Victor Davis Hanson: “Not all history is equal.”

I just ran across this interview with Victor Davis Hanson, who’s one of my favorite public intellectuals.  I had the honor of meeting him when he spoke at UT a few years ago.  Most of the interview deals with modern-day foreign policy, but check out Hanson’s remarks about the importance of military history.  Here are the highlights:

“Not all history is equal. If people are willing to wage their entire existence in a few brief seconds, those moments are more worthy of commemoration and study than others.…[W]hether we like it or not, strange things happen during wars that don’t transpire as often in peace time.”

When asked about Peace Studies departments’ attitudes about military history, Hanson takes the words right out of my mouth with an analogy that I’ve used myself:

“They think we feel that war brings out the best in people, that war is a ritual that’s necessary for society, or that war is a macabre interest like video games are for some people. It’s like assuming an oncologist must like cancer, because why else would he study cancer?”

Precisely.  In fact, the military historian should be less prone to glory in war than anyone but the soldier, since he knows what war is and what it can do.  Those who accuse military historians of glorying in war are badly in error.  You don’t study war because you like it; you study it because it’s important, instructive, and (by all indications) here to stay.

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “Victor Davis Hanson: “Not all history is equal.”

  1. Matt McKeon

    While I’ve read and liked several of Hanson’s books, I disagreed somewhat with his thought on this.

    I don’t agree you can rank some subjects as more worthy than others. Military history is certainly a legitimate topic, but it doesn’t de legitimize(sp) other subjects.

    Since the study of battles is always going to be the study of men, and the study of command in the western world is usually of white upperclass men, by saying some history is more equal than others, you’re no longer just talking about academic departments.

  2. Michael Lynch

    Well, it’s no longer the case that the study of battles is necessarily just the study of elite men. Military historians have been incorporating the experiences of the common soldier into their work on a pretty extensive basis; it’s common in Civil War studies, and also in examinations of Rev War battles by Lawrence Babits. In fact, the study of combat is no longer restricted to the study of “battles” per se–a lot of historians use combat as a lens to examine culture, race, class structures, and so on.

    –ML

  3. steve peck

    Hanson is a difficult figure for me to handle. Have read a number of his books. An excellent writer and historian. As a current history commentators …not so much. He rants about Iran for instance but never really addresses what the US should do about the threat. He is a bit of a warrior hero type in evaluating the present with litte to offer but the stick in whipping our “enemies” in to line. He craps on the current administration lack of “action” but overlooks the same from past leaders. Not clear he is anything but a bag of of wind from the past.

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