36th Annual Killian Award Lecture—John Dower

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SANYAL: Good evening and welcome to the annual lecture to be delivered by the recipient of MIT's James R. Killian, Jr. Faculty Achievement Award. I'm Bish Sanyal, chair of the faculty. And I first want to thank the faculty committee, which helped us select John Dower as this year's recipient for the award, Professor Anne Spirn, my colleague, who chaired the committee. And other four committee members were Professor's Clark Colton, Barbara Imperiali, I don't know if she's here, Ken Manning, who I see in the audience, and also Wanda Orlikowski.

Little did the committee know that by selecting John Dower as this year's Killian Award recipient they gave me the opportunity and the honor to introduce an historian whose work I've admired for some time. The Killian Award represents our, the MIT faculty's, deep appreciation of and immense respect for a colleague whose scholarly contribution is an example of the very best MIT can offer to the world. By granting this award we reaffirm and also celebrate the process by which the scholarship of this kinds is produced, deep engagement with the world and yet deep skepticism about conventional truths; rigorous analysis that takes enormous human labor but culminates into astonishing insights about what Hannah Arendt called the human condition; and the solitude and seclusion necessary to write elegantly so as to be able to communicate well the research findings to audiences across multiple continents.

By selecting John Dower for the Killian Faculty Achievement Award, we celebrate that we have at MIT a colleague who's intellect is more powerful than the bombs dropped in Hiroshima, whose curiosity about the other, as we say in social sciences, helps Americans to be self-reflective, and most importantly, whose scholarship, political understanding, and moral judgments have culminated to a point where our colleague John Dower can be called a scholarly public intellectual.

I'm assuming that you are here because you're already familiar with John Dower's research. So I'll not recite and remind you of all his past work because I am eager, almost impatient, to hear what he has to say now. Nonetheless, it is important to remind ourselves that what John Dower will speak this afternoon is built on more than 40 years of scholarship, which includes his Pulitzer Prize and national award-winning book, Embracing Defeat, Japan in the Wake of World War II., his earlier book, War Without Marcy, Race and Power in the Pacific War, and an even earlier work, which mourns the loss of E.H. Norman, a Canadian scholar who was driven to suicide by McCarthyism.

John Dower's contribution is not limited to books however. Did you know that he had received an Academy Award nomination for his documentary Hellfire, A Journey from Hiroshima, which was about the devastation caused by the atomic bomb. John did not give up on this innovative form of representation of social reality. His ongoing work with Professor Shigeru Miyagawa, who came all the way back from Japan for this event, they working on a project titled, Visualizing Cultures. And it draws mostly on visual materials provided by museums and processed by the new digital media to emphasize their core belief that wars distort human imagination about other human beings so as to justify large scale violence.

As John Dower's research demonstrate vividly how human imaginations can be distorted it also celebrates human resilience against all adds. His research on post-World War II Japan demonstrates the will and ingenuity of common Japanese people under American rule. This wonderfully detailed history of the Japanese people however, did not lead Dower to glorify the differences among the people of the world.

In a brief interview published in, of all places, The Spectrum, which is a newsletter, Dower discussed a rather unusual proposition for a historian who studies specificities, that the cultures of people around the world are more similar than we think. If we understand the word culture differently than the way it is usually portrayed in the work of Sir Samuel Huntington in his book Clash of Civilizations, what is the cultural similarity among the peoples of the world, you may ask?

Are we similar in the sense that all over the world people distort the view a fellow human beings as they engage in war? Or are we similar in the way we feel pain, sorrow, and experience the devastation of war but are still able to reconstruct our lives? If there's one historian who can help us address that question it is John Dower. I told you I am biased but I'm also honored to be the chair of the faculty of MIT, which includes among other outstanding scholars and scientists someone with the caliber, social engagement, and moral reasoning as John Dower, who will speaker this afternoon on the topic of Cultures of War, Pearl Harbor, Hiroshima, 9/11, and Iraq.

I wanted to ask John to come up, and also President Susan Hockfield to come up, so we can give you the award for the year.


The citation reads, "The president and faculty of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have the honor to present the James R. Killian, Jr. Faculty Achievement Award for the academic year 2007 to 2008 to John W. Dower in recognition for his incisive studies of 19th and 20th century Japan, for inspiring colleagues and students to forge connections between scholarship, public policy, and the lessons of history, and for his skill, courage, and resourcefulness in encouraging public reflections on the most difficult questions underlying the human condition." And it's signed by President Susan Hockfield and myself. Congratulations John.


DOWER: Thank you very much. I can't possibly live up to all of this but it's really an honor. I wish to thank the committee, and Bish, and President Hockfield, and all of you for your support. It's a great honor to me and it's a great honor for me to be here at MIT. It's been a wonderful place for me and for the kind of work I want to do. And I'm really proud to be here, and I want to take this opportunity to say thank you.

I have a recollection in preparing this talk, I don't think I've ever given a talk before that I actually wrote out word for word. I always simply worked from notes. But I figured this is the Killian so I should write it out.

And I had this recollection of when I was a very young scholar, beginning professor out in Wisconsin. And there was a story of an old scholar, who would have been my age now, who had gotten up to give a talk. And this was so long ago that this was in the age when they used carbon copies. And he did the speech, his secretary typed it up. And as he went on she handed him the speech. And they didn't separate out the carbon so when you got up he read his speech and he read every page twice. I had this sense this morning, I said, my god, I'm glad I live in a different age. But I would like to ask you, if I get to the end and start on page one again I do hope some of you will let me know.

Well as a historian, I stand before you as someone in the so-called soft or the softer disciplines, and I have indeed no metrics or no theoretical models to offer you. But I do have some hard thoughts to share with you about our present times and our present wars in particular as seen through the lenses of history. And that's what I'd like to share today.

On September 11, 2001, when the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon shocked the world, the chief of Pakistan's intelligence service happened to be in Washington, DC. And the Deputy Secretary of State met with him, called him to his office, and about other things, he made a subsequently often-quoted observation. History begins today, he said.

And this very quickly became a mantra in high levels, at high levels in Washington. Past was not prologue, everything started new when those planes destroyed the World Trade Center and crashed into the Pentagon. History begins today.

But at the same time, Americans groping for words to describe the shock and horror of 9/11 immediately turned to recent history for language and for apparent precedents to help put what had taken place in context. And they turned to almost with unanimity to Japan's surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. And the key word here was infamy.

