tv Book TV After Words CSPAN November 28, 2010 12:00pm-1:00pm EST
this week pulitzer prize winner john dower examined significant military attacks that led to the american invasion and occupation abroad, in his new book, "cultures of war." the former history professor explores the attack on pearl harbor, the bombing of hiroshima, the 9/11 attacks, and the invasion of iraq. .. >> host: so impressive that i want to thank you for this opportunity to be able to sit down and have this conversation. >> guest: thank you.
>> host: could you start by telling us how you -- you're a historian of japan, both imperial and post-war japan. how is it that you came to write this book that lunges both -- links both pearl harbor, hiroshima, 9/11 and the iraq war. what gave you the idea to make those linkages? >> guest: in this case i think it was that moment that all of us remember exactly where we were, it was 9/11. and i happened to be, at that time, in vermont, in rural vermont. 9/11 occurred, i saw it in a store in a little town, and then the newspapers came out, the local newspapers, and both newspapers had headlines saying infamy. day of infamy. and i work on japan, i've written on world war ii, pearl harbor, japan after the war, and, of course, infamy is the parallel harbor world. -- pearl
harbor word. and suddenly everywhere the word infamy was coming up. i think if you go back, and i did at one time, look at all the newspaper headlines that came out september 11th, september 12th, september 13th, i would say 10, 15% used the word infamy or president roosevelt's famous phrase, a day which will live in infamy. they would use the whole phrase. and so there was the immediate association with japan, stab in the back treachery, and because it was airplanes crashing into the buildings, suddenly we started talking about kamikaze attacks. so japan was pulled into it again even though kamikaze had nothing to do with pearl harbor. and then you began to get things like we will never forget. there was a billboard outside of
chicago, for example, and on one side it had december 7. on the other side it had september 11. and in the middle, we will never forget. nobody needed a footnote to understand that; pearl harbor, 9/11. we will always remember these dates, which is true. and then there was a great sense of revenge, we will pull together. and, of course, if you thought about it and what was very clear at the time, there were real similarities. the surprise, the shock and the fact that when pearl harbor happened, president roosevelt was presiding over a very divided country. isolationists, people who felt we should do more in the war in europe. and when 9/11 occurred, president bush was just beginning an administration after an election that had really fractured the country. and so the country pulled
together on both occasions. so this was the first thing where people were using japan and al-qaeda. the poor japanese, you know, they had tried for so many decades since pearl harbor, six decades, five decades since the end of the war to be our good friend and, boom, suddenly here it is again, remember pearl harbor. but the second thing that came very quickly on the heels of that infamy was what a colossal failure of intelligence. on the part of the united states. so you had another level there where how could the americans have been caught by surprise in this manner? and then you started to get other people coming in with different things, nonwestern country, nonchristian culture, nonwhite peoples have attacked
us, and you began to get into the rhetoric of clash of civilizations once again. this is a great clash of civilizations. clash of cultures. and i found it interesting because you could see why it was happening, but there were all sorts of problems with it. and the problems got more complicated when suddenly 9/11 and its great symbol, the world trade center, became ground zero. now, i've written a lot on world war ii, i've worked on the war, and i come from the japanese side. but i've also worked on the atomic bombs as you have in great depth, and i've seen it from many perspectives. and to me ground zero was a world war ii term. and ground zero meant ground
zero, hiroshima, nagasaki, and that's really where we began using it. if you went back to the test of the first atomic bomb in new mexico in july 1945, for years thereafter there was a little wooden sign saying ground zero. and we always used that word for ground zero meant hiroshima, nagasaki. suddenly, it had been appropriated and almost expropose rated for the world trade center, and the funny thing was i kept waiting for someone to say ground zero, weapons of mass destruction for someone who thinks historically, where has this word come from? and, of course, it came from world war ii and weapons of mass destruction that terrify us come
out of that experience. but no one made the connections. it was as if we had just taken it, and there was no way of thinking about the original ground zero. and then you began to have the language of terror bomb withing. bombing. now, any historian of world war ii just routinely has used the word terror bombing for world war ii. and it occurs primarily in conjunction with the anglo american air war first in europe and then, finally, in japan that culminates in hiroshima, nagasaki. and it's a concept that we address in terms of psychological warfare. in many -- modern war you must destroy the morale of the enemy.
