Victor Davis Hanson
(born 1953 in Fowler, California
) is a military historian
, political essayist and former classics
professor, notable as a scholar of ancient warfare
. He has been a commentator on modern warfare and contemporary politics for National Review
and other media outlets, and has been a strong supporter of the policies of President George W. Bush
Hanson was awarded the National Humanities Medal in 2007 and the US$250,000 Bradley prize from the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation in 2008.
Hanson is also a farmer (growing raisin grapes on a family farm near Fresno, California) and a critic of social trends related to farming and agrarianism.
Early life, education and today
Hanson, who is of Swedish
ancestry, grew up on a family farm at Selma
, in the San Joaquin Valley
. His mother was a lawyer and judge, his father an educator and college administrator. Along with his older brother Nils and fraternal twin Alfred, he attended public schools and graduated from Selma High School. At Roosevelt Junior High, he and Alfred were in a band, "Mustard Outhouse". Hanson received his B.A.
from the University of California, Santa Cruz
in 1975 and his Ph.D.
from Stanford University
in 1980. He is a Protestant Christian
Hanson is currently a Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution and Fellow in California Studies at the Claremont Institute. Until recently, he was professor at California State University, Fresno, where he began teaching in 1984, having created the classics program at that institution.
In 1991 Hanson was awarded an American Philological Association's Excellence in Teaching Award, which is awarded to undergraduate teachers of Greek and Latin. He has been a visiting professor of classics at Stanford University (1991–92), National Endowment for the Humanities fellow at the Center for Advanced Studies in the Behavioral Sciences, Stanford, California (1992–93), as well as holding the visiting Shifrin Chair of Military History at the U.S. Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland (2002–03). He was a visiting professor at Hillsdale College in 2004, 2006, and 2007.
Hanson writes two weekly columns, one for National Review and one syndicated by Tribune Media Services, and has been published in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, American Heritage, City Journal, The American Spectator, Policy Review, the Claremont Review of Books, The New Criterion, and The Weekly Standard, among other publications. In 2006, he started blogging at Pajamas Media. In 2007, he was awarded the National Humanities Medal by President George W. Bush.
Hanson is a registered Democrat
, but a conservative
who voted for George W. Bush in the 2000 and 2004 elections. He has been named a neoconservative
by some commentators, and has stated that: "I came to support neocon approaches first in the wars against the Taliban and Saddam, largely because I saw little alternative." Feeling that the current Democratic party does not have a morally responsible approach to foreign policy and no longer addresses the concerns of ordinary Americans, Hanson writes: "The Democratic Party reminds me of the Republicans circa 1965 or so – impotent, shrill, no ideas, conspiratorial, reactive, out-of-touch with most Americans, isolationist, and full of embarrassing spokesmen.
Hanson has been a strong defender of President George W. Bush and his policies, especially the Iraq war. He was also a vocal supporter of Bush's Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Hanson wrote of Rumsfeld that he was: "a rare sort of secretary of the caliber of George Marshall" and a "proud and honest-speaking visionary" whose "hard work and insight are bringing us ever closer to victory.
Hanson sees rural values as underpinning successful democracies, whether they be of ancient Athens or the modern United States. He writes that America has remained democratic despite the loss of rural values but the democratic ethos is now very different from in the past.
Hanson believes that the Iraq War
is a good and worthwhile undertaking and that it has been, on the whole, a laudable success. However, he stated in 2008 that he "disagreed with many of the decisions made about the Iraq war", such as the decision to disband Saddam's army.
Hanson has pro-democratic and pro-Israel views on the Middle East. He believes that the lack of individual and political freedom in many Middle Eastern nations has retarded economic, technological and cultural progress and is the root cause of radical Islamic terrorism.
Confrontation with Iran
Hanson has argued that the US should take a much more confrontational stance towards Iran, advocating unilateral acts of war against Iran. On the Hugh Hewitt
show in August 2007 Hanson stated: "We really need to start doing some things beyond talking, and if that is going into Iranian airspace, or buzzing Iranians, or even starting to forget where the border is and taking out some of these training camps, we need to do that and send a message, because they’re a paper tiger. They really are.
