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90 of 102 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, September 15, 2010
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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.
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Showing 1-10 of 20 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Sep 23, 2010 2:02:24 AM PDT
hisbookrder says:

Posted on Oct 11, 2010 12:02:05 AM PDT
[Deleted by the author on Dec 29, 2010 9:27:12 PM PST]

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 11, 2010 12:41:05 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Oct 15, 2010 9:16:11 PM PDT
Afia says:
Won't historians always have at least a few points of disagreement where so much ground is covered? But I like the teacher's lounge depiction! That was a funny and I appreciate the humor. This makes Amazon fun and I think will draw others into this interesting discussion.

Posted on Oct 14, 2010 6:25:43 PM PDT
Citizen John,

I commend you on your solid review. I see that Dower is up for the National Book Award, and the Booklist and Library Journal reviews caught my attention. Yours confirms that I will read it. Thanks.

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 15, 2010 4:17:08 AM PDT
[Deleted by the author on Dec 29, 2010 9:27:28 PM PST]

Posted on Oct 21, 2010 10:53:19 PM PDT
Dower has written good books in the past, but this one is so full of hatred for the Bush administration that it is nothing short of political propaganda. Giving it five star is to support such a political agenda in academics, a realm where we all should oppose it.

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 22, 2010 3:41:21 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Oct 23, 2010 10:28:38 AM PDT
Afia says:
Dower exposes and explains propaganda in Cultures of War, in particular what was done in the U.S. to sell the war to the American people. Separate from the complexities the administration confronted and whether military action was the correct course, this was done.

Back in 2002, President George W. Bush used the post-WWII occupation of Japan as a model for the occupation in Iraq. He did this by way of analogy to set expectations about the good that could occur as a result of an Iraq occupation. Later that year in response, historian John Dower wrote an op-ed titled, "No Comparison."

Quote from No Comparison: "Does America's successful occupation of Japan after World War II provide a model for a constructive American role in a post-Saddam Hussein Iraq? The short answer is no."

After that a coincidental thing happened. President Bush misquoted a section from Embracing Defeat, by Dower, to justify occupation of Iraq. That of course put the media spotlight on Dower, who responded by criticizing the administration for "misusing history" in its preparation of the American people for war.

That, I believe, is how Cultures of War got started as a book idea. But I would disagree with any notion that this is a big fight between the former administration and Dower to control the public's view of history. I'm thankful for the comments following my review, made by individuals that care about history.

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 23, 2010 6:13:52 AM PDT
[Deleted by the author on Dec 29, 2010 9:27:44 PM PST]

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 23, 2010 10:32:33 AM PDT
Afia says:
J. Stobie,

Great references. I will certainly check out at least some of the books you cited.



In reply to an earlier post on Nov 15, 2010 3:03:22 PM PST
[Deleted by the author on Nov 18, 2010 11:32:49 PM PST]
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