Victor Davis Hanson Private Papers

Author Archives: 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.

America Is Still a Global Leader

Victor Davis Hanson // National Review

A current global myth alleges that America under the Trump administration is not leading the world fight against the coronavirus in its accustomed role as the post-war global leader.

Yet the U.S. was the first major nation to issue a travel ban on flights from China, with Donald Trump making that announcement on January 31. That was a bold act. It likely saved thousands endangered by Chinese perfidy and soon became a global model. None of the ban’s loud critics are today demanding it be rescinded.

In typically American fashion, as we have seen in crises from Pearl Harbor to 9/11, after initial shock and unpreparedness, the U.S. economic and scientific juggernaut is kicking into action.

Already the U.S. is transitioning from a long, disastrous reliance on Chinese medical supplies and pharmaceuticals. In ad hoc fashion, companies are gearing up massive production of masks, ventilators, and key anti-viral supplies.

The number of known deaths from the virus — for now the only reliable data available — shows a fatality rate of about 7–8 per million people in the United States. That per capita toll is analogous to Germany’s and one of the lowest in the world among larger nations.

Read the full article here

Some Coronavirus Humility

Victor Davis Hanson // City Journal

There are two well-known themes, or topoi, in classical literature. One concerns the graphic descriptions in Thucydides, Sophocles, and Procopius of plagues—especially the human misery and despair that accompanies outbreaks that killed large numbers. The unknown plague at Athens (430–429 BC) killed one-quarter of the Athenian population during the Peloponnesian War, wrecking the social structure of the city. In 542 AD, during a virulent bubonic plague epidemic, millions perished throughout the Byzantine Empire, crippling and ultimately curtailing the emperor Justinian’s grandiose efforts to restore the Roman Empire by reclaiming its lost provinces in the West.

But just as frequently, we read of groundless mass panics that caused deadly harm. Thucydides’s description of the preparations of the Athenian armada on the eve of the ill-fated expedition to Sicily is a sort of fantastical bookend to the panic he previously described about the real plague. In 415 BC, a sudden public frenzy swept the Athenian demos to rule all of distant Sicily and get rich from promises of wealthy allies. Sicily was billed as a prequel to a Mediterranean-wide Athenian empire—at least until the money and the allies proved almost nonexistent and the scheme unworkable. Eventually, some 40,0000 Athenian and allied lives were lost in utter defeat.

In the United States, the collapse of the stock market and banks in 1893 and 1929 altered American life for generations, in part driven by panicked selling. One of cinema’s most dramatic scenes is the run on the Bailey Building and Loan in Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life that threatens to turn idyllic Bedford Falls into a Potterville slum. I remember as a boy stomping on June bugs all summer long in 1962 to prevent their supposedly deadly contagion that was supposedly sweeping the nation—aping the behavior of those delusional at Athens who drew maps in the sand of Sicily, hooked on the fantasy of the riches to come from the extravagant 415 BC expedition.

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Viral Prerequisites and Nationalist Lessons in Time of Plague

Victor Davis Hanson // American Greatness

President Donald Trump has courted endless controversies for promoting nonconventional policies and entertaining contrarian views. From the outset, he oddly seemed to have believed that having navigated the jungles of the Manhattan real estate market—crooked politicians, mercurial unions, neighborhood social activists, the green lobby, leery banks, cutthroat rivals—better prepared him for the job than did a 30-year tenure in the U.S. Senate.

Certainly, candidate and then President Trump’s strident distrust of China was annoying to the American establishment. The Left saw China in rosy terms as the “Other” that just did things like airports, high-speed rail, and solar panels better than did America’s establishment of geriatric white male has-beens. Many on the Right saw China as a cash cow that was going to take over anyway, so why not milk it before the deluge?

In sum, conventional Washington wisdom assumed that appeasing the commercial banditry of an ascendant China, at best might ensure that its new riches led to Westernized political liberalization, and at worst might at least earn them a pat on the head from China as it insidiously assumed its fated role as global hegemon.

Trump once enraged liberal sensibilities by issuing travel bans against countries in the Middle East, Iran, Nigeria, and North Korea as they could not be trusted to audit their own departing citizens. His notion that nations have clearly defined and enforced borders was antithetical to the new norms that open borders and sanctuary cities were part of the global village of the 21st century.

Trump certainly distrusted globalization. He has waged a veritable multifront war against the overreach of transnational organizations, whether that be the European Union or the various agencies of the United Nations. Even relatively uncontroversial steps, such as greenlighting experimental drugs and off-label uses of old medicines for terminal patients drew the ire of federal bureaucrats and medical schools as potentially dangerous or irrelevant in cost-benefit analyses.

Yet since the outbreak of the virus, Trump’s idiosyncratic sixth sense has come in handy. The country is united in its furor at China—even if it is giving no credit to Trump for being years ahead of where it is now.

