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War Without Mercy: Race and Power in the Pacific War
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War Without Mercy: Race and Power in the Pacific War

4.03  ·  Rating details ·  1,422 ratings  ·  106 reviews
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 powerf ...more
Paperback, 399 pages
Published February 12th 1987 by Pantheon (first published 1986)
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 ·  1,422 ratings  ·  106 reviews

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Jul 19, 2019 rated it liked it
As the title suggests, this book is about racial attitudes on both sides during the Pacific War between the United States and Japan. This war was fought much more brutally than the American war in Europe. It was a war of extermination that did not differentiate between Japanese soldiers, civilians or different political trends among their people. It was a war against the "Japs" unlike in Europe where the war was against "Nazis" more than Germans per se. Having read Dower's other book about Japan ...more
Jan 06, 2013 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Mosca by: NPR

Written in the 1980’s, this book bears the perspective of an American obsession with the then-evident emerging Japanese global economic leadership.

At this time, on a planet witnessing a bloated Chinese economic dominance, a jaundiced Western economic malaise of austerity, a deteriorating global “War on Terror”, and an emerging class-conscious understanding of climate change and plutocracy---a book like this can seem very narrow and dated.

Oct 22, 2012 rated it really liked it
It is easy to underestimate the role of emotion in foreign policy. Books such as Race and Manifest Destiny: The Origins of American Racial Anglo-Saxonism by Reginald Horsman and Comrades at Odds: The United States and India, 1947-1964 by Andrew J. Rotter, make a strong argument that emotionalism fueled by racial and cultural anxieties influence America’s role in the world. In War Without Mercy: Race and Power in the Pacific War, Dower argues that race not only colored America’s actions in the Pa ...more
Apr 03, 2013 rated it it was amazing
A very unique and disturbing look at the uses of racist ideology by both the Western Powers and Japan to fuel their pursuit of military, political and cultural dominance in the early 20th century leading up through the brutal "war without mercy" known as the Pacific War. It's fascinating to see the perceptions that the Americans and British had of "Asiatics" starting in the colonialist period, and how these perceptions of the Japanese changed as their relative economic and political power grew. ...more
Jan 24, 2013 rated it really liked it
I picked up this book expecting it to contain a chronology of events in the Pacific theater during World War II. It is not that. Rather it is a study of race as a defining factor in that conflict, a factor influencing expectations, strategy and tactics, propaganda, and the trajectory of events during the war and the occupation of Japan afterward. The work seems well researched and well written. Dower, the Henry Luce Professor of International Cooperation and Global Stability at MIT, published it ...more
Oct 01, 2010 rated it really liked it
Much of this book I did not like. In fact, it is not really a book. It is two articles expanded and cribbed together (one on American racist perceptions of Japan; one on Japanese racist perceptions of the West) --to meet (I suspect) tenure requirements. Yet the two chapters on "The Pure Self" (ch. 8) and on Japanese War aims ("Global Policy with the Yamato Race as Nucleus" = ch. 10) are the clearest and most moving account of Japanese fascism I have found. They are brilliant. My suggestion: get ...more
Erik Graff
Sep 13, 2016 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Americans & Japanese
Recommended to Erik by: no one
Shelves: history
Father served as an army cryptanalyst attached to the navy for such things as ship-to-shore communications during landings in such places as Sicily and, later, the Philippines. Being in the bowels of the ship, usually in its sole airconditioned room, his only sightings of 'the enemy' were of planes, including kamikazes, or of prisoners. He hated it, but as he grew older his mind (he died some months ago, just short of his 95th year) turned more and more to those distant memories.

