Victor Davis Hanson: Hero-worshiping Whackjob Paranoid Warmonger
August 30, 2005

In his recent National Review Online (NRO) article, The Paranoid Style / Iraq: Where socialists and anarchists join in with racialists and paleocons, former historian Victor Davis Hanson employs bad writing and cheap smears to defend his hero, George W. Bush, and his hero's war from domestic enemies of the Left and of the Right. Hanson begins his nasty little piece thusly:

It is becoming nearly impossible to sort the extreme rhetoric of the antiwar Left from that of the fringe paleo-Right. Both see the Iraqi war through the same lenses: the American effort is bound to fail and is a deep reflection of American pathology.
There are opponents of the war on the Left and the Right, but they do not in any way "see the Iraqi war through the same lenses." Telling the lefties from the righties is usually easy. Someone who says, "We need to bring our troops home from Iraq and put them on our border with Mexico," is probably a right-winger. Someone who says, "We need to bring the troops home and abolish war forever by smashing capitalism," is probably on the left. The badness of Hanson's writing is significant here. When members of well-established, diverse factions of American politics draw the same conclusion, having started from vastly different perspectives, we need to pause and ask what's going on. Unfortunately, VDH can interpret the commentary of others only through his own simplistic warmonger lens.

But it isn't for Hanson's intellectual failings that he deserves condemnation. It is for the cheap smears he directs at some of his fellow citizens. Hanson continues his article:

An anguished Cindy Sheehan calls Bush "the world's biggest terrorist." And she goes on to blame Israel for the death of her son ("Yes, he was killed for lies and for a PNAC Neo-Con agenda to benefit Israel. My son joined the Army to protect America, not Israel").

Her antiwar venom could easily come right out of the mouth of a more calculating David Duke. Perhaps that's why he lauded her anti-Semitism: "Courageously she has gone to Texas near the ranch of President Bush and braved the elements and a hostile Jewish supremacist media."

Reckless accusations of anti-Semitism seem to come naturally to supporter's of war in Iraq. If Hanson believes Cindy Sheehan is an anti-Semite, he should offer some evidence. I share Ms. Sheehan's belief that the interests of Israel were instrumental in the decision of the Bush administration to invade Iraq. Does that make me an anti-Semite? What if David Duke agreed with me? If someone -- anyone -- manages to insert the phrase "hostile Jewish supremacist media" into a sentence in which I am also mentioned, would that make me an "anti-Semite?" I don't expect Hanson to share Sheehan's opinions about things, but calling her an anti-Semite because of what David Duke said is a contemptible cheap smear. Shame on you, VDH!

It's funny, I just stumbled on Hanson's article. I accessed NRO to check out an article by Jennifer Gratz on the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative. Then I saw the "Paranoid Style" link to the Hanson article. It seemed interesting, but the only "paranoia" I could find in it was that of V.D. Hanson himself. We have a hint about Hanson's frame of mind in these paragraphs:

. . . both [anti-war Left and anti-war Right], in their exasperation at George Bush's insistence on seeing Iraq emerge from the Hussein nightmare years with some sort of constitutional government, have embraced the paranoid style of personal invective.

They employ half-truths and spin conspiracy theories to argue that the war was unjust, impossible to win, and hatched through the result of a brainwashing of a devious few neocons. I'll consider four diverse attacks (by a socialist, anarchist, racialist, and paleocon) on my support for the removal of Saddam Hussein, and the effort to prompt constitutional government in his place, that are emblematic of this bizarre new Left/Right nexus, shared pessimism, and paranoid methods.

There is no such thing as a "paranoid style of . . . invective," nor are "methods" in and of themselves capable of being "paranoid." There is some overlap between clinical and popular definitions of paranoia. In general, it means a tendency to interpret events as manifestations of some intricate, hostile conspiracy against one. A paranoid is always at the center of his own universe. Thus, Hanson flings projections of paranoia onto four corners of our political map, but to illustrate it, he responds to "attacks" on his "support for the removal of Saddam Hussein." I mean, if we have such a broad, diverse group of people forming some great web of paranoia, surely one could find some better way of illustrating all of that than rebutting their verbal critiques of an obscure grape farmer and former scholar. But the war isn't about the war. It's about Vic.

*

One of the articles Hanson responds to happens to be one I read a while back when I was writing about a controversy involving a publication called The Occidental Quarterly. (See my blog entry 'Human Events' Kisses Butt of Stalinist Poverty Law Center.) I highly recommend the article: The Case of Victor Davis Hanson: Farmer, Scholar, Warmonger by F. Roger Devlin (TOQ, Vol 3 No 4, Winter, 2004).

The interesting thing about Devlin's article is how respectful he is of Hanson's earlier scholarly work. Devlin writes:

Between 1988 and 1993 Hanson wrote what is likely to remain his most important book, The Other Greeks: the Family Farm and the Agrarian Roots of Western Civilization (Free Press, 1995). It is an extraordinary contribution to our understanding of classical Greece: the achievement of a lifetime, really, though produced by a man still in his thirties. It is the principal grounds for his reputation as a scholar, but has also gained him a large audience for views on other subjects concerning which he is ill informed or mistaken. Before I offer criticism of his writings of the last five years, I want to give readers some understanding of the importance of his scholarly masterpiece.
That tone is present in much of Devlin's longish article. Read it! It contains some fascinating ideas about the origins of Western Civilization. At no point does it ever seem that Devlin is attributing to Hanson ideas that Hanson himself would not profess.

