Re Victor Davis Hanson: Caveat Emptor!
January 05, 2009, 04:00 AM
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Israel's Gaza operation gets progressively more gruesome (and proportionately less newsworthy in the eyes of the US MSM). On Sunday, the IDF reported its first fatality; on Monday, three deaths in a friendly fire incident were announced.  This absurd hundreds-to-one kill ratio obviously suggests we are watching a massacre, not a battle.

Which means classicist and National Review star Victor Davis Hanson will be scurrying out of the servants' quarters with the apologia tray very soon.

However, judging by the response to my blog posted on Sunday, a lot of well-informed readers have VDH's number.

(VDARE.COM fairness caveat: VDH does deserve credit for his unique achievement in managing to get the Wall Street Journal to run, not just a review [There, But Only Halfway, By Roger Clegg, June 19, 2003], but a polite review, of his moderately critical book on immigration, Mexifornia).

Thanks, RH, for producing, as I blegged for in my item last night, the vanished link to Gary ["The War Nerd"] Brecher's superb polemic Victor Hanson: Portrait of an American Traitor, The Exile, July 28 2005.

There is a great deal of intelligent military analysis in this essay—Brecher is a true scholar—but he is also a first-class polemical writer:

On Hanson's academic record, Brecher wrote:

"According to his official online bio, Hanson graduated from UC Santa Cruz in 1975. I don't know if you non-Californians understand what that means. UC Santa Cruz is the official sex-and-drugs campus of the whole UC system. It's so hippie-cool and mellow it doesn't even give grades, which are just too bourgeois… graduating from there is like telling your future employers you were stoned for four straight years.

"And Hanson graduated from there in 1975. I can only dream about what it must've been like to be a student at Santa Cruz back then, at the climax of the hippie days. I seriously doubt if anybody on that campus was un-stoned from enrollment to graduation, or un-laid for more than a week."

More seriously, Brecher's conclusion about Hanson:

"I don't really think he's insane - just a traitor, a liar willing to keep shoving American troops and money into a meatgrinder just so he doesn't have to admit he was wrong. Sooner or later we're going to have to face it: these NeoCons don't care about America any more than Stalin cared about Russia. They're not just wrong. They're traitors."

And thanks, GM, for drawing my attention to a later Brecher essay on Hanson: It's All Greek to Victor Davis Hanson, The American Conservative, December 19 2005.

This essay is more focused on Hanson's historical work. Which does have some value, unlike (most of) VDH's public affairs commentary. But Brecher has a devastating comment:

"Hanson ends with the most ridiculous claim of all: America and Athens are 'proud of our arts and letters even as we are more adept at war.' Well, uh, no. I can't believe a classics professor actually wrote that. For one thing, Athenian infantry wasn't very good. The Thebans and Spartans were better, as Hanson himself says several times in this book. But more important, here's a little list of ancient Athenians who are generally considered pretty darn good at 'arts and letters'—Plato, Aristophanes, Sophocles, Euripides, Demosthenes, Lysias, Thucydides, Xenophon, Aristotle … I admit I had to look some of those names up, and I'm not saying I read them—just know their names and a little about their reps. But then I don't put on airs about being an expert on ancient Greece. The fact that Hanson gets away with saying this is as clear an argument as any against the tenure system in our universities."

(Courtesy RH, it appears the whole War Nerd archive is here.)

The full version of The Case of Victor Davis Hanson: Farmer, Scholar, WarMonger, by F. Roger Devlin, The Occidental Quarterly, Winter 2003 tells a sad story of a decline from scholarly grace in what is probably the definitive version from the point of view of Classicism.

"Victor Davis Hanson is a fine military historian of classical Greece.  He knows so little of political theory that he cannot distinguish imperial aggression from its opposite…Hanson…conceives the September 11 attacks as a tactical blunder in a conventional war….This very lack of imagination makes Hanson useful to vested interests…He has ignorant bureaucrats at the Pentagon imagining they enjoy the authority of history for picturing themselves as 'vanquishers of tyranny.'  Our country may be no safer, but Hanson's own reputation has soared among men unable to appreciate his standing as a scholar.  Should his own understanding of terrorism improve, his usefulness to his new friends will vanish precipitously.

