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158 of 185 people found the following review helpful
on July 31, 1999
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. This pathetic and obvious red herring does little more than to serve as an apologia for a Japanese elite that has been doing anything its it power to prevent its very real and well documented (see Karel Van Wolferen's "The Enigma of Japanese Power," Clyde Prestowitz's "Trading Places," and Pat Choate's "Agents of Influence" for more) outrages with regard to its bilateral trade relationship with the United States from coming to light. Nonetheless, as I wrote earlier, I do recommend it for anyone with an interest in the Pacific Theater of the Second World War, but with the caveats that it should under no circumstances be treated as a comprehensive work and that its aforementioned shortcomings be kept in mind as one reads it. When Dower sticks to the subject of his book, without engaging in too much reckless speculation, he suceeds admirably in creating a readable and sometimes shocking history, boldly exposing in a way that few other books have even attempted, the dark side of "The Good War."
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63 of 72 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon 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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48 of 57 people found the following review helpful
on 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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49 of 65 people found the following review helpful
on 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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14 of 18 people found the following review helpful
A well-written, engaging,and illuminating account of how the Pacific War, which had been going on since 1931 (some might argue since 1895, when Japan defeated China in their struggle for control of Korea and Taiwan), became embroiled into the larger world conflict and how American and Japanese cultures dealt with it. The examination of ethnocentric stereotypes is superb. One would think that those who know anything about World War II in the Pacific from the American point of view would be aware of the anti-Japanese stereotypes (in, for example, the propaganda films of Frank Capra). As a result, Dower particularly fascinates with his analysis of Japanese propaganda (the familiar folk tale of Momotaro the Peach Boy having a more sinister underside than I was aware of, reading it in first grade) which might not be very well known to most American readers. This book should be suggested for any class on the Twentieth Century, and required for any class on World War II or the Pacific War in particular.
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17 of 23 people found the following review helpful
TOP 500 REVIEWERon August 4, 2002
This interesting book is an analysis of racist ideology in the conflict between the Allies and Japan in WWII. The author is a distinguished scholar known well for his innovative work on modern Japan. As other reviewers comment, this book presupposes a significant knowledge of WWII; readers new to this area will find themselves at sea. The book contains 2 essentially parallel components; analysis of Western racist thinking about the Japanese and analysis of Japanese racist thinking about the West. Treatment of both areas is systematic and fair. Dower uses a broad range of material to investigate these issues, including study of the usual historical materials like diplomatic documents, study of scholarly work done during WWII, and study of mass media. He attempts to provide a nuanced picture of this problem and is largely successful. For example, he has an interesting discussion of efforts by notable scholars, mainly anthropologists like the famous Ruth Benedict, to provide information useful to military and government. Some of this work was insightful and some, like the Freudian analyses of Japanese culture, ludicrous. It is important to note that this is not a volume driven by a naive conception that racism was responsible for the war but Dower argues convincingly that racism, on both sides, colored the conflict and gave the war in the Pacific and Southeast Asia a particular character. The section on Japan is probably the most interesting because it is hte least familiar to most readers. Dower shows very well the pervasive and distinctive character of Japanese racism, which differed significantly in character and origins from Western racism. Dower may underestimate inadvertantly somewhat the impact of Japanese racism. He shows very well that Japanese racism extended to other Asian ethnic groups and reviews the extensive evidence about the enormous casulties, particularly in China, inflicted by Japanese Imperialism. Since the focus of this book is not on the Japanese Empire in Asia but rather on the conflict with the US, Great Britain, and Australia, this extremely important topic does not get as much attention as it should. The last chapter of the book, in which Dower deals with the Occupation and also with modern attitudes is problematic. Dower points out that despite the ideology of hate and racism, the Occupation was relatively benign and that the Japanese actually embraced all the important changes imposed by the victors (see his excellent book, Embracing Defeat, on this topic). Dower suggests that aspects of the racist ideologies of both sides were flexible enough to incorporate elements that would encourage benign paternalism by the Americans and acceptance of outside innovation by the Japanese. This is a tenable hypothesis but an alternative hypothesis is that the racist ideologies were never that important. The last chapter is also dated. Written in the mid-80s, at the height of Japanese economic triumphalism, the last chapter contains discussions about attitudes that now seem rather dated.
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14 of 20 people found the following review helpful
Pulitzer Prize-winning historian John Dower begins "War Without Mercy" with an amusing account of his inspiration for the book: While working on a history of postwar Japan, Dower wrote a sentence noting how quickly and easily the virulent race hatred of the war years dissipated during the American occupation. Of course, he then had to include another sentence explaining the racial aspects of the war itself, which quickly became a paragraph, then a section, then a chapter, and finally this book, "War Without Mercy". The original history of postwar Japan, meanwhile, sat unfinished on a shelf.

