The Father of Us All: War and History, Ancient and Modern Hardcover – 7 Jun 2010
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Enthralling ... One closes this book wishing that its final verdict was as well known as more familiar tenets of Greek wisdom. (Christopher Hitchens on The Western Way of War)
Vivid . . . ambitious . . . Challenges readers to broaden their horizons and examine their assumptions. . . . [Hanson] more than makes his case. (NYTBR on Carnage and Culture)
Hanson performs the difficult feat of not talking down to readers while still presuming no prior knowledge of the war. (Washington Post on A War Like No Other)
Awarded National Humanities Medal in 2007.--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
A master historian explores how war has shaped our societies-and how societies shape warfare-from Ancient Greece to the present day-now in paperback. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.See all Product Description
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Top Customer Reviews
This book is a great read, entertaining, informative and challenging your preconceptions in a way that leaves you smirking when hearing political commentators on television or reading the newspapers.
I read through this book in about 3 days while on holiday in Spain and it one of the more memorable aspects of my vacations(and it was a great vacation really). Victor Davis Hanson has a great mind for analogies, and it's a mindblowing delight having the realization that the human faults that plague us today are timeless. And for all the external cultural, educational and sociological stimulus we are not really more intelligent today and that the most celebrated intellects of today are more immature and naive than great public figures 3000 years ago.
If you are looking for new perspective and more mature comprehension of history and present, while relaxing in your house or reading on a plane then this is a excellent addition to your personal library.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
The book consists of 13 chapters, which includes six reviews. The first chapter, "Why Study War?" is a perfect introduction for the reader to get a foundational understanding of Hanson's interest in war and his overall mindset. Very simply, wars are worth studying regardless of their age. Though technology and strategies will certainly change, "themes, emotions, and rhetoric remain constant over the centuries, and thus generally predictable" (p. 15). In addition, war may be horrid to consider, but is inevitable and, at times, necessary. Hanson points out that "war--or the threat of war--at least put an end to American chattel slavery, Nazism, Fascism, Japanese militarism, and Soviet Communism" (p. 16). Yet, over the years, American universities have seen a decline in military history courses. Hanson contributes the downfall of academic interest to several factors including the Vietnam War, the growing push for more race, class, and gender studies, and academic careerism (p. 8). Hanson points out correctly that written history began with Herodotus and Thucydides, who wrote about armed conflicts. In addition, Xenophon, Polybius, and Livy wrote predominately about war (p. 6). This first chapter is particularly useful in that if the reader becomes convinced with Hanson's main premise, he provides several pages of books on war worth reading (p. 26-30).
In the second chapter, Hanson discusses the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and correlations that can be drawn from Ancient Greek conflicts. Again, his theme that war is inevitable reveal itself as he points out that the Greeks "warn that conflict will always break out--and very frequently so--because we are human, and thus not always rational" (p. 33). In some instances, no reason is necessary as the Thebans attacked Plataea "at a time of peace" in 431 BC (p. 35). Through it all, Hanson provides insight on the difficulties of the Iraq War and the public support thereof. What is interesting in his approach is that although he clearly supports the war in Iraq, he has little condemnation against those who protest or oppose. On the contrary, like war, he sees antiwar movements as inevitable. He points out "that democracies by their very nature cannot win the wars they choose to enter when their own free people are not convinced that their collective efforts have any humane foundation" (p. 42). This is the case today as it was in Ancient Greece.
Hanson's reviews are interesting and include his opinions on the movie 300 and about a half dozen books. At first, the notion of reading reviews sounds dull for such a work, but in each piece, Hanson provides a historical lesson for the reader. Whether the topic is Ancient Greece, World War II, or the Battle of Lepanto in 1571, Hanson has read his subject well and he provides insight into each period. Still, these reviews only take up about 50 pages of the book. Probably the most fascinating part of the book comes from Hanson's stories of teaching Thucydides to his students at California State University (p. 55-59). Here, Hanson argues that Thucydides is relevant today and it is the everyday workingman, not the scholar, who can more easily understand him. His students were not privileged and those he quotes include a working mother, an immigrant, and a "tattooed and scared" student all working to pay off their tuition. One of his students concluded that Thucydides would probably like Carter better, "but he'd want Reagan dealing with the Russians" (p. 57). The fascinating insights of these students that use terms like "check it" are a breath of fresh air and it is disappointing that Hanson did not include more. Unfortunately, this section of the book is hidden at the tail end of one of the reviews. It should certainly be more prominent.
Another essay includes Hanson's analysis of the temporary lack of decisive battles in modern warfare where he points out that Alexander the Great, the victor of decisive battle like Granicus, Issus, Gaugamela, and Hydaspes, "spent far more time fighting irregular forces in counterinsurgency efforts throughout the Balkans, the Hindu Kush, and Bactria" (p. 106). Chapter 9 offers an analysis on how it is important to keep the American military up-to-date with the latest technology, but convincing the public of the necessity is difficult. In chapter 10, he examines the American way of war over the centuries, which provides great insight into Americans' general impatience with the lack of results when it comes to war.
There are some issues with the book. The first is for new reader to military history. Hanson switches between periods and battles throughout the entire book. A sampling of a random page (p. 24) shows that Hanson mentions the Iraq War, the Korean War, and the battles of Shiloh, Belleau Wood, Tarawa, and Chosin. Other sections of the book mix in ancient battles and figures as well testing the new student's patience with either accepting that he does not recognize a subject or stopping to do a quick search for a summary. Hopefully, more readers will choose the latter, but an inclusion of dates would help tremendously for many readers who could at least recognize the period in discussion.
