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Over recent decades, John W. Dower, one of America’s preeminent historians, has addressed the roots and consequences of war from multiple perspectives. In War Without Mercy (1986), winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award, he described and analyzed the brutality that attended World War II in the Pacific, as seen from both the Japanese and the American sides. Embrac Over recent decades, John W. Dower, one of America’s preeminent historians, has addressed the roots and consequences of war from multiple perspectives. In War Without Mercy (1986), winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award, he described and analyzed the brutality that attended World War II in the Pacific, as seen from both the Japanese and the American sides. Embracing Defeat (1999), winner of numerous honors including the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award, dealt with Japan’s struggle to start over in a shattered land in the immediate aftermath of the Pacific War, when the defeated country was occupied by the U.S.-led Allied powers. Turning to an even larger canvas, Dower now examines the cultures of war revealed by four powerful events—Pearl Harbor, Hiroshima, 9-11, and the invasion of Iraq in the name of a war on terror. The list of issues examined and themes explored is wide-ranging: failures of intelligence and imagination, wars of choice and “strategic imbecilities,” faith-based secular thinking as well as more overtly holy wars, the targeting of noncombatants, and the almost irresistible logic—and allure—of mass destruction. Dower’s new work also sets the U.S. occupations of Japan and Iraq side by side in strikingly original ways. One of the most important books of this decade, Cultures of War offers comparative insights into individual and institutional behavior and pathologies that transcend “cultures” in the more traditional sense, and that ultimately go beyond war-making alone.


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Over recent decades, John W. Dower, one of America’s preeminent historians, has addressed the roots and consequences of war from multiple perspectives. In War Without Mercy (1986), winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award, he described and analyzed the brutality that attended World War II in the Pacific, as seen from both the Japanese and the American sides. Embrac Over recent decades, John W. Dower, one of America’s preeminent historians, has addressed the roots and consequences of war from multiple perspectives. In War Without Mercy (1986), winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award, he described and analyzed the brutality that attended World War II in the Pacific, as seen from both the Japanese and the American sides. Embracing Defeat (1999), winner of numerous honors including the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award, dealt with Japan’s struggle to start over in a shattered land in the immediate aftermath of the Pacific War, when the defeated country was occupied by the U.S.-led Allied powers. Turning to an even larger canvas, Dower now examines the cultures of war revealed by four powerful events—Pearl Harbor, Hiroshima, 9-11, and the invasion of Iraq in the name of a war on terror. The list of issues examined and themes explored is wide-ranging: failures of intelligence and imagination, wars of choice and “strategic imbecilities,” faith-based secular thinking as well as more overtly holy wars, the targeting of noncombatants, and the almost irresistible logic—and allure—of mass destruction. Dower’s new work also sets the U.S. occupations of Japan and Iraq side by side in strikingly original ways. One of the most important books of this decade, Cultures of War offers comparative insights into individual and institutional behavior and pathologies that transcend “cultures” in the more traditional sense, and that ultimately go beyond war-making alone.

30 review for Cultures of War: Pearl Harbor / Hiroshima / 9-11 / Iraq

  1. 5 out of 5

    James Murphy

    Dower has written a book comparing the causes and endgames of the war we waged against Japan in the Pacific with the more recent war in Iraq. There are many similarities. The intelligence failure resulting in 9/11 brought an immediate investigation which compared it to the intelligence lapse at Pearl Harbor 60 years earlier. In pursuing its war on terror, America's deciding on a preemptive war in Iraq mirrors the same tactical triumph resulting in strategic stupidity Japan displayed in attacking Dower has written a book comparing the causes and endgames of the war we waged against Japan in the Pacific with the more recent war in Iraq. There are many similarities. The intelligence failure resulting in 9/11 brought an immediate investigation which compared it to the intelligence lapse at Pearl Harbor 60 years earlier. In pursuing its war on terror, America's deciding on a preemptive war in Iraq mirrors the same tactical triumph resulting in strategic stupidity Japan displayed in attacking the western powers in 1941. His history ends with a comparison of the occupation of Japan with that in Iraq. His perspective is that in Japan our steady, clearheaded policy of economic reconstruction (plus, it seems, the impetus the Korean War gave to their economy) and gradual de-emphasis of the cult of emperor worship was largely responsible for winning the peace. In Iraq, he writes, there was no peace following the war because our lack of planning, the purge of the Baath Party, and the disastrous dissolution of all Iraqi military formations left no authority to assist America's inadequate military and provisional governments. Further, in Japan a democracy was in place on which to base a reconstruction. In Iraq the Bush administration tried to forge a democracy out of managerial and organizational shortcomings, with disastrous results. My response to the book was one of contrasts, too. The early reading is something of a polemic. I don't really doubt the truth of Dower's ideas. It's that I take issue with his flattening out of facts and dodging considered analysis in order to make a point. Statements of half-truth history such as claiming the burst of America's imperialism in the period between 1895 and 1905 gave us a gulag in Guantanamo make me raise my eyebrows. The longer one reads in the book, however, the better Dower's history becomes. As his discussion works its way through wars of choice, Hiroshima and the bombing of noncombatants, and the similarities between the faith-based secular thinking of Japan, the Bush presidency and Bin Laden's jihad to come at last to the contrast of the successful occupation of Japan with the failed occupation of Iraq, his analysis has become measured, sound, and convincing. Despite the book's 2 faces, it's thoroughly interesting.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Patrick McCoy

