by Victor Davis Hanson
I was once more under-whelmed by Mr. Bateman’s fourth and final attack on Carnage and Culture.
Despite the promises and braggadocio, nowhere does Robert Bateman critique the book as he promised at the outset. Perhaps he will do so at some future date, but for now after thousands of words, we are left only with a Media Matters partisan, raging at the wind for mysterious untold reasons.
He had oddly alleged, six years after the book appeared, that suddenly he became outraged by its thesis, and therefore went of all places to Media Matters — apparently assuming it was the logical forum for a historian to review books — to demonstrate how Carnage and Culture’s thesis of how a 2,500 year cultural tradition in the West resulted in military advantage was flawed.
But that did not follow.
Bateman — if he were scholarly and intent on demonstrating a counter-thesis — might have tried to argue that there is no such unique Western tradition of exceptional military practice — or, that if there were, it neither reveals special preeminence nor offers real advantages, then or now — or, again if there were a dynamic Western way of war, it accrues from either the borrowing or theft of others’ ideas — or is a result of exploitation — or perhaps an artifact of geography — or only a relatively recent phenomenon.
But instead of exploring such alternatives to the arguments of Carnage and Culture, Bateman simply reverts to still more ad hominem attacks. And here he unfortunately reveals a pattern of behavior unbecoming a Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. Army, which, one would hope, might at least serve as a reminder of how any officer and gentleman should not conduct himself in the public arena.
Other disturbing characteristics appear in LTC Bateman’s four serial attacks onCarnage and Culture.
Not content with past use of words like pervert, feces, and devil, Mr. Bateman, in exasperation at his repeated inability to fault the thesis of the book, now questions my patriotism for registering for the draft, instead of volunteering to join the military, some 36 years ago (more below).
Second, sadly Bateman cannot be relied upon to tell the truth, but consistently alleges that I wrote things that I did not — hence the frequent resort to paraphrase in absence of quotation marks (see replies 1-3, and, once more, below)
Third, there is something seriously wrong with Bateman’s ability to grasp an argument, and to express a logical alternative to it. For example, last time he stated that I am as pernicious an influence as Howard Zinn. But when I reminded him that Bateman writes for Media Matters that reflects the same general ideological worldview as Zinn’s, he suddenly now reverses course, praises Zinn’s patriotism, and now suggests that I am not like Zinn, after all.
Media Matters, as Mr. Bateman has belatedly learned, is apparently not the natural forum to attack a fierce critic of American politics and culture like Howard Zinn — and thus perhaps the recent about-face.
Fourth, he has very little knowledge of either historical facts or geography. In the world of Robert Bateman, a Sicily or Spain lies in the heart of Europe; there are simply no major battles of the Second Punic War for years after Cannae; the key to the battle of Yarmouk is Muslim infantry; Manzikert is not near the border of the Byzantine Empire; and if an English translation of a Latin text he read differs from my own in Carnage and Culture, he never imagines that an author himself translated it from Latin, much less that it would be incumbent upon Bateman, if he is apparently concerned, to recheck the Latin for its accuracy — and any other of the translated quotations in the book from Greek, Italian, or Spanish.
* * *
Again, like the third reply, these are abbreviated responses, since the point of Bateman’s harangue was political and personal; and, as the theme of these attacks showed, he actually has little interest in Carnage and Culture per se.
Among many professional historians, the book has a horrid reputation (and Hanson’s personal reputation as the thinnest-skinned writer out there only exacerbates this evaluation). Indeed, Carnage and Culture is one of the few works of history to ever prompt an entire book written in rebuttal almost immediately.
Still more heat, still less light. I commented earlier on Bateman’s affinity for Halloween-like hyperbole. The book was once “feces”, but now evolves to merely “horrid.”
We also are again subjected to the grandiose bluster in the paranoid style like “few works of history to ever…” (e.g., cf. the prior “I take down one of the most profound perverts of the historical record in the modern era”). But why all the psychodrama?
