquence, crushing detail, and power.”

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Dower's premise in War without Mercy is a startling one: Though Western allies were clearly headed for victory, pure racism fueled the continuation and intensification of hostilities in the Pacific theater during the final year of World War II, a period that saw as many casualties as in the first five years of the conflict combined. Dower doesn't reach this disturbing conclusion lightly. He combed through piles of propaganda films, news articles, military documents, cartoons--even entries in academic journals in researching this book. Though his case is strong, Dower minimizes other factors, such as the protracted negotiations between the West and the Japanese.

From Publishers Weekly

One of the most disturbing examples of racism in the Pacific War was the execution of Allied POWs by the Japanese while American planes were dropping bombs on Tokyothis on the final day of the war, a year after Japan's defeat was assured. Dower, professor of Japanese history at UC San Diego, traces in rich detail the development of racism on both sides of the Pacific, including an analysis of wartime propaganda comparing Frank Capra's "Why We Fight" films with their Japanese counterparts. The book leaves no room for doubt about the intensity of racial loathing among all, and shows that its effects were virtually identical. This startling work of scholarship has a larger theme, however, than racially inspired atrocities in the Pacific theater. Dower examines the abrupt transition from what he describes as "a bloody racist war" to an amicable postwar relationship between the two countries, and notes that the stereotypes that fed superpatriotism and racial hatred were surprisingly adaptable to cooperation in peacetime. This phase of the relationship was followedin an instance of considerable historical ironyby an "economic Pearl Harbor," as Japan won victory after victory in the global trade wars and an entrepreneurial superpower was perceived as looming on the Pacific horizon. Japan's postwar accomplishments having shattered the teacher-pupil model that defined the countries' postwar relationship, pejorative stereotypes have been resurrected and applied to the battlefields of commerce. To cite one of the mildest of Dower's examples: 89% of Australian executives polled in 1984 considered the Japanese untrustworthy and devious. Those concerned with the seductive power and universal influence of racism in the 20th century will find this landmark study absorbing and essential. Photos.
Copyright 1986 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Pantheon; 1st edition (February 12, 1987)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0075416522
  • ISBN-13: 978-0075416524
  • ASIN: 0394751728
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.2 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (60 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #79,106 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

John W. Dower is professor emeritus of history at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His interests lie in modern Japanese history and U.S.-Japan relations. He is the author of several books, including Ways of Forgetting, War Without Mercy, Cultures of War, and Embracing Defeat, which received numerous honors (including the Pulitzer Prize).