The main criticism of "War Without Mercy" given by other reviewers is that it is too narrow to serve as a comprehensive history of the war -- in particular that it tries to explain the entire conflict only through race and does not devote enough attention to Japanese atrocities and war crimes. This criticism unfortunately misses the point of Dower's book: he is studying racism itself, but for some reason many of his critics seem to think he is trying to use it to explain all and sundry. "War Without Mercy" is not and makes no pretense of being a book about the Pacific War in general or even about atrocities and war crimes themselves. Instead it started as a mere tangent in a larger work and focuses on racial aspects of the war between Japan and the United States, especially the images each side used to describe the other and the war itself, along with some study of how they evolved after the fighting stopped.

As a history of race and power in the Pacific War, "War Without Mercy" is superb: well-organized, clearly written and offering interesting insights. It is divided into four sections, the first of which establishes the importance of the subject by showing how it contributed to the unique ferocity of the war in the Pacific: "Race hate fed atrocities, and atrocities in turn fanned the fires of race hate" (11). The second section studies American images of their Asian enemy, as apes, primitives, children, and 'little yellow savages', and of the war itself as a racial war between white and colored, while the third does the same for the Japanese side. Although the Japanese portrayed Europeans and Americans as decadent, impure, and downright demonic, they viewed their Asian neighbors in much the same contemptuous way as did Western imperialists. The final section explores the transition from war to peace, and the ways in which images and symbols were transformed: the apes became pets and the children became students, while on the other side the western demons shared their secret knowledge. At the same time, the negative images used during the war were transferred to the Soviet Union and (especially) Maoist China.

Meticulously documented, "War Without Mercy" reveals many fascinating aspects of the Pacific War commonly overlooked in more comprehensive studies. I was especially interested to read about contemporary concerns that American rhetoric of racial war would drive Chiang Kai-shek into an alliance with the Japanese (166-169), and that such language caused fully 18% of African-Americans to express "pro-Japanese inclinations" in a confidential poll conducted by black interviewers (174). "War Without Mercy" isn't a comprehensive history of the Pacific War, nor is it for everybody. It is, however, the best explanation I have seen of the merciless nature of the war itself and the psychology of the societies involved. If you have even the slightest interest in that subject, "War Without Mercy" will not disappoint.
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18 of 26 people found the following review helpful
on July 14, 2010
I can't speak to the prejudice of the Americans since I was a little girl in an internment camp under the Japanese during WWII.
The disdain for us "white, non asian" people was so obvious, you could taste it. I was only a little girl but I knew the Japanese didn't think much of us. They treated us as second class citizens who should be ashamed to be alive. They did every thing they could to hurt and mistreat us, including beatings beyond belief. Do I believe there was prejudice???? Yes, ofcourse! We hated the "Japs" as much as they hated us. Love and hate go both ways.
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11 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on May 28, 2002
Magnificently documented and detailed. Very focused on the issue of racial motivations, behaviors and practices leading to and during World War II in the Pacific. Balanced enough. The subtitle should be the title, "Race and Power in the Pacific War." This isn't a history of Pacific WWII; it's narrow. It is what it represents itself to be. Anyone interested in WWII will, of course, need to study the history from other dimensions. Arguably, it helps a lot if you already have a reasonable sense of the history of Japan from 1868 up to and including WWII. Don't look for endless descriptions of the atrocities each side perpetrated on the other; some are mentioned, but the gory details are absent.
Be prepared, it's a tad disorganized and you'll have to reach your own conclusions. The insightful gems are sometimes nearly hidden in the details. Others, such as the "Yamato [superior, or 'leading race'] Race" concepts, thread through the book, but oddly aren't even found in the index.
But the book may be enlightening about today's behaviors as well. Some of the underlying Japanese values and beliefs that lead to WWII clearly still survive and prosper among many Japanese managers and executives. Japanese business behaviors, that to Americans often seem completely irrational, seem far more logical when viewed in the context of traditional Japanese thought. If you need to understand the Japanese, then unfortunately, this is a necessary and fascinating read.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on April 3, 2015
the Pacific war was actually a race based war, each side hated each other and fought to the death. The Japanese hated the white colonial race and the white races hated the yellow sob,s it makes for grim reading but a very good view of the roots of that bloodbath.
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