I was in Vermont when the 9/11 attacks occurred. The banner headline on one of the local newspapers said simply, "Infamy." On the second Vermont newspaper the headline was "Day of Infamy." This reflexive resurrection of President Roosevelt's famous response to Pearl Harbor was commonplace. Here in Boston, for example, the September 12 headline on the Globe was "New Day of Infamy." And the weekly digest of The Washington Post, which came a few days later, filled its cover with Roosevelt's exact phrase, "A date which will live in infamy."

As it happens, we have the original manuscript of typed and edited copy of Roosevelt's speech. And in the original version this memorable phrase did not appear. The president's original dictated wording was, "A date which will live in history." And he only later went in and crossed out "history" and wrote "infamy" above it.

And I use this all the time with students. And I'd suggest you do too because you just simply cannot stay with the first draft. It is always better, it's always better to rewrite. Infamy was the beginning of a succession of associations of September 11 and its aftermath of World War II in Asia, purely reflexive at first and then carefully choreographed by the White House to establish President Bush as a war president in the mode of Roosevelt and Harry Truman.

The suicidal use of planes by the 9/11 terrorists was quickly equated with the kamikaze tactics that the Japanese adopted in the last year of the Pacific war. The devastated World Trade Center was christened "ground zero," a somber name first used in connection with the atomic bombs that devastated Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Soon after this, in the more deliberate choreography, the "axis of evil" was introduced into the president's State of the Union address on January 29, 2002 equating Iraq, Iran, and North Korea with the axis alliance of Nazi Germany, fascist Italy, and imperial Japan that was formalized in 1940.

Perhaps this most subtle piece of choreography in this costuming of the president in the garments of a great World War II commander was "mission accomplished," the mission accomplished spectacle on the battleship Abraham Lincoln on May 1, 2003 celebrating the presumptive success of the preemptive war in Iraq. The explicit model for, and this is not very well known, but the explicit model for the mission accomplished spectacle was General Douglas MacArthur on the deck of the battleship Missouri in Edo Bay on September 2, 1945 where he took the Japanese surrender and he very grandly pronounced, and these were his opening words, "The holy mission has been completed."

Now by the time of the mission accomplished performance May 2003, occupied Iraq was already ravaged by looting and spiraling into chaos. But this did not prevent American officials, including the president, from repeatedly invoking yet one more comparison to World War II, and that was the successful occupation of, US occupation of, Japan that ended with Japan's emergence as a democratic ally.

And this particular use, it's really a very great misuse of history, began shortly after 9/11 when the campaign to invade Iraq was being promoted, and it was continued long after Iraq fell into chaos. Both President Bush and official spokesman continued for years after, even to recent times, to continue to use occupied Japan as a model, as a hopeful mirror to look into to see what you could hope for in Iraq.

Pearl Harbor, ground zero, occupied Japan, this is my bailiwick as a historian. And these popular hooks to history are obviously very simplistic. But it would be a mistake to reject them out of hand. And on the contrary, what I'd like to suggest to you today is that these hooks can be in fact teased out in genuinely revealing and often very unsettling ways. The difference between that earlier war and present day is obviously enormous. But at the same time, looking also at great areas of similarity or congruence can help us think more concretely about war itself as a culture.

Now cultures of war is not a fashionable notion these days, certainly not in the United States, for it suggests congruence where almost everyone is more inclined to see irreconcilable differences. Where the concept of culture does come into play in current debates, it almost invariably is as grand meta history, clash of civilizations. And the argument, in a word, is that 9/11 and Islamist terrorism, and the crisis in the Middle East in general, about the latest manifestations of a century old, even a millennial old, clash of civilizations or clash of cultures.

Islam versus the Judeo-Christian or the Greco-Roman tradition. East versus West, or as many Westerners choose to phrase it, the West versus the rest. And Bin Laden and other agree. They also use this kind of language. For all sides, this is a holy war of irreconcilable differences.

I call this culture in the old-fashioned, capital C sense. And it matters, it matters. It was religion and aesthetics that first attracted me to Japan when I was an undergraduate and an even as an early graduate. So I have a very deep immersion and appreciation of these subjects, I think.

But postulating monolithic and largely static polarities of East versus West or the West versus the rest camouflages and distorts the deep contradictions our of modern times. Power, politics, leadership, strategic interest, territorial encroachments, material circumstances, mass psychology, history, and historical memory, they're all marginalized or even ignored in such thinking. And as a consequence, we lose sight of some of the persistent overriding small C cultures of our modern times, like the cultures of war.

Now I want to pursue this with you today by pulling at some of those threads buried in the popular associations of 9/11 and the Iraq war with the earlier US, Japan conflict in World War II. And this can be carried in many directions, and I originally wanted to take it in many directions with you, but I'm only going to focus, single out just two lines of analysis with you.

First, Pearl Harbor is code, what I call Pearl Harbor's code. And the code I have in mind here moves in several directions beyond just the treacherous violence of an infamous enemy. Pearl Harbor, that is, signifies failures of intelligence in the forms of system breakdowns, failures of imagination, wars of choices, and finally, strategic folly.

And the second line of analysis or inquiry I'd like to pursue with you is ground zero 2001 and ground zero 1945. And we could also speak of this as Hiroshima as code. And the overarching cultures here are psychological warfare and the deliberate targeting of civilians or put differently, the modern cultures of terror and mass destruction.

Had time permitted, I would've tried to venture to take this in two other directions. The third direction would have been occupied Iraq and occupied Japan, a subject on which I've thought a great deal. And here you would get into not only failures of intelligence and failures of historical imagination but you get into contentious cultures or ideologies concerning things like the proper role of the state and the private sector, very, very different in 1945 when World War II ended and the present day. The codes or shorthands here would include nation building on the one side and privatization and market fundamentalism on the other.

And the fourth area that I'm not going to get into but that really deserves very close analysis, is holy war and socialization for death. And here the natural types of comparison, the most obviously type of comparison, is anti-Western ideology and suicidal bombing or suicidal tactics, comparing Islamists fundamentalists and the Japanese in World War II, particularly the kamikaze. But the larger, interesting comparison is indeed holy war rhetoric and indoctrination itself, which everyone, everyone engages in, and is, once again, one of the overarching cultures of war.