The second issue is minor, but it creeps up throughout and is a result of this book being a collection of essays written over a decade. In many places, Hanson reiterates the same points and reuses the same historical examples. As evidence of the quick technology enhancements Americans tend to make during war, Hanson twice points out that the Union started the Civil War with muskets, but ended the war with Spencer Repeating Rifles and ironclad warships (p. 124 and 142). As a result, some portions of the book can become redundant.
Overall, this is a quality book for any reader of history, especially those with an interest in how the past relates to modern-day warfare. Hanson has a wealth of knowledge and continually looks to the past for precedence and insight when examining the present. Hanson is very opinionated and tends to lean toward a more conservative outlook with views like how "the controversial practice of widespread gun ownership in the United States has meant that a large segment of American youths do not grow up afraid of, or inexperienced with, firearms" (p. 145). He clearly sees this as a positive for new military recruits. Even still, Hanson provides challenges to both the liberal and conservative perspective with The Father of Us All.
Many of these essays have been previously published (or substantial parts of them) in magazines but Hanson has re-worked and amplified them. I only recognized one essay and the new version was longer and more substantive.
Hanson is a brilliant essayist - he expands the reader's point of view without talking down to him. Instead, in plain language he discusses large ideas and, happily, he includes plenty of references to other authors and other books that he has found interesting and informative. Reading Hanson is liking talking to an old friend who not only informs, he also entertains and brings along a list of fascinating books, authors and topics and quotes for you to enjoy as well.
His last essay, "How Western Wars Are Lost - and Won" is a fascinating look at the current war on terror. It builds on all of the other essays and frankly wonders if the West has what it takes to defend itself any longer: "We presently witness the absurd situation in which a lunatic Iranian regime uses it oil wealth to spin thousands of imported centrifuges to enrich uranium, while peaceful democratic Germany, where nuclear physics originate, could well be blackmailed by the threat of losing a Munich or Hamburg - despite its ability to build within a year thousands of fusion bombs as predictably lethal as a BMW or Mercedes is reliable." (p. 240)
A fascinating series of essays. Well worth your time.
Hanson argues that the essence of both man and war has remained unchanged through the centuries; that lacking a sense of deterrence, aggressors will always take advantage of their fellows; and that war should be studied by scholars for its didactic value in preparation for inevitable future conflicts. Hanson also believes that wars rarely arise over economics but rather often begin through irrational perceptions about pride and honor. (Even when Greeks fought over land, says Hanson, they--like the British and Argentines in the Falklands--usually fought over worthless land.) Finally, Hanson argues that actual warfare is unpredictable and that all sides make mistakes; the victors, he says, simply prove better at correcting their initial errors.
Although even some conservatives will have difficulty accepting Hanson's well-reasoned apologia for the American war in Iraq, his insightful reconsideration of Xenophon and his moving preface to E. B. Sledge's With the Old Breed (1981) are well worth reading.
Victor Davis Hanson is a blue collar intellectual in the vein of Eric Hoffer. He is a workingman's writer of military philosophy and history. His didactic style brings both knowledge and enlightenment to the difficult subject of war and military history. Dr. Hanson's The Father of Us All is an excellent treatise on War, what it was, what it is, and what it might become. His comparative analysis of the history of warfare is replete with many excellent bibliographic citations which buttress his insightful commentary. Dr. Hanson stresses that studying military history will help us understand all the nuances of war in its totality. The essence of war does not change, just the perception and current understanding of it. As we become technologically more efficient in war fighting capabilities, we tend to view war in a more antiseptic way as exemplified by terms like precision guidance, surgical strike, minimized collateral damage, and on and on. Military leaders like General Tecumseh Sherman would be appalled at this lack of War understanding. He, like most military leaders before him, and some after, understood that war meant to be "Hard War": Savage, brutal and in most cases complete in all that word entails. But, through the ages, man also looks at war in differing ways depending on his culture and varying philosophical views. Dr. Hanson explains this all in great detail drawing on his vast knowledge of military history.
Heraclitus, a pre-Socratic Greek philosopher, wrote , "War is the father of all and king of all." War has dominated Man and his philosophy since the beginning of time. It is eternal and an integral part of the human condition. Although the means may change with changing technology, the essence of War remains and is embedded in the psyche of earth's grand social experiment, and why even those who abhor war need to study military history. We will never end war but by studying it we may better understand it. As General Robert E. Lee said at the battle of Fredericksburg in December of 1862, "It is good that war is so terrible or else we would grow too fond of it." It is indeed, Sir.
As a 3 time combat veteran and credentialed historian I salute Dr. Hanson for his wisdom and understanding of the importance of studying military history. It is not the savagery that is interesting but the willing innate desire of Man to participate in mankind's most deadly endeavor-War. Military history is a window into our very souls as Man is drawn to War and all its environs like a moth to a flame. Whether you have participated in this most exhilarating of man's endeavors or not, it behooves all of us to engage in the study of military history so we can better understand ourselves and why we are so intrigued with War.
As I am a Victor Davis Hanson fan I am biased in my strong recommendation for this book. Still, with that bias in mind, I heartily recommend The Father of Us All, if for no other reason because Dr. Hanson strongly recommends the study of military history.