that's one of the weapons of war, you destroy the industry, you destroy the armies, you destroy the morale of the enemy. and it became standard operating procedure in world war ii to deliberately target densely-populated urban areas. so we tend to think of hiroshima, nagasaki -- if we think of them at all -- in isolation. but that was the culmination of a campaign that began against germany and then was carried out by the americans in japan that targeted over 60 japanese cities before the atomic bombs. but that kind of thinking of terror bombing in terms of what we do in our modern wars, part of the culture of our modern wars, ha did not get -- that did
not get into the discussions or the discourse. what you did instead was say this bombing was done by nonstate actors. so this made them different than the past. and it shows us, and if you go back to right after 9/11, i mean, it was a ghastly crime against humanity, but all the and to -- all of a sudden and to the present day you keep having people writing this shows us the barbaric nature of islamic culture and of these, of the koran and of the islamic fundamentalists. they do not respect human life as we do in our western tradition. this is a true clash of civilizations. and so there were so many issues coming up here for me, i said i've got to try to sort all this out.
why do you have the, you know, the real similarities, the failures of intelligence? why do we have false analogies? why, why -- what can we make of ourselves as people in the modern world? and the way i had come to think of it over the years but was crystallized then was not in terms of clash of civilizations, but in terms or clash of cultures that modern war it is a culture. we're trapped this coils -- in the coils of war. we're in wars and wars and wars and wars. the technology is getting more and more sophisticated. and i was, that's why the book i wanted to do was called cultures of wars, because i wanted to sort this out. it doesn't mean it's all relative. obviously, it's not all
relative. but there's a dynamic in the modern wars. and this threw me into it. and so i said, well, i'll do a little book on this after 9/11, and i had written about world war ii. i have written, and i had vowed never to deal with war again because, as you know, when we throw ourselves as researchers in this, it's in its own way, you know, it's nothing like what people experienced at the time. there's no comparison whatsoever. but it's exhausting. it's so exhausting. and i didn't want to go on. but i did. >> host: no, this is wonderful. you talk about recovering memory which is what history is in many ways, and you point out in your book that the terror bombings actually began prior to the u.s. entry into world war ii, that the japanese bombed chinese cities, germans bombed, even the
zeppelins in world war i were a form of terror pomming, and yet they were -- bombing, and yet they were universal condemned. and yet as the war progresses the allied powers do precisely that, and can you talk about the cultural shift that takes place? this. >> guest: yeah. many years ago in the 1980s i finished a book that was about the u.s. and japan, world war ii in the asia pacific. and i called it a war without mercy. and i almost got into that book by accident. we often stumble into our topics by accident. i sat down to write a book about japan after world war ii, and i started out, i said, i'm going to write a few paragraphs about, you know, the war in the prelude because it was wonderful that japan and america became friends and allies after the war. this was wonderful because it
was such a horrible war. and then i said i better write a few paragraphs about the war and then paragraphs became a chapter, and the chapter became a book, and i called it "war without mercy." one of the things that was stunning to me at the time was to go back into the response of the western world to the terror bombing, the targeting of civilians by the germans and the japanese in the late 1930s. and our most famous recollection of that in the west probably most burnt into our minds is picasso's painting which was the bombing in spain of civilian -- of a civilian -- which was the bombing in spain of a civilian community. the most famous photograph that convinced us that the japanese
were barbaric and which is reproduced in cultures of war is a photo of a chinese baby sitting in a bombed-out railway station in shanghai in 1937. and many people have called that the most powerful propaganda photo of the war in aiz rah -- asia because that was what made the americans say they are barbaric unlike ourselves. and what was fascinating at at the time for me as a young researcher was to go in and read the condemnation of german bombing and fascist bombing and japanese bombing of civilians by the league of nations, by the united states president and state department. the u.s. wasn't in the league. by winston churchill and the british government, and it's very explicit.
