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Bard of the Booboisie

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Let us stipulate straightaway: Victor Davis Hanson is the worst historian since Parson Weems. To picture anything remotely as bad as his pseudo-historical novels and propaganda tracts, one would have to imagine an account of the fiscal policies of the Bush administration authored by Paris Hilton.

Mr. Hanson, Cal State Fresno’s contribution to human letters, is the favorite historian of the administration, the Naval War College, and other groves of disinterested research. His academic niche is to drag the Peloponnesian War into every contemporary foreign policy controversy and thereby justify whatever course of action our magistrates have taken. One suspects that if the neo-cons at the American Enterprise Institute were suddenly seized by the notion to invade Patagonia, Mr. Hanson would be quoting Pericles in support.

Once we strip away all the classical Greek fustian, it becomes clear that the name of his game is to take every erroneous conventional wisdom, cliche, faulty generalization, and common-man imbecility, and elevate them to a catechism. In this process, he showcases a technique beloved of pseudo-conservatives stuck at the Sean Hannity level of debate: he swallows whatever quasi-historical balderdash serves the interest of those in power, announces it with an air of surprised discovery, and then congratulates himself on his boldness in telling truth to power.

This is a surprising and rather hypocritical pose by someone who reportedly sups at the table of Vice President Cheney. For Mr. Hanson is one of a long and undistinguished line of personalities stretching back into the abysm of time: the tribal bard, the court historian, the academic recipient of the Lenin Prize. Compared to him, politically connected scribes such as Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., resemble Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

Like a Hellcat aviator at the Great Marianas Turkey Shoot, one hardly knows where to fire first, so target-rich is the Hanson opus. But let us take, exempli gratia, a recent contribution to human understanding in the pseudo-conservatives’ flagship publication, National Review. Mr. Hanson’s philippic, “Remembering World War II: Revisionists Get It Wrong,” [1] is an extended and unsourced whine obviously written from a deep sense of grievance that America’s contribution to World War II is somehow underappreciated, if not deliberately slighted.

One blinks in disbelief at such a statement. World War II is the subject of an avalanche of more books and films than any other historical subject, most of them if anything overstating, mainly by implication, the precise American contribution to Allied victory. Has Mr. Hanson never heard, that far from being unheralded, General Patton was the laudatory subject of an Oscar-winning film that is a staple of Turner Classic Movies? Did the overwhelmingly favorable public response to Saving Private Ryan bounce off his consciousness like so many Swedish peas off a steel helmet? [2]. Was there no notice of the recent dedication of the World War II Memorial in Reader’s Digest or other publications appropriate to Mr. Hanson’s Rotarian tastes? The History Channel is All World War II, All The Time – largely from the American perspective; Mr. Hanson is apparently too busy watching Fox News to notice.

Perhaps Hollywood, otherwise a perennial target of America’s moralizing jihadists, is not to blame so much as that bugbear of pseudo-conservative rage, the Liberal Education Establishment. Mr. Hanson believes that chalky pedagogues are inserting poison into innocent American youths’ crania in the same manner that Claudius dispatched Hamlet’s father. Only, rather than killing them, these pied pipers of Trotskyite academia endeavor to turn them into Old Glory-burning zombies.

We have before us at this moment our daughter’s high school history textbook. Contra Hanson, there is no mention of the internment of Japanese-American civilians. Mr. Hanson’s strange obsession with this subject invites speculation. Does his complaint about the alleged academic emphasis on this episode mean he would have opposed internment, or that it was merely a regrettable but necessary expedient best left unmentioned?

Naturally, he cannot restrain himself from commenting, as if we didn’t know, that Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Earl Warren were the instigators of the internment. Does that make it illicit? If Wendell Wilkie had been elected president and duly ordered internment would it have been unexceptionable? Or does Mr. Hanson’s reasoning run along the lines of, “we were fully justified to imprison American citizens without due process as a wartime measure, and people shouldn’t bring it up, but my political enemies ordered it, so I can have it both ways.” Perhaps Mr. Hanson can resolve this conundrum of who was loyal by paying a visit to the office of the senior Senator of Hawaii: Japanese-American, winner of the Congressional Medal of Honor, and infantry soldier who left a limb on the killing fields of World War II fighting for his country. [3]

On the other hand, the textbook contains a long extract from Reichsführer S.S. Heinrich Himmler’s 4 October 1943 speech in Posen outlining the intent of the German government to undertake its Final Solution. Hanson, by contrast, suggests that the Liberal obsession with World War II revisionism and the alleged faults of the United States have resulted in the diminution of appreciation for the Axis’ killing of innocent civilians. Really?

