Loose Talk About the End of Everything

Victor Davis Hanson
American Greatness

After a recent summit between new partners China and Russia, General Secretary Xi Jinping and Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin issued an odd one-sentence communique: “There can be no winners in a nuclear war and it should never be fought.”

No one would disagree, even though several officials of both hypocritical governments have previously threatened their neighbors with nuclear attacks.

But still, why did the two feel the need to issue such a terse statement—and why now?

Rarely has the global rhetoric of mass annihilation reached such a crescendo as the present, as existential wars rage in Ukraine and Gaza.

In particular, Putin at least believes that he is finally winning the Ukraine conflict. Xi seems to assume that conventional ascendant Chinese military power in the South China Sea has finally made the absorption of Taiwan practicable.

They both believe that the only impediment to their victories would be an intervention from the U.S. and the NATO alliance, a conflict that could descend into mutual threats to resort to nuclear weapons.

Thus the recent warnings of Xi and Putin.

Almost monthly, North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un continues his weary threats to use his nuclear arsenal to destroy South Korea or Japan.

A similarly monotonous, pro-Hamas Turkish president, Recep Erdogan, regularly threatens Armenians with crazy talk of repeating the “mission of our grandfathers.” And he occasionally warns Israelis and Greeks that they may one day wake up to Turkish missiles raining down upon their cities.

More concretely, for the first time in history, Iran attacked the homeland of Israel. It launched the largest wartime array of cruise missiles, ballistic missiles and drones in modern history—over 320 projectiles.

Iran’s theocrats simultaneously claim they are about ready to produce nuclear weapons. And, of course, since 1979, Iran has periodically promised to wipe Israel off the map and half the world’s Jews with it.

Most ignore these crazy threats and write them off as the braggadocio of dictators. But as we saw on October 7, the barbarity of human nature has not changed much from the premodern world, whether defined by savage beheading, mutilations, murdering, mass rape, torture, and hostage taking of Israeli elderly, women, and children.

But what has radically transformed are the delivery systems of mass death—nuclear weapons, chemical gases, biological agents, and artificial-intelligence-driven delivery systems.

Oddly, the global reaction to the promise of Armageddon remains one of nonchalance. Most feel that such strongmen rant wildly but would never unleash weapons of civilizational destruction.

Consider that there are as many autocratic nuclear nations (e.g., Russia, China, Pakistan, North Korea, and perhaps Iran) as democratic ones (U.S., Britain, France, Israel, and India). Only Israel has an effective anti-ballistic missile dome. And the more the conventional power of the West declines, the more in extremis it will have to rely on a nuclear deterrent—at a time when it has no effective missile defense of its homelands.

In a just-released book, The End of Everything, I wrote about four examples of annihilation—the classical city-state of Thebes, ancient Carthage, Byzantine Constantinople and Aztec Tenochtitlán—in which the unimaginable became all too real.

In all these erasures, the targeted, naïve states believed that their illustrious pasts, rather than a realistic appraisal of their present inadequate defenses, would ensure their survival.

All hoped that their allies—the Spartans, the anti-Roman Macedonians, the Christian nations of Western Europe, and the subject cities of the Aztecs—would appear at the eleventh hour to stave off their defeat.

Additionally, these targeted states had little understanding of the agendas and capabilities of the brilliantly methodic killers outside their walls—the ruthless wannabe philosopher Alexander the Great, the literary patron Scipio Aemilianus, the self-described intellectual Mehmet II, and the widely read Hernán Cortés—who all sought to destroy utterly rather than merely defeat their enemies.

These doomed cities and nations were reduced to rubble or absorbed by the conquerors. Their populations were wiped out or enslaved, and their once-hallowed cultures, customs, and traditions lost to history. The last words of the conquered were usually variations of, “It can’t happen here.”

If the past is any guide to the present, we should take heed that what almost never happens in war can certainly still occur.

When killers issue wild, even lunatic, threats, we should nonetheless take them seriously.

