John Dower is one the most preeminent historians of World War II’s Pacific theatre and the aftermath of the conflict in Asia. His book War Without Mercy (1986) described the racial component of the U.S. campaign against Japan. In Embracing Defeat (1999), he examined the post-war U.S. occupation of Japan. He has long taken a critical look at U.S. foreign policy, subjecting the vaunted ideals of America’s global pretensions to sceptical scrutiny. He’s not interested in “good wars” or “good occupations.” He describes the exercise of power, and it’s almost never a pretty picture.
In recent years, Dower has been extending his critical analysis both chronologically and geographically. Cultures of War (2010) was an initial effort to link the violence of World War II to 9/11 and the Iraq War. Now, with The Violent American Century, Dower deepens his analysis by addressing the emergence and expansion of American global power all the way up to the Obama era. Dower is particularly interested in connecting the dots between the United States that emerged victorious from World War II and the America of the 21st century that appears willing to do almost anything to maintain its status as the world’s only superpower.
Dower begins his story just at the moment when the United States is poised to become a global titan. It’s 1941, the year the United States officially entered World War II. It’s also when Time’s Henry Luce proclaimed the beginning of “the American century.” For all his talk of democratic principles and the American spirit, Luce was not naïve. He knew that America would have to use force – in some cases, overwhelming force – to establish its global position. The saturation bombing of Dresden and Tokyo followed by the nuclear attacks against Nagasaki and Hiroshima became the pivotal moments of “war and terror” on which the United States would secure its authority.