He confuses assertion with explication: if Bateman believes the above, he simply can go over the reviews, summarize them, and then show how their critiques of the book resonate.
In fact, the book’s reviews are a matter of record. It has sold over 100,000 copies in dozens of languages, and is discussed and debated in not one, but in a variety of books.
Many military histories — whether by a Geoffrey Parker or a John Keegan — often evoke book-length responses. I don’t know which book Bateman is referring to that took issue to Carnage and Culture, but I welcome any genuine criticism and hope the controversy over the nature of Western conventional military advantage is one that is debated and explored.
At least in one case, a historian who was planning to attack the book after hearing an early lecture I gave outlining my proposed thesis, instead wrote me a complimentary letter, in admiration making the odd request to see my work in its rough draft form two years before publication. I gladly consented, sent him Carnage and Culture’s original draft — whereas he used that ms. in progress, without acknowledgment, to frame his own book’s immediate counter-argument.
So I have welcomed all sorts who seek to refute the book’s thesis, since I think it is sound, can be easily defended, and will stand the test of time.
As far as “thin-skinned,” this seems sadly a case of the habitual bully suddenly shocked that someone chooses to defend himself. In part, I reply here to demonstrate the poverty of his thinking in hopes that he will learn in the future to concentrate on research, writing, and avoid the quick-fix of “taking down” others as a way to garner notoriety.
In all my replies, I have tried to avoid resorting to the language Bateman favors. Again, the reader can compare the past exchanges and make his own determination about the temperament and manners of the respective authors.
So it was, in this case, that I very early stumbled upon these lines about the present day written by Victor Davis Hanson:
Mercenary armies in America and Europe are the norm. They are not necessarily entirely professional militaries, but outlets for the disaffected of society who seek economic opportunity alone in serving, with the realization that those of a far different social class will determine where, when, and how they will fight and die. (p. 449)
This, as you may have now surmised, got my dander up.
Calling me names is one thing. But calling the men with whom I have served for the past 18 years “mercenary,” and claiming that the soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines who manned the walls through the 70s, 80s, 90s, and into the 21st century are “the disaffected of society” pisses me off. You cannot seriously write a book in which you say that the service members who stood tours in the Sinai Desert, fought and died in Mogadishu, gave up years of their lives living in tents in the Balkans or aboard ships drilling holes in the Adriatic, Pacific, Atlantic, etc., did so solely to “seek economic opportunity” and not expect people to look closely to see what other sort of tripe you are pushing. So, annoyed, I wrote to Eric and asked if he would mind lending me some space. He agreed, and here we are.
After three lengthy attacks, Bateman now suddenly suggests that his “dander” arose to such a degree that he “wrote to Eric” at Media Matters, not because, as he once alleged, of the thesis of the book, but because I was supposedly “calling” him “names.” This final resort to find some sort of victim status is a disturbing symptom of our modern malaise.
Of course, I never called Bateman names, much less any of the military whom I have supported unwaveringly in print in all my work.
The quotation he extracts is part of a discussion over the future of the Western military tradition, in which the use of mercenary denotes the end of wide civic participation in the military in Western societies. It clearly was a lamentation that civilian society is increasingly becoming divorced from those who defend it. It was written during a time of peace, when a national discussion was underway over the connection between economic need and enlistment—and public apathy about the connection.
Pace Bateman, I show empathy for soldiers who serve in harm’s way on behalf of all of us who are often more privileged (“e.g., those of a far different social class will determine where, when, and how they will fight and die.”). The chapters in Carnage and Culture on the U.S. military (Midway and Vietnam) are sympathetic to our soldiers; the chapter on Vietnam takes on the traditionally stereotyped view of Vietnam soldiers as disturbed or amoral, and instead argues that they were as stable and courageous as any in World War II.
Of course, I worried and still do that a professional military class, and many who volunteer to serve under them, are increasingly not appreciated nor even well known to civilians. Since I wrote that in 1999, things have improved, and wartime for a while brought us together, but not enough to allay concerns. The worry — neither mine alone nor original — about the divide between soldier and civilian is central to scores of critics, as diverse as Robert Kaplan, Charles Moskos, and Josiah Bunning. And dozens of remedies have been proposed, ranging from reinstitution of the draft and increased public education to expansion of ROTC on campuses and programs for civilians to visit military facilities.
