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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 ·  1,274 Ratings  ·  91 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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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.

Why should any of us be concerned ab
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
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
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
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
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
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.

Dad's dad was ac
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
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
Nov 27, 2013 rated it really liked it
There's not much to say about this one. It's about thirty years old which means by now, any information found in here has been superseded by more interesting analyses. Dower analyzes the issues of race and war through a series of lenses: war crimes and brutality against the "enemy" on both sides, propaganda pieces, academic racism, etc. However, I feel where Dower stands apart, and where this book truly shows how groundbreaking the research actually was for the time, are the chapters of American ...more
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: wwii, japan, pto
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
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 16, 2014 rated it it was amazing
So much for the "greatest generation" - east and west.
Dec 17, 2007 rated it liked it
Shelves: japan, wwii
Very interesting, at times too academic, but really makes you ponder the role of racism in wartime.
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
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, and the US put arou
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
Dan Gorman
Feb 07, 2018 rated it really liked it
In terms of contents, the book is diffuse and prone to tangents, but it's an extraordinary read, with clear prose and a probing analysis of racial propaganda among the Americans and Japanese in WWII. Dower shows how racial hatred inspired exterminationist policies, but also poor military strategy at times. One appreciates the mutability of racial beliefs after reading this book. For decades, Americans regarded Japan with fascination. In WWII, that fascination gave way to disgust and fear. After ...more
Amanda Johnson
Mar 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: doctoral-program
This is an excellent piece that should be on every historians book shelf. Dower does a fantastic job showing real war consequences to racism. Ideals of racial supremacy from both the Allied powers and the Japanese leaders effected decisions made before, during, and after WWII. His use of both policy papers and popular culture in the United States and Japan allows for rock solid analysis that historians have been building from since. Dower especially draws on the concept that folk tales and drama ...more
Oct 27, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: ww-2-pacific
Read this back when it first came out in the late '80s. I remember liking it quite a bit but now roughly 30 years later and reading more on this topic from more recent years, I now realize that it was not very well written.
Crucial for understanding the way race was constructed in both the United States and Japan during the Pacific War.
Jessica Harn
Mar 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Revolutionary take on the Pacific War between the U.S. and Japan
Aug 01, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-history
The WWII era U.S. government propaganda films “Why We Fight” and “Know Your Enemy – Japan” are discussed and analyzed, starting on pages 15 and 18, respectively, of this book. Click on the film titles above to view them on YouTube. The “Why We Fight” link is to a YouTube playlist containing all seven films in the series.

As others here at Goodreads have pointed out, this very good book came out at a time (1986) when the passing mass hysteria of the day said the Japanese were about to eat our lunc
Feb 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I'm not going to review this book, merely comment. Japan was my geographic area when I was doing my MA in the 1970s, long before Mr Dower wrote this book or Embracing Defeat. Both this and Embracing Defeat are social history, while I studied political history, so they cover a different facet of Japanese history. What I found fascinating was that both sides ended up with similar stereotypes of their enemy even though they started from a different point of view. The book explains all too well how ...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 ...more
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