John Dower: Prescient & Patriotic

Historians in the News

George W. Bush's invasion of Iraq has proven so colossally counterproductive it almost beggars belief. This is finally, belatedly, reflected across a spectrum of opinion that includes virtually everyone who is not in the Bush inner circle or on the Washington Post editorial board or the Weekly Standard masthead. Speaking for the bedrock institutions of the establishment on The Charlie Rose Show recently, Leslie Gelb, president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations, admitted, "There's no question that it's helped to weaken America's standing in almost every other country in the world. It's just added to the notion of an America out of control, an America that doesn't know how to deal with the world." Jessica Matthews, president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, added, "The war has cost us deeply in credibility, in respect.... even our closest allies don't trust what our next instincts would be."

Ironically, the very same people who counseled us into this catastrophe remain in control of the debate on what is to be done about it. In fact, most of the "liberal hawks" who spent their time attacking not merely the analysis of their more cautious comrades but often their patriotism and intelligence have only seen their prestige and positions enhanced. On Charlie Rose George Packer, who equated warnings of the failure of this benighted enterprise with possession of "second-rate minds," was wondering why Bush was building "these enormous bases that do have the look of permanence. And I don't quite understand why that hasn't been cleared up by the Administration: What are our intentions in the long run in Iraq?" (Hmmm, billions for bases and nothing for reconstruction. George: Does this calculation really require a "first-rate mind"?)

To address this incongruity I've picked a short (representative) Honor Roll of people in a variety of fields whose prescience and patriotism led them to risk their positions and/or prestige in public life to warn their nation of impending catastrophe: ...

John Dower, dean of twentieth-century Japanese historians, joined thirty-five colleagues to warn, in a January 2003 statement, "As students of the Japanese occupation, we believe that the Bush administration's plans for war and occupation in Iraq are a historical mistake and strongly urge the United States to seek a peaceful solution to the present crisis." Dower added in an interview, "We do not have the moral legitimacy we had then, nor do we have the other thing that was present when we occupied Japan--the vision of the American public that we would engage in serious and genuinely democratic nation-building and that we would do this in the context of an international order."
Read entire article at Eric Alterman in the Nation

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