distributely targeting civilians is beyond the pale of civilization. this is bar baric behavior. and then a great see change took place as american became involved in the war in europe first, as the british began to regain an offensive against the germans and as the concepts of strategic warfare began to develop and as concepts of psychological warfare and total war began to be concretely expanded that it is not enough to just go in and target factories and military-related industry, it's not even efficient. it's very hard to hit those targets. so we've really got to dod carpet bombing in those areas, but also psychologically this will destroy the morale of the enemy because the fighting force
knowing that the wife and children and family back home is being destroyed will be demoralized, the people will withdraw their support from the goth and doing that -- government and doing that will also boost the morale of our side. and so this became a standard, ingrained part of the war in europe, and then the british led it, the americans participated in it in europe. they were deliberately going after urban areas. those were the targets written, the urban areas of this city or that city. then they would rewrite them somewhat for public relations, we were attacking the railway station in city x or the shipyards in city y. but the reports were clearly urban-targeting. then it moves to japan, and the americans very early begin alone
in japan to target the cities. now, while this is going on, the americans were -- and this is something that comes up in this book -- were doing their experiments in how to develop napalm and how to develop fire bombs. and they begin doing these experiments in 1943 and 1944, and they do particularly in dugway proving grounds in utah, and they bring in people to reconstruct the homes of ordinary german and ordinary japanese workers. and this is way before the news of baton, and this is way before -- this is beginning very early in the war because there is a momentum in this thinking. we have this capacity. and they bring in people to
recreate in the case of japan workers' homes that are like the workers' homes in japanese cities. and they actually go to the extent of bringing in straw mats from hanoi, putting in cushions that people sit on in the houses, recreating the storm doors and testing what it's like when the explosion takes place when they're open, what it's like when they're closed, trying to find wood that is as close as possible to the kind of cypress and all the fir trees that the japanese used, getting stucco that is as close as possible from are the southwest, that's close as possible to japanese stucco. they are making workers' homes, ordinary people's homes. this isn't collateral damage. this is part of the deliberate
targeting. so, you know, in doing this book a lot of -- there's been quite a bit of writing in europe about the air war in europe. none of this has anything to do with minimizing the atrocities of hitler or the holocaust. it's just the way war was conducted. and the numbers, you can never get the numbers, but the best numbers are of 400-600,000 civilians who were killed in the anglo-american air raids. i did mostly from american documents, i did the same kind of calculations for japan. the 60-plus cities that are bombed before hiroshima, nagasaki plus hiroshima, nagasaki, the numbers come out roughly the same, about 400-600,000 civilians were
killed in the air war in japan. so your total figure is about a million civilians were bombed in those two wars culminating in hiroshima, nagasaki. had i been living at the time, i have no reason to think i wouldn't have supported that. but when we suddenly learned that terror bombing or hear that terror bombing is something peculiar to an alien culture, that it's those people who don't respect individuals whereas we do, that they have different standards, i think then that's where we have to really start asking deeper questions. >> host: and yet to take an 18-year-old whether it's a u.s. or a japanese or german or chinese and be able to turn an 18-year-old into someone who is capable of doing truly horrific things to complete strangers for
reasons of state is a very unnatural act. it takes a lot of conditioning. and so there's a lot of dehumanization ha goes on both of the perpetrator as well as the victim. and i think this carries over into the way -- in order to do these things, you have to dehumanize, but if you dehumanize, you can't really get into the mind item set of your adversaries. and if you can't get into their mindset, you don't understand what motivates them, and you can't get them to stop doing whatever it is you want them to stop doing in the first place. and so could you talk about that process of misunderstills, the psychological of the adversary, if i can quote president bush, and how that impacts the war, not just world war ii, but the wars in iraq post-9/11. the whole way we approach our adversaries and that mentality. >> well, in the book i wrestled with these under several concepts, and this goes back to
