Warfare, History and Society

Victor Davis Hanson's new book The Father of Us All:  War and History is a tour de force collection of his essays, most of them previously published in magazines and on websites, on warfare and history.

Although previously published, Hanson both expands and integrates each essay into a seamless narrative of how both historians and the general public have viewed warfare through the ages.  Hanson makes three particular points that show up in each essay and are well reinforced and expounded upon:
  1. Warfare is, and will be, a part of the human condition, no matter how much some Utopian (and mostly liberal, secular, and humanist) people wish it otherwise.  The use of violence for political ends has always been a part of humanity.  Moreover, no matter how much these same Utopian people want to "negotiate" and "better understand" aggressive and occasionally evil rulers and countries, sometimes, to coin a phrase "a varmint just needs killing" and war is the only way to ultimately preserve the piece.
  2. Wars are messy, often uncontrollable, and seldom end the way that the people that start them intend.  Modern Western societies are have the collective attention span of a sitcom and expect wars to be quick, cheap and not too deadly.  Hanson lays out the rather scathing indictment that no matter how good the means of killing each other has become, ultimately war is about which side has the will, adaptability and stamina to keep killing their enemy.
  3. Finally, and in a topic near and dear to me, the study of war is essential to understanding why it is waged, how to avoid it, if possible and ultimately how to WIN at war.  The West has become pretty soft and flabby and practically no one alive in the West knows what its like to REALLY lose a war.  Even Vietnam, our national trauma, did not threaten our existence as a nation.  But too many historians and other academics think that studying history is, at best, a waste of time, and at worst, a primer for making more wars.  Hanson draws a very fine analogy to the medical profession.  Cancer is an evil menace that kills millions, yet doctors, hospitals, drug companies and national institutions devote vast time and resources to studying cancer in the hope of one day ending it.  Should warfare be the same.
All in all, a very fine book that is accessible to both the beginner and devoted student of military history.  Hanson makes excellent use of examples, footnotes and transitions between essays to keep the narrative moving and engaging.

Highly recommended.

**The FCC now requires book reviewers to disclose the following. Book reviews appear regularly on this website. The books I review on this site I freakin' purchase myself (I get Christmas cards from Jeff Bezos) or get from the library. So all opinions are my stinkin' own and if you don't like them then go read something else like Bill Clinton's memoirs or somesuch tripe.