Useful, Inconvenient History

President Bush cited John Dower regarding the potential for post-war democratization. Bush was using Dower’s Embracing Defeat to ridicule those who believe the occupation of Iraq is failing to achieve a stable or democratic result by citing those who incorrectly believed that creating a liberal democratic state in Japan after WWII was impossible. This is a fairly transparent invocation of the “Galileo Gambit,” pointing out that people have, unsurprisingly, sometimes been wrong about things they felt strongly about and that the people who were right have sometimes been in the minority.

It’s interesting to see the example of Japan coming up again, as it was very commonly cited in the run-up to the Iraq war. John Dower himself, as the article points out, wrote several articles demolishing the idea that Japan was a good analogy to Iraq in this regard.1 Dower has also argued that Iraq is like Manchuria (with the US in the role of Japan) and more likely to be a quagmire than a shining example of modernity.2 The Bush Administration immediately disavowed any endorsement of Dower’s views outside of the citation made by the President, and this kind of historical cherry picking and selective ignorance is all too typical of politicians in general.

It bolsters my complaint from yesterday, though: a better understanding of Asian history generally, and of US involvement in it, would be all to the good, but so often Asia is just a foil, out of context and interesting only insofar as it affects us.

  1. November 2002 and March 2003  

  2. I’ve also made the Manchuria analogy, and it still stands up pretty well, I’m afraid.  

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