Victor Davis Hanson Private Papers

Angry Reader

From an Angry Reader:

Mr. Hanson,

 

Did you volunteer or were you drafted (like so many of us) to fight in Vietnam? Did you know “we” lost that war to those so called “commies” and now those “commies” make Trump brand shirts and ties?

 

Also, are you willing to pay for increased US military involvement throughout the world with more tax cuts as the US did in the never ending wars in Afghanistan and Iraq? Cutting spending for meals on wheels, planned parenthood, health insurance benefits for Americans, clean air and water, might not be enough to pay for all your munitions or even meet payroll for a lowly paid non drafted military. At least US tax dollars paid for our napalm in Vietnam. What are you willing to sacrifice in Syria, Iran, Korea, Afghanistan, Iraq, etc. etc. etc. to “make America great again?” Perhaps your own life or limbs again?

 

Perhaps reading a little more George Santayana might help balance your thirst for blood. And perhaps a “proportionate” bombing of an air base before warning Russia and Assad before time might actually be actually a bit more equal in “proportions” to scare your enemies. And as a veteran and historian try to remember how many bombs, and napalm, and bullets, and killings of the enemy and our own troops it took in that classic military loss. Revenge may be sweet but it doesn’t always go as planned, even for those willing to pay for the effort with massive tax cuts. As a historian, that is one thing you should know by now.

 

Happy Easter.

 

Sincerely,

 

Jimmy Gorman

Chicago Tribune Subscriber

 

Victor Davis Hanson’s Reply:

Dear Angry Reader Jimmy Gorman,

 

I registered for the draft the day that I was eligible, and received a lottery number in 1972 at a time when the draft then shortly ended and less than 25,000 Americans were left in Vietnam at year’s end—and when U.S. combat operations on the ground were largely over in Vietnam.

 

Do you eat food? If so, would you be competent and morally qualified to comment on food policy, given the likelihood that you have never farmed or shared the life of a farmer, and have no first-hand experience with tractor work, peach pruning, or fertilization—or the work of others that brings your food to your table? I also did not live in ancient Greece and therefore should not write about the Peloponnesian War? I cannot adjudicate the success or failure of a past ruptured appendix operation because I am not a surgeon?

 

We did not lose to North Vietnam, but achieved a settlement that was set up by a peace agreement between the two countries in 1973. The aftermath of Watergate and the serial cut-offs of all U.S. military aid to the South Vietnamese government encouraged North Vietnam to resume the war, and it did so successfully—sort of as if Eisenhower had cut all U.S. aid to South Korea in the election year 1956 and withdrawn U.S. peacekeepers. Do you think South Korea would exist today?

 

Vietnam is opening its economy, but otherwise it is a Stalinist country; the millions who were jailed, executed, or fled as boat people might not share your rosy scenarios or jest. I opposed the bombing in Libya. I suggested that Obama was foolish to have set a redline in Syria that he never intended to honor and would empower the Assad government to kill even more innocents. I criticized judge/jury/executioner drone assassination missions (which Obama joked about at a White House Correspondence Dinner). Do you read or just rant?

 

You must know, of course, that current defense spending is near historic postwar lows as a percentage of the budget, and that entitlements and social spending are at record highs. Go back and check the ratios between social expenditures as a percentage of the federal budget versus defense spending in 1950 and then compare those ratios to today’s figures. And you must know that Obama doubled the debt in the largest spending spree in U.S. history, despite raising taxes and earning record revenues. Yet he never achieved 3% economic growth unlike both Bush and Clinton. Do you think those massive outlays since 2009 made the U.S. safer, the inner-city more tranquil, or the “blue wall” rust-belt states more prosperous?

 

Have you really read George Santayana other than to pull out his tired, one-trick pony quote on learning from history? I suggest you try reading his collected lectures on aesthetics published as The Sense of Beauty and then once you get through them, write how inspired you were about its argument and aims. (Incidentally, the widely quoted “only the dead have seen the end of war,” which is usually and wrongly attributed to Thucydides, was Santayana’s Soliloquies in England).

 

I was waiting for the leftist ad hominem attack and of course it appeared with the slur “thirst for blood.”

 

Deterrence keeps the peace; appeasement starts wars and gets people killed. I have written repeatedly that war never goes as anticipated, that it is often more costly than expected, and that those who urge it often bail when it becomes controversial. Had “war monger” Winston Churchill been prime minister in 1936 instead of the appeaser Stanley Baldwin there was a far greater chance that millions would not have subsequently perished as victims of the Third Reich.

 

The usefulness of military history is in trying to keep the current peace (unless you think oncologists like tumors or seismologists enjoy earthquakes), and in remembering that the tragic lessons from the past are predictable: military readiness in a consensual society deters aggressors and keeps the calm; disarmament or appeasement encourages belligerents to try something stupid.

 

As a self-described historian of some sort, that is one thing you should know by now.

 

Happy Post-Easter.

 

Sincerely,

Vic Hanson

Chicago Tribune syndicated columnist

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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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