    I have been an admirer of John W. Dower since I read his 1999 masterpiece Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of WWII, which incidentally won both a Pulitzer Prize and Naitonal Book Award. I went back and read War Without Mercy: Race and Power in the Pacific War (1986) as well. I've been meaning to read Cultures of War: Pearl Harbor/Hiroshima/9-11/Iraq (2010) since it came out and decided that it might be an appropriate read before visiting Nagasaki for the first time (which I recently did), whi I have been an admirer of John W. Dower since I read his 1999 masterpiece Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of WWII, which incidentally won both a Pulitzer Prize and Naitonal Book Award. I went back and read War Without Mercy: Race and Power in the Pacific War (1986) as well. I've been meaning to read Cultures of War: Pearl Harbor/Hiroshima/9-11/Iraq (2010) since it came out and decided that it might be an appropriate read before visiting Nagasaki for the first time (which I recently did), which also gets mention in the book. Dower is an excellent researcher and does an excellent job of explaining how and why historical antecedents from WWII were ill applied to present times as well as the irony in using terms like "ground zero" and "Pearl Harbor." First and foremost I found his discussion of the mentality behind using the atomic bombs fascinating since I read several book about the topic a few years earlier for a term paper on the subject for a correspondence class. But all of his writing about Japan is top notch in my estimation--he uses primary and secondary sources effectively to back up his assertions (there are over 100 pages of notes alone). I would go as far to say that his analysis of the Bush administration's foray into war in Afghanistan and Iraq are equally top first rate. Then again I thought it was pure folly from the beginning, but I see in the reviews at Amazon that neoconservatives do not exactly see it that way. He suggests that if the Bush administration went to war with Iraq because of suspected weapons of mass destruction they were idiotic and if they went to war to open up the middle east for capitalism they were criminal. I do not see how conservatives can see these policies as successes. Dower does a great job of explaining why this occupation could not work the same way that the occupations of Japan and Germany did. I think looking at the three sections and the subsequent chapter titles will give you an idea of the breath and scope of his analysis: Part I "Pearl Harbor As Code," 1. Infamy and the Cracked Mirror of History, 2. The Failure of Intelligence, 3. Failure of Imagination, 4. Innocence, Evil, and Amnesia, 5. War of Choice and Strategic Imbecilities, 6. "Pearl Harbor" as Godsend, Part II: "Ground Zero 1945 and Ground Zero 2001," 7. "Hiroshima" as Code, 8. Air War and Terror Bombing in WWII, 9. "The Most Terrible Bomb in the History of the World," 10. The Irresistible Logic of Mass Destruction, 11. Sweetness, Beauty, and Idealistic Annihilation, 12. New Evils in the World: 1945/2001, Part III: "Wars and Occupations," 13. Occupied Japan and Occupied Iraq, 14. Convergence of a Sort: Law, Justice, and Transgression, 15. Nation Building and Market Fundamentalism, Epilogue: "Fools' Errands and Fools' Gold."

