Three Books by Victor Davis Hanson
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Many theories have been offered regarding why Western culture has spread so successfully across the world, with arguments ranging from genetics to superior technology to the creation of enlightened economic, moral, and political systems. In Carnage and Culture, military historian Victor Hanson takes all of these factors into account in making a bold, and sure to be controversial, argument: Westerners are more effective killers. Focusing specifically on military power rather than the nature of Western civilization in general, Hanson views war as the ultimate reflection of a society's character: "There is…a cultural crystallization in battle, in which the insidious and more subtle institutions that heretofore are murky and undefined became stark and unforgiving in the finality of organized killing."
Though technological advances and superior weapons have certainly played a role in Western military dominance, Hanson posits that cultural distinctions are the most significant factors. By bringing personal freedom, discipline, and organization to the battlefield, powerful "marching democracies" were more apt to defeat non-Western nations hampered by unstable governments, limited funding, and intolerance of open discussion. These crucial differences often ensured victory even against long odds. Greek armies, for instance, who elected their own generals and freely debated strategy were able to win wars even when far outnumbered and deep within enemy territory. Hanson further argues that granting warriors control of their own destinies results in the kind of glorification of horrific hand-to-hand combat necessary for true domination.
The nine battles Hanson examines include the Greek naval victory against the Persians at Salamis in 480 B.C., Cortes's march on Mexico City in 1521, the battle of Midway in 1942, and the 1968 Tet Offensive in Vietnam. In the book's fascinating final chapter, he then looks forward and ponders the consequences of a complete cultural victory, challenging the widespread belief that democratic nations do not wage war against one another: "We may well be all Westerners in the millennium to come, and that could be a very dangerous thing indeed," he writes. It seems the West will always seek an enemy, even if it must come from within. --Shawn Carkonen
From Publishers Weekly
"The Western way of war is so lethal precisely because it is so amoral shackled rarely by concerns of ritual, tradition, religion, or ethics, by anything other than military necessity." Ranging from Salamis in 480 B.C. to the Tet offensive in Vietnam, Hanson, a California State at Fresno classics professor, expands the scope of his The Western Way of War: Infantry Battle in Classical Greece, offering a provocative look at occidental aggression as illustrated by nine paradigmatic battles between Western and non-Western armies. Hanson sheds the overly romanticized view of battles as nationalist or ethnic honorifics and vividly portrays the deadly killing machines Western powers evolved for the destruction of non-Western opponents. Throughout, Hanson stresses the technology based lethality of Western warfare, and the role of individual initiative as opposed to the more collectivist strategies of the Persians, Carthaginians, Arabs, Turks, Aztecs, Zulus, Japanese and Vietnamese opponents who get a chapter apiece. The single Western defeat chronicled in these pages, of the Romans in Cannae in 216 B.C., shows a victorious Hannibal unable to capitalize on his win. (The idea of the citizen/soldier, the role of civic militarism and the republican ideals of Rome seem to be the reasons why not.) A number of Hanson's conclusions will engender debate, such as his claim that America won in Vietnam, but failed to recognize it, as well as the larger claim that "free markets, free elections, and free speech" have led directly to superior forces. The book's last few chapters are fairly driven by that idea, which, along with precise, forceful writing, sets it apart from the season's secondary-sourced, battle-based military histories. (Aug.)Forecast: Hanson's direct, literate style and his evenhandedness should appeal to the liberalist middle of the left and right alike. By isolating the ingredients of military success via elaborate examples, the book can potentially draw on two separate military-history readerships: those looking for theory and those for action.
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
A War Like No Other
From Publishers Weekly
Hanson (Warfare and Agriculture in Classical Greece, etc.) presents an elegant, lucidly written analysis of the 27-year civil war, a "colossal absurdity," that ended in Athens's 5th-century B.C. loss to Sparta and the depletion of centuries of material and intellectual wealth. Hanson deftly chronicles these destructive decades, from the conflict's roots (e.g., the fundamental mutual suspicion between Athens and Sparta) to its legacy (the evolution of the nature of war to something "more deadly, amorphous, and concerned with the ends rather than the ethical means"). Hanson considers the war's economic aspects and the ruinous plague that struck Athens before delving into his discussion of warfare. He offers a tour de force analysis of hoplite (or infantry) combat, guerrilla tactics, siege operations and sea battles in the Aegean. Though landlocked Sparta ultimately brought down Athens's once-great naval fleet and replaced democracy with oligarchy by 404 B.C., Hanson complicates the received notion of a lost Hellenic Golden Age. Throughout this trenchant military and cultural history, he draws parallels between the Peloponnesian War and modern-day conflicts from WWII to the Cold War and Vietnam. Across the centuries, these are lessons worth remembering. (Oct.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
*Starred Review* Classics professor Hanson is also, like generations of his family before him, a fruit farmer in California's central valley. He has employed immigrants, seen them flood his community during the last 30 years of mass flight from Mexico, and endured the crime associated with illegal immigrants. Hanson is immensely sympathetic to poor Mexicans, however, and the most powerful chapter here outlines the harried life of the illegal alien. But he hates to see the ordered culture in which he grew up drowned by an alien inundation whose undeserving beneficiaries are Mexico's kleptocratic rulers, for whom an open border is a safety valve expelling the potential for democratic change. The four solutions to the mess that Hanson enumerates include continuing de facto open borders but insisting on rapid acculturation; patrolling the border effectively and reducing legal immigration; imposing "sweeping restrictions on immigration" and ending Mexican chauvinism in the U.S.; and allowing present policies to make California increasingly mirror an unreformed Mexico. Hanson thinks that the U.S. "still need not do everything right" to prevent social collapse in the Southwest and that the totalitarian uniformity of valueless mass culture may soften that collapse. He also sees very clearly what has brought this crisis on: the American globalist ideology's lust for cheap labor and emphasis on "raw inclusiveness" instead of "standards and taste." Ray Olson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
"Hanson's 'Mexifornia' is that rare book that combines scholarship with personal experience to provide genuine insight into a complex issue." -- Linda Chavez, author of An Unlikely Conservative
"Victor Davis Hanson brings a lifetime of experience in California's Central Valley to this indictment of multiculturalism and mass immigration." -- Mark Krikorian, Center for Immigration Studies
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