our failures of intelligence. and i have a chapter called "the failure of imagination." and this is where i go back to pearl harbor. and why did the americans' failure to anticipate the japanese attack, why did the americans' failure to anticipate the japanese military capabilities? you can turn that around, which i do, and say why did the japanese fail to imagine the american response? they totally missed how the americans would respond as well as a capacity and will to rep pearl harbor and -- remember pearl harbor and get revenge. that was one of the posters, avenge pearl harbor. that was a standard phrase. and the same thing occurs in the case of al-qaeda and 9/11, and then it transfers -- and this is where my book which was going to
be a short book suddenly became a big book, because i began trying to wrestle with these various different questions before the u.s. invasion of iraq. now, when the u.s. invasion of iraq took place 18 months after 9/11 in march 2003, we had another colossal failure of intelligence on the part of the united states. and a colossal failure of imagination on the part of the united states. so if you come back to the u.s. perspective, you say there was incredible intelligence and imagination failure in 1941, there was another in 2001, and instead of that getting us to think about who is this adversary, to know the enemy, we
get into an even more disastrous war in the case of iraq with the intelligence failure -- where the intelligence failure is simply colossal. and that involves an inability to imagine the other side. and it is not to sympathize with the other side. that's not the point. the point is to imagine the other side and to imagine the nature of their grievances. and, of course, the argument after 9/11 and still pretty much is they hate us for our freedoms. they have no legitimate grievances. the argument was, you know, the iraqis are under a brutal dictator, which they were. they will greet us as liberators, that's totally overlooking the nature of that society and the fact that nobody likes to be invaded and
occupied, you know? this totally missing those kind of things. and the second thing was a failure of imagination to imagine the capabilities of people we look down upon because they were materially inferior, and that's where racism and ethnocentrism and other things come in that we did not think they had the capacity to wreak havoc upon us. and we went into the war on terror and the war in iraq still thinking we could win with big war. and we could win with shock and awe. and, you know, shock and awe which this is where all of the things started ricocheting in my mind and that i was trying to publish it, to write something, to figure it out myself, shock and awe is one of the key phrases comes iraq. many journalism every -- in
journalism everywhere. we will go in, we will so shock and awe them with our massive display of firepower that they will cave. psychological warfare. shock and awe is a doctrine that is kind of a bible this pentagon circles -- in pentagon circles. it's a formal book and study, very well known. and the model is hiroshima, nagasaki. explicitly. not necessarily using nuclear weapons, but our superior firepower will so intimidate these other people that they will give in. they will realize it's hopeless to fight against us. we were not able to imagine insurgency movements. we were not able to imagine people who were motivated not necessarily by i lammist fundamentalism -- islamist fundamentalism, but by hatred of
being occupied. we were not able to imagine the way they viewed recent history. right or wrong, the way they remembered history is very important. and it just didn't enter into planning and thinking at the topmost levels. so then you get into why people think the way they do and why they, people at the top fall into these patents, these apparently rational people fall into patterns of thinking which are irrational. and then i began to wrestle with the concept of rationality and irrationality among people who are, in fact, very intelligent and knowledgeable. the japanese in world war ii, the americans in, you know, in the bush administration. they're smart people. why was it so irrational? and then you get into a concept
which fascinated me which is group think. >> host: exactly. that's something i want to come back to at the end because i think that's one of the most important chapters in your book. it's short, but it's beautiful and so rich. but, again, we fall into this pattern of thinking how bombs are virtuous. people won't mind so much if we destroy their homes or wedding parties, and they'll somehow forgive us. bombs have a way of uniting people under a common threat to experience a common trauma as 9/11 was to the united states, to have bombs drop on your head in some other countries is also quite unifying in many ways. and just the psychology. if i lose electricity from a thunderstorm in my building, i get furious. if i lose water pressure, i'm upset. i can't imagine what it's like to have bombs fall on a city, destroy your infrastructure and have to live through that for year after year. we're going to cut away for a short break, and we'll come back, and we'll pick up on these
