A Pulitzer Prize-winning author and historian came to UCSB on Thursday to examine the events surrounding “three of the most horrendous acts of violence” in history.
About 150 people heard John Dower give a lecture at Campbell Hall titled, “Cultures of War: Pearl Harbor, Hiroshima, 9/11.” In the 75-minute talk, Dower analyzed the circumstances between the three attacks and the parties involved: Japan, the United States and the Sept. 11 hijackers.
Dower, a professor of history at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, received the Pulitzer Prize in nonfiction for 2001’s Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II.
He began by connecting the responses of the U.S. to the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941 and the 9/11 terrorist attacks. In both instances, Dower said the U.S. “transferred the innocence of the victims to the state itself,” and used “exaggerated victimization” to justify severe responses.
Dower said President Harry Truman approved the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II based on the assumption that the Japanese would continue to actively resist, setting the precedent of “anticipatory self-defense” that led to the recent war in Iraq.
The attacks were not without benefits for the presidents in office at the time, Dower said. After Pearl Harbor, Franklin Roosevelt was able to pull an “isolationist” America into a fight against fascism that he knew the U.S. had to join. Similarly, Dower said, after 9/11, President Bush was able to get the increased military funding he had always wanted and solidify his position following a contested 2000 election.
“It was a godsend for the Bush administration because it enabled a weak president to become a strong one,” Dower said.
Dower compared the 9/11 attackers to Japanese World War II soldiers, pointing out the willingness to die of the suicide bombers and kamikaze pilots. He said both groups were indoctrinated to “dwell on American decadence.”
During the short question-and-answer session following the lecture, Dower expressed concern for what he described as a United States that was increasingly beginning to resemble an “empire.”
“We’re now moving to the question [of] whether we’ll be a country that’s becoming more and more militaristic,” Dower said.
One audience member was already familiar with Dower through his books.
“I [will be] studying abroad in Japan and I did some research on his book, Embracing Defeat. It really helped me get accepted to the Education Abroad Program,” sophomore psychology and Asian American studies major Eric Inafuku said.
Another student was impressed by Dower’s ideas.
“I enjoyed it; he took the issues in new directions,” senior history and cultural anthropology major Bret Beheim said. “He made connections where I never thought there were connections.”
The lecture was part of the “America and the Reshaping of the New World Order” series organized by the English Dept. and Global Studies Program. Dower will deliver a second talk today at 1 p.m. in the McCune Conference Room, HSSB 6020, titled, “Visualizing Cultures: East Meets West, West Meets East.” Dower said the lecture focuses on the relations between the U.S. and Japan in 1854, when U.S. Navy Commodore Matthew Perry entered Tokyo Harbor.