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


Finalist for the 2010 National Book Award in Nonfiction and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize: “A thought-provoking . . . book about the way events echo—and mis-echo—down the corridors of history.”—Financial Times
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...

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

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Finalist for the 2010 National Book Award in Nonfiction and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize: “A thought-provoking . . . book about the way events echo—and mis-echo—down the corridors of history.”—Financial Times
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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Editorial Reviews

Anna Mundow - Boston Globe
“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.'”
Washington Post
“Consistently perceptive.”
Michael Sherry - American Scholar
“A whopper of a book in both length and intellectual substance. . . . The chapters on the U.S. incendiary and atomic bombing of Japan and the start of the nuclear arms race could stand alone as the wisest current treatment of that vexed history.”
National Book Award citation
“Cultures of War distills a lifetime of reflection and scholarship, persuasively connecting aspects of the 'War of Terror' to Pearl Harbor and Hiroshima, the better to illuminate the kind of wishful thinking—regardless of cultural difference—that is characteristic of modern warfare.”
Seymour M. Hersch
“Dower has found much new and revelatory to tell us about the inanities and horrors of the Bush/Cheney years, and this book goes much deeper-and raises devastating questions about the history we think we know.”
Gar Alperovitz
“A profoundly sobering reflection on war and the many cultures of self-delusion that we, like all other mortal nations, continue to ignore at ever deepening peril.”
Gerard De Groot
It's not an easy book, but it is consistently perceptive. Dower examines Pearl Harbor, Hiroshima, Sept. 11 and the second Iraq War, drawing disconcerting linkages.
—The Washington Post
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.
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

From the Publisher
"An unrelenting, incisive, masterly comparative study." —-Kirkus Starred Review
Library Journal
Wars often happen because decision makers make bad decisions. But we elect smart people to make reasoned decisions. Dower (history, emeritus, MIT; Embracing Defeat), a winner of the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize, among other honors, examines four cases in which he asserts that a combination of blindness, arrogance, strategic imbecility, and institutional failures of intelligence led to massively bad results. A great deal of his discussion deals with the—in his view—disastrous George W. Bush presidency and its obstinate refusal to replace preconceptions and posturing with fact. Much of his argument involves the psychological and institutional similarities between the Japanese decision for war with America and the equally misguided American attack on Iraq. Wherever destruction is possible, someone will justify it on the grounds of reason and morality in the name of God; is there a way to avoid that trap? VERDICT This dense, well-documented historical survey sometimes descends into anti-Bush diatribe but casts a different light on the decision to use the bomb on Japan and to use shock and awe on Iraq. Best for dispassionate students of 20th-century war history who are open to iconoclastic opinion; with extensive notes.—Edwin B. Burgess, U.S. Army Combined Arms Research Lib., Fort Leavenworth, KS
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393340686
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 9/12/2011
  • Pages: 596
  • Sales rank: 769,529
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

John W. Dower is the author of Embracing Defeat, winner of the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize; War without Mercy, winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award; and Cultures of War. He is professor emeritus of history at MIT. In addition to authoring many books and articles about Japan and the United States in war and peace, he is a founder and codirector of the online “Visualizing Cultures” project established at MIT in 2002 and dedicated to the presentation of image-driven scholarship on East Asia in the modern world. He lives in Boston, Massachusetts.

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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Posted October 8, 2010

    Should be titled: "How to Ruin a Reputation in One Book"

    John W. Dower has the credentials: two award winning books and professorship at MIT. Unfortunately, he allows his hatred for the two Bush administrations to cloud his judgment and wrote a despicable book which should not be classified as history but as political philosophy. Fundamental to understand his complete collapse as a historian is to read the completely erroneous information he cites when describing the raid at Pearl Harbor. Authors such as Gordon Prange have been refuted over the years as access to more information became available. Books like EMPIRES IN THE BALANCE, KAIGUN, A LONG DAY'S JOURNEY INTO WAR and A BATTLE HISTORY OF THE IMPERIAL JAPANESE NAVY refute many of the observations people accept as "fact". Some of Dower's glaring errors include: (1) The Imperial Japanese Navy did not plan the raid; it was the brain child of the Combined Fleet. And the assault on the Southern Resource Area was not contingent upon the success of the raid. The first planned shots by the Imperial Japanese Navy did not occur at Ford Island in Pearl Harbor; about the time the USS WARD was engaging the IJN minisub trying to enter Pearl Harbor, IJN warships were shelling British defenses on Kota Bharu. (2) The two carriers currently operating out of Pearl Harbor were not "conveniently" out of port on exercises the morning of 7 December 1941; Admiral Kimmel was using them to resupply and refit Wake and Midway Islands, both of which were attacked within 24 hours of the raid at Pearl Harbor. (3) For years, the IJA and IJN competed for dollars, as all services do. The IJA recommended going north, a land problem; the IJN recommended going south, a naval problem. But the IJA would be devastated at Nomohan by Zhukov and suddenly the IJA supported the IJN's policy. These are but a few of the glaring errors of John Dower's book. One would think such a renowned Pacific War historian would know about these. His attacks on the Bush administrations are equally flawed. He spends time associating the post-DESERT STORM sanctions with Bush 41 while highlighting the devastation DESERT STORM brought to the dual-use infrastructure. Missing from his commentary is the eight-year period when President Clinton maintain, even strengthened the sanctions. Additionally, he never discusses the deaths as a result of the destruction of dual-use infrastructure during Operation DESERT FOX, one of the largest air campaigns in history. If it were possible, I would seek a refund for the purchase price of this book.

    4 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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    Posted April 15, 2011

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    Posted April 15, 2011

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