And this is intrigued me increasingly in recent years because I spent so many years reading about Asia as we're supposed to think about it. In all of this, extending from Pearl Harbor through 9/11 to the invasion of Iraq, I would also call your attention to another overarching phenomenon. And it's really an overarching pathology, and that is groupthink, groupthink. And this is particularly provocative to anyone who is steeped in racial and cultural postulations of East versus West as these historically have been applied to Asians and so-called Orientals in general.

One of the bedrock assumptions of clash of civilizations or clash of cultures thinking, as advanced by white Americans and Europeans, is the so-called West values individualism, cherishes individual life, and this fundamentally rational while the rest of the world tends to be group oriented, relatively barbaric, and essentially irrational. The classic statement in this vein in the US Japan conflict over 60 years ago was articulated by Joseph Grew, who was ambassador of Japan for 10 years up to Pearl Harbor then came back and became under secretary of state in America during the war years. "Japanese sanity," Grew noted in a very widely cited observation, "Japanese sanity cannot be measured by American standards of logic." And again, in Grew's words, "Japanese psychology is fundamentally unlike that of any Western nation. Japanese reactions to any particular set of circumstances cannot be measured, nor can Japanese actions be predicated by any Western measuring rod. This fact is hardly surprising in the case of a country so recently feudalistic."

The Royal Institute of International Studies of Great Britain struck a comparable note in a very long study on the Japanese during the war, which was premised on the notion of the herd behavior, "herd behavior" of the Japanese. Now this was essentially a formulaic-- it is a formulaic and free-floating vocabulary of denigration that was and remains common among white Europeans and Americans.

After Japan's defeat, for example, much the same condescending language was attached to the so-called hordes of communist China. Here's President Dwight Eisenhower 1955. Quote, "We are always wrong when we believe that orientals think logically as we do."

And to bring this conceit up to date, this conceit of Western rationality versus Oriental irrationality up to date, here is L. Paul Bremer III, the viceroy of occupied Japan in 2003 and 2004, criticizing the insistence of a Grand Ayatollah Sistani, who irritated Bremer vary considerably by insisting that elections be held in Iraq before the foreign coalition authority imposed a Constitution or drastic reforms. This is Bremer. "Unfortunately, developments in Iraq were not always logical. Certainly, Ayatollah Sistani operated on a different rational plane than we Westerners."

If I had more entrepreneurial spirit, there's really a place in the world for a meta language in which you will get all of this language out there and just leave blanks for the proper nouns. And if someone writes this-- because there is this free-floating language and we just continually plug-in the enemy, or the target, or whatever the moment. You can do the same thing with your own speeches or something but for someone who's younger than I and who has a little more energy and a little more commercial spirit, there's something out there that you might consider doing.

The irony of all this is that essentially, this meta language of consensual groupthink and irrationality is now routinely applied to the United States itself, where policy failures at many levels of society, political, military, bureaucratic, economic, and financial as well, are now explained in terms of delusion, wishful thinking, irrationality or pseudo rationality, and even herd behavior. And if any of you get The New York Times, yesterday's New York Times ran an article titled "How to Turn a Herd on Wall Street." The opening sentence was, "Experts have long known that a classic phenomenon called herd behavior has a great deal to do with the wild swings of panic an exuberance that can seize Wall Street in the wake of surprising economic news."

I've never done it, I've done it anecdotally, but take that word herd behavior or groupthink and look at how it's now being used against what takes place in the United States at many different levels. It's very, very common to see this now.

Now where failures of intelligence are concerned, it's illuminating to compare the explanations for failing to anticipate Pearl Harbor in 1941 and al-Qaeda's attack 60 years later. Eight official investigations were conducted into the Pearl Harbor failure, the last and most protracted of these in congressional hearings that extended from November 1945 to July 1946. Failure to anticipate the September 11 attacks was investigated by a joint committee of Congress, which led to an 858 page report in December 2002 and then by the famous bipartisan 9/11 Commission, who's commercially published 2004 report became an unexpected bestseller.

In July 2005 there was a small report issued by the Office of the Inspector General of the CIA. They declassified an investigation on their own internal intelligence failures. There has never been, and I doubt there ever will be, an official investigation of the stunning intelligence failures that led the US to invade Iraq and to do so with virtually no strategic planning about what to expect after combat operations had ended.

These major investigations of Pearl Harbor and of 9/11 are of enormous value to historians. I can't stress how valuable they have been because they do what historians cannot do. The congressional and hearings on Pearl Harbor done in 1945, 1946 fill 39 volumes. The 9/11 Commission claims to have examined a remarkable 2.5 million documents and to have taken testimony from over 1,200 witnesses.

At the same time-- So they do something that we cannot do as individual historians. At the same time, by virtue of the official nature of such investigations, they are also constricted in scope and in focus in ways that you assume or you hope academic scholarship is not constricted. They focus on discrete incidents and they focus primarily on failures.

So the investigations always go into why was there the failure to anticipate 9/11? Why was there failure to anticipate Pearl Harbor? But they don't go into the causes of the war itself, why did that war occur? Why did that conflict occur? They do not place things in the broader context.

One of the criticisms that's widely accepted on 9/11 investigations is it looks into al-Qaeda but not into terrorism. And that's just taken for granted, that wasn't the mandate. And here I'm quoting Professor Ernest May of Harvard, who played a very intimate role in crafting and drafting the 9/11 Commission report. And Professor May himself writes that the investigation, and I'm quoting him, "skirts the question of whether American politics and actions fed the anger that manifested itself on September 11." This from a man who is a superb historian and was involved in that official report.

This said, excuse me. This said, despite the enormous differences in the size and technological capabilities of present day US intelligence establishment when compared to 1941, several broad generalizations can be made about the official findings concerning the intelligence failures of 1941 and 2001. First-- these are my generalizations-- Prior to September 11 intelligence agencies had gathered and addressed many more warnings about a possible al-Qaeda attack in the United States, even the possibility of using airplanes as bombs. There was a case concerning the possibility of Japan attacking Pearl Harbor prior to December 7, 1941. There was enormous amount of intelligence concerning al-Qaeda.

In both instances however, there was general recognition of an impending major attack but, at the same time, a general assumption that this would take place outside the United States. Now when it came to where responsibilities for these failures lay, the Pearl Harbor, 9/11 investigation reached many congruent conclusions. They focused, and here I'm using the explicit language of that CIA report, they focused on system breakdown, systemic problems, systemic failures.