 "Prof. Hanson has remained busy producing at least one article per week for National Review Online.  He seems oddly out of place among the professional libelers and callow minds now posing as heirs to that once respectable journal, but …the actual material he now grinds out…contains little argument or analysis of any sort.  Indeed, most of it is mere cheerleading—intended to stir the reader's enthusiasm for whatever line the Bush administration is pushing at the moment."  

Our old friend  from Scotland, Martin Kelly, was also in the field with The Decline and Fall of Victor Hanson, originally on the old Washington Dispatch web site.

"Being a fundamentally fascist philosophy, neoconservatism needs to name scapegoats and make enemies…the worst of all neocons are those who provide it with intellectual legitimacy. For the succor and encouragement he has given the philosophy, Victor Davis Hanson, the smartest neo of them all, is the worst of the worst."

Even earlier, LewRockwell.com carried a powerful essay by Clyde Wilson (The War Lover,  February 17 2003) dealing with a symposium issue of The American Enterprise magazine on the occasion of the release of Robert Maxwell's film Gods and Generals.

Wilson concentrates on VDH's contribution: "A Class War". It presented Sherman's March through Georgia 1864-5 as a glorious procession of valiant freedom-loving democrats, sweeping away wicked and corrupt aristocrats and lovingly liberating delighted slaves. The problem for VDH's account: both sides were extremely literate and left huge quantities of first-hand accounts. As Professor Wilson says,

"You do not have to pay heed to a single Southern testimony to understand what happened on Sherman's March and why. It is all in the letters and diaries of the participants. I urge anyone who lives above the Ohio and Potomac to go to your local historical society or state library and read some of those letters and diaries for yourself."

Sherman's March to the Sea is probably the greatest single stain on the military honor of the U.S. Army. The obvious parallel is the Red Army's move west 1944-5. Except there, the German Army was present to defend its people—in contrast, the Confederate Armies were making a last effort to cut off Sherman's communications in Tennessee. And, come to think of it, Communist accounts of the event no doubt ran along similar lines to Hanson's.

Hanson's account, in short, is, in Clyde Wilson's genteel words

"…a fantasy of righteous virtue and intention that badly distorts the weight of the evidence."

Or, in my non-academic translation, a lie.

Professor Wilson wonders

"…why do so many Americans, or at least American 'spokespersons,' feel compelled to force our history into a pattern of collective self-glorification? All peoples tend to mythologize their important experiences, but it would be hard to find one more self-righteous and uncritical and so much in need of cosmetology as triumphal American exceptionalism"

This is a deep question. (Wilson offers a hypothesis.) I prefer to ask: why does a man who clearly had some intellectual capability and presumably some integrity allow himself to be found mixing and serving the drinks in these neoconservative policy brothels?

Sadly, the answer seems to be: because it pays.

"Victor Davis Hanson emerged from the relative obscurity of his academic post at Fresno State University on September 11, 2001, to become something akin to America's 'Historian-in-Chief'. Spurred by a legion of eager editors, Hanson has translated his expertise in classical military history to the 'War on Terror'." [America's Historian in Chief, by Alan W. Dowd, American Legion Magazine, August 28, 2005]

VDARE.com emphasis.

(Favorite VDH quote from this preening interview session:

"So when we ran such risks, when we obliterated the Taliban in seven weeks and Saddam in three, suddenly there was this spark in the Muslim world and a sense that the autocrats and mass killers were on the wrong side of history."

Hanson is clearly well aware of the fruits of agreeing with City Hall. His Wikipedia entry [January 5, 2009] represents him complaining (in Who Killed Homer)

"Hanson blames the academic classicists themselves for the decline [in classical studies], 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 he feels the classics truly represent."

(Thanks, RC)

Every writer will understand all too well the temptation to jump at the prospect of easy, reliable and effective publication. It hurts to be exiled.

The key reason why VDARE.com decided to publish Steve Sailer's Obama book, The Half Blood Prince, was because we knew orthodox publishers would be highly unlikely to publish such a radical and dissenting work. Not because it wouldn't sell—but because of political prejudice. Hanson's frailties are understandable.

And of course as a hired hand, he could still do good work. The problem is, Hanson does not—at least in the sense of accurate and well-grounded scholarship. What he does provide is slipshod, inaccurate, dishonest, but highly convenient intellectual refreshments to his masters.

And it looks like this January they will need it.

To the Public, as a Classicist might say: Caveat Emptor!

Tell Victor Davis Hanson to improve his act.

(Thanks also to H.)