87 of 99 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Rich in Analysis - Shows How Close We May Have Come to Total War
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...
Published on September 15, 2010 by Citizen John
27 of 38 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars 2 Hour CSPAN Book Interview
I just concluded viewing a two-hour interview with this author on C-Span Book Review and read the reviews. Please excuse me for contributing to the discussion without having read the book but I feel as if I have to respond to some of the one star criticisms. My impression of this author (who I had not heard of before today) is that he is a highly intelligent, analytical,...
Published on November 28, 2010 by jimboesq
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87 of 99 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Rich in Analysis - Shows How Close We May Have Come to Total War,
This review is from: Cultures of War: Pearl Harbor / Hiroshima / 9-11 / Iraq (Hardcover)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. 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.
18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Cultures of War -- How Militarism and Groupthink Lead to Catasthrope,
This review is from: Cultures of War: Pearl Harbor / Hiroshima / 9-11 / Iraq (Hardcover)Cultures of War is one of those books that, according to reviewers on amazon.com, 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 amazon.com 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. 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.
24 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Book that Hits a Nerve,
This review is from: Cultures of War: Pearl Harbor / Hiroshima / 9-11 / Iraq (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. --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":
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A terrific and important book, perhaps best read out of order,
This review is from: Cultures of War: Pearl Harbor / Hiroshima / 9-11 / Iraq (Hardcover)I don't usually write book reviews so I am going to keep this short. I bought this book when it was nominated for the National Book Award, thinking it sounded like an interesting premise and respecting the author's previous work.
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.
7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very, very interesting,
This review is from: Cultures of War: Pearl Harbor / Hiroshima / 9-11 / Iraq (Hardcover)An expert on Japan, Dower was struck by te instant comparisons between the terrorist attacks of 9-11 and the war against Japan. You all heard them: 9-11 was "like" Pearl Harbor. The terrorists were "like" kamikazes. The World Trade Center site was "like" Ground Zero.
In this book, Dower essentially goes: "All right, everybody, let's see what's actually in these comparisons". He then proceeds to consider all the ways in which 9-11 WAS like Pearl Harbor - and all the ways it wasn't. He considers the intentions of the attackers, the planning of the attacks, the long and short term effect of the attacks, and more. Part of the value of the book is highlighting the kinds of dimensions across which comparisons can be made (whether they're persuasive or not).
Dower also proposes his own comparisons. For example, how was the invasion of Iraq "like" Pearl Harbor? And how was it unlike? How was Bush's "imperial Presidency" like and unlike Japan's Imperial regime? (Dower always considers both sides). How was killing innocents on 9-11-01 "like" killing innocents in August '45? And how was it unlike? Again, he draws out interesting dimensions of comparison, for example the "aesthetics" of destruction. This aspect of the book is often deeply provocative, and will have cult-like followers of Bush howling with rage. (It'll also offend anyone who glorifies the U.S. military and thinks every bullet fired by an American soldier was necessary and always hit a military target.) Heck, even I caught myself thinking "Geez, Dower, tone it down a notch" several times. But the cool thing is that even then he's showing you comparisons that you never thought of; ones that COULD have been made in the culture, but never were. That's a big part of the point here.
More than using comparisons to teach the reader "facts" about 9-11, Iraq, Hiroshima, or Pearl Harbor, Dower is showing the reader what it MEANS to make comparisons. Why do we make the comparisons we do? What are the implications - psychological, cultural and tactical - of making one comparison and not another? For example, "Pearl Harbor" carries a meaning somewhat like "unprovoked aggression by inscrutable savages against innocent Americans". It facilitates anger and mobilizing a large population for war. It does NOT facilitate trying to "get inside the enemy's head", even though that is useful. It lets you feel some ways, and not others.
So yeah. There's lots of great detail on the comparisons you've been bombarded with already. There's lots of new comparisons you simply won't have anticipated - some of them quite wild. There's also great use of photographs - comparing Japanese, American and radical Islamic propaganda for example.
The book's big weakness is the organization. Granted, this is a project that would be hard to organize effectively, but the repetition still irritates. (If you have the same edition I do, look at page 194 for a horrendous typo...)
I still thoroughly enjoyed this book. For me, it raises the questions "whose comparisons get to become widespread and whose are ignored?" Who has the power to make a comparison and make it "stick"? If the law of the jungle is "eat or be eaten", then the law of culture is "define or be defined". And Dower has given us a fascinating look at how the cultures of war work.
7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Magesterial,
This review is from: Cultures of War: Pearl Harbor / Hiroshima / 9-11 / Iraq (Hardcover)John Dower's brilliant, completely accessible comparative history is
a towering work of popular scholarship.
