Cultures of War: Pearl Harbor/Hiroshima/9-11/Iraq Hardcover – 19 Oct 2010
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Dower exposes the dubious nature of any nation s or movement s claim to moral purity or clear conscience in an era when 'modern war remains largely wholesale killing.' --, Anna Mundow"
Starred Review. An unrelenting, incisive, masterly comparative study.
Among Dower s gifts is a striking ability to embed provocative conclusions within such rich analysis that they cannot be dismissed as outrageous.--Michael Sherry"
From the Back Cover
I began researching and writing this study shortly after September 11, 2001, when comparisons between Al Qaeda s surprise attack and Japan s at Pearl Harbor six decades earlier flooded the media in the United States. Japan and World War II in Asia have drawn my attention as a historian for many years, and analogies between the new conflict and the old one were provocative in unanticipated ways increasingly so, as it turned out, as 9-11 spilled into the U.S.-led war of choice in Iraq, and that war and ensuing occupation in turn led to chaos and great suffering in a supposedly liberated land. Praise for John W. Dower sWar Without Mercy: Race and Power in the Pacific War Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Awar One of the handful of truly important books on the Pacific War . . . a cautionary tale for all peoples, now and in the future. Foreign Affair May well be the most important study of the Pacific War ever published. New Republic Praise for Dower sEmbracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II Winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Awar Extraordinarily illuminating . . . the most significant work to date on the postwar era in Japan. Wall Street Journal Magisterial and beautifully written. . . . [A] richly nuanced book. . . . A pleasure to read. New York Times Book Revie One senses that Dower set out to write the most important Japan book in a generation (and perhaps more). The uplifting news is that he has succeeded. . . . A masterpiece. The Nation"See all Product Description
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The book, Cultures of War, juxtaposes Pearl Harbor with 9-11 to amazing effect. Here we get the impression that nothing is new under the sun. We see political leaders playing the same set of cards, populations falling in line as hoped, empires growing and waning - and tragedy. Nothing changes because human nature doesn't change.
For example, the leaders of imperial Japan that launched a surprise attack against the U.S. at Pearl Harbor believed they would emerge at the head of the largest unified territory in the history of the world. They planned an East Asia Cooperative Body that would include much of the Middle East, Australia, India and some of the Soviet Union, with the Yamato race occupying the seat of authority. This type of grand thinking is compared to that of former Vice President Cheney. In an interview with BBC in November 2001, Cheney spoke of targeting "as many as 40 to 50" nations for a range of actions including military force for harboring enemy terrorist cells. In their times, this all seemed somewhat plausible.
Dower explains the tendency toward groupthink that nurses risky military policy. It takes awhile for aggressive new policy ideas to gain traction, but thanks to the influence of the media and the skilled use of propaganda/advertising, almost anything can be made to seem normal. He traces the doctrine of preemptive war to military policy guidelines authored by Paul Wolfowitz in 1992. These guidelines were derided when leaked to the media at the time. However, years later the same guidelines went mainstream in the Bush Doctrine. This was the ideological underpinning used to justify preemptive war even if the threat was not immediate; unilateral withdrawals from international treaties; a policy to spread democracy around the world in order to combat terrorism; and a willingness to use the military to accomplish foreign policy goals.
Cultures of War shows how setbacks and failure sow the seeds of renewal. The rise of Japan as an economic powerhouse after World War II is examined and then compared in some ways to the American response to the quagmire that the Iraq War had become. In 2007 when Americans had reached a tipping point of opinion about the war, General Petraeus was promoted to commanding general to lead all U.S. troops in Iraq. Petraeus announced, "The people are the prize." With this new counterinsurgency strategy - to win the support of the local populations in Iraq by becoming one with them, U.S. fortunes on the battlefield greatly improved in that theater of operations.
There is much more to say about Cultures of War including the use of racist propaganda by all sides, all war belligerents. The analysis on what makes an occupation successful or not alone justifies the price of this book for political and military leaders. I highly recommend Cultures of War.
For example, in the run up to World War II, racism played a significant factor in dismissing the clear indication that Japan's leaders "were clearly poised for war" (page 15). The same was true with the fatwa declaring holy war against "the Judeo-Christian alliance" issued by Osama bin Laden and other Islamist militants nearly eight years before the events of 9/11/01. Rather than take them seriously, U.S. officials and military commanders dismissed both threats as unimportant, because they came from people who were non-white (Japanese and Islamists). If you don't believe this, take a look at racist U.S. World War II propaganda and the fact that "[n[o one at the top levels of the Bush administration ... had the imagination to take these warnings seriously." "In domestic policy projections, terrorism was not even included among the 'top-ten' priorities established for the Justice Department by Attorney General John Ashcroft. '9-ll' surpassed the Pearl Harbor debacle in exposing negligence and inability to think outside the box at the highest levels" of our government) page 16).
Does John Dower have a point of view? Oh, definitely ... and here it is. Prejudice and group-think prevent clear thinking and analysis. Reality is defined in categorical terms (nonwhite foreigners are irrational; whites, because of our Enlightenment ideals of reason, order, civilized behavior and our Christian history, are rational). Thinking outside the box (Asians are bright, intelligent people, as are Arabs and other non-whites) is discouraged and sometimes not permitted at all. The result? Well, we've been through that often enough that we shouldn't need to revisit it ... but it is clear from recent history that we must.