Bateman has an unfortunate habit of somehow putting himself at the center of almost everything (note at the beginning here the collective U.S. military is dubbed “my men”); thus a generic remark about worries over the military/civilian divide becomes, of course, commentary about one LTC Robert Bateman.
After the appearance of Carnage and Culture, I have been invited to speak on the book at military institutions such as the U.S. Naval Academy, the U.S. Air Force Academy, the Army War College, and dozens of others, as well as being asked to visit with soldiers on duty at Quantico, Camp Pendleton, the USS John F. Kennedy, Lemoore Naval Air Station and in Iraq to name a few. I mention that for a reason: of the many hundreds of officers I have discussed the book with, LTC Bateman is the first — and so far the only one — either to see himself in the text, or to suggest that it was anyway unfair to military personnel.
In truth, through these replies LTC Bateman has brought far more embarrassment through his language and misrepresentations to those he represents than any paragraph that expresses worries about the neglect of military personnel by civilian society.
Hanson’s polemic position in Carnage and Culture, it turns out, is really more about his personal pining for a myth of his own creation. He seeks an idyllic pastoral past, rather like Lake Woebegone, and like that place, largely exists only in the fantasies of its creator. In Hanson’s vision, even a name can evoke the image of the stalwart yeoman, which of course stands in contrast to the slacker youth of today. In discussing the future (circa mid-2001, when this book came out), Hanson even manages to cast aspersions on our present day soldiers, the ones who have joined since 2001. This is what Hanson wrote about them (Note: Here Hanson is referring to a few of the naval aviators who fought and died at Midway in June 1942.):
Even their names seem almost caricatures of an earlier stalwart American manhood — Max Leslie, Elm Massey, Wade Clunky, Jack Waldron — doomed fighters who were not all young eighteen-year-old conscripts, but often married with children, enthusiastic rather than merely willing to fly their decrepit planes into a fiery end above the Japanese fleet, in a few seconds to orphan their families if need be to defend all that they held dear. One wonders if an America of suburban, video-playing Nicole’s, Ashley’s and Jason’s shall ever see their like again.” (p. 351)
He wrote both of these passages without, apparently, noting the complete illogical contradiction contained within his own words within this single book. Those men he lauds, the naval aviators, did not join at the outset of the war. They were long-serving officers. They were men who had joined the peacetime military voluntarily, during the height of the Great Depression in the mid-1930s. In other words, by Hanson’s logic and words, they were just as mercenary as the “Nicole’s, Ashley’s and Jason’s” who have fought and died in Iraq and Afghanistan these past six years…
The problem of logic belongs to Bateman once again. “Nicole’s, Ashley’s and Jason’s” refers to a generation in toto; it does not refer to those who enlisted in the U.S. military. That’s why I deliberately prefaced those symbolic names with “an America of _____”, and not “a military of_______”.
I have no apologies in expressing worries that the generation who fought WWII, given the ordeal of the Depression and the acceptance of a more tragic vision of life, was more likely than our own contemporary one to accept certain finalities of the human experience — that it can be very hard, that war is unfortunately part of the human condition, and that we struggle, age, and die in ways we don’t like. Everything from the ubiquity of cosmetic surgery and the decline in educational standards to the obsession with video-games and the fixation on pseudo-celebrities like Paris Hilton and Anna Nicole Smith by millions of youth are symptomatic that our much greater affluence and leisure do not necessarily create more engaged citizens.