We should not count on friends or neutrals to save our civilization. Instead, Americans should build defense systems over the skies of our homeland, secure our borders, ensure our military operates on meritocracy, cease wild deficit spending and borrowing, and rebuild both our conventional and nuclear forces.

Otherwise, we will naively—and fatally—believe that we are magically exempt when the inconceivable becomes all too real.

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36 thoughts on “Loose Talk About the End of Everything”

  1. Starwars has become a reality and the US needs to create better systems, Space and Earth based. China may be ahead of us in this version of the Space race and this administration would rather open the border, pay illegals and push woke agendas on our military rather than properly defend the nation.
    A reelection of democrat policies; I do not belive Biden will be the eventual dem nominee; will complete the destruction of this country!

  2. I find the statement of Putin and Xi curious. It repeats the Western mantra that nuclear war is unthinkable and unwinnable. I think it’s intended to placate Western fears. However, mutually assured destruction is a Western phenomenon. I believe that both China and Russian military doctrines do believe that nuclear war is winnable and not unthinkable. The Soviets lost like 30 million in WW2 and consider that a victory. “Winnable” depends on who is defining it. The Russians practice a much better civil defense system than NATO does.

  3. Eric Friedman

    Wonderful post! One other example which you may have considered for your recent book is ancient Jerusalem vs the Rome of Vespasian and Titus. Jewish zealots, bolstered by their traditions and the precedent of defeating the Seleucids, could not conceive that their holy city with its Temple could be subject to utter destruction by the Roman legions under Vespasian and Titus.

  4. My limited read of history suggests

    a) if an aggressor has a weapon,it will be used

    b) an aggressor’s rhetoric is matched in deed.

    We need only look to recent history in addition to premodern,i.e.,WWI WW2 wherein the good guys used the A-bomb after weighing the pros and cons,gas weapons in WW1.

    Dr. Hanson is spot on…”it can’t happen” does happen for logical reasons. America is sitting on the largest deposits of fossil fuels on the planet. Would not an aggressor crave these riches? Absent its current citizens? These two questions beg “why not?” and thus suggest USA is vulnerable to lethal WMD i.e.,EMTs,viruses,and occupation by 12 million illegals.

    Pray we are wrong.


  5. That “it can’t happen here” is pretty scary to me. I sure had that thought when the lockdowns were being proposed. It definitely can, and probably will, happen here.

  6. So, when China and Russia jointly announce that nuclear weapons should not be used, are they seeking to persuade Americans to fight a conventional war that they believe the U.S.A. cannot win?

  7. Sad that most Americans know this, they are so busy chasing life family faith 🙏 country comes last.

  8. Victor seems to indicate that China and Russia’s joint statement is being used to convince its enemies that they will never use nuclear weapons when in fact they will.

    “No need for you Americans to worry about a nuclear attack so you don’t need to prepare defenses against one or update your nuclear arsenal to deter one.”

    If China and Russia are sincere that no nuclear weapons should ever be used then they would be in agreement to destroy all nuclear weapons.

    1. Very insightful observation. Perhaps we should start spreading it around amongst the pacifists and those who believe that, magically, “it could never happen here because we’re Americans”. Sadly, unlike the WWII generation before us, we are no longer a patriotic nation where most everyone would gladly serve in defense of our Great Nation.

  9. Vic Weisskopf

    It comes down to this: The price of Freedom is Eternal Vigilance. Israel’s leadership put too much faith in their technology, too little in real vigilance – human eyes with the capability of immediately responding focused on threatening enemies. Our stupidity is ignoring what’s coming over our southern border to form fifth, sixth, seventh? columns. G-d help us.

  10. Stephen Leonard

    Was any of those doomed cultures, destroyed by enemies whose intentions, ruthlessness, and cultures they failed to comprehend, led at the end by people as venal, shortsighted, incompetent and stupid as Joe Biden?

  11. The West, and the USA in particular, appear to ignore multiple warnings and red lines issued by Putin and Xi and their supporters in reference to their respective former spheres of influence. The West’s most voiced argument is that Russia would not be so foolish to actually use nukes that would trigger an automatic response by the West and that China’s military still remains subpar to that of the US even while military leadership is significantly woke and notably displays more hubrus than realism among US controlling elites.

