Both are predictable, and the former can be counted on to undercut or circumvent whatever of substance the latter may recommend. The same also can be said of human psychology, error, and folly. Prejudice and preconceptions skew assessment of the intentions and capabilities of potential enemies more than is usually acknowledged by those who focus on structural failure—especially where differences of race, culture, and religion are involved.
By the same measure, such biases impede comprehension of the grievances that enable antagonists to mobilize support. The imaginative failure is even more flagrant in the case of September The first terror attack on the World Trade Center occurred eight years before This was the very opposite of a secret agenda, but analysts outside the inner sanctum of Washington policy planning struggled in vain to elevate terrorist threats to the homeland on the agenda of national security priorities before it was too late.
Americans will likely die on American soil, possibly in large numbers. Signals and warnings pointing to an impending attack on U. No one at top levels of the Bush administration, however, had the imagination to take these warnings seriously. The primary focus was on promoting missile defense, and terrorism was mentioned in passing only in the context of rogue states.
In strategic-planning circles, a considerable portion of pre— energy was devoted to identifying China as the great pending threat to American hegemony. Pearl Harbor analogies did not end with , moreover. March 19, —the date the U. The octogenarian scholar of U. Roosevelt was right, but today it is we Americans who live in infamy.
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Within the nation, it was heresy—albeit less so as time passed, the rationales for invasion were discredited, and the promised liberation turned into bloody and seemingly interminable occupation of a broken land. The code here was psychological and practical rather than moral or legalistic—a matter of strategic folly or, put differently, of irrationality, wishful thinking, and groupthink at the highest levels.
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Pearl Harbor was but one of scores of Japanese attacks launched throughout Southeast Asia and the Pacific in December In his view, the Pearl Harbor attack,. One can search military history in vain for an operation more fatal to the aggressor. On the high political level it was disastrous. After the U.
Cultures Of War: Pearl Harbor / Hiroshima / 9-11 / Iraq
But what are we to make of this? Here, too, we have some almost canonized observations—often by Joseph Grew, who served as U.
His often lengthy dispatches to Washington before the outbreak of the war filled many pages in a massive State Department publication that reproduced many originally secret diplomatic papers from the decade leading up to Pearl Harbor. A lengthy dispatch recycled in the wartime publications, for example, read as follows in the original cable sent September 29, The Ambassador stresses the importance of understanding Japanese psychology, fundamentally unlike that of any Western nation.
Japanese reactions to any particular set of circumstances cannot be measured, nor can Japanese actions be predicted by any Western measuring rod. This fact is hardly surprising in the case of a country so recently feudalistic. Turned about, this stereotype of the irrational Oriental reflects an abiding assumption that the Enlightenment ideals of reason, order, and civilized behavior do indeed guide modern Western thought and behavior.
Sometimes they do. Just as often they do not, and this is nowhere more apparent than in the modern history of war and peace. Even if we were to set moral issues aside, technological and technocratic sophistication all too often go hand in hand with wishful thinking, delusion, and herd behavior at top levels.
Rereading the detailed minutes of the top-secret Japanese policy-making sessions that culminated in Pearl Harbor is sobering.
Cultures of War | The New Yorker
The Japanese deliberations are procedurally more formal than what we know of decision making in the Bush Oval Office. They involve articulate civilian and military officials engaged in ostensibly rational discussion. And, in the upshot—as in official Washington in the wake of —neither wisdom nor common sense prevail. Control of strategic resources abroad enters the picture in each case. Preoccupation with planning the initial attack overwhelms all other considerations in both Tokyo and Washington.
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Pushed aside is any truly serious evaluation of the nature, resources, and likely psychological response of the enemy. To question the justness of a preemptive or preventive war is taboo, and all criticism of the war plans on practical grounds is condemned as defeatism and close to treason. Ultimately, both wars of choice released forces of destruction beyond control and caused unspeakable suffering.
This observation turns out to work well as a generality. Had the Oval Office planners been Japanese, a legion of white pundits would have materialized to explain that they simply did not think logically, as Westerners do. Perhaps the greatest boomerang effect that arose out of the pervasive Pearl Harbor and World War II analogy was the fatal assumption that terrorism, like the old Axis enemies, could be defeated by brute force. Almost everyone at top levels in Washington bought into this, no one more so than the president.
An attack by a small nonstate organization was equated with an assault by a formidable nation-state. What should have been recognized as a fundamentally criminal challenge, calling for a broad range of multilateral responses, was addressed as a threat to be met, first and foremost, with conventional military force.
More than undiscerning and counterproductive, this response was a disaster. At the same time, it is well to keep in mind that code words—and the use and misuse of history more generally—can be political and ideological triggers. A full year before September 11, conservatives committed to radical revision of U. They did not wish this horror upon the nation, but it served their strategic purposes well. Prophecies may be self-fulfilling, as we constantly learn and forget, and catastrophes godsends for the agile and cynical.
Are you an artist at risk or know someone who is? Dower could have devoted more discussion to the function of the media in each case; with regard to the U. Dower locates the many factors that allowed the occupation of Japan a chance for relative success, all absent in the case of Iraq. But many Japanese, while ashamed of the surrender and the subsequent presence of occupying forces, were nonetheless eager to transcend the war experience; many also felt pride in the democratization of their country, regardless of whether it was occurring under foreign auspices.
Indeed, whatever the conflicted attitudes towards the occupation, one might say that the Japanese at large were engaged by the transformation of their society. Some of the letters are laudatory; others express concern about the behavior of American troops, specifically with regard to Japanese women. Dower might have simply contrasted these nuanced and varied responses to MacArthur and American forces in Japan with the largely symbolic, and rather less subtle, response of the Iraqi people to latter-day American officials: the shoe thrown at the face of President Bush.
One should not get the impression, however, that in contrast to Iraq the occupation of Japan was in no way problematic. According to Dower, corruption was prevalent from the outset, as was looting. And one cannot argue that the occupation of Japan was firmly grounded in respect for international law, as there was no legal precedent for the sweeping political changes brought about by American forces. The Americans well understood that the drafting of a new constitution was in obvious violation of the Hague Convention; they therefore initially presented their draft as a revision, rather than a replacement, of the Meiji Constitution.
Indeed, not too long after the ink was dried on the new constitution the U.
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When one considers the alacrity with which they set out to shred their own constitution, however, it is hardly surprising that the Bush administration would have encouraged others to do the same. All this points to the tragic irony of our involvement with postwar Japan: that just as Japan was transforming, with our patronage, from authoritarianism to a constitutional monarchy, the U. And we of course have elections, however far removed the process may be from the citizenry. In reality, the secret bureaucracy precipitated by the Manhattan Project not only spawned the national security state created by Truman, but crucially provided a model for how to shroud its covert behavior from the citizenry.
The evasion of the national security state from critical oversight continues today, though one can hardly expect otherwise from a legislative branch that is itself fully corrupted. But there has been no such reckoning with the mammoth national security state as a whole, almost all of which is unconstitutional and continues to bankrupt Americans. Obama, as we know, has far from repudiated this legacy. In the Nuremberg and Tokyo trails, leaders were punished for the first time in history for perpetrating aggressive war, what Robert H.
And during the occupation, Japanese civilians were forced to reflect upon the ravages of unchecked militarism. American forces in Japan banned, in authoritarian fashion, any expressed glorification of Japanese supremacy, whether literal or artistic. The consequences of such an orchestrated repudiation of the past were staggering. Keene, arguably the foremost scholar of Japan in America today, was personally acquainted with some of the diarists, and he weaves his own commentary in and out of their writing.