bombings, but, in fact, these roots go quite deep. could you talk a little bit about those parallels? >> guest: well, the more you dig into this, the more astonishing it was, the more to me at least. and the type of things we chose not to remember and the extent to which we became involved in a kind of what i call in the book faith-based secular thinking in which we had our certain dogmatic ideas that were almost religious ideas, but they weren't religious, they were secular about war making. and the whole issue of underestimating the enemy, we can take this way, way back in history. [laughter] in fact, you know, some of the people who came up belatedly with their counterinsurgency ideas, they go back to ancient
china, you know, to say wait a minute, we forgot all about this, how a weaker person can be successful against a stronger person. one of the striking things that emerged even after 9/11 was that the americans, the american government -- i must make a distinction here. it's very, it's a mistake to say the americans and the japanese and the muslims and so on. one of the striking things was there were many people in the u.s. government all along at lower levels who were saying, this is crazy. first, we should be doing more against al-qaeda and then after 9/11 they were saying invading iraq is crazy. and they're saying this in the cia, they're saying this in cent come, they're saying this in the defense college, they're saying this in the state department, but it's not reaching the topmost level of government. one of the ideas that they
couldn't get through was the whole concepts of insurgency, counterinsurgency, what we refer to as the weapons of the week, what it is that will mobilize people to, in fact, fight and die. for a cause not necessarily being religious. one of the major things is being occupied. which is exactly what americans would do if a foreign power occupied our cities and occasionally mistakenly obliterated a wedding party. we would go, and rightly so. we would become outraged. we would mobilize, we would mobilize and give our lives to drive out this person who was occupying us. in the united states, and this is now clear and the people who are doing counterinsurgency doctrine -- and this is a
questionable area in itself -- point out the fact that the united states was defeated in vietnam, essentially. and it was defeated by materially-inferior forces. and those forces were driven in very, very great part by nationalism and by effective of tactics of opposition. after the vietnam war, the u.s. ceased to teach counterinsurgency in the military academies. it disappeared. the handbooks were not rewritten. there were insurgencies going on all over the world. we don't study it. vietnam, we've got to put vietnam pain behind us. we will only fight big wars in the future. we're not going to get involved in that again. then we get the soviet union in
afghanistan. i mean, what an example. this colossal power goes in with conventional military power, moves into afghanistan, causes enormous loss of life and destruction in the afghanistan and is defeated. the soviet union collapses, you know, almost immediately thereafter, we don't bother to study how could these people, i mean, ronald reagan calls them freedom fighters, you know, we're supplying them with weapons, but we don't study it, and then we go in to afghanistan, the united states goes into iraq x there's no thinking -- and there's no thinking about any of this. why do these insurgencies come up? why are they successful? and it becomes -- it's just an amazing level of irrationality
on our part and an amazing inability to put yourself in the position of the other side and understand why they are acting as they are, why they may regard you not as a liberator, but as an oppressor. the japanese made exactly the same mistake. they go into china, you know, in 1937 they go into china, the emperor calls in the general in 1937, he says to the general, how long is this war going to last. the general says, we'll be finished in six months. four years later they go in and they say, we're going to attack the united states. [laughter] and it's totally irrational x
they totally -- and they totally, the japanese totally missed the element of nationalism on the part of the other sides. they totally missed the way in which guerrilla movements and insurgency movements and the weak have weapons of their own. that can be extraordinarily effective. and so there is a kind of -- and here, i think, what you get into is the concept of holy wars. every war is holy. a jihad is holy to the islamists terrorists and fundamentalists, the japanese word was seised, it means holy war. they were out to liberate asia. americans, jen -- general mcarthur at is end of the war says the holy war is now completed. george bush and others talk
