Home | Reviews | Blog | Daily | Glossary | Orrin's Stuff | Email

    When a free and consensual society feels its existence threatened, when it has been attacked, when its citizenry at last understands an
    enemy at odds with the very morality of its culture, when a genius at war leads the army with freedom to do what he wishes, when it is to
    march to a set place in a set time, then free men can muster, they can fight back well, and they can make war brutally and lethally beyond
    the wildest nightmares of the brutal military culture they seek to destroy.
        -The Soul of Battle

Such is the case that the outstanding military historian Victor Davis Hanson makes in The Soul of Battle.  Drawing mainly on three historical examples--Epaminondas leading Thebes against Sparta; Sherman marching through the South; and Patton driving the Third Army to Berlin--Mr. Hanson illustrates the similarities among these different leaders, the men they led, and the ideals for which they fought.  He makes a compelling case that there is no more dangerous military force in human history than a democratic populace, raised to righteous moral anger, and commanded by leaders who understand the unique strength of such an army.  He demonstrates that though even we tend to accept the myth, fond in the hearts of totalitarian leaders and the rest of those who hate us, that democracies are necessarily inefficient when it comes to warfare and that the freedoms of such societies are hindrance to the prosecution of said warfare, in fact :

    Democracy, and its twin of market capitalism, alone can instantaneously create lethal armies out of civilians, equip them with horrific
    engines of war, imbue them with a near-messianic zeal within a set time and place to exterminate what they understand as evil, have them
    follow to their deaths the most ruthless of men, and then melt anonymously back into the culture that produced them.  It is democracies,
    which in the right circumstances, can be imbued with the soul of battle, and thus turn the horror of killing to a higher purpose of saving
    lives and freeing the enslaved.

And what is "the soul of battle" to which he attributes such world-changing power? :

    A rare thing indeed that arises only when free men march unabashedly toward the heartland of their enemy in hopes of saving the
    doomed, when their vast armies are aimed at salvation and liberation not conquest and enslavement.  Only then does battle take on a
    spiritual dimension, one that defines a culture, teaches it what civic militarism is and how it is properly used.

Mr. Hanson thus provides the reader with an invaluable framework for understanding history, modern and ancient, and for understanding the often underestimated strengths of democratic society.

Lest prospective readers dismiss the book as mere triumphalism, as some are wont to ignore Francis Fukuyama's The End of History, it should, first of all, be noted that Mr. Hanson's portrayals of the three generals are absolutely riveting.  Most of us are familiar with Patton, at least through the movie, and somewhat with Sherman, but the name Epaminondas summons forth little more than an old mildly racist folk story.  Mr. Hanson restores him to his rightful place in the pantheon of democratic heroes, the destroyer of Spartan helotage, just as Sherman helped destroy slavery and Patton helped destroy Nazism.  These men's stories would be worth reading if only because of the role each played in the utter destruction of the abominable regimes of their time, but the idiosyncrasies and flamboyant aspects of their character, their deep commitment to learning and to the craft of warfare, and their unusual understanding of the opportunity that their societies had afforded them by granting them command of these armies, makes them truly fascinating to read about.  Particularly enjoyable is the way in which he redeems each man against his more revered colleagues--Epaminondas vs. Pericles; Sherman vs. Lee; Patton vs. Bradley and Eisenhower--showing that in their single-minded focus on the battle itself, each deserves greater credit than their more political, and more self-interested rivals, and that, though each is considered bloodthirsty, in reality the very thoroughness with which they sought victory ultimately saved lives.  Perhaps most importantly, Mr. Hanson helps us to see why democracies need such men, however politically incorrect, even somewhat demented, their behavior may be at times.  A McLellan, a Marshall, an Eisenhower, a Colin Powell, is all well and good for the bureaucratic function of running an army, but when it comes to inspiring men to fight, kill, and die, we must have Shermans and Pattons and Schwartzkopfs to turn to in the field.

Nor is Mr. Hanson just saying that "we win, because we're us".  He is equally good on the reasons that democracies (particularly America) have failed in wars that do not follow the guidelines he lays out.  In Korea, where McArthur could not go after the Chinese; in Vietnam, where we fought an entirely defensive war; in the Persian Gulf, where Schwarzkopf was not allowed to march to Baghdad, we not only failed to win the wars, but needlessly prolonged the suffering of Koreans, Vietnamese, Iraqis and Americans.  In the end, the immediate dealing of death would have been more humane than ever the seemingly moderate limitations proved to be.  And Mr. Hanson forces us to ponder how much better a place the world might have been and how much misery might have been averted had Patton and Curtis LeMay (under whose command Mr. Hanson's own father served) been given the free hand they desired to carry a liberationist war to Moscow.  Instead, as Patton protested :

    [T]in-soldier politicians in Washington have allowed us to kick hell out of one bastard and at the same time forced us to help establish a
    second one as evil or more evil than the first.