The number of books, articles, films, commemorations, and newly-opened museums having the holocaust as its subject is a veritable deluge. [4] Somehow, this fact has escaped Mr. Hanson’s curiosity. And one doubts, again contra Mr. Hanson, that there are many editorials in American newspapers decrying the bombing of Hamburg. The sole example we can find is a piece by the British (not American) author Niall Ferguson, which is more ambivalent than denunciatory. [5]

Having disposed of Mr. Hanson’s assorted red herrings and straw men, the gravamen of his argument is bosh. Seven-eighths of all Wehrmacht combat-division-months (i.e., one division spending one month in combat) during World War II occurred on the Russian Front.[6] It was the Red Army, as Churchill admitted, which “tore the guts out of the German Army.” Without diminishing the courage of the assault troops of D-Day, the successful operation in Normandy would have been impossible in 1944 without Stalingrad and Kursk.

Can human imagination encompass the fact that there were 27 million Russian deaths in World War II? That fact was a demographic catastrophe from which Russia has never recovered. Yes, Stalin was a swine, and the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was an act of treachery. But that does not entitle comfortable court historians to simulate outrage at how the American role in World War II has allegedly been belittled by (uncited) Marxist scribblers. Equally, the memoirs of German veterans of the Russian Front generally regarded a posting to the West as virtual salvation compared to the relentless meat grinder of the East. Their testimony has more credibility regarding the Russian contribution to World War II than the jeremiad of a shallow intellect.

For supporting evidence (nowhere seen in Hanson’s diatribe), we cite Williamson Murray and Allan R. Millett. These establishment military historians, whose musings ordinarily would not ruffle the serenity of Bohemian Grove or the editorial board of The Wall Street Journal, aver that the Soviets’ little-known Operation Bagration of June 1944 was an operational triumph that the Western allies did not replicate. [7]

Yes, the Red Army was horribly profligate with human life. But was the United States so daintily economical with its own sons because of its wise policies and whiz-bang technology, as Mr. Hanson says? Read Belton Y. Cooper’s Death Traps, or Paul Fussell’s Wartime. Both books are tours de force about the wartime experience, and both defy summary in the space allotted here. And both gentlemen were junior officers in the killing time of 1944-45, a qualification conspicuously absent from the resumes of many a publicity agent who would send other mens’ sons into mortal combat.

As for Mr. Hansen’s other distortions and examples of suggestio falsi, the History Channel has already reprised for the umpteeth time that the capture of Iwo Jima potentially saved the lives of more B-29 aircrews than were lost in the amphibious assault, contrary to the asseverations of the Cal State Fresno Thucydides. Are putatively failed strategy and tactics at Iwo really a subject of current Left-wing historiography that Mr. Hanson feels impelled to refute? That may be true, but one is entitled to entertain a healthy skepticism.

To tap the last nail into the Mr. Hanson’s reputational sarcophagus, we cite a little-known but seminal work which demonstrates that victory in the Second World War was largely a matter of geology. In Oil And War: How The Deadly Struggle For Oil in World War II Meant Victory Or Defeat, co-authors Robert Goralski and Russell W. Freeburg argue that World War II was not only won by the allies through possession of oil, it was, to an extent far greater than received history admits, about oil.

Mustering a huge, oil-hungry army, the Germans’ oil production was always less than a tenth of that of the United States. Japan was in even worse straits, and Italy could not even send its fleet to sea for much of the war for lack of fuel. Pearl Harbor, however large it looms in American iconography, was an important but basically a subsidiary operation to help secure the main thrust towards the oil fields of the Dutch East Indies and Burma. The Germans’ Fall Blau of 1942 was largely an oil offensive to reach the fields beyond the Caucasus. Many German operations in North Africa were predicated on capturing British stocks of oil.