Dec 26, 2013 rated it really liked it
When I was a boy our mail was delivered by a pleasant mailman named John (as far as I know his last name was "the Mailman") who was always smiling and whistling, and he was a Marine Corps Pacific War Vet. He gave me a huge plastic wall sheild with the Marine Corps Emblem on it, which I placed among all the car parts adverts on my wall. So the only person I knew who fought in that war was sunny as the day is long, and the idea that he had been part of the force which fought inch for inch on other ...more
Joseph R. Howard
Sep 12, 2012 rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: Not a damned soul
This book seemed to be hell-bent and determined to paint the United States, white America specifically, as racist warmongerers who were out to wipe non-whites in the Pacific off the face of the Earth. I had trouble staying focused on the material because it was so saturated with a racial setting. I'm not too surprised by Dower's sentiment, considering his wife is Japanese. But, this is the typical style of book that is being pushed in academia. Sigh.
Feb 19, 2014 rated it really liked it
In my eyes this is undeniably a very good book. But I must say right away that while it is a good introduction (and nothing more, I have to be honest there) into the topic of racism in the Pazific War during World War II, I would not recommend it for casual readers. The book is good in debunking the, apparently not so rare, notion that racism is equal to white supremacism, but the quotes it often has (which you can't blame the author for) were done by people who for all their efforts still seeme ...more
Nov 06, 2018 added it
Shelves: history
A beautifully well-researched piece of cultural and social history that provides a great source of grisly anecdotes you can use to horrify friends, family, and colleagues. Whether it's a redneck who can't wait to get his mitts on a pair of Jap ears, or a Japanese propaganda piece suggesting that US Marines have to kill their parents to get into the Corps, or the hilariously mortifying 19th Century racist skull science employed by both sides, this is a one-stop shop for the worst of humanity (som ...more
Stephen Douglas Rowland
Dec 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing
With this astonishing, original history, Dower has given us two of the most illuminating and important books ever written on the subject of Japan and the Pacific War (the other being his postwar tome "Embracing Defeat"). Both are absolutely essential to anyone interested in the topic.
Dec 26, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: world-war-ii
During the 1941-1945 war between the United States and Japan, the Americans were unabashedly racist. American cartoons, newspaper and magazine stories depicted the Japanese (and the Japanese Americans) as apes, rats or lice. Admiral William Halsey was especially fond of comparing the Japanese with monkeys; when the Japanese were told about this, a zookeeper in Tokyo declared that he had reserved a cage for the admiral in the monkey house. Ordinary Americans, both soldiers and civilians, were ful ...more
Feb 26, 2013 rated it liked it
Historian John W. Dower’s War Without Mercy: Race and Power in the Pacific War (1986), is largely concerned with how race fueled the Pacific War machine. This comparative study argues that Japanese and American racisms fomented violence and atrocity in the Pacific. What remains difficult for Dower (and for all who attempt to make connections between ideas and actions), is his ability to draw distinct causal relationships between racism and war-related violence. This quibble, however, should not ...more
David Bates
Mar 24, 2013 rated it really liked it
John Dower’s 1986 work War Without Mercy delves into the devastating racial hatred which the Pacific War had devolved toward in its last and bloodiest year. “Probably in all our history, no foe has been so detested as were the Japanese” recalled historian Allan Nevins of his wartime service. Dower catalogues the fury with which both American and Japanese soldiers fought, exploring the racial ideologies that underlay their attitudes toward each other. While the Japanese belief in the purity of th ...more
Chi Pham
Aug 18, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history, japan
This book should have won John Dower the Pulitzer Prize, instead of the other one ("Embracing Defeat"). "War without Mercy" touches upon one of the most important aspects of the Second World War, but one often forgotten in retrospect: the Second World War was also a Race war, the ultimate triumph of the Social Darwinism doctrine. The cultural history prevails in this book. Taking the comparative approach, John Dower discusses wartime images and ideologies about the Other on both side , describin ...more
David Haws
Apr 04, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
Early in the War, a US Congressman could baldly state that if God had intended the Japanese to rule Asia, he would have made them white. By the end of the War, many saw their racism as not just ridicules, but evil. It had been called “pride of race,” but it was really just the attempt to claim arbitrary privilege—enforced by whatever collective violence groups of people could manage.