John Dower is very hard on the administration of George W. Bush, and for very good reason. His administration relied on beliefs rather than sound analyses (Donald Rumsfeld's remark than we'd be in and out of Iraq in a matter of 6 weeks or so after toppling Saddam Hussein is one example; having no plans at all for an occupation is another) and, when legal questions were raised about things the administration was doing, Bush's lawyers jiggered the law so that what was illegal could now be defined to fit within the "Rule of law" (see Chapter 14:"Convergence of a Sort: Law, Justice, and Transgression"). What happened after Iraq was defeated was just plain disaster for everyone concerned, especially the Iraqi people. The main problems? No real planning. Whereas in post-defeat Japan plans for an occupation had been worked out in detail long before the war's end, in Iraq's case, no planning had taken place at all. The occupation was run by "market fundamentalism" -- that sacred cow of George W. Bush and his people -- with unbelievable levels of corruption on all sides that ended in a huge mess. Dower devotes a whole chapter (15: "Nation Building and market fundamentalism") to this subject.
The lack of preparation and outright lying about the two wars George W. Bush got us into are nearly beyond belief. John Dower does a wonderful job of drawing all this together in a very readable way, contrasting it with what went right in our occupation of Japan ... and how we have worked that occupation to serve our global needs, often at the expense of the Japanese people, something that I have witnessed first hand now that I live in Japan.
Put Cultures of War with James Carroll's House of War, Chris Hedges' War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning, Robert Scheer's The Pornography of Power: How Defense Hawks Hijacked 9/11 and Weakened America, and Richard H. Immerman's Empire For Liberty, and you'll have a comprehensive history of what has happened to the U.S. over the past sixty years
John Dower's book is not a light read. Drawing on a lifetime of study and masses of information (there are 100 pages of reference notes), it demands concentration, patience and a willingness to have your thinking challenged. You may quarrel with it and even hate it. My recommendation is that you read it with an open mind. You will learn things about your country that you may not wish to hear, but are valuable nonetheless. If you think the book is "worthless", I challenge you to think again.
Dr. Dower's book seems to hit a nerve among some readers. This is because it destroys the myth of moral superiority that some harbor when atrocities are committed by their side, as opposed to when this is done by the other side. It is high time that such a myth be destroyed.
Historically, the mixture of national hubris, militarism and religion have proven to be toxic. In the Twentieth Century, imperial Germany and imperial Japan provided illustrations of that social disease. I don't say that imperial America has reached such a state. However, nobody can deny that there is a trend here. Aggressors always think that their justified war would be both short and victorious! The Bush-Cheney war of aggression against Iraq, begun on March 20, 2003, still fits the pattern, more than seven years later.
For half a century now, Hollywood, and now cable TV, has promoted the delusional idea of American exceptionalism, professing that the United States is "the Greatest Country" in the world, with the more or less clear implication that other countries are less worthy. In due time, this is bound to have a profound effect on the collective cultural psyche.
As for militarism, President Dwight Eisenhower, a military man himself, decried in his 1961 Farewell Address the rise of the military-industrial complex in the United States. Half a century later, nobody can say that the situation has improved. If something, it has degraded. And as to religion, poll after poll indicate that the U.S. is, with Turkey, the most structurally religious democracy in the world.
There you have it. --Mix a sense of inherent superiority with entrenched militarism and throw God into the equation, and you have a recipe that has proven deadly in the past.
Rodrigue Tremblay is the author of "The New American Empire":
In common with a few of the completely unjustified one star reviewers, I too had trouble getting into the initial section of this book. This is not because I was offended by its bias or its politics. In section I ('Pearl Harbor' as Code) Dower presents conclusions based on proofs and arguments he makes more completely in Sections II (Ground Zero 1945 and Ground Zero 2001) and III (Wars and Occupations, Winning the Peace, Losing the Peace).
I put the book down part way through Section I, not because I was offended or found it wrong or simply biased: there is bias here, but I am believe there is a majority of evidence that the Iraq War is best regarded as folly and failure, to put it kindly.
Having said that, several weeks ago a student approached me asking for sources arguing against using the atomic bomb in Japan. I told him sure, but I also told him I basically accepted the notion that Truman, et al, were compelled beyond choice: the brutality of events in the war and the inevitable cost of invasion forced the use of the weapon when development provided. Most of the books arguing against the use of atomic weapons were either not in the library or already checked out, so we found some ridiculously limp blurbs in books about other things and off he went. But I was dissatisfied with my own conclusions, based as they were, for the most part, on common assumptions and sketchy historical reasoning.
I returned to this book, languishing on my nightstand. Dower's descriptions of events, philosophy, political considerations, and ultimately the cultures of war which prompted Hiroshima, and continue to guide warrior motives to this day were a revelation. I was impressed by the clarity, depth and completeness of his presentation.
I promised to be short and here it is. Read this book and if needed read it out of order. If Section I turns you off, go to Section II, go to Section II and then return to Section I. Read the chapters individually and return to them. Rich, complex arguments need to be savored and carefully considered. You may not agree with all his conclusions but his arguments are very worthy of understanding.