Victor Davis Hanson
|Victor Davis Hanson|
September 5, 1953 |
Fowler, California, U.S.
|Occupation||Writer, Historian, Farmer|
|Subject||Military history, Classics|
Victor Davis Hanson (born September 5, 1953) is an American military historian, columnist, former classics professor, and scholar of ancient warfare. He has been a commentator on modern warfare and contemporary politics for National Review and other media outlets. He was a professor of classics at California State University, Fresno, and is currently the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution. He has been a visiting professor at Hillsdale College since 2004.  Hanson is perhaps best known for his 2001 book, Carnage and Culture.
Hanson was awarded the National Humanities Medal in 2007 by President George W. Bush. Hanson is also a farmer (growing raisin grapes on a family farm in Selma, California) and a critic of social trends related to farming and agrarianism.
Early life, education and today
Hanson, who is of Swedish descent, grew up on a family farm at Selma, in the San Joaquin Valley of California. His mother was a lawyer and judge, his father an educator and college administrator. Hanson's father and uncle played college football at the College of the Pacific under Amos Alonzo Stagg. Along with his older brother Nils and fraternal twin Alfred, Hanson attended public schools and graduated from Selma High School. Hanson received his BA from the University of California, Santa Cruz, in 1975 and his PhD in classics from Stanford University in 1980. He is a Protestant Christian.
Hanson is currently a Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution and Fellow in California Studies at the Claremont Institute, and professor emeritus at California State University, Fresno, where he began teaching in 1984, having created the classics program at that institution.
In 1991 Hanson was awarded an American Philological Association's Excellence in Teaching Award, which is awarded to undergraduate teachers of Greek and Latin. He has been a visiting professor of classics at Stanford University (1991–92), National Endowment for the Humanities fellow at the Center for Advanced Studies in the Behavioral Sciences, Stanford, California (1992–93), as well as holding the visiting Shifrin Chair of Military History at the U.S. Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland (2002–03).
Hanson writes a weekly column syndicated by Tribune Media Services, and has been published in The New York Times, American Heritage, and The New Criterion, among other publications. In 2006, he started blogging at PJ Media. In 2007, he was awarded the National Humanities Medal by President George W. Bush.
Hanson cites the Theban general and statesman Epaminondas, Winston Churchill, and the US generals William Tecumseh Sherman and George Patton as his heroes. In the field of military history, Hanson cites John Keegan as being influential, and shares a mutual admiration with fellow classicist Donald Kagan and the historian Steven Ozment.
Carnage and Culture
Hanson is perhaps best known for his 2001 book, Carnage and Culture, published in some nations (e.g. Australia) as Why the West Has Won, in which he argued that the military dominance of Western Civilization, beginning with the ancient Greeks, is the result of certain fundamental aspects of Western culture, such as consensual government and individualism. Hanson rejects racial explanations for this military preeminence, and disagrees as well with environmental or geographical explanations such as put forth by Jared Diamond in Guns, Germs and Steel.
According to Hanson, Western values such as political freedom, capitalism, individualism, democracy, scientific inquiry, rationalism, and open debate form an especially lethal combination when applied to warfare. Non-Western societies can win the occasional victory when warring against a society with these Western values, writes Hanson, but the "Western way of war" will prevail in the long run. Hanson emphasizes that Western warfare is not necessarily more (or less) moral than war as practiced by other cultures; his argument is simply that the "Western way of war" is unequalled in its devastation and decisiveness.
Carnage and Culture examines nine battles throughout history, each of which is used to illustrate a particular aspect of Western culture that Hanson believes contributes to the dominance of Western warfare. The battles or campaigns recounted (with themes in parenthesis) are the Battle of Salamis (480 BC; free citizens), the Battle of Gaugamela (331 BC; the decisive battle of annihilation), the Battle of Cannae (216 BC; civic militarism), the Battle of Tours/Poitiers (732; infantry), the Battle of Tenochtitlan (1521; technology and reason), the Battle of Lepanto (1571; capitalism), the Battle of Rorke's Drift (1879; discipline), the Battle of Midway (1942; individualism), and the Tet Offensive (1968; dissent).
