Victor Davis Hanson's latest bestselling foray into the history of military campaigns argues that the superiority of Western fighting forces stems from the very values that are the foundation of our culture.From Salamis, where the Greeks devastated the army of Xerxes, to Cortes's conquest of Mexico to the Tet offensive -- Hanson vividly re-creates the battles and examines the cultures of the combatants. He makes plain that the tradition of dissent and the importance of individualism and citizenship lie at the root of Western armies' effectiveness. This is a brilliant and controversial demonstration that armies are inseparable from the cultures that produce them -- and that the army produced by a free culture will always have the advantage.
"The Western way of war is so lethal precisely because it is so amoral shackled rarely by concerns of ritual, tradition, religion, or ethics, by anything other than military necessity." Ranging from Salamis in 480 B.C. to the Tet offensive in Vietnam, Hanson, a California State at Fresno classics professor, expands the scope of his The Western Way of War: Infantry Battle in Classical Greece, offering a provocative look at occidental aggression as illustrated by nine paradigmatic battles between Western and non-Western armies. Hanson sheds the overly romanticized view of battles as nationalist or ethnic honorifics and vividly portrays the deadly killing machines Western powers evolved for the destruction of non-Western opponents. Throughout, Hanson stresses the technology based lethality of Western warfare, and the role of individual initiative as opposed to the more collectivist strategies of the Persians, Carthaginians, Arabs, Turks, Aztecs, Zulus, Japanese and Vietnamese opponents who get a chapter apiece. The single Western defeat chronicled in these pages, of the Romans in Cannae in 216 B.C., shows a victorious Hannibal unable to capitalize on his win. (The idea of the citizen/soldier, the role of civic militarism and the republican ideals of Rome seem to be the reasons why not.) A number of Hanson's conclusions will engender debate, such as his claim that America won in Vietnam, but failed to recognize it, as well as the larger claim that "free markets, free elections, and free speech" have led directly to superior forces. The book's last few chapters are fairly driven by that idea, which, along with precise, forceful writing, sets it apart from the season's secondary-sourced, battle-based military histories. (Aug.) Forecast: Hanson's direct, literate style and his evenhandedness should appeal to the liberalist middle of the left and right alike. By isolating the ingredients of military success via elaborate examples, the book can potentially draw on two separate military-history readerships: those looking for theory and those for action. Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
There are no customer reviews available at this time. Would you like to write a review?
October 11, 2004
Number of Print Pages*
Adobe DRM EPUB
* Number of eBook pages may differ. Click here for more information.
Excerpt from Carnage and Culture by Victor Davis Hanson
Why the West Has Won
When the trumpet sounded, the soldiers took up their arms and went out. As they charged faster and faster, they gave a loud cry, and on their own broke into a run toward the camp. But a great fear took hold of the barbarian hosts; the Cilician queen fled outright in her carriage, and those in the market threw down their wares and also took to flight. At that point, the Greeks in great laughter approached the camp. And the Cilician queen was filled with admiration at the brilliant spectacle and order of the phalanx; and Cyrus was delighted to see the abject terror of the barbarians when they saw the Greeks.
--Xenophon, Anabasis (1.2.16-18)
EVEN THE PLIGHT of enterprising killers can tell us something. In the summer of 401 b.c., 10,700 Greek hoplite soldiers--infantrymen heavily armed with spear, shield, and body armor--were hired by Cyrus the Younger to help press his claim to the Persian throne. The recruits were in large part battle-hardened veterans of the prior twenty-seven-year Peloponnesian War (431-404 b.c.). As mercenaries, they were mustered from throughout the Greek-speaking world. Many were murderous renegades and exiles. Both near adolescents and the still hale in late middle age enlisted for pay. Large numbers were unemployed and desperate at any cost for lucrative work as killers in the exhausted aftermath of the internecine war that had nearly ruined the Greek world. Yet there were also a few privileged students of philosophy and oratory in the ranks, who would march into Asia side by side these destitute mercenaries--aristocrats like Xenophon, student of Socrates, and Proxenus, the Boeotian general, as well as physicians, professional officers, would-be colonists, and wealthy Greek friends of Prince Cyrus.
After a successful eastward march of more than 1,500 miles that scattered all opposition, the Greeks smashed through the royal Persian line at the battle of Cunaxa, north of Babylon. The price for destroying an entire wing of the Persian army was a single Greek hoplite wounded by an arrow. The victory of the Ten Thousand in the climactic showdown for the Persian throne, however, was wasted when their employer, Cyrus, rashly pursued his brother, Artaxerxes, across the battle line and was cut down by the Persian imperial guard.
Suddenly confronted by a host of enemies and hostile former allies, stranded far from home without money, guides, provisions, or the would-be king, and without ample cavalry or missile troops, the orphaned Greek expeditionary infantrymen nevertheless voted not to surrender to the Persian monarchy. Instead, they prepared to fight their way back to the Greek world. That brutal trek northward through Asia to the shores of the Black Sea forms the centerpiece of Xenophon's Anabasis ("The March Up-Country"), the author himself one of the leaders of the retreating Ten Thousand.
Though surrounded by thousands of enemies, their original generals captured and beheaded, forced to traverse through the contested lands of more than twenty different peoples, caught in snowdrifts, high mountain passes, and waterless steppes, suffering frostbite, malnutrition, and frequent sickness, as well as fighting various savage tribesmen, the Greeks reached the safety of the Black Sea largely intact--less than a year and a half after leaving home. They had routed every hostile Asian force in their way. Five out of six made it out alive, the majority of the dead lost not in battle, but in the high snows of Armenia.
During their ordeal, the Ten Thousand were dumbfounded by the Taochians, whose women and children jumped off the high cliffs of their village in a ritual mass suicide. They found the barbaric white-skinned Mossynoecians, who engaged in sexual intercourse openly in public, equally baffling. The Chalybians traveled with the heads of their slain opponents. Even the royal army of Persia appeared strange; its pursuing infantry, sometimes whipped on by their officers, fled at the first onslaught of the Greek phalanx. What ultimately strikes the reader of the Anabasis is not merely the courage, skill, and brutality of the Greek army--which after all had no business in Asia other than killing and money--but the vast cultural divide between the Ten Thousand and the brave tribes they fought.
Where else in the Mediterranean would philosophers and students of rhetoric march in file alongside cutthroats to crash headlong into enemy flesh? Where else would every man under arms feel equal to anyone else in the army--or at least see himself as free and in control of his own destiny? What other army of the ancient world elected its own leaders? And how could such a small force by elected committee navigate its way thousands of miles home amid thousands of hostile enemies?