Wednesday, August 22

Pyorrhic Victory: Snatching Defeat From The Flapping Gum Disease of History

Victor Davis Hanson, "Why Study War?" City Journal

SINCE he goes on for nearly 5000 words I'm guessing the short answer, "So you can lie about it in service of your crackpot political beliefs", either didn't fill the space, didn't feed the bulldog, or set a dangerous precedent of truth-telling Hanson might never live down.

So, wherever shall we begin, Professor?
Try explaining to a college student that Tet was an American military victory. You’ll provoke not a counterargument—let alone an assent—but a blank stare: Who or what was Tet? Doing interviews about the recent hit movie 300 , I encountered similar bewilderment from listeners and hosts. Not only did most of them not know who the 300 were or what Thermopylae was; they seemed clueless about the Persian Wars altogether.

Oh, Vietnam. Surprising choice.

May we note here, Professor, before we get rolling, that thanks in part to you, ordinary citizens may not know any more about the significance of the Greco-Persian Wars than they did three months ago, but they do now know they were fought by characters out of Tom of Finland. And that in your quest to convince America that supreme importance should be placed on tales of manly men and what they do with each other's innards, that, at least, is a start.

Put another, less suggestive of your own surprising lack of personal military glory, way: Th' fuck? Just what do you imagine the average American, college student or not, knows about most subjects? Ask 'em to name the author associated with madeleines, or the movement associated with Georges Braque. Ask for the dates of the Renaissance or an explanation of the theory of humours. Ask your readers for an explanation of Darwinism, and see how many say, "That man descended from monkeys."

Now ask 'em how many American Idol winners they can name.

The point isn't that people are stupid, or superficial, or that education has let them down. They have other priorities. The reason college students don't know about Tet is 1) it happened before they were born; 2) the constant drumbeat of people like you, for whom history must be a moral lesson and moral lessons must inform the student that your particular take on everything is not only correct but the only true American position. This has resulted in a shocking water-added ham version of our history dominating public school texts, and teachers and school districts happy to avoid anything resembling controversy, even when the sides are right vs. wrong. You think students should know about Tet, because you want them "informed" that Tet was a military victory followed by ignominious defeat courtesy The Media and a bunch of Sixties hopheads. I'd like people to know the whole story of US "involvement" in Indochina. Let's ask a few more questions and see who can answer. Let's ask 'em who blocked the reunification elections in 1956 because its side was going to lose. Let's ask if they can answer a multiple choice question: Who threw the Japanese out of Indochina in 1945? a) the Vietnamese; b) the French; c) the United States? Let's ask if they can tell us who reoccupied Vietnam in the name of colonialism in 1946? Anyone? Bueller? It was Great Fucking Britain, that's who. Who resupplied the French when they took over garrison duties, since the Vichy had left their weapons in the hands of the people who actually lived there? Beginning with Diem, name a leader of South Vietnam whose claim was legitimate. Is there any oil in South East Asia? Did destroying the village actually save it?

Let's ask 'em why you, and your fellow Nam buffs, aren't arguing that we should go back now and correct our little oversights. I'd like to hear the answer to that one.

Y'know why, especially, I think this particular part of our history is important? Because it might teach succeeding generations to recognize who the liars are.

Here's an amazing fact of history: tiny Vietnam ultimately prevailed against, in succession, the Chinese, the French, the Japanese, the British, the French again, and the United States. They displayed a remarkable resilience and savvy leadership more powerful nations thought impossible, and their history includes perhaps the single greatest feat of military genius in the modern era. An agrarian nation defeated the mightiest technological power ever seen on earth, despite being subjected to 3-1/2 times the aerial tonnage of the Second World War. They did so, in no small measure, due to "discipline, bravery, national will, and culture", characteristics Victor Davis Hanson insists our history teachers should instill. Yet for Professor Hanson the only interesting thing about them is that Walter Cronkite and a bunch of dirty hippies let 'em win.

AND so it is that young Victor Davis Hanson, professional student, finds an interest in military history--oh, curse the luck!--just after the Fifth Columnists in the Liberal Media deprived him of the opportunity to see actual combat with his actual eyes and possibly other body parts. And yet, there were battles ahead, bloody in their own way, if by that we mean "tending to violent tear one away from reality":
What lay behind this academic lack of interest? The most obvious explanation: this was the immediate post-Vietnam era. The public perception in the Carter years was that America had lost a war that for moral and practical reasons it should never have fought—a catastrophe, for many in the universities, that it must never repeat. The necessary corrective wasn’t to learn how such wars started, went forward, and were lost. Better to ignore anything that had to do with such odious business in the first place.

