Victor Davis Hanson Private Papers

Still More of President Obama’s Moral Equivalence

by Victor Davis Hanson // NRO- The Corner

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President Obama, at the National Prayer Breakfast this morning, said:

Unless we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ. In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ.

This is banal.

The problem with all such high-horse declarations by Obama is his continual omission of historical context and, in this case, his conflation of the frequent with the rare. The Crusades began in 1095, almost a millennium ago; the Inquisition in 1478, now over 500 years past. When the president says “people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ,” he should remember that all religions at the time committed terrible deeds that shock the modern sense of morality — given the savage wars between Christendom and Islam, and the religious purifications and civil discord common to all the religious factional strife that played out, violently, in accord with the ethos of the times.

Slavery was outlawed in the U.S. in 1865. Jim Crow ended officially a half-century ago. Indentured servitude, however,continues, almost exclusively among some Islamic groups in the Middle East and Africa. The caste system and ethnic and religious tribalism that institutionalized discrimination and second-class status, quite akin to Jim Crow, persist in places in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. I doubt today whether a Jew of any nationality would be allowed to immigrate and buy real estate in too many corners of the Islamic Middle East. Outside of the West, women and homosexuals are often treated no differently than in the Seventh Century.

In fact, Christian countries were the first to legally end the age-old human sin of the slave trade, and the first to outlaw slavery’s continuance. The president, is fond of historical sloppiness and moral equivalence (cf. the Cairo Speech). But what is the point of citing sins of 1,000, 500, 150, or 50 years ago, without acknowledging 1) that such pathologies still continue today outside the West, especially in the world of Islam, and 2) that Christianity had a unique role in ending these wrongs?

So the question for the president is, why does such medieval violence persist to a much greater degree among so many Islamic extremists in the present world than among most zealots of other religions? (This is an empirical statement. Cf., for instance, the nature of recent global terror attacks in resources such as the Global Terrorism Database). And why search the distant past for examples of moral equivalence, unless the present does not offer suitable data?

Did Churchill point to the excesses of Oliver Cromwell, or did Daladier to the French Revolution, to remind their contemporaries that National Socialism in Germany was not doing anything differently in the 1930s than had their own countries in the distant past? Those of the 1930s who sought to make such facile comparisons between their own past and Germany’s present were written off as appeasers.

Areas of Central and Latin America are as poor as the Middle East, but Christian liberation theologists, unlike the Islamic State, are not beheading and burning prisoners alive to advance their redistributionist cause. Chinese imperialists and colonialists have absorbed Tibet, but the Dalai Lama is not sending suicide bombers into China. The children of East Prussians expelled from 1945-47 are not suiting up with suicide vests to attack Poles. Impoverished Hindu extremists, angry at centuries of British colonialism, do not hijack planes and ram them into high-rises in British cities. Jews are not blowing up cartoonists and satirists in Paris and Germany who deny or caricature the Holocaust.

No one has easy answers to the dilemma of contemporary violent Islamism; for brief interludes in the recent past, secular ideologies were more likely than radical Islam to be the expressed popular driving forces in the violent Middle East (e.g., fascism [1930s], Communism [1940s], Baathism and Pan-Arabism [1950s], which produced the Grand Mufti, Nasser, the Assads, Arafat, Saddam, and Qaddafi). The president and his advisers should be investigating why radical Islam is currently terrorizing the globe, rather than denying it entirely, hiding it by euphemisms, or excusing it by citing morally equivalent examples from the past.

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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.

19 Thoughts on “Still More of President Obama’s Moral Equivalence

  1. it’ not radical islam! it is what mohamed lived and is what the koran is the opposite of Jesus and his teachings.all the evidence points to mohamed as being the antichrist

    • Mark G on February 9, 2015 at 7:19 am said:

      I agree. I have referred to it as Fundamentalist Islam much to the shock of the people I was speaking with. I can remember when young (fundamentalist) Christians would wear bracelets emblazoned with the letters “WWJD” – meaning “What would Jesus do?” Thinking of this leads me to wonder “WWMD” – What wold Mohammad do? You and I know the answer.

  2. Rocco Pirro on February 6, 2015 at 12:01 pm said:

    About 61% of the Quran is dedicated to the Kafirs (that would be us non-Muslims). Much of that is about how we will all face Allah’s wrath, how we should die and how we should be killed. I think the big difference between Islamists of Mohammed’s time and Islamists today, is that modern Islamists have much better weaponry to do their killing with. Poor old Mohammed was limited to swords, spears and the like. At the risk of inflaming my politically correct liberal friends, I’ll pass on a quote from Winston Churchill, “How dreadful are the curses which Mohammedanism lays on its votaries! Besides the fanatical frenzy, which is as dangerous in a man as hydrophobia in a dog, there is this fearful fatalistic apathy.”

  3. So then, Mr. President, you are saying that Christianity and Islam are both, after 500 years, still at the same level of repression and dark age mentality?…

  4. In the name of getting elected US Senator, who unveiled divorce records deeply embarrassing to the opponent?

  5. Stan Pakulla on February 6, 2015 at 5:05 pm said:

    once again, another….. in a long line of outstanding columns, by VDH.

    After listening to the endless accolades the mainstream news media have bestowed on Barack Obama since he first ran for office, I can think of only two terms that more accurately describe him: ignorant and anti-American.