  3. 4 out of 5

    Jill

    John Dower is one of our most respected historians, having won both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award for his brilliant studies of the war against Japan in World War II. In Cultures of War, he again returns to Japan in WWII, this time to compare the U.S. response to the attack on Pearl Harbor and the war with Japan to the attack of 9/11 on the U.S. and subsequent war against Iraq. Dower argues that the “clash of civilizations” argument to explain both wars is insufficient to underst John Dower is one of our most respected historians, having won both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award for his brilliant studies of the war against Japan in World War II. In Cultures of War, he again returns to Japan in WWII, this time to compare the U.S. response to the attack on Pearl Harbor and the war with Japan to the attack of 9/11 on the U.S. and subsequent war against Iraq. Dower argues that the “clash of civilizations” argument to explain both wars is insufficient to understand why they took place, and in any event, is based on a postulate of “an imagined essentialism” about everyone in the cultures in question. It is largely invoked to contrast the alleged rational and enlightened outlook of Westerners with the irrational, nonwhite Eastern foreigner. But as Dower maintains, just as often as the West exhibits “more civilized” behavior, it is apt to exhibit “wishful thinking, delusion, and herd behavior” at top levels of government. For example, he shows how irrational notions characterized both the American attitude toward the Japanese before WWII, and toward the Islamists six decades later. He cites the example of the Admiral of the Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor explaining why he ignored “war warning” messages just prior to the attack: "I never thought those little yellow sons-of-bitches could pull off such an attack, so far from Japan.” Similarly, in spite of repeated warnings about bin Laden and Al Qaeda from the CIA and the National Security Council, the Bush Administration chose to ignore them. As Michael Scheuer, who headed the CIA’s “bin Laden unit” until 1999 reported: "The elites simply could not fathom that ‘a polyglot bunch of Arabs wearing robes, sporting scraggly beards, and squatting around campfires in Afghan deserts and mountains could pose a mortal threat the United States.’” In other words, the U.S. was surprised both in 1941 and 2001 because of the same “racial arrogance and cultural condescension.” Furthermore, Dower charges, it is absurd to assert that the Japanese in the 1940’s or the Islamists, Muslims and Arabs in current times, do not value human life as much as people do in the West, just because so many civilians died on 9/11. The U.S. can only make this argument by sanitizing our own history. Dower adduces plenty of evidence to show that the Allies deliberately targeted civilians in WWII with fire bombing to “break morale.” He reserves especial disgust for “the ardor” with which the U.S. military reconstructed German and Japanese houses in the U.S. desert beginning in 1943, to test how thoroughly they could be incinerated. And in fact, “somewhere around one million German and Japanese noncombatants were killed in Allied bombing missions between 1943 and 1945.” Moreover, Dower argues convincingly that the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki with atomic weapons was less about ending the war (and thus saving American lives) as is usually contended, but more about demonstrating our strength to the Soviets: "The decision makers opted [to use] the bomb essentially without warning in a manner that would shock and awe the Russians every bit as much as the Japanese – and, in the process, ideally deter them from their territorial ambitions in eastern Europe while simultaneously undercutting them in Asia.” He even gives evidence of a rush to drop the bombs on Japan prior to their expected surrender, which was considered inevitable as soon as the Soviets entered the war against them. Thus the weapons were shipped out even before they were tested. Japan, according to sociologist Michael Sherry, was “viewed as little more than ‘a vast laboratory in destruction.’” Nevertheless, the U.S. Government felt it necessary to justify the bombs by harking back to the patriotic fervor drummed up after Pearl Harbor, and to the racism against the Japanese that had fueled the fighting against them thereafter. A similar process of racism, mendacity and deception characterized the war on Iraq, Dower avers. He begins with the failure of intelligence, or rather, the Administration’s refusal to acknowledge the intelligence. He then goes into the justification given to the American people and the rest of the world for the Iraq War, reasons which were later shown to have been false. He also writes about the “rebuilding” process in Iraq after the war, and why it has been such a failure compared to the same process in Japan. Some of the most important reasons include that in Japan, McArthur went in with a lot of advanced planning in place, whereas in Iraq, planning was rejected in favor of what Dower calls “faith-based policy making” – i.e., the conviction that a new government would just emerge “somewhat by magic.” Although the U.S. State Department had prepared plans, they were rejected because, in large part, of bureaucratic turf wars between the Departments of Defense and State. Moreover, it was important that, after WWII, while the U.S. guided Japan, they made sure the Japanese themselves were part of the recovery and became self-sufficient. Laws were passed at the urging of the U.S. to provide protection from “international as well as domestic predators.” Iraq has been a different story altogether. Most reconstruction work was given over to the private sector in the U.S. (and funded by citizen tax money): much to the Iraqis’ bitter disappointment, Iraq’s “own skilled workforce was obviously deemed incapable of handling such engineering projects.” The U.S. permitted 100 percent foreign ownership of Iraqi firms and tax-free repatriation of all investment profits. Iraq became “a gold rush”; “a carpetbaggers’ free-for-all”; especially for Republican supporters. Outsourcing the rebuilding to private and largely American contractors resulted in “confusion, cronyism, non-transparency, and corruption that had no counterpart in Japan.” Like other policies imposed upon Iraq, these only served to create more resentment, and recruiting material for Arab terrorists. In sum, Dower accuses the U.S., particularly during the Bush years, of “racial arrogance and cultural blindness,” “historical cherry-picking” for propaganda purposes, “irrationality and groupthink” and “strategic imbecility.” But this is all part, he argues, of what he identifies as the concept of war culture. This meticulous scholar backs up his accusations with irrefutable facts from an enormous amount of documentation. Evaluation: Dower is a first-rate historian who expresses a great deal of frustration over what he considers to have been ill-conceived strategies of the U.S. in responding to the 9/11 attacks; abuses of international law; and perversion of the historical record. This book is extremely illuminating for anyone seeking to understand what happened immediately preceding and after 9/11. It is neither dry nor dispassionate, and while some might maintain that Dower has a political agenda, I would identify his bias to be more one of anger over the taking of lives in service of a "war culture" no matter which side perpetrates these acts. Rating: 4.5/5 Note: Quite a few photos are included in the book, which was a 2010 National Book Award Finalist.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Stven