Hanson cites the Theban
general and statesman Epaminondas
, the American generals Sherman
, as well as Winston Churchill
as his heroes. In the field of military history, Hanson cites John Keegan
as being influential, and shares a mutual admiration with fellow classicist Donald Kagan
and the historian Steven Ozment
Carnage and Culture
Hanson is perhaps best known for his 2001 book Carnage and Culture
, in which he argued that the military dominance of Western Civilization
, beginning with the ancient Greeks, is the result of certain fundamental aspects of Western culture
, such as consensual government and individualism. Hanson rejects racial explanations for this military preeminence, and disagrees as well with environmental or geographical explanations such as put forth by Jared Diamond
in Guns, Germs and Steel
According to Hanson, Western values such as political freedom, capitalism, individualism, democracy, scientific inquiry, rationalism, and open debate form an especially lethal combination when applied to warfare. Non-Western societies can win the occasional victory when warring against a society with these Western values, writes Hanson, but the "Western way of war" will prevail in the long run. Hanson emphasizes that Western warfare is not necessarily more (or less) moral than war as practiced by other cultures; his argument is simply that the "Western way of war" is unequalled in its devastation and decisiveness.
Carnage and Culture examines nine battles throughout history, each of which is used to illustrate a particular aspect of Western culture that Hanson believes contributes to the dominance of Western warfare. The battles or campaigns recounted (with themes in parenthesis) are the Battle of Salamis (480 BC; free citizens), the Battle of Gaugamela (331 BC; the decisive battle of annihilation), the Battle of Cannae (216 BC; civic militarism), the Battle of Tours/Poitiers (732; infantry), the Battle of Tenochtitlan (1521; technology and reason), the Battle of Lepanto (1571; capitalism), the Battle of Rorke's Drift (1879; discipline), the Battle of Midway (1942; individualism), and the Tet Offensive (1968; dissent).
Though Carnage and Culture appeared before the September 11, 2001 attacks, its message that the "Western way of war" will ultimately prevail made the book a best-seller in the wake of those events. Immediately after 9/11, Carnage and Culture was re-issued with a new afterword by Hanson in which he explicitly stated that the United States would win the war on terror for the reasons stated in the book.
American education and classical studies
Hanson co-authored the book Who Killed Homer?
with John Heath. This book explores the issue of how classical education
has declined in America and what might be done to restore it to its former place. This is important, according to Hanson, because knowledge of the classical Greeks and Romans is necessary if we are to fully understand our own culture. Hanson blames the academic classicists themselves for the decline, accusing them of becoming so infected with political correctness and postmodern thinking, not to mention egoism and money-grubbing (grants, visiting professorships, conference-hopping, promotion based on unreadable publications), that they have lost sight of what he feels the classics truly represent.
- Warfare and Agriculture in Classical Greece. University of California Press, 1983. ISBN 0-520-21025-5
- The Western Way of War: Infantry Battle in Classical Greece. Alfred A. Knopf, 1989. ISBN 0-394-57188-6
- Hoplites: The Classical Greek Battle Experience, editor, Routledge, 1991. ISBN 0-415-04148-1
- The Other Greeks: The Family Farm and the Agrarian Roots of Western Civilization, Free Press, 1995. ISBN 0-02-913751-9
- Fields Without Dreams: Defending the Agrarian Idea, Free Press, 1996. ISBN 0-684-82299-7
- Who Killed Homer?: The Demise of Classical Education and the Recovery of Greek Wisdom, with John Heath, Free Press, 1998. ISBN 0-684-84453-2
- The Soul of Battle: From Ancient Times to the Present Day, How Three Great Liberators Vanquished Tyranny, Free Press, 1999. ISBN 0-684-84502-4
- The Wars of the Ancient Greeks: And the Invention of Western Military Culture, Cassell, 1999. ISBN 0-304-35222-5
- The Land Was Everything: Letters from an American Farmer, Free Press, 2000. ISBN 0-684-84501-6
- Bonfire of the Humanities: Rescuing the Classics in an Impoverished Age, with John Heath and Bruce S. Thornton, ISI Books, 2001. ISBN 1-882926-54-4
- Carnage and Culture: Landmark Battles in the Rise of Western Power, Doubleday, 2001. ISBN 0-385-50052-1
- :Published in the UK as Why the West Has Won: Carnage and Culture from Salamis to Vietnam, Faber, 2001. ISBN 0-571-20417-1
- An Autumn of War: What America Learned from September 11 and the War on Terrorism, Anchor Books, 2002. ISBN 1-4000-3113-3
- :A collection of essays, mostly from National Review, covering events occurring between September 11, 2001 and January 2002
- Mexifornia: A State of Becoming, Encounter Books, 2003. ISBN 1-893554-73-2
- Ripples of Battle: How Wars Fought Long Ago Still Determine How We Fight, How We Live, and How We Think, Doubleday, 2003. ISBN 0-385-50400-4
- Between War and Peace: Lessons from Afghanistan and Iraq, Random House, 2004. ISBN 0-8129-7273-2
- :A collection of essays, mostly from National Review, covering events occurring between January 2002 and July 2003
- A War Like No Other: How the Athenians and Spartans Fought the Peloponnesian War, Random House, 2005. ISBN 1-4000-6095-8
Educational institutions and think-tanks