by Victor Davis Hanson
And on and on and on and on from the increasingly unhinged LTC Bateman….
I devoted many thousands of words, in systematic fashion debunking one LTC Robert Bateman’s charges and slurs (“I take down”, “worst sort”, “feces”, “pervert”, “devil”, etc). His first two attempts at Media Matters and my responses are now a matter of record. I see no need to continue since his latest outburst does not acknowledge any of his past slurs, misquotations or mistakes, but simply gushes on with the same that would require once more thousands of words in correction.
So as promised from now on, I will just post a few examples of his serial mistakes, rather than offer lengthy rebuttal yet a third time to his errors. Mr. Bateman is clearly obsessed about Carnage and Culture, and shows neither the sobriety nor the intellectual honesty that we expect in, and should demand of, an officer of the U.S. military.
Again, the issue is not really a particular book I’ve written a number of years ago, but — as Bateman revealed in both the first and this latest rant — my political commentary.
I have had mixed feelings about replying a third time, even in abbreviated fashion, since he doesn’t seem to quite fathom the extent of how his temperament, style, and poverty of analysis, apparent also in his other controversies, will surely harm his reputation — though it was apparently a desire for the just the opposite that explained his chest-beating at Media Matters. In any case, I would imagine that he will not continue long with a chapter by chapter critique, since the matter was largely settled in the first two exchanges.
Here are abbreviated responses to more of the same from Bateman in his third critique. My replies are in bold print.
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“I cannot know much more than that because the only sources for this battle are scraps from two different medieval chronicles which together offer only two or three descriptive sentences about the actual fighting. But then again, I did not try and extrapolate an entire chapter out of those few lines and use that to fill a 1,700-year gap in my thesis, as Victor Davis Hanson does in his chapter on the battle of Poitiers/Tours in his book Carnage and Culture.”
The poverty of contemporary primary sources about Poitiers is well known to historians, and noted in C&C (“the meager account” (137; cf. 475); but nevertheless the battle has earned considerable attention in books and articles (cf. 475-77).] as a landmark event and thus is an ideal introduction to the chapter’s larger discussion of Islam and the West, and the Western emphasis on landed infantry and battles of shock.
After another long harangue Bateman writes:
The fact of the matter is that Islamic armies were originally infantry-based. From the time of Mohammed they were designed for massed infantry shock combat, and they had (especially at the outset) very few horses. (They had camels, but you don’t fight from a camel. You use it for carrying luggage and food and water.) Take, for example, the classic battle of Yarmouk in 636 A.D.
This battle, which took place in the area which is now known as the Golan Heights, well inside the borders of the Roman Empire, occurred just two years after the death of Mohammed. It was one of the first major battles of expansion of the new Islamic empire. At that battle, although outnumbered by roughly 4-to-1 by the Romans of the Eastern Roman Empire, the Muslims utterly destroyed the Romans, killing as many or more than had Hannibal at Cannae in 216 B.C., roughly 50,000, and doing so with an army that was smaller than Hannibal’s! In this fight the Muslims had an army that was 75 percent infantry (and of the infantry, at least 50 percent heavy infantry). They then moved on and conquered the rest of Syria, then Lebanon, then Palestine, before moving on and across North Africa. It was like that for much of the first century of Islamic expansion, with infantry-based armies defeating the armies of the Eastern Roman Empire again and again. It was not until around the 10th century that the Muslims truly began to focus upon the horse as the center of their efforts in warfare. (As opposed to raiding.)
This is both incoherent and inaccurate. Gaza was not well within the often changing and fluid borders of the 7th-century Byzantine empire, but always considered at the further region of Roman or Byzantine influence. Muslim armies usually won by the skill of their horsemen. The relative percentages (25% cavalry of a force is considerable, given the expenses in acquiring and feeding horses in the ancient world) are not just the critical factors, but rather the role of cavalry.
The battle of Yarmouk, in fact, hinged on Islamic horseman of a relatively unified Muslim force — and the vulnerability to them by an often contentious alliance of disparate allies — Arabs, Armenians, Byzantines, Franks, and others — under Byzantine and Armenian leadership. The victor Khalid ibn al-Walid selected the battlefield on the basis of its suitability for his cavalry, kept his battered infantry units viable by several mounted counter-attacks, saved his infantry from defeat by the frequent use of a mobile mounted reserve, and finally defeated the Byzantine force by flank and rear mounted attacks, before shredding the defeated by constant cavalry pursuit.