about our holy war against terrorism, and in holy wars you get into a black and white world. we are innocent, you are evil. we are pure. japanese or the islamists, we are the pure, you are the corrupt. we are the innocent, you are the evil. we are the victims, you are the victimizer. and nobody is able to understand how complex all of this is. i actually wrestle in the book a lot with the evil because i believe in evil. i just don't think anyone has a real monopoly on it, and i think it's a very powerful force just mentally. >> host: you talk about kind of a religious faith, not religion, but a faith-based ideology that the people believe in their conviction so strongly that it's almost like religion. but this idea, you know, when we go to war in iraq, it's kind of the pinnacle of neoconservative
domination of american thought. and a lot of think tanks including a lot of liberal ones, not my own, but most think tanks in the city bought into that war as did most of congress and a lot of other people, many of whom may have been private dissenters, but the group think takes over. and i think one of the great tragedies is if i were a staffer in the national security council during the run-up to the war, i could wake up and get my news from fox news, i could get my newspaper and read the washington times, i could drive to work listening to right-wing talk radio. reports on my but they were so effective at constructing their ecochamber, they forgot to leave an air hole there, you know, to let them -- reality check. and so it became this chorus that just took over the narrative, and there are dissenters, as you point out. could you talk about some of the
patterns of dissent and how group think takes over? this. >> guest: this process was fascinating to me at two levels, you see, because i have done so many years doing research on japan, and the favorite phrase for japanese is certainly in the war years was herd behavior, the obedient herd. that was probably the most popular phrase. and it's the old notion, you know, that the japanese there's no dissent, they're homogeneous, you've seen one, you've seen them all. there is no room for individualism. there is no room for dissent. whereas -- and this is part of the clash of civilizations -- whereas we, particularly we americans, the japanese are unique in their groupieness, in their backwardness at that time. we are exceptional in our virtue, we're exceptional in our values, and what is one of the keys to that individualism?
what is one of the keys to that principle dissent? what is one of the keys to this really rational give and take that you listen to various ideas and you really debate them, and if someone comes in and really disagrees with you and it's a principled disagreement, you listen to it and you respect it. that did not happen. and so that it didn't happen at the highest levels of government is interesting, and that's where i became interested. we speak of the imperial presidency. someone who worked on japan, i'm very familiar with a real emperor system, you know, a real emperor system. and i found it very interesting to look at we have the records incidentally of all the top level japanese meetings concerning war for 1941. they survived the war almost
miraculously. all the meetings of the top leaders including meetings with the emperor. we have all of those. and we don't have the same thing for the bush administration and probably we never really will. but we can recreate from memoirs, from leaked documents, from a variety of sources in the bush administration, and i did a lot of comparison of just how the decision making went. and i saw the japanese as certainly no more -- as very similar to the bush administration. in other words, very smart, rational men. they could give you many, many reasons why this was mess and no dissent is tolerated. and this is true in the u.s. government too. dissent is called lack of patriotism. dissent, at first it's you don't have the secret information we have. how, why aren't you going along
at this moment of national crisis? to the point where dissent becomes near treason. near treason. you're not going along. and in japanese terms it's majesty. and in that kind of environment the lower level people were simply squashed out. what was fascinating to me was how many interesting -- you know, lots of people outside the government, academics and that were writing, don't to this. i -- do this. i wrote an op-ed piece, don't go into iraq. they were doing better stuff inside the government. cia and others were saying much, the arguments were all there. they couldn't get to the top. and then what was shocking was the mainstream media in the u.s. just bought it hook, line and sinker. >> host: and the simplicity of the argument that somehow we had the magic beans of democracy, that we'll go in and remove the top, the head of of state, plant these beans, and democracy will