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Progressivism’s Bastardization of Science

Terry Scambray // New Oxford Review

Daniel Okrent’s Guarded Gate is a compendium of damning statements and information that demonstrates the ignominy of the eugenics movement and how its advocates desperately sought to limit immigration to the U.S. Though this tale is not new, Okrent’s telling of it is full of smaller stories and details that enrich the narrative. Francis Galton began the eugenics movement, the stimulus for which came from his cousin, Charles Darwin. “Without Darwin’s influence,” Okrent asserts, “Galton would likely never have begun his explorations into the nature of heredity.” Darwin’s theory of natural selection and “revolutionary” book On the Origin of Species (1859) — which showed “a universe liberated from the intangible and unverifiable homilies of religion, supposition, and superstition” — led Galton to his own conclusion. “If the development of the species was not guided by a divine hand, Galton reasoned, then neither were the minds of men.” Supported by a bevy of assorted “facts” that made his efforts appear scientific, Galton advocated what amounted to the selective breeding of humans, with “enlightened” people like himself doing the selecting.

Okrent tells the consequential and disturbing story of how eugenicists, with their impressive scientific credentials, insisted that immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe were inferior breeds who threatened to pollute the gene pool of Americans. Eugenics had found favor in Europe, and from there it quickly spread to the U.S., where a broad swath of influential individuals enthusiastically got on board. Boston Brahmins like the Lodges, Cabots, and Adamses united with labor leader Samuel Gompers and, along with eminent scientists like Charles Davenport, popular figures like Theodore Roosevelt and Helen Keller, and liberal theologians like Henry Fosdick, were proponents of restricting U.S. citizenship to northern Europeans. (Some prominent American aristocrats, like Charles Eliot, president of Harvard University, favored immigration from Southern and Eastern Europe, as did businesses that wanted cheap labor, as well as steamship companies that profited from having immigrants occupy what might otherwise be empty space in steerage in their trans-Atlantic voyages.)

Literacy tests for immigrants were another plank in the effort to limit immigration and demonstrate the inferiority of undesirable newcomers. Enough opposition existed to such tests, however, that they became a political football, with Congress equivocating over their application. President Grover Cleveland notably opposed such tests. When it became known that Adolf Hitler and his cadre justified the Holocaust with rationales drawn from American eugenics programs, ardor for it cooled. Revelation of the horror of Nazi death camps shattered any lingering belief that eugenics was a shortcut to utopia.

Read the full review here

Strategika Issue #63: Should the United States Leave the Middle East?

Learning From Failure: Formulating A New U.S. Middle East Foreign Policy

Please read a new essay by my colleague, Edward N. Luttwak in Strategika.

A commentator recently complained that President Trump does not have a “Syria strategy” and therefore awful Assad is winning. Countless Op-Ed writers before him likewise commented that President X “did not have a [insert the name of any country from Morocco to India] strategy,” and therefore awful Z was winning.

Read the full article here.

Leaving The Middle East?

Please read a new essay by my colleague, Peter R. Mansoor in Strategika.

With the exception of President George H. W. Bush, every U.S. president since the end of the Cold War has promised American retrenchment from the Middle East. They all have failed to make good on their promises.

Read the full article here.

Leaving the Middle East: The Fallacy of a False Dichotomy

Please read a new essay by my colleague, Admiral James O. Ellis Jr. in Strategika.

In classical logic, the false dichotomy, or false dilemma, is defined as an argument where only two choices are presented yet more exist, or a spectrum of possible choices exists between two extremes. False dilemmas are usually characterized by “either this or that” language but can also be characterized by the omission of choices. This insidious tactic has the appearance of forming a logical argument, but under closer scrutiny it becomes evident that there are more possibilities than the either/or choice that is presented.

Read the full article here.

Coronavirus: The California Herd

Victor Davis Hanson // National Review

The bluest state’s public officials have been warning for weeks that California will be overwhelmed, given federal-government unpreparedness and the purported inefficacy of the local, state, and federal governments.

California governor Gavin Newsom has assured his state that over half of the population — or, in his words, 56 percent — will soon be infected. That is, more than 25 million coronavirus cases are on the horizon, which, at the virus’s current fatality rate of 1–2 percent (the ratio of deaths to known positive cases), would mean that the state should anticipate 250,000–500,000 dead Californians in the near future. Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti predicted that this week Los Angeles would be short of all sorts of medical supplies as the epidemic killed many hundreds, as is the case in New York City.

It’s been well over two months since the first certified coronavirus case in the United States, so one might expect to see early symptoms of the apocalypse recently forecast by Governor Newsom. Yet a number of California’s top doctors, epidemiologists, statisticians, and biophysicists — including Stanford’s John Ioannides, Michael Levitt, Eran Bendavid, and Jay Bhattacharya — have expressed some skepticism about the bleak models predicting that we are on the verge of a statewide or even national lethal pandemic of biblical proportions.