But then also one must ask, when looking at Poitiers and Hanson’s thesis, how did we leap from 216 B.C. to 732 A.D.? Cannae, you recall, was the subject of the last chapter, and occurred in 216 B.C. To get to Poitiers we just leapt 948 years without a single intervening case study or example. Hanson does it again too, since the chapter after this one concerns events in 1521, almost 800 years later still. And thus we arrive at one of the core problems of Hanson’s book: he makes an assertion for a thesis which he contends is valid over 2,500 years of history, and then more or less skips providing evidence for the middle 1,700 years out of that 2,500.
Bateman once again apparently has problems grasping basic principles of language. The battles, as explained in the introduction, are emblematic of larger trends, and themselves used as launching pads for analyses, and thus only account for about a third of each chapter. Then a larger discussion ensues about the principles raised and the general historical period discussed. So after a description of Poitiers, two-thirds of the chapter deals with the Western reliance on landed infantry, in which the militaries of Islam and the West over a large chronological continuum are explored.
In this regard, Bateman must also omit mention that the criteria for selecting nine emblematic battles from many thousands are explained in detail — “The Great Battles” (8-13) and “Other Battles (443-4)?” — at the beginning and end of the book. Within a general chronological procession, there was an effort to introduce as wide a variety of battles as possible, rather than simplistically spacing them out every 200-300 years from the Greeks to the present — e.g., both Western victories and defeats, fighting both at sea and land, battles in and outside Europe, concentration on Greeks, Macedonians, Romans, Christian forces, imperial Spanish and British forces, and contemporary American militaries, etc.
For a moment then, let us set our back to the problems with Hanson’s version of Poitiers and proceed on to the meat of the issue. Let us address the thesis. At issue is Mr. Hanson’s central assertion in Carnage and Culture: that there is a uniquely Western way of war, derived from Western culture. I may have overstated this two weeks ago. Mr. Hanson, commenting upon my characterization said last week:
I never wrote that the West was “always successful in war.” How silly! That’s a laughable distortion, and again Mr. Bateman should use quotation marks when he writes what I did not write. [Hanson wrote this on his blog.]
But Bateman then gives no example to prove that I ever said “always successful in war” and cannot.
Instead, he takes out of context quotations and argues that they imply “always.” But when I am using phrases like a “certain continuity” or “the history of warfare is so often the brutal history of Western victory” or “Numbers, location, food, health, weather, religion — the usual factors that govern the success or failure of wars — have ultimately done little to impede Western armies” I have carefully not said anything like Bateman’s fabricated “always successful in war.” And then when Bateman does not even believe that his own exempla from C&C here prove his point, he sighs:
Now, it does appear true that he never said “always.” You can decide for yourself, based on the above sampling of his comments, if I overstated his general thrust and intent.
Next Bateman complains that I evoke a number of other battles in addition to those I selected:
The problem, of course, is that even if he were honest about the depictions, these are not “randomly selected.” They are selected by Hanson. But for the sake of argument, and because they illustrate his technique wonderfully, let us just focus upon two of those exceptions that he cited no fewer than four times in the book, Adrianople and Manzikert.
Again, Bateman does not seem to understand language. When I evoke a number of battles, of course those are selected by me. Who else wrote the text? Anytime an author cites examples — battles, generals, tactics, etc. — he must make decisions of what to omit and include.
Note how when he asserts his selected counter-examples, Hanson tries to let the “West” off the hook by asserting that the “horrific” losses at Adrianople and Manzikert were somewhat understandable because they were fought “far from home” or were fought by the armies of “crumbling empires,” or that they were “vastly outnumbered.” These are not true statements.
Mr. Bateman does not know the difference between the conjunctions “and” and “or”. And once again he did not tell truth, but omitted the qualifier “In most of these cases…” when I listed a number of other battles that he does not acknowledge. And then to specify what I meant, I further elaborated on Adrianople and others — noting that the battle “came at the borders of European territory and near the end of collapsing regimes or empires.”
Adrianople was the site of a battle between the Eastern Roman Empire and the Goths. The Roman Emperor was killed during the battle, and the Goths moved on. A generation later they would invade the Western Roman Empire and sack Rome. Adrianople is now the Turkish town of Erdine. In 378 A.D., when this battle took place, it was (and still is) only 120 miles from the very capital of the Eastern Roman Empire. Indeed, instead of being “far from home,” it was the very opposite, as it was the closest city to the capital at Constantinople.