And at the heart of such system breakdown, virtually all investigations into 9/11 called attention to pathologies such as bureaucratic fiefdoms and turf wars, 1941, 2001. The self defeating cultures of secrecy. When you have secrecy, and your intelligence gathering is dependent on secrecy, you can't share the secrets because if you share the secrets, then the fact that you have the secrets will become known and the people from whom you're collecting the secrets will take care to make sure that you don't get the secrets. And there's that whole thing as well as secrecy being a wonderful form of private property and individual power.

And both report's focus very heavily on what was called noise in 1941 and what's now called chatter. This is progress in our analysis. It used to be noise but now it's chatter. And by chatter what they have in mind, of course, is the fact that anyone who is collecting raw data is getting an enormous amount of data coming in and afterwards it's easier to sift through it.

But it's not just data coming in about al-Qaeda or Japan, they're also sifting data from around the world on a number of other enormously pressing issues. And how do you know what really is important in all that noise and in all that chatter? So these are things that did not really change and will not change.

In both Pearl Harbor and 9/11 intelligence failures, we encounter gross miscalculation concerning not only enemy intentions but also enemy calculations. And here, I would argue, that we confront not merely system breakdown per se or the irrationality of so-called bureaucratic rationalization but a stunning failure of imagination. Where unpreparedness for the Pearl Harbor attack is concerned, in my view, the single most revealing testimony to come out of a protracted postwar congressional hearings was actually conveyed informally during a recess in the proceedings in a conversation between one of the lawyers for the congressional investigation and Admiral Husband Kimmel, who was the commander of the US Pacific fleet in Pearl Harbor who was severely censured for failing to be sufficiently on alert for attacks.

And the lawyer asked him, why, tell me really, why were you caught unawares? And Kimmel blurted out, "I never thought those little yellow sons of bitches could pull off such an attack so far from Japan." And this is the formulaic language of white supremacism. And the telling adjectives are "little yellow," alien and race, and small, not in stature, although the Japanese were smaller in stature, but small in capabilities.

Now we have a counterpart, or a counter voice, to Kimmel's attitude on the Japanese side in the form of a letter that Admiral Yamamoto Isoroku sent to the young son of a friend on December 22, a mere three weeks after, excuse me, a mere two weeks after Pearl Harbor. The Pearl Harbor attack was Yamamoto's brainchild, and he explained why he thought it succeeded in language that was as plain and simple as Kimmel's. The admiral's letter, Yamamoto's letter to this very young boy, in full, reads as follows. "My dear Takamura Yoshiki, thank you for your letter. That we could defeat the enemy at the outbreak of the war was because they were unguarded and also they made light of us. Danger comes soonest when it is despised," that's a saying. And another saying, "and don't despise a small enemy are really important matters. I hope you study hard, taking good care of yourself." Signed, Yamamoto Isoroku.

The study of the Pearl Harbor attack, the scholarly study we now regard as classic, was published in 1962 by Roberta Wohlstetter. And in that study, she expressed wonder at what she called, and again I'm quoting, "the paradox of pessimistic realism coupled with loose optimism in practice." "The paradox of pessimistic realism coupled with loose optimism in practice." This is wonderful phrasing, and particularly so because it works so well as a generality. It's applicable not merely to the US failure of imagination at Pearl Harbor or regarding al-Qaeda but also, and spectacularly so, the failure of regarding Iraq.

Now if you turn this around and talk about failures and intelligence failures and failures of imagination on the Japanese side, the Pearl Harbor attack was a colossal failure of imagination. On the one hand, the Japanese leaders were absolutely consumed by doomsday visions of the fate of the nation if it did not have absolutely secure resources to the markets and to-- secure access to the markets and resources of Asia. They were obsessed with security.

And on the other hand, they gave almost no serious consideration whatsoever to what long term victory would actually look like. We have the secret records pertaining to Japan's top level decision to launch war against the United States and allied powers. We have actually the minutes. They survived by one of those freaks of history that historians can only be thankful for. They survived the war in a single copy that went to a lower level aid and was not destroyed deliberately or in other ways during the war. So we have the minutes of those decisions.

And to the best of my knowledge, the only major document that actually addressed how the war might end was dated November 15, roughly three weeks before Pearl Harbor. Under the rubric hastening the end of the war, this document read as follows.

"We will endeavor to quickly destroy American, British, and Dutch bases in the Far East and assure our self-preservation and self-defense and at the same time, to hasten the fall of the Chiang regime in China by taking positive measures to work for the surrender of Great Britain in cooperation with Germany and Italy and to destroy the will of the United States to continue the war. At the appropriate time," the paper continues, "we will endeavor by various means to lure the main fleet of the United States"-- by lure what they mean, bring it into the Pacific waters nearer Japan-- "to lure the main fleet of the United States and destroy it."

That's it. That's it. Sink the US fleet, destroy American morale. There's nothing more specific than this. Japan's leaders launched their war of choice against the United States on a wish and a prayer with no contingency planning and no serious contemplation of worst case scenarios. And so my generation, we all were led to believe, and generations of military historians were all lead to believe, it's because, as Joseph Grew said, we can't measure their sense of rationality by our measuring rods. They're not logical like we are.

The most often quoted critique of Japan's strategic folly we have in English was delivered in 1953 by the esteemed US Naval historian Samuel Eliot Morison. I pass his statue almost every day on Commonwealth Avenue. It's one of the most beautiful statues of Boston. And so, I salute him daily or weekly at least.

And this is Morison's, again, a very famous statement. "Far from being a strategic necessity, as the Japanese claimed even after the war, Pearl Harbor attack was a strategic imbecility. One can search military history in vain for an operation more fatal to the aggressor. On the strategic level it was idiotic. The high political level it was disastrous."

Now, idiotic, disastrous. Morison's indictment of strategic folly is obviously and ironically resonant today for reasons almost the opposite of what he intended because almost the identical harsh words can be an "ah," commonly said about US strategic imbecility in the Iraqi invasion. The differences are huge. The differences between the situations then and now are huge but the analogy works at a number of levels.

