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CULTURES OF WAR by John W. Dower Kirkus Star


Pearl Harbor / Hiroshima / 9-11 / Iraq

by John W. Dower

Pub Date: Sept. 7th, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-393-06150-5
Publisher: Norton

Pulitzer Prize– and National Book Award–winning historian Dower (Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II, 1999, etc.) draws astute ironies between Pearl Harbor and 9/11 in terms of the overweening arrogance of military superpowers.

The author moves back and forth between these two definitive eras in history, providing a brilliant examination of the willful self-delusion and selective reasoning involved in the highest levels of decision making—from Japan’s spectacularly ill-advised bombing of Pearl Harbor to the Bush Administration’s bundling of “weapons of mass destruction” and Osama bin Laden as justification for invasion of Iraq. Dower is intensely interested in the language of war, specifically the “code” words that prime the propaganda pump—e.g., “infamy,” as used to ignite public opinion against the enemy by both presidents Roosevelt and Bush; “ground zero,” evoked after the atomic bombs dropped on Japan and then after 9/11, underscoring in both incidences the terrible momentum of modern weaponry and the deliberate targeting of noncombatants; and “occupying power,” a term that morphed from carrying a benevolent connotation in postwar Japan to the malevolent quagmire that ensued in Iraq. The author traces the “groupthink” mentality through the faulty, blinkered rationale by the Japanese warlords as well as the Islamists and the Americans. Most presciently, Dower looks at America’s creation of what the late Benazir Bhutto called a “Frankenstein’s monster” in the Middle East—the sanctimonious preaching of democracy and justice on one hand, and the practice of supporting tyrannical regimes and military intervention on the other. The myth of American innocence and victimization (“Pearl Harbor,” “9/11”) is shattered by the baleful effects of terror bombing, torture (Abu Ghraib) and racism—what Dower calls a “profound failure of imagination” in thinking that the “little yellow men” and the “little Muslim sons-of-bitches” could execute such ingenious attacks.

An unrelenting, incisive, masterly comparative study.