Though Carnage and Culture appeared before the September 11, 2001 attacks, its message that the "Western way of war" will ultimately prevail made the book a best-seller in the wake of those events. Immediately after 9/11, Carnage and Culture was re-issued with a new afterword by Hanson in which he explicitly stated that the United States government would win its "War on Terror" for the reasons stated in the book.
United States education and classical studies
Hanson co-authored the book Who Killed Homer? with John Heath. This book explores the issue of how classical education has declined in the US and what might be done to restore it to its former place. This is important, according to Hanson and Heath, because knowledge of the classical Greeks and Romans is necessary to fully understand Western culture. To begin a discussion along these lines the authors state, "The answer to why the world is becoming Westernized goes all the way back to the wisdom of the Greeks—reason enough why we must not abandon the study of our heritage".
Hanson and Heath blame the academic classicists themselves for the decline, accusing them of becoming so infected with political correctness and postmodern thinking, not to mention egoism and money-grubbing (grants, visiting professorships, conference-hopping, promotion based on unreadable publications), that they have lost sight of what Hanson and Heath feel the classics truly represent. They say it this way, "the study of Greek in the last twenty years became a profession, a tiny world—but a world of sorts nonetheless—of jets, conferences, publicity, jargon, and perks".
Victoria Cech and Joy Connolly have found the books to have considerable pitfalls. Reviews of the book have noted several problems with the authors' perception of classical culture.
Per Victoria Cech, Director of Grants & Program Development,
|“||One example is the relation of the individual to the state and the "freedom" of belief or of inquiry in each. Socrates and Jesus were put to death by their respective states for articulating inconvenient doctrines. In Sparta, where the population of citizens (male) were carefully socialized in a military system, no one seems to have differed from the majority enough to merit the death penalty. But these differences are not sorted out by the authors, for their mission is to build an ideal structure of classical attitudes by which to reveal our comparative flaws, and their point is more what is wrong with us than what was right with Athens. I contend that Hanson and Heath are actually comparing modern academia not to the ancient seminal cultures but to the myth that arose about them over the last couple of millenia:.||”|
Per Joy Connolly, Professor of Classics at New York University,
|“||Throughout history, the authors say, women have never enjoyed equal rights and responsibilities. At least in Greece, "the veiled, mutilated, and secluded were not the norm" (Page 57). Why waste time, then, as feminist scholarship does, "merely demarcating the exact nature of the sexism of the Greeks and the West" (Page 102)? From their point of view, in fact, the real legacy of feminism is the destruction of the values of family and community"||”|
Hanson also writes a weekly column, for the National Review and has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary,, City Journal, The American Spectator, Policy Review, the Claremont Review of Books, and The Weekly Standard. Hanson was awarded the Claremont Institute's Statesmanship Award at its annual Churchill Dinner, and the $250,000 Bradley prize from the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation in 2008.
He has been described as a neoconservative by some commentators, and has stated that: "I came to support neocon approaches first in the wars against the Taliban and Saddam, largely because I saw little alternative." Hanson writes: "The Democratic Party reminds me of the Republicans circa 1965 or so – impotent, shrill, no ideas, conspiratorial, reactive, out-of-touch with most Americans, isolationist, and full of embarrassing spokesmen."
Hanson was a strong defender of George W. Bush and his policies, especially the Iraq war. He was also a vocal supporter of Bush's Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Hanson wrote of Rumsfeld that he was: "a rare sort of secretary of the caliber of George Marshall" and a "proud and honest-speaking visionary" whose "hard work and insight are bringing us ever closer to victory".
On the issues pertaining to the constant political turmoil in the Middle East, Hanson emphasises the lack of individual and political freedom in many Middle Eastern nations as a major factor retarding economic, technological and cultural progress. He further relates the root cause of radical Islamic terrorism to insecurities and a need to regain honor and pride.
