Sunday, July 15, 2007

War Without Mercy

View of the Hiroshima bombing.

Title: War Without Mercy: Race and Power in the Pacific War (New York: Pantheon Books, 1986)

John W. Dower, professor of Japanese history at MIT. Holds a PhD in history and Far Eastern languages (Harvard). His other books include Empire and Aftermath (1979) ("a study of the life and times of the diplomat and prime minister Yoshida Shigeru"); Japan in War and Peace: Selected Essays (1999); and most recently Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II (1999), which won the Pulitzer, the Natl Book Award, and the Bancroft Award. He's also executive-produced a doc called "Hellfire: A Journey from Hiroshima", which was nominated for an Academy Award in 1988.

Argument: During the Pacific War, racism on the part of both the Americans and Japanese made it easier to prosecute a conflict which was notable for its bloodiness and severity. The reason why the Japanese and Americans were able to slip into a friendly postwar relationship even after such carnage is that the stereotypes employed on both sides were multifaceted, mutable, and almost universal in their historical experience. Thus, rather than believing that the postwar years spoke to the possibility of elimination of past historical racism, Dower proposes that the most frightening thing about these kinds of racist ideologies is that they can be stowed away and applied to whatever conflict comes up next, even if the enemy is not of the same race or nationality.


Part One: Enemies
1. Patterns of a Race War:
An overview of the racist ideologies at play in the American and Japanese understanding of each other. Dower points out that these ideologies must have made it easier for each side to commit atrocities and carry out full scale war; he also writes that racisms of this kind are mutable and constant conditions of human interaction. The fact that stereotypes and ideologies of the war era were easily adapted to peacetime conditions (instead of being a menacing, base simian, the Japanese were seen as pets; instead of incubating xenophobia, the Japanese ideology of purity led to a desire to purge the nation of the recently failed regime).

2. "Know Your Enemy": An analysis of Frank Capra's "Why We Fight" installment on Japan serves as the centerpiece for an explication of American stereotypes about Japan, as well as background material for an understanding of why the Allies treated Japan as they did in the postwar era. Meanwhile, a parallel description of the pamphlets and manifestos read by Japanese soldiers and citizens shows that inside Japan, America and the West were viewed as aggressors possessed of a traitorous history of empire - aggressors whose downfall was essential to the health of the world. Dower uses these two sources to show how stereotype worked on either side: these types "followed patterns of contrariness", in which the type was seen as the opposite of the favorable national ideal; "the positive self images of one side were singled out for ridicule and condemnation by the other"; both sides espoused surprisingly similar ideologies of "liberation, morality, and peace"; images of the enemy as "incorrigibly evil, base, or mad" led to genocidal policies or practices; and finally, "there was a free-floating quality to portrayals of the enemy - a pattern of stereotyping particular to enemies and 'others' in general, rather than to the Japanese foe or Western foe in particular" (29) (see Richard Drinnon).

3. War Hates and War Crimes: Dower begins with two questions: why were Japanese seen in the US as being so much worse than the Germans in the atrocity department? And why did Japanese propaganda portray the Allies as "the real barbarians of the modern age" (34)? Answers to the first include the idea that the Japanese, unlike the Germans, were "suicidal" or irrational; that the incomplete defeat of the Japanese would only, in the history of such a long-standing nation, mean that the Japanese would begin to build up forces for a revenge blow; and finally, the idea that Japan required a "psychological purge" to free it of its "madness" - we should inflict pain and suffering on all of the citizens, this argument went, as a necessary method of ridding the Japanese of their abnormal psychology (56). Meanwhile, the Japanese saw us as having had a long-term ambition to gain supremacy over Asia; having interfered militarily in Japanese affairs in the past; and having a current plan to commit atrocity in order to send Japan back into the class of "slave state" (58).

Part Two: The War in Western Eyes
4. Apes and Others:
Representation of Japanese people as subhuman or inhuman took several forms: representation as animals (monkeys, bees, snakes); representation as madmen; representation as children. Dower uses cartoons, official propaganda, etc., as examplars. These attached representations, Dower writes, "blocked seeing the foe as rational or even human, and facilitated mass killing" (89). Dower points out that while these stereotypes remained somewhat constant and translated from earlier eras, the United States became availed of stronger and stronger technological methods of extermination, resulting in a deadly combination (93).

5. Lesser Men and Supermen: Even ethnographers and anthropologists who were supposedly more sympathetic to the Japanese ended up reinforcing these ideologies of supremacy by espousing condescending or ethnocentric views about Japanese "national character". Before the war, Japanese were seen on the whole as "lesser men", incapable of achieving Western levels of technological dominance; as they began to achieve victories, not the least of which was their strike on Pearl Harbor, their status slid into that of "superman", which was nonetheless not necessarily an upgrade ("subhuman and superhuman were not mutually exclusive...but complementary" [116]).