Out of these bitter experiences flow lessons that have special relevance to our own times.  For one, we would do well not to let people like the radical Islamicists continue in the delusion that because we are a democracy we are an overripe fruit ready to fall and rot.  It is the nature of our system that in times of peace we disarm to an almost absurd degree, but our unwillingness to spend money to keep up the armed forces and our hesitancy to get involved abroad should not be confused with terminal helplessness.  As bin Laden has found out, to his likely dismay, once provoked, we remain willing, even eager, to unleash a totally disproportionate level of lethality upon those who rile us.  On the other hand, we would do well to remind ourselves that once moved to action there should be no surcease to the battle until we have entirely rooted out the evil we face.  The most important lesson that Epaminondas, Sherman, and Patton have to teach us is that democratic brutality turned against totalitarian evil, and carried to its ultimate conclusion, is capable of utterly destroying those malevolent systems.  The measures we take may briefly trouble our consciences but they succeed brilliantly.  Having picked up the sword, we owe it to ourselves, and even to the populace in the nations we oppose, not to set it down again until the job is done.

Mr. Hanson's book would make rewarding reading at any time, but it is especially applicable right now.  And be sure to look for his outstanding column in National Review.  His writing on the current conflict has been consistently prescient; not surprising, since this book itself predicts much of what has occurred so far.  It remains though to be seen whether President Bush and his advisers understand its full import.


Grade: (A+)


See also:

Victor Hanson Links:
    -EMAIL :
    -Victor Hanson, Ph.D. (California State University, Fresno)
    -BIO : Victor Davis Hanson (Fresno State News)
    -Victor Davis Hanson (Writers' Representatives)
    -National Review (Contributor)
    -BOOK SITE : Carnage and Culture : Landmark Battles in the Rise of Western Power by Victor Davis Hanson (Random House)
    -ESSAY : Why the Muslims Misjudged Us (Victor Davis Hanson, Winter  2002, Winter Journal)
    -ESSAY : Odd Couple Out : Leftovers in a new civilization. (Victor Davis Hanson, December 18, 2001, National Review)
    -ESSAY : Our Jurassic Park : The fossils of wartime conventional wisdom. (Victor Davis Hanson,  December 14, 2001, National Review)
    -ESSAY : Questions Not Asked : Issues not raised. (Victor Davis Hanson, December 04, 2001, National Review)
    -ESSAY : What Made Them Do Their Duty? (Victor Davis Hanson, Autumn 2001, City Journal)
    -ESSAY : Ripples of Battle : Fantasies give way to reality. (Victor Davis Hanson, October 30, 2001, National Review)
    -ESSAY : If This Be War : A time for choosing. (Victor Davis Hanson,October 23, 2001, National Review)
    -ESSAY : Tragedy or Therapy? Defining ourselves. (Victor Davis Hanson, October 9, 2001, National Review)
    -ESSAY : War on All Fronts : Military, diplomatic, philosophical, cultural. (Victor Davis Hanson, October 12, 2001, National Review)
    -ESSAY : Cognitive Dissonance : What you see and what you get (Victor Davis Hanson, October 5, 2001, National Review)
    -ESSAY : On Gorgon and Furies : Civilization and its discontents (Victor Davis Hanson, 10/03/01, National Review)
    -ESSAY : What Would Churchill Say? : The phony silence before the storming (Victor Davis Hanson, 10/01/01, National Review)
    -ESSAY : What If? : Rethinking 1941 with Edward R. Murrow ((Victor Davis Hanson, 9/27/01, National Review)
    -ESSAY : Great Leaders Are Forged in War : All past criteria of merit fade when the shooting starts. (Victor Davis Hanson, September 24, 2001, Wall Street Journal)
    -ESSAY : of Pseudo-Military History : America unleashed (Victor Davis Hanson, 9/24/01, National Review)
    -ESSAY : War Myths : What not to believe (Victor Davis Hanson, 9/20/01, National Review)
    -ESSAY : Cornered : The Taliban is neither new nor scary (Victor Davis Hanson, 9/19/01, National Review)
    -EXCERPT : PROLOGUE : The Soul Of Battle From Ancient Times To The Present Day, Three Great Liberators Vanquished Tyranny By VICTOR DAVIS HANSON
    -EXCERPT : from The Soul of Battle by Victor Davis Hanson
    -AFTERWORD : of Who Killed Homer? by Victor Davis Hanson and John Heath
    -ESSAY : The Longest War : The fight weíre in didnít begin on September 11; it started thousands of years ago. Itís the struggle between East and West, and history can both encourage and help usóif we read it properly. (Victor Davis Hanson, January 2002, American Heritage)
    -ESSAY : Who Killed Homer? (Victor Davis Hanson and John Heath, Stanford Alumni News)
    -ESSAY : George Washington : AMERICAN CINCINNATUS (Bruce S. Thornton and Victor D. Hanson, American Enterprise)
    -ESSAY : Thucydides : Raw, Relevant History (VICTOR DAVIS HANSON, April 18, 1998, NY Times)
    -ESSAY : Death on the Farm (Victor Davis Hanson, Traditions in Transition)
    -ESSAY : The Repository (Victor Davis Hanson, Traditions in Transition)
    -ESSAY : Food Without Fear (Victor Davis Hanson, August 1998, NY Times)
    -ESSAY : Paradise Lost : California parasites kill the goose that produced the Golden State. (VICTOR DAVIS HANSON, March 21, 2001, Wall Street Journal)
    -ESSAY : California: Paradise Lost : In one sense, Californians are parasites who lived off the work of our forefathers and the gifts of
nature. And our unearned affluence spawned a smugness of the worst kind: Given water, power, universities, and roads by others, we
dawdled, pontificated, and nuanced about the particulars of our own utopia. The result of this California disease is that we can save a
newt but not always guarantee power in the library. (Victor Davis Hanson, June 3, 2001, Capitalism Magazine)
    -REVIEW : of SHERMAN A Soldier's Life. By Lee Kennett (Victor Davis Hanson, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of MacArthur's War: Korea and the Undoing of an American Hero, by Stanley Weintraub (National Review, Victor Davis Hanson)
    -REVIEW : of Keith Windschuttle's The Killing of History: How a Discipline Is Being Murdered by Literary Critics and Social Theorists (Victor Davis Hanson, Weekly Standard)
    -GERGEN DIALOGUE : "Who Killed Homer?" (September 28, 1998, The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer)
    -INTERVIEW : The Family Farm Is Doomed : An Interview with Victor Hanson (Seasonal Chef)
    -DISCUSSION : of Carnage and Culture (Yahoo! Evolutionary Psychology)
    -ARCHIVES : "victor Davis Hanson" (Find Articles)
    -REVIEW : of CARNAGE AND CULTURE Landmark Battles in the Rise of Western Power. By Victor Davis Hanson (Geoffrey Parker, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of Why the West Has Won: Carnage and Culture from Salamis to Vietnam by Victor Davis Hanson (John Keegan, booksonline)
    -REVIEW : of Why The West Has Won: Carnage and Culture (Michael Rose, The Spectator)
    -REVIEW : of Carnage and Cultures by Victor Davis Hanson and Bridge at No Gun Ri (Judith Greer, Salon)
