Victor Davis Hanson Private Papers

From An Angry Reader:

Mr. Hanson,

I read your opinion piece in Newsweek and wanted to respond.

I wish you’d included numbers, information on programs and systems, budget levels, and other trends, rather than just a few quotes. Funding within the DoD always fluctuates, given whatever is the shiny new toy of the moment (it was drones for a few years, for instance), but missile defense has always gotten plenty of money.

While there were plenty of detractors, missile defense was still given more priority than a lot of other programs before the never-ending war on terror began in the early 2000s. That’s when the DoD’s focus and funding shifted to aviation (drones, helicopters, etc.), ground vehicles, networks, and other systems that needed improvements, innovation, maintenance, etc.—because those are the capabilities needed for the current conflicts. One could say that’s shortsighted, but the U.S. got here by getting into a war with no predefined strategy or exit criteria (very shortsighted), so we all have to play the hand we’re dealt.

There is simply not enough money to go around. It’s not because of Congressional budget levels (and I’m not sure I understand the finger-pointing at “liberals,” given that Republicans have controlled fiscal spending for at least half of the past 30+ years). It’s because there is literally not enough money in America’s coffers to pay for the kind of military expenditure the country seems to expect. Wars are expensive, and long wars are basically black holes sucking in all resources that get anywhere close.

Building and testing missile defense systems is, likewise, extremely expensive. Defense contractors charge the Government ungodly amounts of money for systems that repeatedly fail to work as promised. And yes, that’s a systemic problem that needs to be addressed, but reining in free-market capitalism in the military-industrial complex takes a lot of time and requires political backing to put regulations in place. Contractors don’t like to have their hands tied, and they have well-paid lobbyists, so…we know how this story ends.

Also, to be fair, it is unbelievably freaking hard to develop a missile interceptor, especially one that’s effective in the midcourse phase. There’s a reason why we have the lower tier (PATRIOT) and upper tier (THAAD) fairly well covered with proven missile defense, but not midcourse yet. And those systems that work take years, if not decades, of development and testing to reach full operational capability. PATRIOT, which of course made its battleground debut in Desert Storm, was being developed under the program name SAM-D in the late 1960s.

Plus, I feel like people operate under the delusion that, even if we did have a fully operational midcourse missile defense system, it would be 100% effective. An intercept rate of about 70% or more is considered really successful. This is, in fact, rocket science. Actually, it’s more difficult than your everyday rocket science.

There are a lot of factors at play when it comes to this issue. I think it’s unfair, incorrect, and misleading to say or imply that past administrations, Congresses, and the DoD have somehow ignored missile defense, and that the reason we don’t currently have a reliable “missile shield” is because no one cared enough to fund it.


Whitney Hedges


Victor Davis Hanson’s Reply:

Dear Angry Reader Whitney Hedges,

All of what you say—missile defense is expensive, often without surety of hitting the target, and embedded in opportunistic politics—has elements of truth. But in comparison to what?

For a variety of avoidable decisions, we are now on the eve of a North Korean nuclear-tipped missile capability of reaching the West Coast. I simply quoted in my essay past statements, whether Walter Mondale’s dismissal of missile defense as a “hoax,” or Clinton Defense Secretary Perry’s belief that it was not necessary to provide missile defense against a someday nuclear North Korea, or Barack Obama’s hot mic promise to Russian President Medvedev to be “flexible” on Eastern European missile defense agendas (cancelled by Obama)—if Putin would give him “space” during his reelection efforts in 2012.

Is your argument that those quotations are wrong? Or that Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush likewise had no interest in pursuing missile defense?

Note that in my piece I did not suggest missile defense was ever a sure thing. But when faced with North Korea, and the specter of losing a U.S. city, all sorts of things that in the past were considered “problematic” become preferable to the alternatives.

A costly system that offers only a 60% likelihood of knocking down an incoming nuclear missile is preferable to nothing, and I confess also preferable to spending commensurate funds on further entitlements, which will be unnecessary if we are hit by enemy nuclear missiles.


