John Dower was provoked to write this book by the almost instant decision to christen the ruins of the World Trade Center ‘Ground Zero’, a name originally associated with the atomic attacks on Nagasaki and Hiroshima. In observing how the ruin quickly became an icon of American victimhood, he was struck, as a historian, by how little his own countrymen knew of their own terror bombing of Japanese cities in 1944–5, which had culminated in the two atomic attacks. We remember the atom bomb for the iconic photograph of the mushroom cloud, taken by the Enola Gay’s tail-gunner, George Caron. It soon became the logo of fifty-five companies in New York and even, more bizarrely, the Miss Atomic Bomb Pageant in Las Vegas.
Dower’s book opens with the largely unchallenged connection drawn by the US media and the American public between al-Qaeda’s surprise attack and Japan’s ‘day of infamy’ sixty years earlier. It takes the analogy much further, addressing US failures of intelligence and imagination both in 1941 and 2001. The