It's striking to go back and re-read the minutes of Japan's top level war planning sessions because, to all outward appearances, they are as rational and logical and, by the same measure, as wishful and hubristic as what we can reconstruct of the Bush administration's war policies in Afghanistan and then Iraq. The core of the discussions involves alarm about national security, deep alarm about national security, on the other hand, and-- on the one hand. And on the other hand, and this is secret, these are the secret conversations. This is not for the public-- but discussion of the-- noble discussion, noble rhetoric about how we will also bring coexistence and co-prosperity to Asia, that this will be indeed a noble mission.

And once the probability of war was established and the war machine was set in motion, it's the immediate military operations that absolutely mobilize attention. And in the Japanese case in 1941, those operations involved a multipronged assault on American, British, and Dutch military positions in the Pacific and throughout Southeast Asia. It was a vastly more military offensive, more complex military offensive than the Iraq offensive. It was vastly more complex.

And a good part, as the Japanese get involved in this, a good part of the focus lies on cutting edge technologies, cutting edge technology. For example, and particularly Admiral Yamamoto and his advocacy of air war launched off aircraft carriers, as opposed to the so-called battleship admirals, that we are going to be pursuing this very new cutting edge, high tech infatuation with superior technology.

And once the commitment to war had been made doubts or attempts to interject worst case scenarios were dismissed. They were denounced as defeatism, planning for failure, lack of patriotism, what have you. Such strategic folly, obviously, has little to do with differences between a rational West and an irrational or illogical East, an obviously, also involves more than some sort of systems failure. And it certainly calls attention to the pseudo rationality peculiar to our modern high tech world of mass communications, where exceedingly intricate and rational analysis and planning of a technological and technocratic nature, exceedingly sophisticated analysis and planning goes hand-in-hand with appalling delusion and wishful thinking on a grander plane.

So I come out of this as someone who went into and worked on Japan for so long and then was socialized in a literature which emphasized how different they were and how irrational. And if I go back and read those materials now they read differently. And there's nothing that comes out that seems to me peculiarly Japanese, or Oriental, or non-Western in the way those things were framed.

Now let me turn to it, to the other-- pull at another one of the threads in the links between the World War II and Japan and our present times that we saw merge immediately in the wake of 9/11, and that is ground zero and the cultures of terror and mass destruction. Certainly in the United States, the World Trade Center horror and the broader phenomenon of Islamist terror and atrocities this epitomizes has brought clash of civilizations thinking to a peak. Islamist culture, the argument goes, simply does not value human life as Western culture does. And nothing symbolizes more starkly than ground zero 2001.

And what has taken place here, of course, is that a powerful and terrible label that originated with the birth of the nuclear age and the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki has been severed from its origins. And the term ground zero has been emptied of history. The practice of deliberately targeting civilians and non-combatant has been largely assigned to non-state actors and to peoples who do not share the so-called Western or Christian values and particularly, our values of cherishing human life.

No people's cultures or times have a monopoly on wanton slaughter. And what are modern times have done is make the execution, scale, and propagandizing of this much more efficient. Targeting civilians and non-combatants is standard operating procedure in our modern cultures of war. And it was Europe, England, and the United States that brought this to unprecedented levels in the mid-20th century.

We usually trace the origins of these modern war practices to the concept of total war that obsessed military planners in the wake of World War I in which enemy morale becomes recognized as one of the critical sinews of warfare in a new age of mass mobilization. And psychological warfare thus becomes directed at this morale by attacking not only homefront industries or communications or workforces but homefront populations in general, without discrimination. This reached a peak in the British and US air war in Word War II, where operational flight plans-- If you go back into the flight plans from the air war, first in Germany and then in Japan, as the war moves on they're densely populated with city area, city and town. This is what we're going out to bomb.

Even while, for public consumption, this accurate language was withdrawn and replaced by much more explicitly military labels like the target was railway marshalling yards. This is very complicated, incidentally, how this change comes about. It's fascinating. And I'm leaving out so much, why it comes about and why it really is necessary to come about for the bombers also. You have to rationalize what you're doing in so many ways but it was clear you were attacking, and explicit that you were really attacking city areas, towns and cities.

And as so often, Winston Churchill has bequeathed us an inimitably vivid statement of the desirability of disguising plane terror tactics with euphemisms. Although in this case, he didn't intend his remarks to be made public. On March 25, 1945, after the notorious bombing of Dresden and just a few weeks before Germany's capitulation, Churchill was suddenly, who had supported the terror bombing and saturation bombing of German cities with quite a bit of enthusiasm, he suddenly became alarmed because the end of the war was impending and he thought, wait a minute, we've got to improve our image. And he's worried about what's going to happen in the postwar period.

And he dashed off a memorandum to his military staff that began with this observation. And I'm quoting Churchill's memorandum, "It seems to me that the moment has come when the question of bombing of German cities simply for the sake of increasing the terror, although under pretext, should be reviewed." "Bombing German cities simply for the sake of increasing the terror." This memo became very controversial within the British bureaucracy and they requested and Churchill withdraw it because they didn't want it to go in the record.

We now put the number of German civilians killed in Allied air raids at as many as 600,000. The numbers vary but as many as 600,000 civilians were killed in the German air raids. In Japan, where the US Army Air Forces alone conducted the raids, 64 cities were fire bombed before Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It was a relentless, steady campaign beginning in March and continuing up until August, when the atomic bombs were dropped. The total number of civilian civilities-- The total number of civilian fatalities, including Hiroshima, is probably similar to that of Germany, that is, around half a million or more in Japan.

Now the debate over whether incinerating the peoples of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was necessary and just, as we understand the concept of just war or as we understand, more precisely, the concept of justice in war, jus in bello. That debate will never be resolved. It seems fair to say, that among historians the debate over the Anglo-American air war in Europe and Japan is just beginning.

Let me offer here just a few very broad observations on ground zero 2001 and the failure of historical imagination. First, terror bombing is neither new nor certainly a peculiarly non-Western practice. But it's rather a term that historians of World War II have routinely used to describe the Anglo-American policy beginning in the latter stages of the war.

I'm leaving out a great deal of what's written here, including the many places where we've always spoken of terror bombing in World War II. And it was used in the official histories. It's not a propaganda term it's a descriptive phrase. But I'm leaving out all of those quotes.