Rome, not just Constantinople, was still the capital of the empire. And it would become an eventual target of the Goths’ invasion. And that is an important fact in the context since Adrianople was representative of the beginning of the collapse of the Western empire. In fact, Adrianople fit exactly the qualifiers that I wrote: the battle was a result of the Goths crossing the border at the Danube to the north and marked the beginning of the end of the Western empire. Given incursions across the Danube, enemy fleets on the Black Sea, and attacks from Anatolia, Constantinople itself was often quite near the often fluid and changing borders of the Eastern empire.
Hanson’s second example, Manzikert, though it would be a slow march to get there, is about the same distance from the capital at Constantinople as Taranto, Italy, is from Genoa, Italy. And, unlike what Hanson would have his readers believe, the odds between the armies were just about even there too, though that apparently did not matter all that much. Hanson calls the loss “horrific,” but when he does so he is apparently leaning upon 19th-century interpretations of the battle. The battle was certainly a disaster for the Eastern Romans/Byzantium, but apparently there was not much bloodshed. Modern scholarship suggests that the Byzantines did not lose as many men as earlier historians thought. In fact, it appears, physical loses were nearly negligible from an Empire standpoint.
Once more Bateman simple is not a student of language. Manzikert in Eastern Turkey was again at the borders of the eastern empire. Losses — killed, wounded, missing, and captured — are not equivalent exclusively to deaths. Even revisionist estimates that seek to downplay contemporary conclusions about the severity of the Byzantine defeat, sometimes put losses at 7,000-8,000 — or about 20% of the aggregate Byzantine military force lost in a single battle. At Manzikert, the outcome really was horrific — the emperor himself was captured, the Armenian contingent virtually annihilated, and the army routed. To Byzantines themselves the losses marked the beginning of the decline. Twentieth-century historians like Norwich cannot be dismissed as “19th century,” but rather reflect primary source accounts that reflect the Byzantine consensus of the battle’s terrible costs.
He does cede that the Muslim armies took Spain, but glosses over the fact that they then held it, a country in the heart of Europe, for more than 600 years.
Once again, not true at all: Spain is not “in the heart of Europe.” And by the 11th century most of northern Spain was back in Western hands.
Similarly, he completely ignores Sicily and Corsica. Instead, he focused on the Crusades to make a point. According to Hanson, “It was impossible for any Muslim army, unlike the Crusaders, to transport large armies by sea to storm the heartland of Europe” (p. 168). Yet in the 8th, 9th and 10th centuries, the Muslim armies took to the sea and did just that, they conquered both places, sending army after army (it took 75 years of reinforcements to conquer Sicily) despite Mr. Hanson’s assertions, and once completely subjugated, held them for longer than the Crusader states existed in the Middle East. Oh, and they did this with infantry-based armies.
I ignore a lot of battles and sieges in Carnage and Culture, given that it explores 2,500 years of Western warfare, in the context of art, literature, science, and finance in addition to military history. Muslims armies did not do “just that”: they did not transport large armies by sea to storm the heartland of Europe. Sicily and Corsica are large islands in the Mediterranean, about the same distance to the coast of Africa as they are far from the heartland of Europe.
Indeed, in his distortions, obfuscations, and general torturing of the facts in order to arrive at his preconceived thesis, Hanson is on par with historian-turned-polemicist Howard Zinn. If you do not know of Zinn, do not regret. You are missing as little as you were before you ever heard of Carnage and Culture. Zinn’s signature work, A People’s History of the United States, now on its gazillionth printing, follows the same formula as does Hanson’s, albeit on a different topic… Both of them approach their topic as though it were a strawberry patch, picking only the ripest of selected strawberries, removing them from the area, and then using the artfully displayed fruit to “prove” to people who have never seen a strawberry bush that all strawberries are ripe. I suspect that it is not coincidental that both of them are very vocal in modern political issues, and both make illogical appeals to their historical credentials to support their respective opinions. Yes, Howard Zinn and Victor Davis Hanson, to continue the produce analogy, are two peas in a pod.
“Very vocal in modern political issues” gives away the Bateman journalistic game and explains this Media Matters hit-piece, which will not even ingratiate him with that now embarrassed patron.
This is all so very sad and the final outburst sums up why this time I write briefly. In lieu of argument, now Bateman can only go off on a bizarre tangent about Howard Zinn — and even there Mr. Bateman misses the irony since Zinn’s general views and methodology are often similar to those expressed at Media Matters where Bateman now writes.
©2007 Victor Davis Hanson