Hobbes tells us that we all consider ourselves better than most of those around us: because we see our
Brad Wheeler
Sep 27, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
I haven't read a lot of books on World War II. Like most Americans, my education on the war comes largely from History Channel documentaries and the occasional magazine or Wikipedia article. This book makes one thing really clear: all of those sources are embarrassingly incomplete. Just reading the back cover copy, you'd think this was just a book on racism, and in a sense it is, but it's really more broadly about prejudice, tunnel vision, and the inability to see beyond one's cultural upbringin ...more
Justin Dell
May 23, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: warfare
I’m not sure how I feel about War without Mercy. It comes across as somewhat banal, if only in the sense that it merely expatiates on a subject I already knew about. In other words, it does not present anything shocking or that I wasn’t expecting. Everyone knows the basic sketch that the Pacific War was racially charged; Dower just adds the colouring. Moreover, the paradigm of ‘Self’ and ‘Other’ throughout the book has, from a 2014 perspective, become humdrum. It is simply too overused now. I th ...more
Jul 25, 2010 rated it really liked it
Great book that I need to read for a World War II History class this fall, but even though it was very thick, I was fascinated by the information and skated through the 300+ pages easily. Dower's thesis is that the Pacific War was so brutal because of inherent racism on both sides (United States & Japan) and explores how this racism came about and how it manifested itself in cruelty and inhumane treatment of civilians and POWs. Cartoons and illustrations produced during the war are reference ...more
Amanda McCrina
Oct 04, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: pto, wwii, japan
A powerful case for the argument that racism played as big a role in the Pacific theater as it did in the European, but Dower devotes more of his resources to detailing American racism, leaving the Japanese sections more vaguely sketched out (we never get the perspective of the men on the ground as we do with the Americans). This may be because he's got to overcome the preconceptions of his primary readership (i.e., most Americans think of WWII as "the good war"), but it makes his argument seem ...more
Feb 16, 2014 rated it it was amazing
So much for the "greatest generation" - east and west.
Dec 17, 2007 rated it liked it
Very interesting, at times too academic, but really makes you ponder the role of racism in wartime.
Sarah Crawford
Jan 15, 2016 rated it really liked it
This is a remarkable book filled with information about the impact of race in World War II as far as it related to Japan. There is a wealth of information in this book, among which are the following items.

While the US condemned what the Nazi's were doing as far as their Aryan supremacy concept goes, at the same time the US was highly segregated, with blacks still subject to the Jim Crow laws. They were kept in separate military groups; white and black blood was kept separate, a
Jon Harris
Nov 30, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: world-war-2, racism
World War II was a conflict that included many wide and divergent motivations among those who participated. However, one aspect of the war has not received the scholarly attention it deserves according to John Dower. “Apart from the genocide of the Jews, racism remains one of the great neglected subjects of World War Two." In War Without Mercy: Race & Power in the Pacific War, Dower presents his thesis stating that, “To scores of millions of participants, the war was also a race war." To sub ...more
Austin Barselau
Dec 27, 2016 rated it liked it
The Second World War is uniquely characterized by the sheer magnitude of conflict and casualties, making it the most widespread war in world history. It was a war of national rivalries, radical political upheavals, and brutal militaristic aggression. The war was also defined by racial and ethnic animosities, most prominently in the Western theater of warfare. Everyone knows Adolf Hitler’s maniacal quest to exterminate what he considered the inferior populations of Eastern Europe. Lesser known is ...more
When thinking of "The Greatest Generation," as the veterans of WWII have been cast of late in the popular media (largely due to Tom Brocaw's prize-winning book by this title), I too wax a bit nostalgic. I think of the watercolor portrait of my Uncle Art in his Naval uniform and remember the pictures my mother showed me as a child of him going off to war. Like the war babies described by Tuttle in his Daddy's Gone to War, she watched him leave and worried about him while he was in combat. When he ...more
Sep 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: japan-related
Although I had come across Dower in regards to his highly regarded book on the Occupation of Japan called Embracing Defeat, I have not yet read it. I was not familiar with this one at all. It was required reading for a course that I am auditing on the history of the military in Japan. IMHO War Without Mercy deserves all the praise it has gotten via most of the Goodreads reviews.

First, it offers a very comprehensive survey of a large variety of sources ranging from popular media to sc
Randal Schmidt
Aug 18, 2019 rated it liked it
Worth the read for an aspect of the war that deserves more attention. While there is some validity to Dower's overall points, to read the war through solely a racial lens is to miss much of the nuance of human motivations during the terrible conflict that raged in Asia from 1937-1945. It is worthwhile to keep in mind that racial conceptions prominent during the war were but one facet of the conflict, and that comparatively, the Japanese at the time bear much more of the responsibility for the ra ...more
Jun 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing
The Pacific theater was home to some of the most brutal rhetoric of World War II. American politicians and generals called for the extermination of the Japanese people, and their Japanese counterparts fought to establish a new world order with their own race superior to all others. Both sides were willing to commit atrocities against the other, justifying torture and murder with propaganda that portrayed the victims as less than human. But in the post-war world Japan and the US are close allies. ...more
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John W. Dower is the author of Embracing Defeat, winner of the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize; War without Mercy, winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award; and Cultures of War. He is professor emeritus of history at MIT. In addition to authoring many books and articles about Japan and the United States in war and peace, he is a founder and codirector of the online “Visualizing Cultures” project ...more