Secondly, the adoption and widespread endorsement of bombing enemy civilians can be seen as yet one more example of patriotic or ideological groupthink we associate with the cultures of war. This is a topic I can't go into with you either. It's very complex on how you could take very moral people who in 1938, '39, '40 were shocked by German and Japanese bombing of civilians-- and the world-- I mean, Guernica comes up at that point-- were shocked at the notion of bombing civilians and by '43, '44 saying this is standard operating procedure, this is what must be done.

And it's very complex to understand how that takes place. But it does take place. And I think you have to understand partly in terms of groupthink. But beneath groupthink, through very complex psychological as well as propagandistic indoctrination explanations.

But from the outset there was always criticism of these practices. But it doesn't get out. And particularly in the military there was criticism. General MacArthur's head of intelligence, a very important man in the occupation of Japan, named general Bonner Fellers, in a memo just before Hiroshima and Nagasaki, July 17, 1945, Bonner's wrote an internal memo saying that the bombing of Japanese cities is quote, "one of the most ruthless and barbaric killings of non-combatants in all history."

And many of you may have picked up, this became a big issue recently when-- In 2003 a documentary film called The Fog of War won the Academy Award for documentaries. And in that Fog of War, Robert McNamara, who we know as the Secretary of Defense at the time of the Vietnam War, was ruminating. He is a man who reflects deeply on the natures of war and he was ruminating on the fact, which I think most of us hadn't known, that he was one of the very, very smart young man who was planning the bombing raids over Japan for Curtis LeMay, who was in charge of that campaign.

And McNamara, and this became quite a famous quote, McNamara says in the film, I'm quoting him, "LeMay said if we'd lost the war we'd all had been prosecuted as war criminals." That's in quotes. "If we'd lost the war we'd all had been prosecuted as war criminals." And I think he's right.

"He and I'd say I were behaving as war criminals. LeMay recognized that what he was doing would be thought immoral if his side had lost. But what makes it immoral if you lose and not immoral if you win?" So that issue has been with us since the war as a debate.

Thirdly, I think both ground zero 2001 and ground zero 1945 also tell us something about-- I'm groping for words-- something about the subtle and almost subconscious political dynamics of victim consciousness. And what I mean by this is the transfer of innocence, the transfer of innocence from the individual victim to the state or the larger entity.

And this has become increasingly interesting to me. It's something that those of us who think about or work on Japan have wrestled with for a long time. In the case of Japan, where focus on the victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki very frequently involves a simultaneously forgetting of the broader context of Japanese aggression and Japanese atrocities because the other side of remembering is always forgetting.

And by a similar measure, the innocence of the victims of ground zero 2001 is so vivid and shocking that it too, both naturally and in manipulated ways, has served to place beyond the pale any suggestion that US policies in the Middle East may have contributed in any way to the rise in appeal of Islamist fundamentalism. You cannot have that debate in America in the public arena. And yet, any one historian deals with causality as a very complex process, and grievances, and history, and footprints, historical footprints.

Finally, it seems to me that the conjunction of ground zero 2001 and ground zero 1945 really encourage us to think of Hiroshima, like Pearl Harbor, as a multi-faceted code, not merely a code for mass destruction or a code for nuclear destruction but a code for psychological warfare aimed at terrorizing and profoundly demoralizing the entire enemy population. Al-Qaeda apparently used this code before the 9/11 attacks, if we're to believe a report that was buried in The New York Times a few weeks after 9/11. And this refers, in passing, to a CI intercept. And I'm quoting here a CI intercept of "a cryptic but chilling message from a member of al-Qaeda who boasted that Osama bin Laden was planning to carry out a 'Hiroshima' against America."

Incidentally, both before and-- again I can't take you into the quotes although I have them-- before and after 9/11 bin Laden frequently refers to Hiroshima and Nagasaki in his propaganda appeals and statements and uses them as an example of American hypocrisy. You claim that you're for freedom, you claim that you're for justice, you claim that you cherish life but look at this. He uses this as a propaganda vehicle.

In their own distinctive ways, US military planners also use Hiroshima along with Nagasaki as positive code, positive code for inflicting profound psychological trauma on the enemy. This is the essence of the shock and awe battle plan that received enormous media publicity in the run up to the US attack on Iraq. Shock and awe. The plan derives from an influential study published by the National Defense University in 1996. It's very, very explicit on the inspiration of the first ground zeros for American thinking now about shock and awe tactics. The report's not a secret report. You can pick it up online, you can pick it up in published form.

I'm reading the 1936 study. "Theoretically, the magnitude of a shock and awe that rapid dominance seeks to impose in extreme cases, is the non-nuclear equivalent of the impact that the atomic weapons dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki had on the Japanese. The Japanese simply could not comprehend the destructive power carried by any single airplane. This incomprehension produced a state of awe.

We believe that, in a parallel manner, revolutionary potential in combining new doctrine and existing technology can produce systems capable of yielding this level of shock and awe. In most or many cases, this shock and awe may not necessitate imposing the full destruction of either nuclear weapons or advanced conventional technologies but must be underwritten by the ability to do so."

So essentially we have both bin Laden and the Pentagon's cutting edge strategist thinking, each in their own way, of a Hiroshima model. One side using this as a model for the horrors of 9/11, the other finding inspiration in what we call the cutting edge shock and awe tactics that were, presumably, to ensure victory in the invasion of Iraq. And in this regard, I think one more thing, that when you put these things together, one more thing to keep in mind is that terror and massive destruction are perceived by their users as genuinely dual-use or dual-effect tactics, that is, morale destroying where the enemy is concerned but simultaneously morale boosting where one's own side is concerned.

If you read the inside records, for example, of the bombing of the air raids on Japan, the minute they begin to move into the saturation bombing and obliteration of Japanese cities morale just zooms within the US Army Air Force. And understandably. And they write about. Now we're really doing something. So this will destroy their morale but it will also boost our morale.

And of course, it's the same way. This is the way, obviously, bin Laden thinks. This is the way people think.

Let me conclude with, wrap it up with something I read many years ago, and I very frequently come back to, involving the first ground zero and President Truman and William Shakespeare. And some of you may have even heard me use this quote before. But in my own reading it's taken on much deeper meaning in the wake of 9/11.

President Truman was famous for saying he never had a second thought about using the atomic bomb. You know, he was a very plain speaking man. But there are many reasons for believing that he was not that simplistic and unreflective. And one of the reasons for thinking so was uncovered by a researcher in the Truman Memorial Library several decades ago. Truman's private library now resides in the Truman Library and it includes many of the books on the atomic bomb that were published during his lifetime, his own library includes, his personal library includes many of those books.

