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 Victor Davis Hanson

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.

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