    Were it possible, this might be an appropriate time for a second Miracle of Fatima.

  12. Wise words for sure. Unfortunately the current American administration has its collective head where the sun never shines, so they will ignore your warning and proceed to destroyhb the country.

  13. thebaron@enter.net

    I got my copy of “The End of Everything” yesterday, and read right through. Excellent analysis of the four case studies, and a sober warning for us.
    Unfortunately, among the other changes over time from each case to the next, particularly technology and the way societies organize themselves, one thing hasn’t changed: human nature. We fail so often to learn the appropriate lessons from history.

  14. Peter Patterson

    Well after that short history lesson there’s only one person who has promised such a shield and a rebuilding of America’s armed forces; Trump. He also wants peace. He’s willing to bring countries together. While the woke, DEI look forward with their chest puffed up, determined to integrate their one world, inclusive grenade, they sadly do not look back at the lessons learnt. Dangerous times ahead. The U.S. is not the worlds Sheriff anymore. Those days are over.

  15. Hello Dr. Hanson,
    I just received my signed copy of “The End of Everything” and I’m looking forward to diving into it. I listen to all of your podcasts and read as much of your writing as I can fit into a busy life. I feel privileged to have access to your brilliant analysis of current events and enjoy learning of the ancient societies you know so well. I also appreciate that you speak to the people, like the people. Listening to you or reading your works are like talking to a friend.
    I fear “what can’t happen here” is happening here. I also fear that the majority of the population either doesn’t want to hear about it or is so brainwashed by MSM propaganda they are impossible to reach. Anyway, that is my experience with friends and family members. But I keep hoping for what I call a “rising”. Eventually, I hope the truth will be undeniable and we will face a small window where our common sense, love of country and its founding documents overwhelms the populus and we can rise above the decadence and save ourselves. Thats the simple explanation but a beautiful dream none the less.
    By the way, are you being held to a time limit on your podcast now? One of my favorite parts of your podcasts are the trips you take us off topic. Please don’t stop telling fascinating stories about farming and your family and water in California to name a few.
    I loved “The Dying Citizen” and thank you for writing and signing my copy of “The End of Everything”.
    Thank you, Victor,
    Jan K. V.

    1. Or one egotistical maniac.
      The world is a much less safer place with the likes of Kim Jung Un and theocracy leaders in Iran having nuclear armaments.

  16. I like to remind folks that there is no guaranteed permanence to what we see around us. Maybe it is easier to see once you’ve lived 67 years and can look back over what has been.

    I am looking forward to reading “The End of Everything,” and thank you for your wisdom.

  17. Arnold Ray Bottoms

    The pundits and talking heads who talk of surviving an atomic war are braindead as well as anyone who believes that a woke military is good for USA. VDH thank you for using your brilliant mind keeping people who love our homeland informed.

  18. I am 72 and all my life we have just assumed that America is a permanent place. Of course Professor Hanson is correct when he writes that it’s just not necessarily so. The unthinkable can happen.

    In his penultimate paragraph he lists the things that need to be done to forestall such tragedy. Sadly, I don’t think we Americans have the will nor the fortitude to pursue such stratagems. I wish I were wrong but I don’t think i am.
    We have increasing numbers of people born here and immigrants who come here that hate this country. How do you surmount that?

  19. democratic ones (U.S.,…)

    Democratic? No.

    Add it all up:
    the IRS scandal, spying on Trump, Jeff Sessions being taken out of the loop to investigate that spying, Flynn prosecuted, Russiagate, Laptopgate, the Plandemic, the BLM/Antifa rioting, mail in ballots and voting machines that can’t be audited, vote counting magically stopping in the middle of the night, the Steal, Pennsylvania v. Texas, the J6 prosecutions, the prosecutions of Trump and most every high level official or lawyer who truly supported Trump.

    That’s not a democracy. That’s a dictatorship.

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