The powerful images of race during the Pacific War between two powerful foes, the United States and Japan, dominates the war propaganda of both nations during and after World War II that generated deep hatred, espousing stereotypes which still resonate today.
John Dower asserts the significance of playing the race card and the level of success and failure attained by the U. S. and Japan in his work, War Without Mercy: Race and Power in the Pacific War. Following the heels of strong ideological beliefs of Manifest Destiny, Social Darwinism, and White Man s Burden, Americans were prone to dehumanize the other race and thus, U. S. newspapers and magazines had already depicted the Japanese in derogative terms even before their attack on Pearl Harbor and this subsequently, led to harsher stereotypes of the Japanese during the war. In Japan s case, the use of race propaganda to stir up support and confidence in the war effort took the approach of elevating and purifying their own Yamato race.
Dower interestingly explains how the Japanese were malleable on their racial connotations of the Americans that they succeeded in quickly transforming their aggressive war mentality to that of a stable economy under a U. S. ccupied but peaceful existence. However, as the Japan s economy booms in large parts to their success in technological achievements and trade surplus against the U. S. , American racism towards the Japanese resurfaces in the late 1970s and 1980s. War Without Mercy is divided into four sections with the first part focusing on the early patterns of a race war, and shifts to the war in both Western and Japanese perspectives in the second and third parts of the book.
The epilogue and final section, covers the aftermath of the war and how Japan adjusted to a peacetime economy and the financial wars with the U. S. that exploded in the 1980s. Dower describes in-depth about the various multimedia displays of racial dehumanization towards the Japanese in the second part of his book. He thoroughly explains the racial patterns deeply rooted in the American culture. He provides an abundance of examples stated by U. S. military leaders, Hollywood films and American newspapers that strongly portray the Japanese as an inferior race to the Anglo-American, Christian stock.
Not only did apparent racism exist in the U. S. hrough the summary incarceration of over 110,000 Japanese-Americans at the wake of Pearl Harbor, but also throughout the war, U. S. military officers and soldiers carry this racism into battle. For example, a U. S. submarine commander who sank a Japanese transport and then spent upwards of an hour killing the hundred and possibly thousands of Japanese survivors with his deck guns, was commended and publicly honored by his superiors even though he included an account of the slaughter in his official report (Dower, War Without Mercy, 66).
U. S. military leaders maintained racial fears of early Japanese victories against Western powers that would cause repercussions of the non-White world to unite under Japan in a race war between the Orientals and the Occidentals (7). The myth of a Pan-Asian united front against the white world led to a perpetual fear that created this racial dehumanization of the Japanese. One interesting distinction is the comparison between the Axis powers, the Germans and the Japanese.
A good German exists despite being a Nazi but whereas a good Japanese does not. In early 1943, one magazine, Leatherneck, the U. S. Marine monthly, printed a caption that stated, GOOD JAPS are dead Japs (79). The racial comparison between the Germans and the Japanese goes beyond after the war as well. Whereas the Germans were depicted as a mature group of people with an adult level of intelligence, the Japanese were seen as childish whose mental capacity are equivalent to twelve-year old, juvenile delinquents, and criminals.
The most vivid stereotypes include cartoons that portrayed the Japanese as apish with long arms, hunched back, and characteristics that were either menacing are sneaky. For Dower, the most critical aspect of the U. S. racial stereotypes on the Japanese remains to be the level of approval and recognition by not just the public but endorsed by top military and executive leaders that include the likes of General Douglas McArthur and President Roosevelt.
The United States was not acting alone in this race war. In section three, Dower indicates that Japanese propaganda and war atrocities demonstrated their part in fueling racial hatred against the U. S. during World War II. However, rather than dehumanizing Americans into ape-like creatures, the Japanese focused on the superiority of their own pure race and the demonic figures of Western leaders like Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt. who had claws and horns.
Another difference however, for centuries Japanese viewed the foreigners as outsiders with a dual image of both positive and negative. In other words, Westerners cast with demonic features also had beneficial attributes only if the foreigners carried out these positive traits. Another difference is that Japanese cartoonists would add the prevalent problems of the American cultural system, such as the selfishness of capitalism, money worship, individualism, materialism and Jim Crowism against blacks in the South as pure Anglo-American ideas.
Dower also significantly assesses that the Japan wanted to create a Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity, with Japan at forefront of course, that would unite all Asians against the Western powers. Ironically enough, Japanese aims for a greater prosperity for all Asians meant not only extremely beneficial for the Japanese, but also instilled the dogma of racial categorization of other Asians that favored the light-skinned ones from Manchukuo, Inner Mongolia, North China over the darker natives of Burma, the Philippines and Dutch East Indies.
As for the time of war between the United States and Japan, Dower states that To the majority of Japanese, as to the Anglo-Americans, atrocities committed by one s own side were episodic, while the enemy s brutal acts were systematic and revealed a fundamentally perverse national character (61). Not only did both countries participated in war atrocities, but their respective forces acted so with a racial zeal enhanced by the created stereotypes of their enemies.
In the final chapter, From War to Peace, Dower explains the successful transition of the Japanese people to switch and adapt from an anti-American perspective to peaceful co-existence with former Western devils under U. S. occupation. The Americans gladly accepted the role as the paternal figure that will rebuild the Japanese economy. Dower states that, In a time of peace, in a word, the extremely negative wartime images of the Japanese as primitives, children, and madmen summoned forth the victor s more charitable side: as civilized mentor, parent, doctor, therapist–and possessor, without question, of superior power (305).
The Japanese were to be treated and cured by American capitalism and democratic values. Dower asserts that, Acceptance of this new, and lesser, proper place subservient to the United States was made easier for the Japanese because other staples of wartime racist imagery also were malleable (305). The dual demonic image of Americans turned to the side of benevolence and peace. Also, the Japanese emperor maintained his status as the quintessential figurehead of the people after the war.
The imperial nation state remained intact and assured the Japanese people of their proud existence even after the atomic atrocities by the U. S. on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the subsequent surrender to the Western powers. Previous books, such as, Reginald Horseman s Race and Manifest Destiny and Thomas Hietala s Manifest Design provides adequate research on the inherent racial beliefs within the American core values that run similar to War Without Mercy. While Dower analyzes the American thoughts of yellow peril, both Horseman and Hietala asserts the rampant fears of black, brown and red perils that exist in the 1800s.
Whether to acquire natural resources, sources of labor or to find a common enemy, the racial inferiority of the Other remains potent as a justification. To place the book in a historiographical context, War Without Mercy qualifies as a work in social history in a sense where certain social groups create and maintain certain negative myths about another. Within each social group, in this case the Americans and the Japanese, facilitate environments where these stereotypes found support and growth that spur the war cause.
Dower provides an extensive research on how these racial tones took form in both the American and Japanese cultures. Dower concludes that despite forty years after the end of the War in the Pacific, racial stereotypes remain strong between the two nations. A new war emerges between the Unites States and Japan but not engaged in military combat. Rather, the ascension of an economic war between the two countries allows room for forty-year-old racial prejudices to submerge in the 1980s.