Hanson believed that the Iraq War was a good and worthwhile undertaking and was, on the whole, a laudable success. However, he stated in 2008 that he "disagreed with many of the decisions made about the Iraq war," such as the dissolution of the old Iraqi army.
In his article Israel did it, Hanson asks why Israel was being blamed for responding to attacks by Hezbollah and Hamas that shelled Israel for a few months with deadly rockets while the world was watching indifferently. He explains that if there were not so many civilian casualties inside Israel, it was not from the lack of trying: "Israel was to be blamed because its hundreds of air strikes against combatants were lethal, while Hezbollah was to be excused for shooting off thousands of rockets aimed at civilians because of its relative incompetence."
Hanson also questions how it is that "Jimmy Carter, silent about Iran's latest promotion for its planned holocaust, is hawking his latest book – in typical fashion, sorta, kinda alleging that the Israelis are like the South Africans in perpetuating an apartheid state, that they are cruel to many Christians, and, as occupiers, are understandably the targets of suicide bombers and other terrorist killers."
Confrontation with Iran
Hanson has argued that the US should take a much more confrontational stance towards Iran, advocating unilateral responses to the country. On the Hugh Hewitt show in August 2007, Hanson stated: "We really need to start doing some things beyond talking, and if that is going into Iranian airspace, or buzzing Iranians, or even starting to forget where the border is and taking out some of these training camps, we need to do that and send a message, because they’re a paper tiger. They really are."
- Warfare and Agriculture in Classical Greece. University of California Press, 1983. ISBN 0-520-21025-5
- The Western Way of War: Infantry Battle in Classical Greece. Alfred A. Knopf, 1989. ISBN 0-394-57188-6
- Hoplites: The Classical Greek Battle Experience, editor, Routledge, 1991. ISBN 0-415-04148-1
- The Other Greeks: The Family Farm and the Agrarian Roots of Western Civilization, Free Press, 1995. ISBN 0-02-913751-9
- Fields Without Dreams: Defending the Agrarian Idea, Free Press, 1996. ISBN 0-684-82299-7
- Who Killed Homer?: The Demise of Classical Education and the Recovery of Greek Wisdom, with John Heath, Encounter Books, 2001. ISBN 1-893554-26-0
- The Soul of Battle: From Ancient Times to the Present Day, How Three Great Liberators Vanquished Tyranny, Free Press, 1999. ISBN 0-684-84502-4
- The Wars of the Ancient Greeks: And the Invention of Western Military Culture, Cassell, 1999. ISBN 0-304-35222-5
- The Land Was Everything: Letters from an American Farmer, Free Press, 2000. ISBN 0-684-84501-6
- Bonfire of the Humanities: Rescuing the Classics in an Impoverished Age, with John Heath and Bruce S. Thornton, ISI Books, 2001. ISBN 1-882926-54-4
- Carnage and Culture: Landmark Battles in the Rise of Western Power, Doubleday, 2001. ISBN 0-385-50052-1
- Published in the UK as Why the West Has Won: Carnage and Culture from Salamis to Vietnam, Faber, 2001. ISBN 0-571-20417-1
- An Autumn of War: What America Learned from September 11 and the War on Terrorism, Anchor Books, 2002. ISBN 1-4000-3113-3
- A collection of essays, mostly from National Review, covering events occurring between September 11, 2001 and January 2002
- Mexifornia: A State of Becoming, Encounter Books, 2003. ISBN 1-893554-73-2
- Ripples of Battle: How Wars Fought Long Ago Still Determine How We Fight, How We Live, and How We Think, Doubleday, 2003. ISBN 0-385-50400-4
- Between War and Peace: Lessons from Afghanistan and Iraq, Random House, 2004. ISBN 0-8129-7273-2
- A collection of essays, mostly from National Review, covering events occurring between January 2002 and July 2003
- A War Like No Other: How the Athenians and Spartans Fought the Peloponnesian War, Random House, 2005. ISBN 1-4000-6095-8
- The Father of Us All: War and History, Ancient and Modern, Bloomsbury Press, 2010. ISBN 978-1-60819-165-9
- The End of Sparta: A Novel, Bloomsbury Press, 2011. ISBN 978-1-60819-164-2
- The Savior Generals: How Five Great Commanders Saved Wars That Were Lost – From Ancient Greece to Iraq, Bloomsbury Press, 2013. ISBN 978-1-6081-9163-5
- "Works and Days: Back to the Future?" by Victor Davis Hanson, PajamasMedia.org, August 29, 2006[dead link]
- 2007 National Humanities Medal winners at the National Endowment for the Humanities' website
- Hanson, Victor Davis (2003). Ripples of Battle. Anchor Books. p. 7. ISBN 0-385-72194-3.
