2010 National Book Award Finalist,

John W. Dower

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

W.W. Norton & Co/The New Press

Photo credit: Ken Dower


Over recent decades, Pulitzer-winning historian John W. Dower has addressed the roots and consequences of war from multiple perspectives. Here he 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 also sets the U.S. occupations of Japan and Iraq side by side in strikingly original ways. He 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.


John W. Dower won the National Book Award in 1999 for Embracing Defeat. He retired from the history faculty at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in June 2010 and is now a professor emeritus at the institute. In addition to writing many books and articles about Japan and the United States in war and peace, he is a founder and co-director 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.


John Dower's MIT webpage

John Dower's 1999 NBA Acceptance Speech

VIDEO - John w. Dower presentation on MIT World, Distributed Intelligence

John Dower's Wikipedia entry



Shortly after noon on December 8, 1941, President Franklin Roosevelt appeared before a joint session of Congress to deliver one of history’s most famous war messages. These were his opening -words:

Yesterday, December 7, 1941—a date which will live in infamy—the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of -Japan.

A date which will live in infamy—the phrase quickly became an indelible part of American history. Little known is the fact that this fine rhetoric was an editorial -afterthought.

The Japanese had deliberately chosen Sunday, a quiet day, for their attack; their first wave of planes swooped in from six aircraft carriers just before eight o’clock in the morning. Three hours later, around five in the evening Washington time, the president summoned his secretary and began to dictate his message to the nation. No speechwriters were involved. The words were Roosevelt’s own, and we still possess the typed text that was made from this session—heavily marked in pencil with the president’s subsequent revisions. In the original version, the message began as follows: “Yesterday, December 7, 1941, a date which will live in world history . . .”-1

What a difference a second draft can -make.

Immediately, “infamy” became American code for “Pearl Harbor,” as well as code for Japanese treachery and deceitfulness—a stab in the back that cried out for retaliation and would never be forgotten. When the September 11 terrorist attacks occurred in New York and Washington just a few months short of six decades later, “infamy” was the first word many American commentators summoned to convey the enormity of these crimes. Pundits and politicians and appalled Americans everywhere almost reflexively evoked “Pearl Harbor.” Past and present were momentarily fused, like a flashback in a film.