The author divides his book into three parts: the first examines and compares Pearl Harbour and the impact of the surprise Japanese attack – “day of infamy” – upon an unprepared America; the second – “Ground Zero 1945 and Ground Zero 2001” – examines the targeting of civilians as acceptable warfare: the firebombing of German and Japanese cities in WWII culminating in Hiroshima and Nagasaki; and the third, final section “Occupied Japan and Occupied Iraq” explores the many factors that contributed to Japan’s successful postwar recovery and reconstruction on the one hand, and to predictable conflict, disintegration and tragedy in Iraq on the other.

What happened (and continues to happen) in Iraq is a scathing indictment of the Bush administration’s faith-based war policies. The analyses are compelling and the book has been deeply researched yet to this reviewer there is a curious flaw in the work: it is as though Afghanistan has been airbrushed out of consideration. The result of 9/11 was the almost immediate invasion of Afghanistan by the UN backed American led coalition. Once in Afghanistan the Americans used the opportunity of war to invade Iraq – a long cherished design concerned with oil and the domination of the oil rich Gulf – yet the book reads as though Iraq was the natural outcome of 9/11 rather than Afghanistan.

If we jump forward to 2010 when Cultures of War was published, Iraq remains a pitiful mess, supposedly ruled by the successor government left by the Americans whose combat troops have been withdrawn while 50,000 non-combat? troops remain in the country. In Afghanistan, following the capture and killing of Osama bin Laden, President Obama has finally initiated the withdrawal of US forces and the Americans have at last accepted that no solution will make sense unless they talk with the Taliban.

The book is a major addition to the scholarship and understanding of warfare in its many guises. John Dower is a Pulitzer Prize winner for his book: Embracing defeat: Japan in the Wake of World Wear II.

John W. Dower

W.W. Norton 2010