- "VDH Private Papers" Victor Davis Hanson website, accessed August 8, 2010[dead link]
- "Do We Want Mexifornia?", Victor Davis Hanson, City Journal, Spring 2002
- "Classical Studies Program", California State University, Fresno
- Decline And Fall: A review of Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed by Victor Davis Hanson, National Review Magazine, May 20, 2005[dead link]
- Victor Davis Hanson and John Heath, Who Killed Homer? The Demise of Classical Education and the Recovery of Greek Wisdom (San Francisco: Encounter Books, 2001), 28.
- Victor Davis Hanson and John Heath, Who Killed Homer? The Demise of Classical Education and the Recovery of Greek Wisdom (San Francisco: Encounter Books, 2001), 157.
- "Who Killed Homer?". The Montana Professor.
- "Victor Davis Hanson and John Heath, Who Killed Homer? The Demise of Classical Education and the Recovery of Greek Wisdom". Bryn Mawr Classical Review.
- Interview, Proceedings, March 2003
- 2008 Bradley Prize Winners at The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation's website[dead link]
- Bush pulls neocons out of the shadows Los Angeles Times, January 22, 2005
- The end of the neo-cons? BBC News, February 9, 2009
- The Neocon Slur, Victor Davis Hanson, July 12, 2008 (originally posted at Hanson's Works and Days blog)[dead link]
- Question Log on Hanson's website, February 2005[dead link]
- On Loathing Bush – It’s not about what he does, Victor Davis Hanson, National Review, August 13, 2004[dead link]
- Myth or Reality – Will Iraq work? That’s up to us, Victor Davis Hanson, National Review, April 23, 2004[dead link]
- Leave Rumsfeld Be – He is not to blame for our difficulties, Victor Davis Hanson, National Review, December 23, 2004[dead link]
- It's not just about land by Victor Davis Hanson, Jewish World Review, August 3, 2006
- Victor Davis Hanson (December 15, 2006). "Israel did it!". National Review.
- Hugh Hewitt Show transcript, August 13, 2007[dead link]
- Fredric Smoler "Study of the War on Terrorism: The View from 400 B.C.," American Heritage, Nov./Dec. 2006.
- Victor Davis Hanson's Private Papers — Hanson's website; carries columns and essays by Hanson and colleagues
- Hanson's National Review articles — archive at National Review Online
- Hoover Institution bio
- Claremont Institute bio
- The Sage of Fresno by Jonathan Kay, a media fellow at the Hoover Institution
- Association for the Study of the Middle East and Africa (ASMEA)
- When Superpowers Lose — a review of Carnage and Culture from a socialist perspective
- Thucydides vs. Victor Davis Hanson — article by John Taylor, who questions Hanson's scholarship and intellectual rigor
- Booknotes interview with Hanson on Mexifornia: A State of Becoming, September 28, 2003.
- In Depth interview with Hanson March 7, 2004
- Interview with Rightwing News, Hanson discusses America's most controversial wars