And one of these books has as its postscript a Horatio speech at the end of Hamlet. And Truman had underlined these lines in Horatio's speech.

"Let speak to the yet unknowing world how these things came about. So shall you hear of carnal, bloody, and unnatural acts, of accidental judgements, casual slaughters, of deaths put on by cunning and forced caused. And, in this upshot, purposes mistook, fallen on the inventors' heads. But let the same be presently performed, even while men's minds are wild, lest more mischance. On plots and errors happen."

"Casual slaughters, of deaths put on by cunning and forced cause," they remain tragically with us. And obviously, so do "purposes mistook, fallen on the inventors' heads." And this, I think, lies close so the heart of what we mean in speaking of the cultures of war.


SANYAL: You will take questions, right?

DOWER: Yeah, I'll say something about asking you to do that. I'm very happy to entertain questions. I'm also very, very deaf and so I've asked Bish, even though some of it will come in the mic, Bish will reach repeat the questions so I can make sure. I'm sorry for the inconvenience but that's the only way I can navigate this.

SANYAL: Just speak slowly. Please come to the microphone. You too can mention your name.

AUDIENCE: Sure, my name Ian Condry. I teach in foreign languages and literature here at MIT. Fascinating. I'm, of course, in agreement with a lot of what you're saying. And my question is, these cultures of war and it this way of thinking about culture makes a lot of sense to me.

One of the things I wonder in hearing this and hearing the recurrence of the kinds of excuses and explanations that are used for war is the fact that there's always these counter cultures of war too, right, and that you yourself were one of the people who said these comparisons between Iraq and postwar Japan do not hold, and you laid out all the historical reasons. And yours wasn't the only voice saying that Iraq would be a mistake and cause lots of trouble.

And so I guess my question is why is it that these mistaken cultures of war seemed to be so much more powerful than these counter cultures of peace? And what are the things holding back those more progressive moments?

DOWER: I got that. Thank you Ian. And thank you for your booming voice. Well, you put your finger on something. I am trying to go at these small C cultures because the comparative work really interests me much more than the capital C cultures because capital C cultures thinking almost always is on the one hand on the other and you always look for differences. On the one hand the Japanese are, on the other hand the Americans are. So I am interested in these small C cultures.

And one of those small C cultures is groupthink and herd behavior, that this is not a peculiar thing to non-Western people that we have it among ourselves. Now if you pursue this further you see, certainly in the case of before 9/11 and certainly in the case of the Iraq invasion, an enormous amount of internal dissent from where policy was going. There is, that does exist. That does exist but it does not penetrate to the top levels.

And what becomes interesting is that was not able to make it up to the top levels. And then what becomes interesting to me is that once, somehow, something had been set in train everyone else bought in. I used to, when I was trying to puzzle this out, I would buy the arguments about there was a small cabal, the Vulcans, and Bush is a very peculiar leader and he is surrounded by a little cabal. But in fact, that little cabal had all sorts of people supporting it, including liberals and humanitarian interventionists and almost all of the mainstream media. And it was in really marginal places that those voices could be heard.

It becomes particularly painful when you're an American because we live with the myths of a real clash of ideas, a real play of ideas, the power to speak up. But when we get push comes to shove, we get to the good soldiers and the need to conform. And if you turn this around on the Japanese side, I could also talk to you about dissent within Japan and generals who were against the war. And they just get sidelined just like the Americans did. There are generals in Japan who said you're crazy to take on the Americans. And they just got sidelined during the war.

And someone like Yamamoto is a perfect case. Admiral Yamamoto, who planed the Pearl Harbor attack, is a perfect case of a man who said, they said, we're going to go to war with America and Yamamoto, who as a Naval attache had studied at Harvard and also been stationed in Washington, DC, and he said you're crazy. You can't take on the United States. They are materially so superior that we can't be guaranteed a victory.

They said we're going to do it. He says, okay, let's attack Pearl Harbor, and he went along. And it's just like Colin Powell. It's just like Colin Powell because he's a good soldier. He's the good soldier.

And so these are the things we wrestled. And occasionally it is possible that someone can come up and the dissent can take hold, for whatever reason. But I guess my general point is this is a very complex argument. But I grew up, as you did, dealing with Japan.

You know, it's my impression that journalists in Japan, particularly on The New York Times, something happens. Someone goes in for three years then they get replaced, the next person comes in. And so every three years someone writes exactly the same article about Japan because they're brand new and they have to go through the files.

And they always write the same article. And it says, in Japan there's a saying, if the nail sticks up hit it down. This is the nature of the Japanese sociology. I grew up in a family that was very conservative and I was always told, don't stick your neck out, don't rock the boat. But we do not say that that is our essence, you see.

And certainly I could go in Japan and you certainly could and show the tradition of the maverick, you see. So I think the question is why does groupthink happen. But I don't think it's right to talk about this in capital C cultural terms.

AUDIENCE: Hi. My name's Robert Rothstein. I'm wondering if there might be another parallel between the two situations. I've heard it argued that American leaders just prior to World War II were actually, in some sense, eager for a war against Japan and that the blockade that they undertook was a deliberately provocative action. And that in some sense they were hoping for a Japanese first strike. Maybe they didn't anticipate that would be Pearl Harbor or all the details.

I've also heard it argued that, I think it's perhaps well known, that there were signs, there were indications prior to 9/11 of something coming, of indications that there were al-Qaeda operatives who were surveilled in the US but who were allowed to enter and exit freely. The so-called Project for a New American Century explicitly said, or they said in so many words, look, we want to get Iraq but there needs to be some kind of catastrophe to make it legitimate. I'd like to know what you feel about this?

DOWER: You've been reading those conspiracy websites.

AUDIENCE: No, no. I don't--

DOWER: No, it's a very serious question. The Project for a New American Century actually does not say America-- This is a very influential lobbying group, most of whose members ended up in the Bush administration and long before even Bush was elected published a report. They not only said we need a catastrophe, they said we need an event like Pearl Harbor. They actually explicitly said America needs an event like Pearl Harbor before it can mobilize to take on Iraq. That's the code.