    A longtime scholar of Japanese history who published the Pulitzer-winning Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II in 1999, John W. Dower in this volume undertakes a grand-scale comparison of the Japanese and American military cultures. The blindered groupthink that led Emperor Hirohito's advisors to the "strategic imbecility" of the attack on Pearl Harbor turns out to have been amazingly similar to the rush to misplaced vengeance embraced by the Bush/Cheney administration that led to A longtime scholar of Japanese history who published the Pulitzer-winning Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II in 1999, John W. Dower in this volume undertakes a grand-scale comparison of the Japanese and American military cultures. The blindered groupthink that led Emperor Hirohito's advisors to the "strategic imbecility" of the attack on Pearl Harbor turns out to have been amazingly similar to the rush to misplaced vengeance embraced by the Bush/Cheney administration that led to the prolonged and multifaceted debacle in Iraq. Here's how Dower describes it in his preface: *** "Strategic imbecility" is a famous English-language phrase introduced in the 1950s to highlight the peculiar irrationality of the Japanese warlords who chose to attack Pearl Harbor and Western colonial possessions in Southeast Asia.... One could take the clichés about Japan's irrational warlords and Pearl Harbor that had circulated as conventional wisdom for over a half century and plug in "the United States," "the Bush administration," "Iraq" with few other changes -- and the critique would seem perfectly reasonable. Wishful thinking trumped rational analysis in Tokyo in 1941 and Washington in the run-up to war with Iraq. Nor did delusion and reckless incompetence end there. Japanese war planners remained in their dream world long after disaster loomed -- and so did ... Bush and his top advisors. *** If you are interested in learning the excruciating details of the historical record, Dower reports them here at great length (with notes and index, about 600 pages). It's the same old story of foolhardy fighting madness, a phony "patriotism" used as a bludgeon against anyone who dares to disagree. While the Japanese misadventure seems in retrospect like a single obsession turned into a national death wish, there is an astoundingly endless parade of idiocies upon idiocies in the American story. Dower gives us the timeline, documents the facts, and has the whole bloody, shameful, unfathomably expensive in every sense, heartbreaking, terrifying chronicle here for anybody who wants to examine what happened.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Marc

