In his 1986 book War Without Mercy, American historian John Dower examines Japanese-American relations during World War II and investigates links between popular culture, stereotypes, and extreme violence. He argues that it was the concept of racism—used equally by both sides—that underpinned the military conflict and led to a particularly brutal war in the Pacific and East Asia.
Racial stereotypes were deliberately transmitted through mass media and government propaganda on both sides, transforming enemy forces into subhuman characters that deserved to be dominated. Fueling such fear and loathing of the “inferior other” created a certain mindset among American and Japanese soldiers that saw them focusing on the utter destruction of an enemy believed to be beasts and vermin.
Dower argues that after hostilities cease, these racial stereotypes do not disappear, but are re-used to describe whichever new enemy emerges.
War Without Mercy has won several prizes, including the US National Book Critics Circle Award, and Dower remains one of the most important contemporary scholars on Japanese-American relations.