His integrity in confronting damaging truths about American war making
leads to the one-star reviews here on Amazon, but serious readers should
Is Dower right in every single assertion? Of course not, but in taking such time and consideration to see recent events as connected to momentous events in the past, Dower has performed the highest service to the cause of understanding.
There are so many provocative statements in the book, but so few people in this world willing to confront them.
To take just one, Dower writes of the "Five-Point Plan" that Douglas MacArthur imposed upon vanquished Japan, which seems to have been just about the most forward, progressive, humanist political plan ever enacted, from the most unlikely source at the most unlikely time. In a sad verdict of history, there is not a single one of those "Five Points" that are not desperately needed here, in the US, a society that is now poorer in operation than zaibatsu Japan.
27 of 38 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars 2 Hour CSPAN Book Interview,
This review is from: Cultures of War: Pearl Harbor / Hiroshima / 9-11 / Iraq (Hardcover)I just concluded viewing a two-hour interview with this author on C-Span Book Review and read the reviews. Please excuse me for contributing to the discussion without having read the book but I feel as if I have to respond to some of the one star criticisms. My impression of this author (who I had not heard of before today) is that he is a highly intelligent, analytical, introspective and insightful historian who was attempting to explain patterns of human behavior and thinking with regard to violence and war. I am not aware any other historians who are attempting to hold a mirror up to ourselves in an effort to get us to think about why we wage war, and more importantly, how in particular some men love the culture of war. I can think of no more important topic on earth-especially at this given time-as wars continue to escalate in frequency and intensity. I have to question the motives and understanding of those reviewers who give only one or two stars to this book. I am at a total loss to square a one star review with the great breadth and depth of the intelligence of the man who I had the pleasure of listening to for two hours this morning. It seems almost idiotic for a person to criticize this book by saying that the facts that gave rise to each war are different. Yet, that's exactly the type of thinking that this author explains is at the basis of "group think" and why we humans continue to fall into the same pattern of thinking that each war is new and different and justifiable. As to anyone who claims that the book could have been shortened, one can only wonder if the reviewer would then criticize the author for not providing sufficient detail or substantiation for such a profoundly complex and difficult subject! After seeing the author on television this morning, I certainly intend on ordering his book and supporting his work. I am sure there is something in there for all of us to learn. I apologize for using 3 Stars...but the system would not accept my "review" without rating the book...and I thought that was the fairest thing to do under the circumstances. I give 5 stars to the interview I heard on C-Span.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Contemporary Events put in Historical Context,
This review is from: Cultures of War: Pearl Harbor / Hiroshima / 9-11 / Iraq (Paperback)John Dower has made significant contributions to our understanding of the War in the Pacific and the cultural context in which it ocurred. In Cultures of War, he puts our more recent experiences of 9/11 and the War in Iraq in an historical context that is so often been lacking in our public discussions and understanding of recent events. The book reads well and is a significant in presenting a coherent frame for seeing the United States in at the end of the postwar period.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Comparative History,
This review is from: Cultures of War: Pearl Harbor / Hiroshima / 9-11 / Iraq (Paperback)This account seems fair to me. Of course, anyone who thinks that Operation Iraqi Freedom was an unqualified success and a wholly noble enterprise, both justifiable and necessary, well... they will doubtless be hard-pressed to finish the first chapter. John Dower takes the arguments of the Iraq War boosters seriously; specifically, that the 9-11 attacks were neatly comparable to Pearl Harbor and that reconstruction of a conquered Iraq would mirror the long-term success found in post-war Japan. Along the way he analyzes the evolution of weapons of mass destruction, the world-wide threat of nuclear attack, and the tacit acceptance of civilian (or non-combatant) deaths by both military bureaucracies and non-state belligerents.
The focus of the book is appropriately narrow, even though there are portions that veer off onto interesting tangents. Overall, this book is an excellent example of how comparative historical analysis - even if that analysis is steeped in subjectivity, humanity, and passion - can bring clarity to our understanding of current events.
5.0 out of 5 stars Understanding human nature,
This review is from: Cultures of War: Pearl Harbor / Hiroshima / 9-11 / Iraq (Hardcover)Award-winning historian, John W. Dower offers the best explanation of why humans resort to slaughter instead of reason.
Examining the history of Pearl Habor, Hiroshima/Nagasaki, Sept 11, 2001, and the 2003 war against Iraq, Dower provides history at its best: fact, detail, and cogent analysis. No one does it better.
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Cultures of War: Pearl Harbor / Hiroshima / 9-11 / Iraq by John W. Dower (Hardcover - September 7, 2010)