Extra credit for working in a sneering reference to Jimmy Carter, actual US veteran, over something he had nothing whatsoever to do with. For the rest, B for bullshit.
Further, the sixties had ushered in a utopian view of society antithetical to serious thinking about war. Government, the military, business, religion, and the family had conspired, the new Rousseauians believed, to warp the naturally peace-loving individual. Conformity and coercion smothered our innately pacifist selves. To assert that wars broke out because bad men, in fear or in pride, sought material advantage or status, or because good men had done too little to stop them, was now seen as antithetical to an enlightened understanding of human nature. “What difference does it make,” in the words of the much-quoted Mahatma Gandhi, “to the dead, the orphans, and the homeless whether the mad destruction is wrought under the name of totalitarianism or the holy name of liberty and democracy?”

Yeah. Thank God somebody shot him.
A wartime public illiterate about the conflicts of the past can easily find itself paralyzed in the acrimony of the present. Without standards of historical comparison, it will prove ill equipped to make informed judgments. Neither our politicians nor most of our citizens seem to recall the incompetence and terrible decisions that, in December 1777, December 1941, and November 1950, led to massive American casualties and, for a time, public despair.

Fer cryin' out loud, you're a military historian, even if I am leaving off the quotes for effect. Valley Forge--I would not have cared to have been an enlisted man there, no, but--it was not even a particularly cold winter. As for comparing Truman's little anti-Commie adventure in support of Syngman Fuckin' Rhee--who was twice the man Gandhi was, I guess--with Pearl Harbor, well, fuck you, chickenshit. If you had any shame you'd have died of it by now.
So it’s no surprise that today so many seem to think that the violence in Iraq is unprecedented in our history. Roughly 3,000 combat dead in Iraq in some four years of fighting is, of course, a terrible thing.

It's dollars to doughnuts that there are more Americans who can't find Canada on a map then there are who think the violence in Iraq is "unprecedented in our history". I'd suggest the opposite: most Americans dismiss the death toll in Iraq--total or total American--as bad, but not that bad, provided they aren't being drafted. They sure haven't seen much of it, weren't permitted a view of a flag-draped casket for years, and if they're aware now that our men and women aren't over there playing video games--the image of Iraq War I--it's because of the inadequate equipment we've provided them and the incompetent treatment many of the injured receive once they've returned. Whose fuckin' fault is that, the public's?
Military history teaches us, contrary to popular belief these days, that wars aren’t necessarily the most costly of human calamities. The first Gulf War took few lives in getting Saddam out of Kuwait; doing nothing in Rwanda allowed savage gangs and militias to murder hundreds of thousands with impunity. Hitler, Mao, Pol Pot, and Stalin killed far more off the battlefield than on it. The 1918 Spanish flu epidemic brought down more people than World War I did. And more Americans—over 3.2 million—lost their lives driving over the last 90 years than died in combat in this nation’s 231-year history.

And yet, millions of Americans still apply for driver's licenses but we can't scout up 50,000 a year to die for a Victor Davis Hanson-approved military adventure.

By the way, I'm not sure how military history teaches us that stuff, or why the "fairly low" number of casualties in military operations argues for less focus on causes and more on cool gory pictures, but for Hitler--believe it or not--this is not exactly true, unless you add in civilian death by disease and starvation. Nine million murdered Jews, homosexuals, Romanies, political prisoners, and mental defectives still fall short of the 10-15 million military deaths suffered by the Soviet Union alone. Apologies for engaging in these sorts of macabre games, but the suggestion that ~50 million worldwide deaths from a virus somehow ameliorate ~20 million deaths over the internecine squabbles of a tiny bunch of inbreds is execrable. World War I was just wanton slaughter, to no purpose whatsoever, unless you count setting the stage for something worse. It's there, and not in the basically-agreed-upon Good War of 1939-45, where we see the real face of this thing you imagine is so purposeful and so under-appreciated, and it's not made more sensible or less unspeakable than the crimes of Pol Pot or Joe Steel or the Cultural Revolution by virtue of the fact that white people decided to wave banners over it.
Perhaps what bothers us about wars, though, isn’t just their horrific lethality but also that people choose to wage them—which makes them seem avoidable, unlike a flu virus or a car wreck, and their tolls unduly grievous. Yet military history also reminds us that war sometimes has an eerie utility: as British strategist Basil H. Liddell Hart put it, “War is always a matter of doing evil in the hope that good may come of it.” Wars—or threats of wars—put an end to chattel slavery, Nazism, fascism, Japanese militarism, and Soviet Communism.

