Rants and Raves

Opinion, commentary, reviews of books, movies, cultural trends, and raising kids in this day and age.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Victor Davis Hanson, historian of war

CORRECTION: The quotes below are from The Peace Racket by Bruce Bawer http://www.brucebawer.com/ I followed the link provided and assumed it was another article of Dr. Hanson's, in spite of the fact that Mr. Bawer's name was at the top. I apologize for my carelessness - and it's still a great article.

"Those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it."

Georges Santayana

"It's not that history repeats itself, it that sometimes she screams "Won't you ever listen to what I'm trying to tell you?" - and lets fly with a club."

John W. Campbell

I hope by now that y'all have some trust in my recommendations of thinkers and writers worth listening to, because I have another one I consider very important.

Victor Davis Hanson is a military historian, and oddly enough a grape farmer in California. He publishes in a lot of places, but if you go to his personal website here http://www.victorhanson.com/ most of his stuff gets posted there eventually.

If you are a history buff, his books are both informative and readable. His latest is A War Like No Other: How the Athenians and Spartans Fought the Peloponesian War. I personally recommend Carnage and Culture to begin with.

If you go here http://www.city-journal.org/html/17_3_military_history.html you'll find his latest article Why Study War? a justification for military history studies, now almost vanished from American academics, to what may be our lasting regret in the future.

If you like it, you'll want to follow the link to The Peace Racket (by Bruce Bawer.)

Dr. Hanson is a supporter of the Iraq war and President Bush - and a registered Democrat. Now semi-retired from teaching, he's managing his family farm and writing.

Unlike many academics who consider unreadable prose a sign of sophistication, Hanson writes with directness and clarity.

"For the cold war’s real lesson is the same one that Sun Tzu and Vegetius taught: conflict happens; power matters. It’s better to be strong than to be weak; you’re safer if others know that you’re ready to stand up for yourself than if you’re proudly outspoken about your defenselessness or your unwillingness to fight. There’s nothing mysterious about this truth. Yet it’s denied not only by the (Oslo Nobel) Peace Center film but also by the fast-growing, troubling movement that the center symbolizes and promotes."
Bruce Bawer

To those of us who have worked with our hands running the gritty infrastructure of civilization*, this seems to be a self-evident truth of human nature. Yet we are daily confronted with the obvious fact that to many of the most affluent and well-educated members of our civilization it is not evident at all.

George Orwell would have understood the attraction of privileged young people to the Peace Racket. “Turn-the-other-cheek pacifism,” he observed in 1941, “only flourishes among the more prosperous classes, or among workers who have in some way escaped from their own class. The real working class . . . are never really pacifist, because their life teaches them something different. To abjure violence it is necessary to have no experience of it.”
Bruce Bawer http://www.brucebawer.com/

Like other philosophical farmers such as Hesiod or Robert Burns, his works may outlast his civilization. And if enough of our people read, discuss and debate what he has to say, we may get to keep our civilization a while longer.

* I spent a total of six years working as a garbageman, another half-dozen as a sewage treatment plant worker. I've also bucked hay in harvest season and worked in construction (semi-skilled jobs). And though it's a common stereotype it's a valid one, if you really want insights into people try being a bartender.


  • At 1:22 PM, Blogger Jim Sullivan said…

    Military History is a hobby of mine as is wargaming. So, I'll be sure to check out more of Mr. Hanson.

    But I would like to point out that you wrote this...

    "Unlike many academics who consider unreadable prose a sign of sophistication..."

    That is dead on and I have long looked for a way to state that in so few words.

  • At 2:22 PM, Blogger Brian Dunbar said…

    Unlike many academics who consider unreadable prose a sign of sophistication, Hanson writes with directness and clarity. In one paragraph he outlines where he's coming from.

    The quoted paragraph is from 'The Peace Racket', credited to Bruce Bawer.

    I think you're right about Hanson - he's readable and this, to some, this is a Bad Thing.

    Perhaps some people who are unable to write with clarity despise those that can. You can see attitude on the assembly line and in real life - why should academics be immune to normal human emotion?

  • At 5:35 PM, Blogger Steve Browne said…

    Thank you gentlemen. I'm sure we all agree that we must endeavor to eschew obfuscation.

  • At 3:05 PM, Blogger gun-totin-wacko said…

    I listened to a clip of an interview from NPR a few weeks ago (had just finished "Carnage and Culture"). It was VDH against the guy that wrote "Guns, germs and steel". (apparently they have a bit of an intellectual feud going on). I thought VDH was more interesting and his points were better.

    And yes, he's one of my favorite authors.

  • At 8:28 PM, Blogger Steve Browne said…

    Actually I think Jared Diamond has a lot to say worth listening to as well.

    As I understand, their differences largely revolve around Diamond's later book Collapse - which I haven't read yet.

    Diamond seems to focus largely on constraints environment puts on culture, Hanson on the choices that cultures make.

    Like all non-trivial questions the answer seems to be "yes".

    Environment does indeed limit the range of choices available - but within those limits those choices are crucial to the future developement of cultures.

    It's difficult to see how Eskimos could have developed a techological civilization with the resources available to them, but once confronted with one, they seem to have adapted reasonably well. I've read that some observes say they seem to have a knack for auto mechanics.

  • At 4:13 PM, Blogger Clovis Sangrail said…

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  • At 4:16 PM, Blogger Clovis Sangrail said…

    What do you mean by suggesting that Robert Burns' writing has outlived his civilisation? It hasn't yet.

    With that small exception, I applaud what you say.

  • At 9:52 AM, Blogger Steve Browne said…

    OK not his civilization in the broad sense, but heelan ways as such, are nae mair.

    Stephen Browne
    Clan MacNab
    sept Gilfillan

    Gan Eagal!
    Timor Omnis Abesto
    Dread nought


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