Sunday, April 08, 2018

Why The West Was Won, Victor Davis Hanson

A worthy final book review for the end of Moose Tracks. I regularly have blogged on articles by Dr Hanson who writes regularly for National Review, where I find his thinking always of merit and with whom I am typically in agreement with. The depth and scholarship of this work of 455 pages is amazing, even more so when I look at the giant list of books by Dr Hanson -- although an avid reader, I could spend years just catching up with Hanson's writings, let alone a sampling of the classic writers that he often references.

My lack of any training in Greek or Latin makes many of the historical names difficult for me -- Dr Hanson is one more reminder of my lack of historical and classical education.

The book can be summarized fairly simply -- it is a series of battles that bring to light the way of Western warfare. Hanson argues that because of the relative democracy, freedom and private property rights of Western peoples from Greece onward, the west developed the unique character of attacking in mass with a disciplined and cohesive force, and then pressing the attack until the opposition was no longer able to make war. A world of private property and advancement of personal and family fortunes was the way of the West ... and that made WINNING and STOPPING war a priority!

In a recent case that we are familiar with, Japan never imagined that by attacking Pearl Harbor, the US would declare total war on them with no thought of any "negotiations" to come before unconditional surrender. For the Japanese, and other imperial, "god as emperor/king" cultures, wars had elements of symbolism, martial artistry, "honor", and ritual -- they were not simply about getting the bloody task over with as quickly and efficiently as possible. War was an important part of their very culture.

For the West, no matter how great the slaughter on the battlefield, it was seen as "moral" compared with the mutilation of prisoners, women and children. The culture of the west up to recently was in line with the character in this clip from the unforgiven -- if you want to take the west on in battle, you better arm yourself.

In a slight measure, the book is a response to "Guns, Germs and Steel" which Davis finds to not make it's case -- western armies, even with superior weaponry were defeated by native forces on a number of occasions. Cortez was defeated and barely escaped with his life from Tenochtitlan in the summer of 1520, only to amazingly return and win in the summer of 1521! "Germs" affected both sides. What the non-Western adversaries lacked was the ability to form proper formations and successfully fight using them with discipline and resolve, even when leadership was killed.

The story of Western military dominance according to Hanson is one of strong independent individuals at all levels of the force who are drilled and BELIEVE that staying in rank, maintaining the line, and no running are the ultimate best way to stay alive and WIN. Without democracy and private property, it is not possible for a nation to hold this advantage, even if they purchase Western armaments. Western culture could not be bought ... but unfortunately, as with Rome and Britain before it, it has certainly been squandered.

The section on Midway makes that case exceptionally strong. Yorktown returns from the battle of the coral sea to Honolulu heavily damaged with repair estimates of 3-6 months. Admiral Nimitz says he MUST have Yorktown at Midway, and he himself is in hip boots under the hull assessing damage before the dry dock is even drained. Because of the ability of the American workers to operate  without close supervision and know exactly what needed to be done, they worked around the clock and she steamed out of the harbor with the last of the workers still finishing up as she headed into battle 68 hours after she came into port!

The Japanese carriers damaged or losing many planes at Coral Sea -- Shokaku and Zuikaku with FAR less severe damage, sat in their repair port of Kure during Midway battle. Reverse this picture, and the US goes up against SIX Japanese carriers with TWO, rather than the 3 on 4 which resulted in the Japanese losing all 4 carriers and thus the initiative in the war only 6 months after their victory at Pearl.

The tales of the battles are detailed and BLOODY -- on all sides. The book gives some real insight into what battle and life was like for soldiers of Greek and Persian empires, the Romans, the Spanish Conquistadors, the British Empire, etc.

While Vietnam and subsequent anti-war protests have possibly weakened the Western resolve to win, and most of all to do it quickly and efficiently, Hanson maintains that as long as democracy, personal freedom and basic private property continue to exist, so will the Western way of war.

Interestingly, the orginianl Star Trek, right during the Vietnam war had an episode called "A Taste of Armageddon" about two civilizations that had been "at war" for a very long time where "attacks" were carried out by computer simulation, casualty figures totalled up, and people filed into "disintegrators" as war casualities -- very tidy, no loss of costly infrastrucure. When the Enterprise is computer "collateral damage", Kirk decides to give them the option to negotiate or engage in real actual very messy war.

A worthy read if you want to know about western military tradition and some of the key battles of history.

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