    John W Dower, author of the stupendous Embracing Defeat, has written a very muddled history in Cultures of War. The subhead, "Pearl Harbor, Hiroshima, 9-11, Iraq," shows the threads that Dower ties together in the book. What makes the book all the more frustrating is that I agree with his basic thesis. It is the execution of the book that is maddening. For starters, Dower makes the point that Pearl Harbor, like the invasion of Iraq, was tactically brilliant but strategically imbecilic. We all kno John W Dower, author of the stupendous Embracing Defeat, has written a very muddled history in Cultures of War. The subhead, "Pearl Harbor, Hiroshima, 9-11, Iraq," shows the threads that Dower ties together in the book. What makes the book all the more frustrating is that I agree with his basic thesis. It is the execution of the book that is maddening. For starters, Dower makes the point that Pearl Harbor, like the invasion of Iraq, was tactically brilliant but strategically imbecilic. We all know that Pearl Harbor was a smashing success for the Japanese: tactical surprise, the sinking of much of Battleship Row, few losses of planes or pilots, and escape of all capital ships of the IJN. And we all know that Pearl Harbor was a disaster for the Japanese, because it woke the sleeping giant that was 1941 America. America did not sue for peace, but destroyed the Empire of Japan, and occupied the Home Islands. The invasion of Iraq was likewise an amazing success, at least initially. Saddam Hussein could do little to fight against the US & British armies, and his army was destroyed rapidly. It was a rerun of France '40, an analogy the Bush administration somehow never used. But the end of Saddam Hussein's rule in Iraq was not the end of the conflict. And just like the Japanese before them, the US got into something it had never expected. Dower makes a clever twist here. Pearl Harbor is often compared to 9-11. In US media reports, it is Osama bin Laden who plays the role of Yamamoto, awakening the US with the attack on the World Trade Center. But Dower makes G. W. Bush into Yamamoto, or is it Hirohito, starting something he has no idea how to finish. more at http://sonof2cubes.blogspot.com/2010/...

  6. 5 out of 5

    Gill

    Very interesting deconstruction of the symbolism of Pearl Harbor and 9-11 as well as a solidly documented history of the events in the title. Dower does a good job of showing how strategic decisions are made without being overly partisan taking a broad view of culture, bureaucracy, religion, economics, and politics. While it's quite clear he thinks the bombing of Japanese cities was not wise or ethical, he presents all the reasoning of those who carried it out fairly. He gets more sarcastic deal Very interesting deconstruction of the symbolism of Pearl Harbor and 9-11 as well as a solidly documented history of the events in the title. Dower does a good job of showing how strategic decisions are made without being overly partisan taking a broad view of culture, bureaucracy, religion, economics, and politics. While it's quite clear he thinks the bombing of Japanese cities was not wise or ethical, he presents all the reasoning of those who carried it out fairly. He gets more sarcastic dealing with Iraq and GWB but even here he stays away from the polemical. I give it 4 stars instead of 5 because I found it repetitive. It could use some editing. The same arguments are made over and over. I often wondered if I'd lost my place and was rereading a section since the words seemed so familiar. I'm quite confident I'll never think the same way about the Pacific War, 9/11, the occupations of Japan and Germany, and the Iraq war as I used to. Any book that can change long held opinions on so many subjects of great interest to me is one I'm glad to have read. I've often shaken my head in puzzlement about the Pacific and Iraq Wars. "What were they thinking?" Now I can understand it better.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Kelly

    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. Al 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.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Mike Clinton

    Dower analyzes the misuse and abuse of historical references and analogies to World War II - Pearl Harbor, Hiroshima, post-war reconstruction in Japan - as the Bush administration applied them in its rhetoric following 9-11 and leading into the invasion of Iraq. The commentary aims to expose - or at least to remind us of - the myths and the flawed logic prevalent throughout the Bush administration's post-9/11 response and also provides enlightening historical accounts from the Pacific War and it Dower analyzes the misuse and abuse of historical references and analogies to World War II - Pearl Harbor, Hiroshima, post-war reconstruction in Japan - as the Bush administration applied them in its rhetoric following 9-11 and leading into the invasion of Iraq. The commentary aims to expose - or at least to remind us of - the myths and the flawed logic prevalent throughout the Bush administration's post-9/11 response and also provides enlightening historical accounts from the Pacific War and its aftermath worth reading for themselves. The last segment of the book - considering comparisons between post-war Japan and Iraq - is the strongest, although the first section is very good, too. The middle section covers old ground in the debates over the decision to drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima; Dower's analysis is sound but doesn't add much beyond what others have already written, aside from its connection to the overall premise of the book.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Tamara

    While this book was not exactly what I was looking for, it was very good nonetheless. Dower effectively draws parallels between American and Japanese interaction during WWII and American and Al Qaeda interactions in the 21st century. The author is no fan of Bush, and anyone who was fond of the president may dislike his treatment. However, I found the approach fair (but I don't like Bush either). I would reccommend this book to anyone who has an interest in the internal dynamics of a government a While this book was not exactly what I was looking for, it was very good nonetheless. Dower effectively draws parallels between American and Japanese interaction during WWII and American and Al Qaeda interactions in the 21st century. The author is no fan of Bush, and anyone who was fond of the president may dislike his treatment. However, I found the approach fair (but I don't like Bush either). I would reccommend this book to anyone who has an interest in the internal dynamics of a government at war.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Chelsea Szendi