Indeed, I am not the only one to do this. Here is an opinion about the importance of documentation with which I completely agree. In this case, the reviewer is talking about the “popular, mass market” book by Tom Ricks entitled Fiasco. But, obviously, the passion this reviewer has for rigorous documentation in history comes through clearly:
History is not the impressionistic art of autobiography, memoir, or essay, but is to be offered as an account of what happened with sources that provide the means of checking the historian’s veracity. Once journalists decide that they are no longer writing dispatches of the moment but real histories in the midst of a controversial and hotly debated war — and are intending to hype their work as a best-selling exposé — then they become historians and so are obligated to inform the reader, and posterity itself, where and from whom they obtained their primary evidence.
This being Altercation, you already knew who had to have written that blistering commentary about the importance of documentation in best-selling works of historical import, don’t you? Victor. Davis. Hanson. (Policy Review, 23 December 2006) Once again, apparently without a trace of irony.
Here Bateman outdoes himself in intellectual dishonesty. My worry about some of the methodology of citation used in the Ricks book had nothing at all to do with notes per se which is never mentioned in this excerpt. The problem is the very different issue of Ricks use of unnamed sources to buttress often very controversial claims about an ongoing war.
It matters little that these anonymous sources are formally on occasion listed by Ricks in notes, underscoring the very point that it is not the structure of citation per se that is the problem, but any evidence that cannot (ever) be cross-checked since the source is known only to the author.
In Carnage and Culture, the veracity of every quote can be checked, since it is cited by author, work, and page. In contrast, what would be the reaction should a historian use quotation marks to record verbatim a speech or conversation by an Italian at Lepanto or a Spaniard at Tenochtitlan, only to direct the reader to a endnote at the back of the book where he would then find documentation something like Ricks’ “a rower” or “senior conquistador”?
Bateman has conflated two entirely different issues of footnotes and identifying the source of direct quotations, and then used a quote to prove something that is entirely extraneous — cf. his earlier twisting of my argument of the need to emphasize the battle experience in military historical narratives to prove that I think decisive battle alone constitutes war.
Last week, I also expounded upon the similarities twixt Mr. Howard Zinn and Mr. Hanson. Now, I should note that unlike Mr. Hanson, Howard Zinn came to his opinions about war through direct personal experience in the Second World War. Moreover, Zinn’s experiences were the result of choice. Because he had a job working in the defense industry, Zinn was exempted from the draft. Yet, during the height of World War II, when thousands upon thousands of airmen were being shot from the skies over occupied Europe, Zinn volunteered for the Army Air Corps. He was accepted, trained, and then deployed to England as a bombardier. (In WWII era aircraft, this is the officer who pulled the trigger that dropped the bombs.) He manned a .50 caliber machinegun in combat over Germany, braved flak and enemy fighters, and looked through a Noreen bombsite and dropped bombs in combat. More than 25,000 of his peers died in the air over Europe doing much the same thing during the course of his war.
I am once more confused. In the last reply Bateman demonized Zinn. I replied that this was odd since he writes for Media Matters, which often echoes a Zinn-like worldview. Now he suddenly has reversed course (“I should note..), and is praising Zinn.
But I need no lectures from Bateman about the air war. My father flew 40 missions on a B-29 over Japan. He had been drafted after graduating from the College of Pacific. But in the upside-down world of Robert Bateman, is his war record suspect since he did not quit school and volunteer during the first year of the war? Those in the arms industry were exempted from conscription because someone needed to make munitions — in the manner that some adult males of military age were needed to produce fuel or to grow food — if the war were to be won. And many of these key industries required a great deal of physical strength, long hours, and sacrifice.
Hanson, who turned 18 two years before the end of the U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War, apparently had better things to do at a time when America was at war and desperately needed smart young men in the ranks. Hanson’s own idea of “civic militarism,” which he espouses in his book, was, apparently, not one he felt compelled to exhibit in any sort of personal manner. He felt it sufficient to wait for the State to compel him with the draft, should it choose to do so, rather than volunteer for military service, as had Zinn.
Unlike Zinn, I see the history of the United States and its military as one of exceptional morality, a constant striving for the promise of the Constitution that has left the world a far better place since 1776.