flourish not only in iraq, but throughout the middle east. it'll just spread magically without considering the soil conditions, whether there's water, whether there's enough sunlight or air or whatever. that kind of lack of thinking through what happens after the initial kinetic operations, which we usually succeed at, but when these wars drag out to periods of months and then years, the group think and the quagmire, it's almost inherent in that system. >> guest: yeah. >> host: and yet when i compare it to the post-war planning for the occupation of japan, it was a complete hi different experience. i -- completely different experience. i remember work anything the archives, massive files starting as early as 1942, as you mentioned. they were thinking very thoughtfully, how are we going to occupy japan? i mean, could you talk the contrast of those two? >> well, one of the books i did before this, the other book that
took way longer than i had dreamed it would take was a book on japan immediately after the war. [laughter] when the americans occupied the country. and is -- so, again, because i'm watching what's going on in the u.s. and how history is being used, we're fascinated as historians by the uses of history and by the way memory, so-called memory is used. and the bush administration and many people used pearl harbor and world war ii constantly as a proper analogy to the war in iraq and the war on terror. and it was an absolutely improper, misleading analogy. but then before the invasion of iraq beginning around october 2002, so maybe five months or so
before the actual invasion of iraq, the government, the bush administration, began to float lines like iraq will be like germany and japan after the war, that we can turn this horrendous authoritarian, brutal dictatorship into a peaceful, prosperous ally to ourselves and model for middle east. and that became another mantra. and it was a misuse of history. and i at that time but loads of other people, the military was doing their own studies of occupations and occupied areas. japan was -- and germany were special cases. incidentally, not a single gi was killed in the occupation of germany or the occupation of japan by hostile germans or
hostile japanese. not one. we look back on that now, and it's just unbelievable. but we said at the time, look, people like myself but many of these people in the government, they did terrific work. they just couldn't be heard. iraq is not japan and, in fact, what you see that may mean success for ya -- you see, iraq can be like japan. it's not western, it's nonchristian. everything that made the occupation a success in japan is absent in iraq. the occupation will not be legitimate, there will be no existing government to take over. we're going to go in and decapitate the government. who's going to take over? what's going to -- who's going to take over? there will -- there was no real tradition of civil society to
keep going. there was all sorts of things. in japan everything carried on including the emperor. it was a formal surrender. the entire world saw that occupation including japanese as legitimate. it was formal. it was all missing in iraq with its sectarian schisms, its lack of a real democratic tradition comparable to what scrermny and japan -- germany and japan had. it's lack of an ongoing administration was all missing in this iraq, and that was clear before. but people use history as they wish to use history. you know, the old saying is the, that the politicians history the way -- politician uses history the way a drunk uses a lamp post, for support rather than illumination. [laughter] and so anyone, and this was coming also from a lot of people who were middle east and iraq
experts, they were coming in, they were saying al-qaeda is, you know, is an atrocious threat and al-qaedas has to be defeated. what has that got to do with iraq? if saddam hussein is a brutal dictator but this, this and this reason you cannot go in and expect to have just a smooth takeover. and so when i look back thinking, you know, all the things i've read about japan and other places, the people in the bush administration are saying, well, here's our, here's our war plan. here's, here's plan a. we're going to go in, topple iraq and get out quickly. in quickly, out quickly, leave a small footprint and the existing government will take over. there is no plan b. i really have read extensively,
and everything we can get, you know, there'll never be a u.s. investigation of iraq the way there was after pearl harbor. we'll never get all of those documents. but i've read a lot of it has come out including people like douglas fite and others who have really pushed out a lot of documents. there was no plan b. sounds just like that general who said we're going to get in and out of china in four years. you know, the joke was plan a is to get if and out quickly, plan b is to hope plan a works. that's very close to what the record suggests. >> host: and yet at relatively high levels there were two very thoughtful individuals who knew better and who saw a lot of these problems coming well in advance. and i'd like you to compare the two of them. one is yamamoto and the other is colin powell.