    Powerful ideas couched in clean prose. Dower brings the focus of a historian who has long mediated on the underlying themes of the intertwined Japanese and American experiences of WWII to the issues surrounding 9/11 and the Iraq War. It's a very present work, and I hope only one of first of many to bring greater clarity to what often seemed like chaos over the past ten years in American politics and policy. Let the historical analyses of the Bush administration commence!

  11. 4 out of 5

    Coby

    Excellent comparison of the mistakes made by both the Japanese during WWII and the US with the invasion of Iraq. Goes way beyond just these points in looking at the culture of war in general and the collective loss of historical memory generated by potential war situations. In other words, humans are really good at lying to ourselves when it benefits our purposes. It's all propaganda.

  12. 4 out of 5

    David

    This bonk is a venture into comparative history—the US-Japanese war of 1941-1945, and the second US war with Iraq. The author is an historian specialized in Japan. The picture is one of a rising, sometimes naïve empire, reduced to a floundering, deluded hegemon. The book is strong on the details of things like occupation economic policies, less so on deep analysis of questions like whose interests a war serves. Dry as the Atacama Desert, but worth a read if you want to see snapshots of our natio This bonk is a venture into comparative history—the US-Japanese war of 1941-1945, and the second US war with Iraq. The author is an historian specialized in Japan. The picture is one of a rising, sometimes naïve empire, reduced to a floundering, deluded hegemon. The book is strong on the details of things like occupation economic policies, less so on deep analysis of questions like whose interests a war serves. Dry as the Atacama Desert, but worth a read if you want to see snapshots of our national decline.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Maria

    Dower, a famous Japan scholar, draws on his knowledge of WWII Japan to compare it to America's Operation Iraqi Freedom. He also compared Pearl Harbor and 9/11; American attitudes about attacking civilians in WWII and 2001. And the culture of war and destruction when viewed from a position of power. Why I started this book: I enjoyed Dower's Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II and this title looked fascinating. Why I finished it: Captivating book, I immediately stopped reading all m Dower, a famous Japan scholar, draws on his knowledge of WWII Japan to compare it to America's Operation Iraqi Freedom. He also compared Pearl Harbor and 9/11; American attitudes about attacking civilians in WWII and 2001. And the culture of war and destruction when viewed from a position of power. Why I started this book: I enjoyed Dower's Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II and this title looked fascinating. Why I finished it: Captivating book, I immediately stopped reading all my other books and focused on this one. The connection between Pearl Harbor and 9/11 was obvious and was made immediately to understand and for political gain; but Dower's comparison of Japan's war with the US and the US war in Iraq was original and illuminating. It answered my question of "How could they think that was a good idea?" in both situations. Highlighting the political and military leaders of both governments focused on tactical considerations vs. strategic gains. And the discussion of the air war and targeting civilians was fascinating. I'm eager to talk about this in book club tomorrow.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Benjamin Stahl

    This book explores a very interesting subject and Dower handles it quite well. However, I felt like it was much longer than it needed to be, and after a while it just seemed like the same thing was being gone over again and again. It didn't help that the narrator (I listened to this on audio) was quite monotonous.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Johnny D