You're referring to a very complicated situation. In the case of Japan it's called the back door to war thesis. Franklin Roosevelt died in April 1945 before even the war against Germany had ended. And once the war ended it was really fair game. Bipartisanship ended and the Republicans really took after, and the isolationists really took after Roosevelt.

And it became known as the back door to war thesis. And the argument was that the Roosevelt and the Democrats knew something was brewing. But they wanted the US to get into the war because they felt that America had to get into the war to-- really, to the European war, you see-- and they needed some kind of a reason to get in because Roosevelt felt America should stand against Nazism, and fascism, and side-by-side with America. It's a very long story. I don't accept the thesis.

It is absolutely clear that-- Certainly, it's absolutely wrong that there was any indication that they knew something would happen at Pearl Harbor because there's no reason. That just doesn't stand. They knew something was going to happen and they anticipated Japan would move against Southeast Asia and, particularly, against the Dutch because the Japanese wanted the Dutch East Indies, which we know as Indonesia now, for rubber, tin and other resources, and they figured they would move against British holdings in Malaya, Singapore, and other areas.

And they weren't too sure about the Philippines. They thought something would happen and at the same time, and this is where they took them lightly. You can find many phrases, yeah, we can stop the by tightening the noose of economic restrictions.

And then just before Pearl Harbor, General Marshall, who was the Secretary of War, dispatched American bombers to the Philippines. And we have those secret conversations in which he says, you know, we can bomb them from the Philippines. They were already talking about bombing Japan before Pearl Harbor if they get into war. But this will act as a deterrent.

And so, if we tighten the economic news and people like Secretary of War Stimson-- I'm sorry, Marshall was Secretary of the Army. And Stimson is saying, well, if we just tighten the noose and jerk them around we can, sort of the little man will cower. And it's very complex.

The same thing happens in the case of al-Qaeda where you have people in the government, like Richard Clarke and Michael Scheuer of the CIA, coming in and saying these guys are going to attack us, there's all sorts of warnings. The CIA itself says this is urgent. They're going to attack America.

When they go in, when Richard Clarke goes into the National Security Council, he's the counter-terrorism specialist for the National Security Council, he goes in and he says we're really facing a threat, Paul Wolfowitz, who is probably the grand architect of attacking Iraq, says, why are we talking about some little terrorist in Afghanistan? It's the little man. I didn't think those little yellow SOB's could do it.

But they did want to get into Iraq. That is correct. And 9/11 becomes the Pearl Harbor that that group was looking for that says now we can move against Iraq. And they did. Why they wanted to get into Iraq is an issue that's a separate talk.

No, no, it is because partly it's strategic reasons, partly there is this, again Wolfowitz, this notion we can make them democratic. He does, I think, believe that. That's why all the liberals and the liberal humanitarian and intervention sign on.

AUDIENCE: So you don't accept that the American leaders, just prior to Pearl Harbor--

DOWER: I'm sorry, I'm missing it.

AUDIENCE: You don't accept that American leaders prior to Pearl Harbor actually had any desire for a war with Japan.

DOWER: No, not [INAUDIBLE]. We can argue this at great length. The real great intelligence failure is not so much Pearl Harbor as the Philippines because eight hours after the surprise attack on the Philippines, General Douglas MacArthur gets caught-- The surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, eight hours later, General MacArthur gets caught in the Philippines with as planes on the ground. Now there's no reason, certainly, to invite and accept those kind of devastating attacks. And I don't think that they particularly wanted that war but I do think you can argue that Roosevelt felt, somehow, we must take a more active role and open role in supporting Great Britain.

AUDIENCE: In Europe.

DOWER: In Europe. You know, this gets even more complicated. We have no knowledge of why Hitler declared war after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. No one can understand that, to my knowledge. So it wasn't even guaranteed that the Japanese coming in the war would bring Hitler into the war because it was Hitler who declared war on the US.

SANYAL: We have time for one last question.

AUDIENCE: I would like to ask whether it's really inconceivable to think that it was not a very seriously considered presidential sleight-of-hand to expect and use the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor to protect the English against the Germans just as a presidential sleight-of-hand was involved in protecting the Gulf states, and to some extent Israel, from Saddam Hussein and using al-Qaeda as the excuse.

It seems there's plenty of evidence on the ground that that's what happened. And if you could, I'd like you to comment on Posner's story about Abu Zubaydah, the al-Qaeda operative who was electronically intercepted in Pakistan. Do you know that story?


AUDIENCE: It appears at the end of Posner's book. He's a respected--

DOWER: I know who he is.

AUDIENCE: --journalist. And in short, the operative who was picked up was flown to Afghanistan under pretenses that he was being flown to Saudi Arabia where American agents, who were originally Saudi, pretended to be Saudi intelligence, and then got him to cough up some information.

So this is all over the internet, by the way. It was never second sourced, which is why Posner has not been picked up widely by American media. However, I happened to run into Tom Ridge when you he was head of Department of Homeland Security on a bike trail in Washington, and I repeated this story to him. And they said, oh yeah, isn't that amazing, which I consider a confirmation.

Anyway, in short, the story was the operative coughed up the mobile telephone number of a Saudi prince who owned the Kentucky Derby winner War Emblem, the horse. He was also flown out of the United States on that flight that left with many Saudis. And apparently, American intelligence went to the Saudis and said, well, what you think of this? And after a week, they'd been convinced by the Saudis there was nothing behind it.

So then the al-Qaeda operative, Zubaydah, coughed up the names of a couple of more young princes. Well, before America intelligence could get to question any of these individuals the elder one went into the hospital for a routine operation in his 40s, a routine procedure, and died. And then one of the princes went out, was then subsequently died in the desert of thirst. This was all in the period of a week, of the other two that were fingered. And the third one died on his way to the funeral of the elder one in a car accident.

DOWER: You know what this reminds me of? This reminds me of this concept of noise or chatter. There's too much going on here but what is the question?

AUDIENCE: Well, the question is how could you possibly, given the enormous forces there were arrayed and the well known desire of Saddam Hussein to unify the Arab world under his leadership, and the threat that that posed for the Gulf states, not recognize that as a key mechanism and a key threat against which the American government has been and military forces have been arrayed and responded?

SANYAL: John, you have the last word. Here is your chance to respond. [INAUDIBLE].

DOWER: I'm going to pass on responding that. I got lost. I'm sorry. Let's talk afterwards.