[laughter] >> guest: oh, you're very astute. you know, it's a big book, but i actually threw away one gigantic section in the book in which i compared japan's holy war with the islamic holy war and anti-western sentiment. it took about a year, a year and a half, and i decided it was too much. then i threw away paragraphs here and there, and one was comparing the japanese policymakers and the american policymakers to show the diversity and the capabilities within each side. also to show the small cabals that were actually making policy on both sides in the imperial presidency and within the emperor system. and the natural comparison which i then removed from the book was colin powell and admiral yamamoto, the man who conceived of and masterminded the attack on pearl harbor. and the point is that in both cases you have very, very smart
people who on principle were opposed to the wars. admiral yamamoto said you're absolutely making a terrible mistake. he tells his superiors to go to war against the united states. you can't win. and yamamoto had been at the u.s. on two occasions as a naval attache. he knew washington very well, you know, he was an old pro. he went back to the roots of japanese war in 1904, 1905, and he was a very, very -- he was also a very innovative tactician. he says, you're crazy to do this. colin powell and, of course, others can speak to colin powell better than i, also had grave reservations. when the japanese said we're going to attack america,
yamamoto said, okay. if you going to do that, i think we have to attack pearl harbor because the japanese really wanted to control southeast asia. they needed the resources of southeast asia so o they could prolong the war in china which had become a quagmire. quagmires always produce quagmires. you know, there's never an end to this. and yamamoto said, well, if you're tax healthy, there's a philippines and america many all likelihood will come into the war, we have to have a preemptive attack on pearl harbor so that we can delay the american fleet from coming over, and i think if we can pull that off, we can delay the american response for six months or a year. that will give us the time to consolidate our position in southeast asia, and our hope is
that this will demoralize the americans and instead of pursuing a long war against us in asia, they will cut a deal and leave us with some of the things we need for our national security. but he made it very clear that he thought it was a big mistake. once the war had been decided upon and he could not control that decision, he would do his best to insure success if that war. in that war. his great contribution, incidentally, was he was an aircraft carrier advocate, and the most the japanese navy were battleship admirals. and it was yamamoto who saw that the future lay with air power, and the aircraft carriers and persuaded them they should do this incredibly daring, incredibly bold attack on pearl harbor. now, of course, the americans said technically and
psychologically the japanese aren't capable of doing this. my impression of colin powell who, you know, has been such a great american hero in many ways is, and i think he says this. he says, well, i talked to the president, i told him my reservations once. on one occasion. it was clear i wasn't going to win, and when your president says to do something, all you can do is salute. and so then we get into a nationalism love of the country, patriotism that once the machines get going, people get aboard. so we get boo the whole machinery -- get into the whole machinery of gearing up for war which is both material and psychological. and at a certain point you're supposed to get aboard and principled criticism is not acceptable. and i think that's another culture of war, you see?
and unless we grasp these machineries of these pathologies, well, the coil of war will be with us forever. >> host: now, that's a depressing note to -- we have five minutes to wrap this up, and that's what i want to focus on is this intersection we now have not only the group think and the bureaucratic momentum, the sheer size of the pentagon and the way we waged war combined with the viciousness of our domestic politics now. we're in election season, silly season, the kinds of smears and negative ads, attacks that go on back and forth makes it very difficult for legislators who are concerned, first and foremost, with getting reelected, with dealing with serious problems and the most serious problems are the ones that very often have counterintuitive solutions, right? that are difficult to communicate to the electorate. but one of my favorite
philosophers, bartholomew simpson, bart simpson, right? he runs for class president in one of the episodes, and he begins by attacking his opponent in his speech. my opponent says there are no easy answers. well, i say he's not looking hard enough. and that, in a nutshell, is part of the problem we have. they're playing to the knee jerk solutions, the ones that the electorate they think will understand the easiest, and that'll get you the most votes. but the counterintuitive solutions, having a rational conversation in complicated and you'll be attacked by your adversaries. so it seems to me is this new, or has this always been around with us, and what lessons do you have for the future and our politicians today? >> guest: well, i wrestled with this a lot because the more -- i worked on the book from shortly after 9/11 and just came out now, so it took quite a few years. and i really was trying to puzzle out a lot of this this.
and when it came time to wrap it up, i was trying to find a way out to say this is, this is the path that can be taken. and i couldn't. i couldn't find it because, because the concepts that kept coming back to me were words like pathologyies. pathologies of an institutional nature, pathologies of a political nature or dysfunction if you want a plainer word. that the difficulties, the world is difficult to given -- begin with, but the political, the institutional, the psychological, the ideological constraints on really sitting down and working out rational policies even within the government let alone then with other governments who are facing this was so extraordinary that i
came out with a sense that we have to understand these things, and the hope is that's what we try to do. that we can try to get clarity on this. there are lots of things, lots of lessons in having made similar mistakes or witnessed similar mistakes made by others. but somehow if you just step back, you say, but this war. and you can say war is always with us, but it's becoming more and more high-tech, the weapons of mass destruction we've been with them, now there are entirely new levels. we have whole new levels of threats in terms of information technology and the ways to bring societies down now many this the digital age. and the basic passions, i actually try