Review of Dower's War Without Mercy

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Dower, John W. War Without Mercy: Race and Power in the Pacific War.
Pantheon Books, New York, 1986.
In this seminal work on the Pacific war John Dower, Professor of History at the Michigan Institute of Technology and Pulitzer Prize winning author, discusses the effect had in the Allied war with Japan. It is the author's opinion that racism and prejudiced attitudes played a role in the development of atrocious behaviors seen in the Pacific Theater. Dower supports his thesis by effectively and exhaustively researching his topic. Dower creatively integrates and combines sources from almost every are of period life. In his studies he includes war diaries, political speeches, journal articles from both sides, and perhaps most effectively, sources from popular culture including songs, movies and cartoons.

Dower's book is organized in three main sections. The first section, titled Enemies, is meant as an introduction to the materials and themes that will be used throughout the book and is by far the shortest. This section begins by discussing the differing racial opinions and how they played a part during the course of the war. Race became a weapon of convenience for propagandists for while both sides claimed righteousness, under scrutiny both sides had serious social problems the other side could exploit.

In the case of the United States, Dower mentions the American fight against Hitler's Master Race ideology. In doing so, the weight of several European and American scientists was thrown in to discredit the idea that any race had any significant advantages or disadvantages compared to any other. This stated, both the Americans and British maintained a level of second class citizens extremely evidenced in the way the Americans treated blacks and over a hundred thousand Asians who were placed in internment camps after Pearl Harbor. These facts assisted both the Germans and the Japanese in their respective propaganda campaigns. The Germans took the Western hypocrisy as proof of their claims of inherently inferior and superior races while the Japanese used it as a tool to bring other Asians within the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity sphere.

Other problems of hypocrisy also arose. As war came into the Pacific, the Allied powers fought under a banner of freedom and liberty, claiming to protect the Asian nations from falling under the Japanese hegemonic regime. The problem, as Dower notes, is that the Japanese did not invade independent nations, every Asian country they attacked was more or less totally controlled by outside colonial empires. This gave the Japanese the ability to argue that the Allies were not fighting to protect Asia, they were fighting to protect themselves from a unified Asia free of imperialistic rule.

Dower gives credence to the idea that this was not entirely untrue. The Yellow Peril mythos had proceeded for centuries and Japan was in a position, the Allies believed, to make it a reality. Dower even quotes the president of the United States saying "1,100,000,000 potential enemies are dangerous" giving credit that such a threat of a Yellow Peril existed.

The diverging opinions on both sides gave rise to what essentially amounted to a propaganda war. In the United States, Dower mentions a Hollywood director named Frank Capra, who became one of the Americans most lethal weapons in the war of words. He began his propaganda career with the extremely successful Why We Fight series of pictures, the first of which, Prelude to War winning an academy award. The impacts of these films were increased by Capra's technique of using the enemy's own words and images against them. He used captured film footage spliced with his own work to relay his message.

This is the technique Capra used in the only one of his films solely devoted to the Japanese, Know Your Enemy – Japan. In this film, Capra continued his tradition of letting the enemy speak for himself. He uses images of peasants in the field and a...
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