The skeptics may be right. As of this moment, California’s cumulative fatalities attributed to coronavirus are somewhere over 140 deaths, in a state of 40 million. That toll is a relatively confirmable numerator (though coronavirus is not always the sole cause of death), as opposed to the widely unreliable denominator of caseloads (currently about 6,300 in the state) that are judged to be only a fraction of the population that has been tested. The Iceland study, for example, suggests that half of those who are infected show no symptoms. Currently, even with fluctuating statistics, California is suffering roughly about one death to the virus for every 250,000–300,000 of its residents.

Read the full article here

Viral Prerequisites and Nationalist Lessons in Time of Plague

Victor Davis Hanson // American Greatness

President Donald Trump has courted endless controversies for promoting nonconventional policies and entertaining contrarian views. From the outset, he oddly seemed to have believed that having navigated the jungles of the Manhattan real estate market—crooked politicians, mercurial unions, neighborhood social activists, the green lobby, leery banks, cutthroat rivals—better prepared him for the job than did a 30-year tenure in the U.S. Senate.

Certainly, candidate and then President Trump’s strident distrust of China was annoying to the American establishment. The Left saw China in rosy terms as the “Other” that just did things like airports, high-speed rail, and solar panels better than did America’s establishment of geriatric white male has-beens. Many on the Right saw China as a cash cow that was going to take over anyway, so why not milk it before the deluge?

In sum, conventional Washington wisdom assumed that appeasing the commercial banditry of an ascendant China, at best might ensure that its new riches led to Westernized political liberalization, and at worst might at least earn them a pat on the head from China as it insidiously assumed its fated role as global hegemon.

Read the full article here

Trump’s Strategic Foresight Is Being Put to the Test

Victor Davis Hanson // National Review

The ancient Greeks believed that true leadership in a crisis came down to what they called pronoia — the Greek word for “strategic foresight.”

Some statesmen, such as Pericles and Themistocles, had it. Most others, such as the often brilliant and charismatic but impulsive Alcibiades, usually did not.

“Foresight” in crisis means sizing up a nation’s assets and debits, then maximizing advantages and minimizing liabilities. The leader with foresight, especially in times of irrational despair, then charts a rational pathway to victory.

Such crisis leaders do not fall into panic and depression when the media shout “Catastrophe!” Nor do they preen when the same chorus screams “Genius!” in times of success.

The English poet Rudyard Kipling would have defined such a gift as: “If you can keep your head when all about you / Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,” or “If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster / And treat those two impostors just the same.”

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The Virus is Not Invincible, But It’s Exposing Who’s Irreplaceable

Victor Davis Hanson // American Greatness

In all the gloom and doom, and media-driven nihilism, there is actually an array of good news. As many predicted, as testing spreads, and we get a better idea of the actual number and nature of cases, the death rate from coronavirus slowly but also seems to steadily decline.

Early estimates from the World Health Organization and the modeling of pessimists of a constant 4 percent death rate for those infected with the virus are for now proving exaggerated for the United States. More likely, as testing spreads, our fatality rates could descend to near 1 percent.

There is some evidence from Germany and to a lesser extent South Korea, that it may be possible to see the fatality rate dip below 1 percent. And with the breathing space from the lockdown, better hygiene (the degree of constant and near-obsessive cleaning at businesses that are still open is quite amazing), more knowledge and data, better medical protocols, the use of some efficacious drugs, warmer weather, and experience with the disease will, in perfect-storm fashion, begin to mitigate the effects of the virus.

Should we get the lethality rate down to German levels (currently two to three in 1,000), then we can cautiously assume that those who predicted that the coronavirus could eventually be contextualized as a bad, H1N1-like flu will no longer be demonized as nuts, and life can resume with reasonable precautions and focused quarantines and isolation.

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Questions about the Coronavirus

Victor Davis Hanson // National Review

More data is critical in understanding the virus in general and in particular its transmission in particular countries. Anyone who looks at rates of morality and lethality of influenza and related pneumonia, especially in the elderly and infirm, can be shocked at the wide variances between particular countries.  52

Reliable data alone should drive proper policy, especially given that any decision made henceforth in the present landscape of bad and worse choices can involve on the one hand greater viral death and morbidity, and on the other economic catastrophe with its own particular role in ensuring non-viral morbidity and death.

So, what we would like to know, it seems, are a few of numbers of which we are not often apprised:

  • What is the percentage of negatives of all those tested?
  • What are the percentages of those who request, or are given tests, who are showing some symptoms of illness or at least feel that they are in some way ill?

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