    Excellent.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Joseph Stieb

    This book was a mixed bag for me overall. I read it because I deeply respect John Dower's work on Japanese history, especially his excellent "War without Mercy" book on race hatred in the Pacific War. This book, however, tries to do a little bit of everything and is much more general than his previous work. One of the problems I had is that he basically didn't introduce any new material or interpretations on the GWOT or the Iraq War, so I only really learned anything from his sections on Japan. T This book was a mixed bag for me overall. I read it because I deeply respect John Dower's work on Japanese history, especially his excellent "War without Mercy" book on race hatred in the Pacific War. This book, however, tries to do a little bit of everything and is much more general than his previous work. One of the problems I had is that he basically didn't introduce any new material or interpretations on the GWOT or the Iraq War, so I only really learned anything from his sections on Japan. The book drifts a lot without much of a central structure, but I guess that the thesis is that the mistakes and/or decisions made in a lot of these cases emerged from more similar sources than partisans on either side of these contentious issues would like to admit. For example, the strategic myopia involved in the Iraq invasion is actually quite similar to that of the Japanese raid on Pearl Harbor: small group of decision makers/thinkers, groupthink, exclusion of alternative information, focusing on best case scenarios, lack of long term thinking, focus on tactical matters, a sense of national and personal destiny/grandeur/righteousness. Dower also emphasizes . Comparing Hiroshima and 9/11 was less interesting in my mind, although the comparisons of suicide bombers in modern Islamist terrorism and Japanese WWII tactics was pretty compelling. Dower always emphasizes that a mix of cultural factors (sometimes unexamined) and rationality and psychology goes into all of these things. His best discussion is of the atomic bomb. On one hand, the use of the atomic bomb was a logical culmination of an area bombing strategy that focused on massive destruction of civilian property and life. It was a rational, if horrifying, path towards victory. However, Dower also notes the complex of cultural and psychological factors that fueled the Manhattan Project and ultimately the use of the bomb: the cultural/racial devaluation of the Japanese, the awe at mass destruction, the scientists' desire for discovery at all costs, the desire for revenge, etc. Overall, Dower presents a solid critique of social science approaches to these issues: it's irrational not to consider the irrational (or semi-rational) realms of culture and psychology in answering any historical question. Trying to get everything down to variables and numbers removes the specificity, contexts, and unpredictability (or different logics) of human beings and leads to inaccurate depictions of reality and poor recommendations. Two more complaints. First, for a Japanese historian, there's less in this book about Japan than I was hoping. I'd say about 2/3 of the book is about American actors. Second, this book fits with one of my least favorite tendencies of academic writers: harshness. Dower is simply way too harsh throughout most of this book. The writing is unnecessarily negative, and the insults are repeated over and over again. Like many academics, he struggles to evaluate failures without passing judgement. One of the problems here is that academics hold relatively little responsibility in their careers. This makes them unduly harsh to policy makers. Example: Dower repeatedly criticizes policy makers for sticking to outmoded frames of thought as they navigate crises or problems. What's unfair about this type of critique is that policy makers, who have to make decisions and take actions, don't have the time or mental inclination to constantly revisit their assumptions and reassess the evidence. Academics do this for a living, and they have tons of time to do so. Policy makers and leaders, however, need heuristics and general guides to the world in order to make consistent actions, and I don't always blame them for sticking to reasonable frameworks that nevertheless may be inaccurate. Of course, there are plenty of times where the evidence is so glaring that you wonder how leaders can't see that their frameworks are inaccurate. This is when you should bust out the harsh criticism. Part of the reason why academics get ignored/castigated so often is that they revel in this sort of sniping, which all too often takes the place of balanced critiques. I wouldn't really recommend this book over a lot of other work on war and culture. It has some strong parts, but for me at least 1/2 of the book was a review of familiar material. If you feel like you know very little about these 4 events but want to examine in tandem, this might be a good read for you. I give Dower 4 stars for the concept of this book and 2 stars for the execution.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Dave

    Review originally posted at Book of Bogan The subtitle of this book is Pearl Harbor/Hiroshima/9-11/Iraq, and seeks to draw parallels between the four events, and their aftermath, and perhaps give an education in the lessons of history which the world has failed time and again to learn. The author hones in on a quote from Richard Armitage in the wake of the attacks on 9-11 that "History begins today", and seeks to elaborate on how America's wilful ignorance of the lessons of the past led to its ow Review originally posted at Book of Bogan The subtitle of this book is Pearl Harbor/Hiroshima/9-11/Iraq, and seeks to draw parallels between the four events, and their aftermath, and perhaps give an education in the lessons of history which the world has failed time and again to learn. The author hones in on a quote from Richard Armitage in the wake of the attacks on 9-11 that "History begins today", and seeks to elaborate on how America's wilful ignorance of the lessons of the past led to its own quagmire in Iraq. In the immediate aftermath of September 11 politicians used the language of the attack on Pearl Harbour - a day of infamy, along with referring to it as a new Pearl Harbour attack - and there is a natural parallel between the two. By the same token, there are also parallels between Japan's ensuing war in the pacific, which ultimately led to the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the US's war in Iraq. Steven Covey's second habit of highly effective people is "Begin with the end in mind", and it is an obvious failing that America did not take into account when it went to war in Iraq. By the same token it did not necessarily foresee the consequences of the development of the atomic bomb, although the scientists at the time did see that they had unleashed a great and powerful thing upon the world. The author does devote a great deal of time on the second world war; as a percentage I think it would be greater than that given over to modern events. He raises interesting questions about how the allies - as the victors in World War 2 - were able to stand in judgement over the crimes that had been committed by the Japanese (and Germans, although not necessarily addressed here), while escaping judgement themselves for their own acts. The same principle applies to the war in Iraq, although there is much more scrutiny, there still seems to be a lack of consequences for the perpetrators. The consequences of the end of World War 2 were a series of other small wars, and quagmires in South East Asia - Korea, and Vietnam. In the same way the end of one regime in Iraq has brought about a new threat in ISIS. Cultures of War is an excellent read, that neatly summarises many of the complex issues which have plagued the world as a result of humanity's failure to learn. One could read his breakdown of the Iraq war, and the privatisation of warfare as somewhat anti-capitalist, but he presents facts, and one is left somewhat to draw one's own conclusions. I think perhaps he became too wedded to his metaphor, and as I said before, went too far into the history of World War 2 at times. In analysing the use of language, in the use or misuse of historical events as convenient codewords for others, perhaps he fell into his own trap? Whatever the case, it is difficult to deny his conclusions.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Chris

