Cultures of War by John W Dower

Cultures of War by John W Dower

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.

4 stars.

Cultures of War by John W Dower

Cultures of War by John W Dower

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