Like my father, I registered for the draft on my birth date at 18 in September 1971, sought no exemption, waited to receive a lottery number sometime in February 1972, was not called up, and finally was informed by the selective service that the lottery numbers were to be abolished in 1973. By 1972 there were few, and by 1973 essentially no, American ground troops fighting in Vietnam. By 1972-3, I simply followed the example of my grandfather, who did not enlist, but was drafted in WWI (he was gassed in the Argonne and for the rest of his life partially disabled), my father, and my uncle (transferred to Marine corps after being drafted by the army, and killed on Okinawa). According to the logic of Robert Bateman, my family is one of dubious patriots because they felt it “sufficient to wait for the State to compel … with the draft, should it choose to do so, rather than volunteer for military service.”
At the time, I had two elderly grandparents in their mid-80s, whose small family farm where we lived was in disarray. I spent weekends and summers working it. Upon immediate completion of graduate school, I went back home to try to save what had been in my family since 1870, during the general agricultural depression of the early 1980s.
One can support — and harm — the United States in a variety of ways; according to one’s station. I have always supported this country wholeheartedly and especially its military. To suggest, as does the moral censor Robert Bateman, that millions of Americans who were drafted in WWII were somehow less patriotic than those who immediately volunteered ignores all sorts of individual circumstances, and is an insult to their memories. Some who volunteered in WWII ended up in non-combat scenarios; others who were drafted ended up in nightmares like Okinawa.
But as Bateman envisioned, we are now a long way away from a promised scholarly discussion of Western military advantage advanced inCarnage and Culture.
That, ladies and gentlemen, is probably a crucial difference. On the one hand, there is a man who fought in war, Zinn, and he has a problem with war, but not the warriors. On the other side is a man, Hanson, who decided not to fight in his generation’s war and has no apparent problems with war, but does refer to those of us in the U.S. Army (and the other services) as “mercenary” and describes our motivations as being that solely of people, “who seek economic opportunity alone in serving.”
More of the false intimacy. “That, ladies and gentlemen…” sounds more like a magician in mediis rebus than a critique of a book. And what does “no apparent problems with war” mean? The themes of the earlierWestern Way of War were the grotesque nature of battle that often escapes formal histories, why we have a moral duty to look at fighting from the perspective of the combatant, and the worry that this lethal tradition might be turned against itself.
I tried to bring that same moral concern to Carnage and Culture. One who studies the horrors of wars usually wishes to prevent them, by learning how and why they start, and how they might be deterred. According to this puerile way of Bateman’s thinking, the military historian ipso facto must love wars — in the manner the oncologist must love tumors or the virologist the plague.
Here we have come full circle. Robert Bateman chose to find resonance with Media Matters, as he put it, by “taking down” a “conservative”. He promised to critique Carnage and Culture and its theme, but never explored whether there was a uniquely lethal western tradition of warfare over some 2500 from the Greek to the present that is the consequence not of race, accident, or geography, but of cultural practice — one that gave the West inordinate political dominance not commensurate with its population or land.
We never heard any sustained critique of that idea at all.
Instead, we’ve now endured four episodes of Media Matters-type rambling accusation, hodge-podge anecdotes, and finally the raising of the “bloody shirt.” And so after all the bumper-sticker promises of scholarship, references to Bateman’s sojourn at West Point, his teaching at Georgetown, his tour of Iraq, his Pentagon fides, his resorts to invective, the scary warning that I was to be forewarned that Robert Bateman was taking me down, we end not with a bang, but a whimper that the now hurt name-caller retreats to the status of a victim, and the author of a work of military history is somehow tainted because nearly four decades ago, I once registered for the draft, but did not volunteer to serve in a war in which the American role was nearly over.
I tried to follow the Tet offensive closely in the papers, but I was 14 at the time.
Robert Bateman for a few weeks perhaps will gain some modicum of the attention that he sought by these serial hit pieces. Yet sadly the accompanying embarrassment will be longer-lived and won’t be the sort of notoriety he envisioned when he “wrote to Eric.”
In the end, he has managed to do a disservice to more than his own reputation.
©2007 Victor Davis Hanson