In contrast, Hanson seriously mischaracterizes the views of Devlin. Hanson writes:

Then there is the racialist Right, whose tactic is to turn to the old neoconservative slander and prattle on about betrayal of the foundations of the white American republic at war with a darker other.

In their view, trying to foster democracy in the Islamic world, rather than dealing with the same oil Realpolik, is, well, connected with (yes, you guessed it) a general betrayal of the American race, and equivalent to some sort of love of perpetual war.

So one F. Roger Devlin writes in something called The Occidental Quarterly.

The trouble is, there is nothing at all in the Devlin article that fits those descriptions. Yes, you can find some people on the "racialist Right" who write like that, but Devlin is not one of them. Devlin might not even regard himself as a "racialist."

*

With Hanson's rejoinder to Hanson Agonistes by Gene Callahan, he goes from merely inaccurate to utterly unhinged. Now only is Callahan's article free from any hint of paranoia, it isn't even about Iraq!

Hanson had written an article justifying the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, claiming that those actions shortened the war and forced Japan to surrender unconditionally, etc. I used to hold that view. Now, I'm simply not sure. If I spent the next two years studying the war in the Pacific theater, I might be able to offer a tentative opinion. Anyway, Callahan's response to Hanson's Hiroshima article discusses various moral issues of wartime and alternatives the U.S. might have taken 60 years ago. Here is Hanson quoting and commenting on a passage from Callahan's article:

"Note that this sort of thinking is exactly how Osama bin Laden justifies striking civilian targets in the US, Britain, or Spain. We must grant that the conduct of modern warfare blurs the line between combatants and non-combatants -- on which side of it are the workers in a bomb factory? But as blurry as we might make it, an infant in Hiroshima or a new immigrant delivering a sandwich to the World Trade Center are obviously non-combatants."

Ponder that: Dropping a bomb on the headquarters of the Japanese 2nd Army to force a military cabal to surrender during a war they started that was taking 250,000 Asian lives a month is the same as blowing up an office building full of civilians at a time of peace.

The rules of logic do not allow us to infer anything quite that hysterical from the text of Callahan's article. He's simply talking about how people try to justify the killing of civilians. Here is the beginning of the paragraph partially quoted by Hanson:
Hanson continues: "Americans of the time hardly thought the Japanese populace to be entirely innocent." Here we have morality by opinion poll embracing a grim collectivism. Because some Japanese civilians were more or less involved in the war effort, all of them, even infants, were fair game to be slaughtered. Note that this sort of thinking is exactly how Osama bin Laden justifies striking civilian targets in the US, Britain, or Spain.
etc. Now, Hanson is a smart guy. He can't fairly comment on what Callahan is actually saying because Callahan is making a good point.

During World War II, just about everyone on planet Earth was "fair game to be slaughtered." We had our "justifications" for Hiroshima and Dresden, the Nazis had "justifications" for Sevastapol and Stalingrad and London. If the Japanese had won, they would be "justifying" Nanking. Tim McVeigh had his "justifications" for the "collateral damage" of Oklahoma City. Osama and friends have theirs for the WTC.

Innocent people perished in all of those events, but, I suppose, thinking about them at all, instead of filling up our heads with resolve, with thoughts of forcing unconditional surrender, with meditations on the brilliance of George W. Bush, is downright un-American in this time of war.

*

In his clumsy lashing out against the "paranoid" opponents of the Iraq war, Hanson reveals an inability to look at something and see it for what it is and respond accordingly. If someone is going to lead me into a war, they must look me in the eye, tell me the honest truth as they see it and give me plain answers to my questions. War is the most serious of all human activities. It isn't like selling soap or dope or tickets to rock 'n' roll concerts. We need truth, not word games, not smug evasions.

The fact is, we were led to war by a systematic stream of lies. Naturally, as those lies are exposed, and as the American people become more and more aware of the true character of our current political leadership, support for the war will continue to drop. When we finally do leave Iraq, leaving behind who knows what, will Victor Davis Hanson accept any blame for having supported a failed, cruel cause? Probably not. Paranoid whackjobs just don't think that way.

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NOTE: There is a respectable amount of disagreement amongst "racialists" and paleo-cons about the war. The website VDare.com, which focuses on race and immigration, prints articles in favor of the war (by Michelle Malkin and others) and against it (by Paul Craig Roberts and other). On another of my favorite sites, American Renaissance, many of fine, white, racially aware people who post there happen (much to my dismay) to be in favor of the war.

SPECIAL NOTE TO LEFTIST READERS: My own political views are hard to classify along an abstract continuum from "far Right" to "far Left." Sometimes I say I'm on the far Left edge of the far Right. I'll let it go at that for now.

Anyway, Fall 2006 -- a glorious opportunity for all of us! We principled right-wingers can challenge incumbent Republicans on immigration and other racial issues, while you can challenge Democrat incumbents on the war. It could be a "perfect storm" that will change American politics for years to come! It could be great fun, especially if we are also in the middle of another impeachment crisis. Just give it some thought.

 
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