Given that 95.9 percent of oil refining capacity lay outside Axis control [8], victory in a war characterized by corps-sized tank thrusts and thousand-bomber raids was a very long shot for the Axis. Mr. Hanson, however, argues without evidence that the inherent virtue of the ordinary American was what turned the tide for the Allies. While by no means discounting the tremendous heroism of the GI, other factors may loom even larger in the correlation of forces: the Allies’ huge industrial capacity, a sea of oil, and the self-sacrifice of the Russian Muzhik.

Turning from Mr. Hanson’s preposterous history to his political agenda, it appears that his labored apologia to United States government policy 60 years ago serves as a defense of United States government policy now, anno 2005. [9] Don’t let those ungrateful foreigners criticize us, he seems to say, after all, didn’t we win World War II? Aren’t all our wars just? What are all those Krauts and Frogs bitching about? How convenient when the invasion of Iraq (which Mr. Hanson fervently supports) has manifestly faltered and requires rhetorical support from an alleged man of learning, a species otherwise nowhere in evidence in the administration’s camp. How convenient, given that the Bush administration sought to rain on Russia’s 9 May 2005 victory parade and excoriate Yalta, in a manner not seen in official circles since the gin-fueled diatribes of Senator Joseph McCarthy. [10]

We briefly pass over Mr. Hanson’s other non-sequiturs and illogicalities: his seeming dismissal of the Chinese contribution (the implication that the PRC’s butchering its citizens after the war somehow negates the Chinese role in winning it) ignores the fact that the bulk of the Japanese Army was tied up in China throughout the war. Likewise, most American advisors stated it was Mao’s guerrillas, not Henry Luce’s darling, Chiang Kai-shek, who put up the stoutest resistance to the Japanese.

We pass over these matters with no more than an embarrassed cough, and lurch into what really peeves Mr. Hanson. Here is the summation of his bill of indictment:

” . . . the beneficiaries of those who sacrificed now ankle-bite their dead betters. Even more strangely, they have somehow convinced us that in their politically-correct hindsight, they could have done much better in World War II.

“Yet from every indication of their own behavior over the last 30 years, we suspect that the generation who came of age in the 1960s would have not just have done far worse but failed entirely.” [italics in original]

The reader seeks specificity. To whom is he referring, when he talks of the generation which came of age in the 1960s? The 57,000 names on the Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial, who had little say in the matter, but who suited up and went into combat as bravely as the World War II generation? Or is he writing them off as failures? Or perhaps Vice President Richard B. Cheney, dining companion of Mr. Hanson and owner of four Vietnam War deferments? The author fails to explain.

This essay has barely covered Mr. Hanson’s historical fatuity. His errors in interpreting his purported specialty, ancient Greece, are so legion as require an extended treatise. Suffice it to say that he does not praise the Greeks for philosophy, geometry, or literature remotely as much as he whoops it up for their war-making, conveniently ignoring the manifold disasters of the Peloponnesian War. A revealing Freudian slip is his approving and oxymoronic reference to Greece as an “imperial democracy,”[11] no doubt reflecting how his administration benefactors would conceive of our own form of government.

A leitmotiv of pseudo-conservatives is the allegation that public education has gone to hell in a handbasket. As Victor Davis Hanson demonstrates, they may be right.

Postscript

Before this piece went to press, a correspondent apprised me of yet another Mr. Hanson effusion in the National Review, this one an incoherent gallimaufry of attacks on every political point of view that does not favor the present crusade for civilization in Iraq.

In this diatribe, Mr. Hanson affects to denounce his opponents for possessing the “Paranoid Style.”[12] This unattributed reference to a work by the late Richard Hofstadter lays bare Mr. Hanson’s intellectual shallowness. For Hofstadter’s use of the phrase was intended to delineate precisely the kind of mentality that Mr. Hanson and his neoconservative confreres embody: the self-righteous, “ignorance-is-strength” 100-percent Americano who relentlessly conjures threats abroad, sniffs out subversion at home, and, in general, acts like a hybrid of Billy Sunday and General Jack D. Ripper.