We're just gonna let that "Soviet Communism" slide by, as the product of a pathetic neediness it would be heartless to crush, but...chattel slavery? Maybe in the United States, although you can find an argument that the Civil War had nothing to do with slavery easily enough, probably by clicking through an ad on your website. But the rest of the world--or that part which has managed to put an end to slavery and near-slavery--generally did so out of moral repugnance, not warfare. And, I will add, if you're all that interested in people learning about abolition, how come that motion comic book you added your name to turned the Persians, who weren't, into slave masters while those leather-bikini Democrats, who were, skipped away free?
The 2003 removal of Saddam refuted doom-and-gloom critics who predicted thousands of deaths and millions of refugees,

I'm that when we stopped counting? Did the ref blow the whistle? Because the UN says there's now over a million refugees in Syria alone, and thousands of deaths, well, at least that would mean it wasn't hundreds of thousands. Yet. What was refuted, right there in 2003, though, was the doom-and-gloom cheerleaders who predicted thousands, if not millions, of deaths unless we captured Hussein's arsenal of nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons. Plants. Plans. Ideas. Scrapbook. So, good point. Did you scribble it down four years ago and just find it while you were typing the paragraph?
Ultimately, public opinion follows the ups and downs—including the perception of the ups and downs—of the battlefield, since victory excites the most ardent pacifist and defeat silences the most zealous zealot

Not quite.
The American public turned on the Iraq War not because of Cindy Sheehan or Michael Moore but because it felt that the battlefield news had turned uniformly bad and that the price in American lives and treasure for ensuring Iraqi reform was too dear.

Right. The utter lyin' incompetents runnin' the show have nothing to do with it. Military history teaches us that. If we squint hard enough.


Anonymous said...

> weapons. Plants. Plans. Ideas. Scrapbook.

"program-related activities"

Thanks for yet another wonderful takedown rant, JSB.

Anonymous said...

Just how did this old fart get such a vicious gale of wind blowing up his skirts? Jeez, he makes me ill to read even a takedown of his blather.

Anonymous said...

Shorter VDH: War! What is it good for? Absolutely everything.

Oh, and Victor:
Roughly 3,000 combat dead in Iraq in some four years of fighting is, of course, a terrible thing.

That would be roughly 4000 combat dead in Iraq in some 4 and a half years of fighting, or almost one year longer than the entire duration of America's involvement in World War II.

Excellent as usual. You should send it to to the prick.

Anonymous said...

At last, my imprecations to the ineffable Cloud-Being are answered. The constant intrusions of this half-ass lout's Grand Braying from my little-city rag's Op-Ed podium has proved a source of continuing befuddlement to me lo these many years. Who the hell is this jerk? ... sorta like my reaction of "WTF is HE being given air time?" at Falwell's foul remarks after 9-11.

(But that was when I was away from the worldly, wrapped in art-space. Falwell's new "legitimacy" opened my eyes wide up quick enuf.)

So, proudly I say: Doghouse earns my vote, dear Academy, for Absolutely The Best Takedown of A So-Called Professional Op-Ediot, "HTF'd This Imbecile Ever Get To Be One?" category.

Mr Riley, this particularly poignant instance of your always-inspired truthtelling should be installed Op-Edded, by way of inoculation, against every instance of VD's appearance in every small-city newspaper for the rest of his (please, one more imprecation -- make VD's future mercifully brief, oh Cloud Being)Op-Ed career.

D. Sidhe said...

And more Americans—over 3.2 million—lost their lives driving over the last 90 years than died in combat in this nation’s 231-year history.

I don't know about the college kids these days, but as an unemployed motel maid, even I know that's a totally false argument unless you can show that as many American person-hours have been spent in battle as in cars. Since even with a draft on very few of us actually go to war, but everybody but me and a couple other freaks drive (and even we're passengers or pedestrians in a car's path of destruction at times) and suburban sprawl means we're driving farther and more often, I rather suspect his comparison is faulty.

Maybe he could audit a statistics class.

Anonymous said...

The best.
Even better than the organic gardening/experienced woodsman takedown of Nooner's "Reagan crush" piece.
Made my day.
ps regards to your Mom.

Anonymous said...

"The 2003 removal of Saddam refuted doom-and-gloom critics who predicted thousands of deaths and millions of refugees,"

I think this is the point where we can agree that Mr. Davis Hanson is not just wrong, but actually insane.

What ON EARTH led to that statement being published in any form, anywhere?

Anonymous said...

Awesome. VD needs to read this, but he won't.

And we're in for much more frenzied pap as the whole thing collapses.

Grace Nearing said...

In his list of suggested readings, VDH could not even bring himself to list Vo Nguyen Giap's diaries. Now that's a prime example of intellectual dishonesty.

I might add, from personal experience, that reading a volume of Giap's diaries during jury duty down time is an excellent way to get sent home early. Lawyers on all sides take one look at you and wave you out the side door.

TinSoldier said...

I thought that you did well up to a point;

Then you descended into the same wingnutism that you seem to deplore. I personally found Victor Davis Hanson's editorial to be quite illuminating and thoughtful.