  6. dupere on February 6, 2015 at 6:03 pm said:

    China’s fate awaits. From zero hedge, “” China’s monumental debt trap–why it will rock the global economy””. The USA and Europe are connected to the hip with this thieving country. From the ashes, a New World is born.

  7. A major tenant to the Muslim Brotherhood activities is to deny any and all violence that they commit in order to throw off their enemies.

    Now, it’s ridiculously obvious that Mr. Obama has denied calling all acts of Islamic violence as being in any way “Islamic.” Why is this so, when we all know that he is much too intelligent not to know?

    This to me is the BIG unanswered question of our time and I’m hopeful that Mr. Gowdy will somehow stumble on the answer through his Benghazi’ hearings.

  8. Joe D'Agostino on February 6, 2015 at 11:12 pm said:

    Interesting rhetorical twist – from a banal quote to conclude the “president and his advisers should be investigating why radical Islam is currently terrorizing the globe, rather than denying it entirely”

    I guess we will be deluged with more Islam issues until there is some new issue to beat the dead horse of the current lame duck presidency and use xenophobia rather than some creative focus on domestic issues that would invigorate and strengthen or democracy.

  9. James C. Stewart, Jr. on February 7, 2015 at 2:42 am said:

    David Gelernter hit the nail on the head. “No littler man has ever been president.”

  10. Donald DaCosta on February 7, 2015 at 12:38 pm said:

    Of special interest and not yet widely remarked, is Obama’s absolute refusal to connect terrorism with Islam either orally or textually while having absolutely no problem of making that connection, no matter how ineptly, with Christianity in an obvious attempt to deflect attention from the obvious connection to the Islamic motivations proclaimed by these terrorists. Obama says that the Islamic State, IS, has nothing to do with Islam but the Crusades had everything to do with Christianity. Is he anywhere close to aware of just how ignorant and bigoted this “analysis” is?

    The man listens to no one other than his sycophantic supporters who make increasingly ridiculous interpretations of his every spoken or written word, past or present, in attempts to make everything he says or does some sort of prophetic pronouncements designed to mean all things to fit all occasions. In a sane world among average folk he’d be labeled a “pompous, self absorbed, dumb ass.”

  11. elixelx on February 7, 2015 at 1:00 pm said:

    Dr. Hanson: what are the odds that the pusillanimous potus will read, deliberate and act on your well-reasoned, logical and cogent piece?
    Obama is like the inmate of the asylum who quite reasonably refuses to climb the beam of a torch; when asked why he, a madman, is behaving in such a rational manner replies “Because Idon’t trust the doctor…he will turn it off when I’m halfway up!”
    Barry is not just ignorant; he is paranoid as well!

  12. Do you think that the Islamic State is shopping for WMD?
    I think they’d love as many as they can buy, and they can probably afford them, with their oil exports. For this reason alone, we should engage our enemies, the radical Islamists and the others, wherever we can find them.

  13. dupere on February 7, 2015 at 3:46 pm said:

    “” ukraine peace talks in tatters: defiant putin…”” from zero hedge

  14. Perry Albin on February 7, 2015 at 4:32 pm said:

    VDH well describes the contextual problem with Obama’s moral equivalence talk. However, there is a more fundamental problem. To compare love with hate, life with death, is useful only for those who cannot distinguish between them. It is an argument on the order of saying that milk from a cow, because it is excreted from the cow’s udder, is no different from urine, which is only excreted from a different orifice.

  15. Chris Offerman on February 7, 2015 at 5:29 pm said:

    Regarding the statement that “medieval violence persist[s] to a much greater degree among so many Islamic extremists,” are you also including the innocent women and children that Coalition forces have killed in the Middle East since 9/11? A stray bomb here; a loose cannon there. Do you know how many bombs we’ve dropped that have accidentally missed their targets and landed in populated, innocent neighborhoods? Hint: more than we should.

    Would you call this accidental destruction of families “medieval” as well? Or would you choose to label that “patriotic?” How many innocent casualties are we allowed before we become “medieval?” Is it a ratio? Say, maybe, 2-to-1? 10-to-1? How about 60-to-1? Because 60-to-1 is the ratio of civilian Middle-Easterners killed by our forces since 9/11 vs. the number of American civilians killed (including all those lost in the Two Towers).

    At what point do we become the evil that we despise?
    Hint, it’s already happened.

  16. David park on February 7, 2015 at 8:47 pm said:

    Barack Obama is the pseudo intellectual captain of the USS Adrift, a ship of state with an anchor chain sawed into by the actions and orders of its commander, a ship drifting dangerously in a troubled international sea toward the rocks and outcroppings of nationalistic and religious thuggeries and terrorisms while said captain speechifies vainly against the howling winds of brutal realities roaring across his ears.

  17. I go to this website daily to see the latest death toll perpetuated by the “Religion of Peace”

    The great news is that Teddy Kennedy and the rest of the elites were adamant that we have these savages living amongst us. When I see them I always wonder what they have hiding underneath their burqua.

  18. Carl Sesar on February 9, 2015 at 12:18 pm said:

    It’s worse than a moral equivalence ploy, it’s a vengeful act of sadistic mental torture. Christians are being slaughtered and burned alive by jihadists all over the Middle East, while at the National Prayer Breakfast, Obama is telling the Christians present that it’s payback time now — they’re getting what’s coming to them.

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