6. Primitives, Children, Madmen: More coverage of social-science's contributions to Japanology during the war, which often consisted in diagnosing the "problem" of the Japanese character (one theory: they were toilet trained too early and too strictly, which meant that they were control freaks who could not compromise or surrender). The diagnoses generally separated into three categories of primitive, childlike (or adolescent - often the Japanese were compared to teenage gangsters), or mentally ill.

7. Yellow, Red, and Black Men: Dower associates racism against the Japanese with that against the Indians and African-Americans of the United States, specifying that this racism saw the Japanese (or Asians in general) as "the yellow horde", set to invade American shores. The "Yellow Peril" was made all the more perilous by the mass' growing adoption of American and Western technology (Dower uses Fu Manchu novels starring a mad Asian scientist to make this point). Here Dower also includes information about black American sympathies for the Asian nations beset by US racism.

Bugs Bunny cartoon satirizing Japanese culture, using many race stereotypes described by Dower.

Part Three: The War in Japanese Eyes
8. The Pure Self:
A major component of Japanese racism against Westerners was situated in the "impurity" of the Westerner or the foreigner, as opposed to the superiority of the Japanese "stock". Dower points out that the concept of Japanese "purity" was rooted in religious practice and mythohistory. The Yamato race, Japanese ideology held, could be traced back to a celestial origin. Purification as an active prescription, Dower writes, "was understood to mean: 1. expunging foreign influences 2. living austerely and 3. fighting, and if need be, dying for the emperor" (228). Late-war developments such as the training of kamikaze pilots were associated with this fundamental idea. The flip side of this iconicity of purity was the essential corruption of the Westerners in opposition to Japan - Japanese belief in this corruption/egotism/weakness, Dower writes, led the Japanese to misread American commitment to the Pacific War, in the early years of the conflict (260).

9. The Demonic Other: Here Dower explicates the role of the "stranger" in Japanese culture, which is an ambiguous and sometimes threatening one. During the war, Westerners were seen as the dark side of the stranger, which would manifest itself in beastly or atrocious behavior. (Dower cites multiple examples of Japanese stories about American war atrocities.) Dower also tells the story of Momotaro, a Japanese folk hero who, as an exceptionally bright and strong young lad, exorcises multiple demons. This story influenced many Japanese ideas about heroism and military service (see: the kamikaze pilot). Dower points out that although Japanese cartoons did depict Japan as Momotaro and the Allies as the demons to be defeated, the fact that specific Allies (Churchill, Roosevelt) were identified as enemies gave them a human identity that was denied the Japanese in the analogous position (256).

10. "Global Policy with the Yamato Race as Nucleus": The story of the idea of the Co-Prosperity Sphere, an entity intended to establish Asia as an imperial holding of Japan. Examining an official report which survived the purge of such paperwork after V-J Day, Dower writes that the racism which saw Japan at the middle of this Pan-Asiatic world "reflected Western intellectual influences as well as Western pressures", and that the "patterns of supremacism" embedded in Japanese writing about other Asian races was "analogous" to Western racisms (265).

The USS Saratoga after hits by a series of kamikaze pilots, February 21, 1945.

Kamikaze pilots.

Part Four: Epilogue
11. From War to Peace:
Transformation of racist ideas about the Other happened surprisingly rapidly on both sides of the Japanese/American divide. Japanese people employed the alternate vision of "the stranger" - the more positive permutation - in order to facilitate increased acceptance of the American occupying forces. Americans re-cast their "simian" enemies as pets, or saw themselves as "parents" or "doctors" to the Japanese "children" or "patients". However, in later years, Japanese business ascendency has been seen in the West as another indication of Japanese "superhumanity" - shades of old stereotypes continue.

Reviews: In the Pacific Historical Review, D. Clayton James wrote that Mercy was one of the standout books on the Pacific War, called it relevant and provocative, but wished that Dower had not been so obsessed with linking happenings of the Pacific War to later foreign policy interactions: "his thesis might have been more closely reasoned" if he had not tried to do so. In Reviews in American History, Robert Rosenstone called the thesis of racism-as-motivating- factor "simple", but then writes that the inclusion of the Japanese intellectual history complicates what could have been a well-worn argument. Rosenstone also believed that a pile of evidence about racism, such as Dower presents, cannot attach an attitude to a deed - a fault which he attaches not just to this book, but to any so-called "attitudinal history". Moreover, he pointed out, no matter how many historians write books about racism, racist stereotypes still retain a frightening power over human events.

Vocab words:
"shibboleth" (a cultural marker of some sort, as "a custom, habit, mode of dress, or the like, which distinguishes a particular class or set of persons"); "ratiocination" ("the process of reasoning").

The burned back of a victim of the Hiroshima bombing.

Books to follow up on: Secondary:
Winthrop Jordan, White Over Black: American Attitudes Towards the Negro, 1550-1812 (1968); David Wyman, The Abandonment of the Jews: America and the Holocaust, 1941-45 (1984).

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