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Cultures of War: Pearl Harbor / Hiroshima / 9-11 / Iraq Hardcover – September 7, 2010

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. In this fascinating study, a finalist for the 2010 National Book Award, Pulitzer prize-wining historian Dower (Embracing Defeat) draws parallels between the illusion-ridden Japanese top leadership prior to December 7, 1941 and the fecklessness and over-confidence of the Bush Administration after September 11, 2001. The author compares the post-war occupations as well, stating that "Wishful thinking trumped rational analysis in Tokyo in 1941 and Washington in the run-up to war with Iraq." Exploring "the similar rationales and rhetoric of Japan's war of choice in 1941 and America's invasion of Iraq in 2003," he looks at the way in which emotion-laden terms like "Pearl Harbor" and "ground zero" have been co-opted for the War against Terror. And similarly mistaken, in Dower's view, were the beliefs of both commands in the efficacy of bombings targeting civilian populations. Equally telling is his comparison between the occupation of Japan (and to a lesser extent, Germany) and the occupation of Iraq. After Japan's surrender, the U.S. military formulated a set of pre-determined goals based upon New Deal principles that laid the groundwork for Japan's extraordinary economic recovery. In Dower's view, the U.S. not only abdicated responsibility for the Iraqi occupation, but ignored the potential of the sectarian divisions that have erupted there.

From Booklist

This somber tome compares Japan’s decision to attack Pearl Harbor in 1941 and that of America’s to attack Iraq in 2003. In addition to assessing what planners were thinking, Dower analyzes how they came to believe their war would be both short and victorious. Indicting a range of intelligence deficiencies and bureaucratic breakdowns in each case, Dower critiques most cogently the cultural and even emotional mind-sets of the strategists. In both cases, he argues, a sense of injured innocence, an apocalyptic fear of the consequences of inaction, and contempt for the opponent prevailed, reinforced by selective appropriations of history. Dower particularly indicts proponents of invading Iraq for the analogy made to the American occupation of Japan—Dower is an expert on the subject (Embracing Defeat, 1999). In extended corollaries to his main subject, Dower also discusses the firebombing of Japanese cities, the atomic attacks of 1945, and the destruction of the World Trade Center in terms of psychology, symbolism, and morality. A forceful indictment of warlike attitudes, Dower’s work will spark debate about history and the Iraq War. --Gilbert Taylor

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 640 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; 1St Edition edition (September 7, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393061507
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393061505
  • Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 1.8 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,130,762 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

John W. Dower is professor emeritus of history at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His interests lie in modern Japanese history and U.S.-Japan relations. He is the author of several books, including Ways of Forgetting, War Without Mercy, Cultures of War, and Embracing Defeat, which received numerous honors (including the Pulitzer Prize).

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

89 of 101 people found the following review helpful By Afia TOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on September 15, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
If you like history and often find true events stranger than fiction, you'll find Cultures of War entertaining. Some readers will be alarmed because this book is highly critical of the Bush Administration's use of history to prepare the American people for the decision to go to war in Iraq. Author John W. Dower, Harvard PhD and winner of the 2000 Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction, strips out propaganda and presents a viewpoint of what happened and what almost happened in our recent military conflicts.

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.
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful By G. Polley on April 29, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Cultures of War is one of those books that, according to reviewers on, people will either love or hate. Out of fourteen reviews, seven give it a five-star rating, six give it a one star, and one give it a three. Right off the bat, I'll tell you what my rating is: it is a very strong 5. Generally speaking, if you're a person who regards criticism of the U.S. and its policies as treason, you will hate this book. (One reviewer calls it "a hate-filled rant from an ultra left loon.") But if you're looking for one of the best analyses around on how militarism with its culture of war dumb-down analysis and result in "strategic imbecilities", as John Dower so eloquently puts it, then you will love this book. A winner of the Pulitzer Prize for his book Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II and the National Book Critics Circle Award for his War Without Mercy: Race and Power in the Pacific War, and author of Japan in War & Peace, historian John W. Dower challenges conventional thinking about Pearl Harbor, Hiroshima, 9/11/2001 and our war in Iraq. It was conventional thinking that got Japan in trouble prior to and during World War II, and it was conventional thinking that got the U.S. in trouble following the terrorist attack on 9/11/01 with its global War on Terror and its wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

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.
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25 of 32 people found the following review helpful By Author: Dr. Rodrigue TREMBLAY on November 21, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Cultures of War: Pearl Harbor / Hiroshima / 9-11 / Iraq

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.
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