Victor Hanson

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About victorhanson

Victor Davis Hanson is the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow in Residence in Classics and Military History at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, a professor of Classics Emeritus at California State University, Fresno, and a nationally syndicated columnist for Tribune Media Services. He is also the Wayne & Marcia Buske Distinguished Fellow in History, Hillsdale College, where he teaches each fall semester courses in military history and classical culture. He recently published an historical novel The End of Sparta (2012), a realistic retelling of Epaminondas invasion and liberation of Spartan-control Messenia. In The Father of Us All (2011), he collected earlier essays on warfare ancient and modern. His upcoming history The Savior Generals(2013) analyzes how five generals in the history of the West changed the course of battles against all odds. He was awarded the National Humanities Medal in 2007 and the Bradley Prize in 2008. Hanson, who was the fifth successive generation to live in the same house on his family’s farm, was a full-time orchard and vineyard grower from 1980-1984, before joining the nearby CSU Fresno campus in 1984 to initiate a classical languages program. In 1991, he was awarded an American Philological Association Excellence in Teaching Award, which is given yearly to the country’s top undergraduate teachers of Greek and Latin. Hanson has been a National Endowment for the Humanities fellow at the Center for Advanced Studies in the Behavioral Sciences, Stanford, California (1992-93), a visiting professor of classics at Stanford University (1991-92), a recipient of the Eric Breindel Award for opinion journalism (2002), an Alexander Onassis Fellow (2001), and was named alumnus of the year of the University of California, Santa Cruz (2002). He was also the visiting Shifrin Professor of Military History at the U.S. Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland (2002-3). He received the Manhattan Institute’s Wriston Lectureship in 2004, and the 2006 Nimitz Lectureship in Military History at UC Berkeley in 2006. Hanson is the author of hundreds of articles, book reviews, scholarly papers, and newspaper editorials on matters ranging from ancient Greek, agrarian and military history to foreign affairs, domestic politics, and contemporary culture. He has written or edited 17 books, including Warfare and Agriculture in Classical Greece (1983; paperback ed. University of California Press, 1998); The Western Way of War (Alfred Knopf, 1989; 2d paperback ed. University of California Press, 2000); Hoplites: The Ancient Greek Battle Experience (Routledge, 1991; paperback., 1992); The Other Greeks: The Family Farm and the Agrarian Roots of Western Civilization(Free Press, 1995; 2nd paperback ed., University of California Press, 2000);Fields without Dreams: Defending the Agrarian Idea (Free Press, 1996; paperback, Touchstone, 1997; The Bay Area Book reviewers Non-fiction winner for 1996); The Land Was Everything: Letters from an American Farmer (Free Press, 2000; a Los Angeles Times Notable book of the year); The Wars of the Ancient Greeks (Cassell, 1999; paperback, 2001); The Soul of Battle (Free Press, 1999, paperback, Anchor/Vintage, 2000); Carnage and Culture (Doubleday, 2001; Anchor/Vintage, 2002; a New York Times bestseller); An Autumn of War (Anchor/Vintage, 2002); Mexifornia: A State of Becoming (Encounter, 2003),Ripples of Battle (Doubleday, 2003), and Between War and Peace (Random House, 2004). A War Like No Other: How the Athenians and Spartans Fought the Peloponnesian War, was published by Random House in October 2005. It was named one of the New York Times Notable 100 Books of 2006. Hanson coauthored, with John Heath, Who Killed Homer? The Demise of Classical Education and the Recovery of Greek Wisdom (Free Press, 1998; paperback, Encounter Press, 2000); with Bruce Thornton and John Heath, Bonfire of the Humanities (ISI Books, 2001); and with Heather MacDonald, and Steven Malanga, The Immigration Solution: A Better Plan Than Today’s (Ivan Dee 2007). He edited a collection of essays on ancient warfare, Makers of Ancient Strategy (Princeton University Press, 2010). Hanson has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, International Herald Tribune, New York Post, National Review, Washington Times, Commentary, The Washington Post, Claremont Review of Books, American Heritage, New Criterion, Policy Review, Wilson Quarterly, Weekly Standard, Daily Telegraph, and has been interviewed often on National Public Radio, PBS Newshour, Fox News, CNN, and C-Span’s Book TV and In-Depth. He serves on the editorial board of the Military History Quarterly, and City Journal. Since 2001, Hanson has written a weekly column for National Review Online, and in 2004, began his weekly syndicated column for Tribune Media Services. In 2006, he also began thrice-weekly blog for Pajamas Media, Works and Days. Hanson was educated at the University of California, Santa Cruz (BA, Classics, 1975, ‘highest honors’ Classics, ‘college honors’, Cowell College), the American School of Classical Studies, Athens (regular member, 1978-79) and received his Ph.D. in Classics from Stanford University in 1980. He divides his time between his forty-acre tree and vine farm near Selma, California, where he was born in 1953, and the Stanford campus.

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