    Where to begin? This book created a variety of feelings in me while reading from annoyance and anger to somnolence and a grudging acceptance and concurrence with much of what he said. Howard Zinn would have loved this book. Having participated in war planning for Iraq and met Mr. Rumsfeld the "liberal rant" that pervades the author's critique of the Bush presidency's adhocracy is painfully true. The messengers of "whoa, wait a minute" were all shot down and branded as disloyal. I've always been Where to begin? This book created a variety of feelings in me while reading from annoyance and anger to somnolence and a grudging acceptance and concurrence with much of what he said. Howard Zinn would have loved this book. Having participated in war planning for Iraq and met Mr. Rumsfeld the "liberal rant" that pervades the author's critique of the Bush presidency's adhocracy is painfully true. The messengers of "whoa, wait a minute" were all shot down and branded as disloyal. I've always been a big supporter of the "A-bomb needed to be dropped on Japan." This book convinced me otherwise. This book is best when it describes the Japanese experience/history of which the author is an expert. The last part of the book about laws of war was tough going. Too pedantic at times. Don't know if it deserves the National Book Award? Maybe it does. It changed my outlook on a decision that I always thought was sacrosanct.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Rob Squires

    A thoughtful and fair-minded look at the institutional idiocy and delusional thinking behind both the Japanese preemptive attack on Pearl Harbor and the Bush Administration's invasion of Iraq. Some uncanny parallels are put forward and discussed, as is the mentality and ideology of al-Qaeda. Also included is one of the most balanced discussions of the decision to drop the atomic bombs that I've read. Overall, a worthwhile book although it was rather repetitive at times.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Alan

    I am persuaded, but listening to the audio I felt just pounded on with overwriting and blow after blow. OK, The Bush administration's "history begins now" at 9/11 was a poor simplification. Stop, already. Dower is very knowledgeable and has made some fine contributions, but I don't rank this book as one.

  21. 5 out of 5

    leah

    this book is so complex, i didn't quite understand it. it's so clever and unique, pulling the similarities of different events ordinary people wouldn't occur to think. i paged through the book, it's really so difficult to read. will have to read this book later when i have more time and skill to properly decipher and understand it. qwq

  22. 5 out of 5

    Lisa

    A mammoth undertaking--Dower tries to compare Pearl Harbor to 9/11 and Hiroshima to Operation Iraqi Freedom. There are certainly many parallels and he is fairly successful, but kind of misses all the stuff that happened in the middle.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Hiroshi Sasaki

    Taking this book in sips. Damn. It's good.

  24. 5 out of 5

    63alfred

    Good comparative history

  25. 5 out of 5

    May Khaw

    Interesting, but not what I'm looking for right now.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Oliver

    I knew most of the Iraq analysis. We're too close or the information is permanently lost.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Philip

    The sort of book I would like to be able to write in 2o years' time ...

  28. 5 out of 5

    William

    Not a bad book but also a flawed analysis of the subject matter. Overall I wasnt impressed.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Tristan

    bit all over the place but strong analysis

  30. 5 out of 5

    Mark Nenadov

    Excellent comparative history!

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