    -REVIEW : of Why the West has Won : Carnage and Culture (Stephen Howe, New Statesman)
    -REVIEW : of Why the West Has Won (Felipe Fernandez-Armesto, Times of London)
    -REVIEW : of Why The West Has Won: Carnage and Culture from Salamis to Vietnam by Victor Davis Hanson (Noel Malcolm, booksonline)
    -REVIEW : of Carnage and Culture: Landmark Battles in the  Rise of Western Power by Victor Davis Hanson (Woody West, Policy Review)
    -REVIEW : of The Other Greeks: The Family Farm and the Agrarian Roots of Western Civilization (1995) (Vanessa B. Gorman, Bryn Mawr Classical Review)
    -REVIEW : of FIELDS WITHOUT DREAMS Defending the Agrarian Idea. By Victor Davis Hanson (1996) (John Hildebrand, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of Who Killed Homer? (1998) (Mary Lefkowitz, National Review)
    -REVIEW : of Who Killed Homer? Ã�(Algis Valiunas, Commentary)
    -REVIEW : of Who Killed Homer? (Joy Connolly, Bryn Mawr Classical Review )
    -REVIEW : of Who Killed Homer? (Raymond Matthew Wray, The Crisis)
    -REVIEW : of Who Killed Homer? (Robin Clements for the San Jose Mercury News)
    -REVIEW : of Who Killed Homer? (James Morris, Civnet Journal for Civil Society)
    -REVIEW : of Who Killed Homer? (Fred D. Miller, Jr., Ideas on Liberty)
    -REVIEW : of Who Killed Homer? (Victoria Cech, The Montana Professor)
    -REVIEW : of Who Killed Homer? (THE KERUX a monthly online newsletter for Hellenic Reconstructionist Pagans and their friends)
    -REVIEW : Who Killed Homer? (Zack Stentz, MetroActive)
    -REVIEW : of Warfare and Agriculture in Classical Greece ? Revised Edition by Victor Davis Hanson (Nick Thorpe, Archaeology Today)
    -REVIEW : of THE SOUL OF BATTLE From Ancient Times to the Present Day, How Three Great Liberators Vanquished Tyranny. By Victor Davis Hanson (1999) (Bernard Knox , NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of The Soul of Battle (Andrew J. Bacevich, Wilson Quarterly)
    -REVIEW : of Soul of Battle (Donald A. Yerxa, Books & Culture)
    -REVIEW : of The Wars of the Ancient Greeks and Their Intervention of Western Military Culture (Paul Cartledge, History Today)
    -REVIEW : of The Land Was Everything: Letters From an American Farmer by Victor Davis Hanson (DAN CLOER, Vision)
    -REVIEW : of What If? edited by Robert Cowley (Andrew Dickson, What Am I Going to Read?)
    -REVIEW : What If? : The Worldís Foremost Military Historians Imagine What Might Have Been by Robert Cowley (Saul David, booksonline)
    -BOOK LIST : The Best Nonfiction of 2000 : The Land Was Everything by Victor Davis Hanson (LA Times)
    -Claremont Institute Staff � Victor Davis Hanson
    -ARCHIVES: Victor Davis Hanson (FrontPage)
    -BOOKNOTES: Mexifornia: A State of Becoming by Victor Davis Hanson (C-SPAN, September 28, 2003 , 8 & 11 pm)
    -ESSAY: Slow to Anger, Awesome in Fury: To their enemies' surprise, liberal democracies throughout history have made frightening war (Victor Davis Hanson, April 10, 2003, LA Times)
    -ESSAY: Do We Want Mexifornia? (Victor Davis Hanson, Spring 2002, City Journal)
    -LECTURE: Our Current War in Not New (Victor Davis Hanson, March 28, 2003, Ashland University)
    -REVIEW: of Napoleon by Paul Johnson (Victor Davis Hanson, Claremont Review of Books)
    -INTERVIEW: Such a Lovely Place: Talking with Victor Davis Hanson about the future of California � and the United States. (A Q&A by Kathryn Jean Lopez, 6/11/03, National Review)
    -PROFILE: The farmer: Classicist and raisin-grower Victor Davis Hanson argues that the USA needs a dose of ancient Greece's warrior culture. White House hawks are listening. (Laura Secor, 5/25/2003, Boston Globe)
    -ESSAY:Hanson on �Mexifornia�: Good � But Not Good Enough (Sam Francis, June 19, 2003, V-Dare)
    -REVIEW: of Mexifornia: A State of Becoming by Victor Davis Hanson (Ken Masugi, Claremont Review of Books)
    -REVIEW: of Mexifornia: A State of Becoming by Victor Davis Hanson (Emily Cochran,
    -REVIEW: of Mexifornia: A State of Becoming by Victor Davis Hanson (Paul A. Garcia, Fresno Bee)
    -REVIEW: of Mexifornia: A State of Becoming by Victor Davis Hanson (John Fonte, Hudson Institute)
    -REVIEW: of 'An Autumn of War: What America Learned From September 11 and the War on Terrorism' by Victor Davis Hanson (Jonathan Yardley, Washington Post)

Book-related and General Links:

    -ESSAY : Strategies of Annihilation: Total War in US History (Joseph R. Stromberg, October 2001,
    -ESSAY : Leadership from the Front : History reveals countless examples of both good and bad leadership. At Hué City, U.S. Marine commanders led from the front; in Chechnya, Russian officers did not and lost. Prize Winner, Vincent Astor Memorial Leadership Essay Contest (Captain William J. Bowers, U.S. Marine Corps, Naval Institute Proceedings)
    -REVIEW : of The Tragedy of Great Power Politics. By John J. Mearsheimer : Pointing out that ìthe end of historyî hasn't happened doesn't require dropping into hyper-pessimism (The Economist)
    -REVIEW : of THE GREEKS AND GREEK CIVILIZATION By Jacob Burckhardt (Garry Wills, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of Greek Ways: How the Greeks Created Western Civilization by Bruce Thornton (Edward T. Oakes, First Things)

    -REVIEW : of GIVE US A KING! Samuel, Saul, and David: A New Translation of Samuel I and II Ã�With an Introduction and Notes. By Everett Fox (JONATHAN WILSON, NY Times Book Review)