But this summary barely conveys Mr. Hanson’s tirade. Exhibiting the paranoid style himself (and concentrating particularly on writers who had the impudence to expose his errors), Hanson sees a tacit Hitler-Stalin pact within an assortment of leftists, paleo-conservatives, racists, and anarchists. It does not help his case that he does not cite a single living paleo-con, instead misidentifying the libertarian Lew Rockwell as a paleo.

Further confusing matters, Mr. Hanson refers to the Democratic Socialists of America (affiliate of the Socialist International) as a “national socialist organization.” Goatee’d nerd in the coffee shop, meet your soul-mate Reinhard Heydrich!

Likewise, Mr. Hanson misidentifies the publication of online columnist Gary Brecher. It is Exile, not Encore.

Having thankfully assumed we had lurched to the end of this bill of indictment, our hopes were cruelly dashed. The concrete-like slab of The Washington Post Sunday edition thunked on our doorstep only a few hours ago, and with it the latest effluent from the Sage of Fresno himself as a featured op-ed: “Why We Need to Stay in Iraq.” [13] Note the sheer chickenhawk effrontery of that “we,” and the almost ghoulish tastelessness of whooping it up for endless foreign deployments as the dead of New Orleans remain uncounted.

* WERTHER is the pen name of a Northern Virginia based defense analyst.

Notes

[1] http://www.nationalreview.com/hanson/hanson200505130808.asp

[2] It is ironic that the most recent controversy surrounding the film was the effort to bowdlerize it for television screening ­ not by some moth-eaten Leftist professors at Brown or Oberlin, but by the Bible-toting gorgons of the American Family Association. And the objection was less about the graphic violence than their horrified discovery that men in combat use profanity. Mencken, thou shoudst be living at this hour.

[3] The Hon. Daniel K. Inouye.

[4] Again, the only discouraging word about the movie Schindler’s List came from The Hon. Tom Coburn, R, Oklahoma, a clean-living Senator duly chosen and sworn, rather than some putative Left-winger. Apparently the good burghers of the Tornado Belt regard the sight of disrobed, elderly prisoners being led to a gas chamber as disturbing, but not for humanitarian reasons. Instead, their objection lies in the deep-seated sexual prurience of those who would speak in behalf of the national morality.

[5] Mr. Ferguson is admittedly an eccentric. He has at excruciating length decried British participation in World War I as a pointless butchery which destroyed the country’s solvency; but, somewhat irrationally, he initially supported the United States governments’s lunge for empire in the Middle East in 2003. He appears lately to have recanted this opinion with a muffled cough behind the hand. “VE Day ­ A Soiled Victory,” The Los Angeles Times, 10 May 2005,

[6] Dirty Little Secrets of World War II: Military Information No One Told You, by James F. Dunnigan, 1996.

[7] A War To Be Won: Fighting The Second World War, by Williamson Murray and Allan R. Millett, 2000, p. 483.

[8] Goralski and Freeburg, p. 338.

[9] His outpouring of flatly inaccurate predictions about the U.S. occupation in Iraq, replete with inaccurate analogies involving World War II, the Civil War, and classical Greece, is published in the National Review: “Critical Mass,” 12 December 2003,

[10] A curious irony: Senator McCarthy also defended Waffen-SS Obersturmbannführer Joachim Peiper, convicted of ordering the massacre of more than 80 U.S. soldiers at Malmedy, Belgium. In addition, Colonel Peiper’s unit in Russia was known as the blowtorch battalion for its habit of incinerating Russian villages along with their inhabitants. Senator McCarthy’s otherwise inexplicable act of defending an American-killing convicted war criminal on behalf of his crusade against the Bolsheviks may be resolved thus: Catholic prelates in post-war Germany had mounted a campaign for the relief of incarcerated war criminals; a public official in the Upper Midwest, which contained many German Catholics, might be attentive to their arguments. Colonel Peiper was ultimately paroled.

[11] “Critical Mass.”
[12] http://www.nationalreview.com/hanson/hanson200508260909.asp
[13] http://www.washingtonpost.com/

 

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