by Victor Davis Hanson
New York: Random House, 2004. Pp. xvii, 282.
. $13.95 . ISBN:0-8129-7273-2
An Autumn of War: What America Learned from September 11 and the War on
Terrorism, by Victor Davis Hanson
New York: Anchor Books, 2002. Pp. xx, 218. $12 paper.
"Victor Hanson is a national treasure." So says fellow historian Donald Kagan of Hanson's writings in response to 9/11 and the ensuing Global War on Terrorism. Hanson, a classics scholar by profession, had written extensively on the ancient Greeks and warfare before 9/11, but he was little known outside academia. His response to the attacks of that day and their aftermath, however, would attract a wider audience and a measure of notoriety. Hanson used his column in National Review Online to dissect the roots of the terrorist pathology, the response of Western elites (his fellow academics, intellectuals, and the media), and the nature of our military response. Those columns, along with others that appeared on opinion pages from the Wall Street Journal to Commentary magazine make up these collections.
An Autumn of War follows Hanson's emergence as a calm and often prescient analyst of contemporary affairs from the watershed events of 9/11 through the rout of the Taliban in Afghanistan. In the often hysterical sophistry that passed for commentary in those early days after the attacks, Hanson provided a steady, reasoned, and upbeat assessment of our prospects. While others warned of a U.S. quagmire in Afghanistan, Hanson boldly predicted that "the most dangerous place in the world in the next few weeks will be Kabul, not Manhattan." Between War and Peace continues the story through the acrimonious run-up to the Iraq War, the blitzkrieg-like race to Baghdad, and the early stages of the postwar insurgency. Much in the latter volume will be familiar to those who have read the former. I would recommend reading both, but if one had to choose, I would suggest An Autumn of War.
An unpretentious man, Hanson, still lives on the small farm in Selma, California, where he grew up, and until recently, he taught at nearby California State University at Fresno. It was in his modest study in Selma that he embarked on an odyssey of his own on 9/11. Galvanized by the events of that day, which Hanson regards as a "landmark event in American history," he began to apply his world-view—shaped by his study of the ancient world—to the myriad questions raised by the attack and our response.
Following in the footsteps of the ancient Greeks, Hanson rejects the modern notions of cultural relativism and our therapeutic culture and argues that good and evil will always be with us and will inevitably clash, making war "a tragedy innate to the human condition." Hanson rejects competing arguments that suggest that Islamic terrorism is anything but evil and excoriates those who would point the finger of blame at the victims of terror. These include the usual suspects: timid and effete Western Europeans and the liberal elite at home in the university, media, and entertainment. He believes that Islamists must be pursued aggressively and defeated, and he generally approves of the Bush/Rumsfeld strategy for doing so. Confident in the virtue of our cause and the virtues of our troops, Hanson is equally sanguine about the ultimate outcome of the Global War on Terror. Politically incorrect and out of step with the majority of his fellow intellectuals, Hanson is unapologetic for his patriotism and his belief in the superiority of Western ideas like religious tolerance, free speech, gender equality, and economic liberty.
If you think that the Enlightenment was the defining moment in Western Civilization, Hanson might not be for you. But, if you suspect that the ancient Greeks forgot more than the French will ever learn, you'll applaud his no-nonsense analysis of the current war on terrorism.