John Dower: Bush use of quote 'perverse'





A historian quoted by President Bush to help argue that critics of the administration’s Iraq policy echo those who questioned the U.S. effort to bring democracy to Japan after World War II angrily distanced himself from the president’s remarks Thursday.

“They [war supporters] keep on doing this,” said MIT professor John Dower. “They keep on hitting it and hitting it and hitting it and it’s always more and more implausible, strange and in a fantasy world. They’re desperately groping for a historical analogy, and their uses of history are really perverse.”

In a speech on Wednesday, Bush quoted “one historian” as suggesting that foreign policy experts – and, by implication, critics of Bush’s approach to Iraq – aren’t always right. “An interesting observation, one historian put it, ‘Had these erstwhile experts’ — he was talking about people criticizing the efforts to help Japan realize the blessings of a free society — he said, ‘Had these erstwhile experts had their way, the very notion of inducing a democratic revolution would have died of ridicule at an early stage.’ ”

A search of Google books revealed that the “one historian” is Dower. The quote is from his book, “Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II,” which won the National Book Award and the Bancroft Prize, among other awards, in 1999.

Dower was decidedly unhappy with his 15 minutes of fame. “I have always said as a historian that the use of Japan [in arguing for the likelihood of successfully bringing democracy to Iraq] is a misuse of history,” he said when notified of the Bush quote.

He immediately directed me to a November 2002 New York Times op-ed where he outlined 10 reasons why “most of the factors that contributed to the success of nation-building in occupied Japan would be absent in an Iraq militarily defeated by the United States.”

In March 2003, Dower wrote an essay for Boston Review, entitled “A Warning From History: Don’t Expect Democracy in Iraq.”

And what about the specific quote Bush used – that experts on Japan were wrong about the country’s capability for democracy?

“Whoever pulled that quote out for him [Bush] is very clever,” Dower said, acknowledging that “if you listen to the experts prior to the invasion of Japan, they all said that Japan can’t become democratic.”

But there are major differences, Dower said. “I’m not being misquoted, but I’m being misrepresented.”

“In the case of Iraq,” Dower said, “the administration went in there without any of the kind of preparation, thoughtfulness, understanding of the country they were going into that did exist when we went into Japan. Even if the so-called experts said we couldn’t do it, there were years of mid-level planning and discussions before they went in. They were prepared. They laid out a very clear agenda at an early date.”

White House spokesman Tony Fratto said that Bush used Dower’s quote “to in no way endorse his view of Iraq, only his view of Japan.”


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