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
149 of 173 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating and informative, but overstated July 31, 1999
By A Customer
Overall, this book presents a side of the Second World War with which most Americans are unfamiliar and may find shocking. It does a valuable service in exposing many of the prejudices of the time and especially in showing how those prejudices were at least partly responsible for the string of debacles endured by U.S. and other allied forces in the war's opening stages. It also does a very good job of giving the reader a glimpse of the kind of thinking that was prevalent in Japanese society prior to and during the war. In this sense it is an extremely important work and is highly recommended to anyone with a serious interest in the Pacific Theater. However, having said that, I will also say that the author overplays his hand and puts far too much emphasis on the role of racism, portraying it as the primary cause of the war and of the evils that transpired during its execution. As a result, it has a tendency to explain away a good many complex issues that deserve a fuller treatment. It also falls prey to one of the great pitfalls of almost all modern analyses of relations between Japan and America, namely the idea that in order to be balanced one must give equal weight to both sides in any argument. As a result, one might come away from reading this book with the idea that Japan and the United States were essentially of equivalent culpability and that their respective leaders were of a moral kind. This is an absolutely absurd notion, and one that seems to have taken root in more and more of the academic work that is being published recently. Nowhere is Dower's judgment with regard to the impacts of racism more questionable than in his conclusion, where he tries to explain away contemporary (1980's) trade frictions as the result of race hatreds. Read more ›
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57 of 64 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A book to set you thinking about the present August 2, 2006
War Without Mercy is not a comprehensive history of the Pacific War; if that's what you want, look elsewhere. Neither is it an "apologist's" account of the American conduct of the war, as some reviewers have suggested. If your mindset is "the Japanese deserved to suffer," don't read this book. If, however, you are interested in how racial stereotypes--views of the enemy as subhuman, primitive, childlike, animalistic, and so on--play a role in wartime, then read Dower's scholarly, engaging account of how the Americans thought about the Japanese and how the Japanese thought about the Americans. Dower never minimizes the atrocities perpetrated by the Japanese as they set about conquering other Asian countries and building their Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, but he provides a brand new perspective on why the Allies despised the Japanese as a people far more than they did the Germans. Not only will this book help you to understand how the dehumanization of the enemy makes possible the devastation of civilian populations, it will also make you think about the stereotypes of the enemy we encounter every day as the U.S. continues to fight wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
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43 of 51 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A reflection of ourselves by looking at the enemy July 23, 2000
Most of us read in school about how the peoples of War-era Japan or the former Soviet Union were manipulated by the press and other media. This book is about the subtle and not-so-subtle media manipulation in the US and Japan during the War in the Pacific.
In many ways, the media messages in the respective countries mirrored each other. For example, both Japan and the US looked upon each other as simian others. That is to say, the Japanese portrayed Americans as large apes and we portrayed them as monkeys. Another aspect of the war-time propaganda that the book explores is how each side used the protection of their country's women from the rapacious enemy as cause to fight.
Many other examples of how we and our enemy de-humanized the other to make killing easier are presented throughout the text. The book includes many images of political cartoons and magazine covers that are shocking in their brutal stereotyping of the enemy. It is somewhat ironic that two countries which claimed to be so different from each other could make that claim in such similar ways.
If you are interested in the Pacific War or about how propaganda was used in either the US or Japan, I would highly recommend this book
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39 of 52 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An excellent book - but beware the bias January 11, 2001
This is an excellent book which contributes a unique perspetive on way the Pacific war was fought. The good - Mr. Dower provides a fresh looking not only at the American view of the Japanese, but the more interestingly, the Japanese wartime view of the American, other western, and asian occupied peoples. The bad -Mr. Dower seems think racism explains everything. Why did we drop the A-bomb? Racism. Why were so few Japanese prisioners taken? Racism. Why did US airman shoot Japanese pilots who bailed out and not (for most part) German piots ? Racism. Why were western POW's mistreated? Racism. You get the idea. The problem is it just ain't so. The war was nasty and brutish because the Japanese leaders wanted it that way. They made the decision not to allow their soldiers to surrender (it was against the Japanese Military code), to deny western POW's access to red cross packages, and medicine, to execute airman who bombed Japan, to encourage japanese pilots to shoot US airman who bailed out, and to use Gas and biological warfare whereever they thought it to their benefit. Given the "kill or be killed" attitude of the japanese military, it was inevitable the war would be "without mercy". Please read the books "Blood and Bushido" or "Taken Captive" for another understanding of Japanese attitudes. Finally, Every American knew that if they lost the war without mercy would have been followed by a Japanese "peace without mercy". The amazing thing is that the western soldiers took Japanese prisoners, treated them well, and behaved generously toward Japanese civilians. Indeed, the USA treatment of Japan after the war proves how limited Mr. Dower's explaination is.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars I would read it again
This book is very informative. It shows you the work of bigotry/racism in the second world ward propaganda. If fact it tells you the U. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Article
1.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing
The author seems to be of the school that places equivalent racial hatred on both sides of the Pacific war. Read more
Published 5 months ago by Michael Epstein
5.0 out of 5 stars The Racist War
We all have heard or read of the atrocities committed by the Japanese to our Marines, sailors and soldiers during the Pacific War. Read more
Published 7 months ago by John Hanna
5.0 out of 5 stars I'm a fan of this writer
Most books about World War 2 go into detail about the battles or the effects of the war but often don't focus on mental state and the propaganda that was used by both the US and... Read more
Published 7 months ago by Christopher Jantzen
1.0 out of 5 stars The Worst Book I've Ever Been Forced to Read
I was assigned this book for a college course which focused on the War in Asia. My professor, much like the author of this book, seems to think racist propaganda was the only... Read more
Published 7 months ago by S.
4.0 out of 5 stars War Without Mercy - Great for College Class
I purchased this book for my daughter who needed it for a college course. She said the book is very resourceful and has helped her in her class.
Published 8 months ago by Ms. Black
1.0 out of 5 stars do not buy this book
should be 20 pages he goes over and over things I only got half way threw. it a lot of it makes no sense no structure
Published 15 months ago by R. P. schmidt
5.0 out of 5 stars Must Have!
This is definitely a must have for anyone wanting to know the truth of the Pacific side of WW2. I would suggest for any college class and history buff. Read more
Published 15 months ago by Kelli Blanton
3.0 out of 5 stars Oversold thesis
Dower writes a good study of the racially-charged nature of the war in the Pacific, but fails to connect the dots: i.e. Read more
Published 15 months ago by John D. Beatty
3.0 out of 5 stars Great Deal
Need it for a college course, was offered at a great price much cheaper then the campus bookstore. Arrived in a timely fashion.
Published 16 months ago by Spends To Much
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