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The Father of Us All: War and History, Ancient and Modern Paperback – April 26, 2011
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From Publishers Weekly
Since 9/11, Davis, director of the Hoover Institution's group on military history and contemporary conflict, has emerged as a major commentator on war making and politics. This anthology brings together 13 of Hanson's essays and reviews, revised and re-edited. They have appeared over the past decade in periodicals from the American Spectator to the New York Times. Hanson's introductory generalization that war is a human enterprise that seems inseparable from the human condition structures such subjects as an eloquent answer to the question Why Study War? a defense of the historicity of the film 300, about the Persian Wars, in a masterpiece of envelope pushing, and a comprehensive and dazzling analysis of why America fights as she does. He explains why, though a lesser historian than Thucydides, Xenophon retains a timeless attraction and analyzes war and democracy in light of America's decreasing willingness to intervene in places like Rwanda or Darfur. The pieces are well written, sometimes elegantly so, and closely reasoned. They address familiar material from original and stimulating perspectives. Hanson's arguments may not convince everyone, but cannot be dismissed. His critics and admirers will be pleased to have these pieces available under one cover. (May)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Folksinger Pete Seeger ain’t gonna study war no more, but classicist Hanson warns against skipping class in this set of essays reworked from his recent articles, book reviews, and book introductions. In Hanson’s estimation, amnesia about military history permeates America’s media, political, and intellectual leadership: out of fashion in the academy, military history was the specialty of just 1.9 percent of American history professors as of 2007. As he suggests reasons for this state of neglect, Hanson expatiates within specific essays, such as his preface to Donald Kagan’s The Peloponnesian War (2003), on the effects of historical forgetfulness. Hanson sees examples abounding in American leaders’ negative reactions to the Iraq War, responses that the author witheringly critiques for poor historical aptitude and poor understanding about the military and military operations. At bottom, Hanson argues that recoiling from learning about warfare ignores what he insists is its tragic nature: that war, inherent in human nature, can only be struggled against and not be wished away. Not a happy message to peace-studies idealists but one a balanced current-events collection should include. --Gilbert Taylor --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top customer reviews
VDH observes quantitatively that `military history' is not a hot topic in academia. Of 15,000-some history professors in the US, fewer than 2% identify themselves with `military history' ... that's only 300 people and it seems a bit small given the history and outcomes of war permit the subject of debated history to be taught.
This essay collection and organization is top shelf. VDH uses the headlines to comport with the thesis of 'Father of Us All', that war, as horrific as it is, is the factual basis for our modern reality. The essays here are generically and specifically `war' and its variations in the context of civilization and its rarely seen opposite of 'peace'. War is ugly nasty stuff, VDH does not glamorize the horror. However, war and the victor, determine everything that follows. We all, I think, desire that humankind did not have the propensity to war in its bag of expedients but it does and in the end, it decides everything.
VDH's essay collection does a marvelous job with the central nature of warfare. Wars are seen to not result from a failure to communicate or a failure of diplomacy. War's initiators are bellicose war mongers beating their chest among civil society until a tipping point is reached. Civil society is patient and systematically appeases the `chest beaters'. It's an historical pattern. Demosthenes warned the Hellenes of Alexander in adequate time to have preserved their democracy. Cato the Younger warned of the outcome of losing the Roman Republic for a Caesar. Napoleon's agenda was understood by too many observers to count. The wacky Hapsburgs pre-1914 could have been silenced with a moderate effort. Hitler could have been precluded if society had heard Churchill and the many other voices before 1939. The killing fields of Cambodia were the creation of China's desire to 'spank the behind of their Vietnamese child'. Failing to act might well be the worst evil of 'peace'.
So, VDH uses histories patterns to identify our current chest-beating war monger Iran, Syria and the RNK. These can not be stopped by chat. He rubs our cumulative nose in our recent history of diplomacy with these ruling tribes. Civilization ultimately pays a high human price for failing to take these aberrations to peace-loving civilization at face value. That's the pattern.
This is an intellectual read for those that experienced a significant piece of the 20th century. It is a worthy gift to the freshly minted history major in your circle that may have missed the significance in his or her education. 5-star excellent!
A few of the writings are not suitable for a younger audience. If the reader is younger than 15 a parent should read it first to make sure that it is ok.
Since he is covering a tremendous timeline, the detailed specifics are lacking. I would suggest that if you are wanting detail then you will need a specific book for each war. He does a good job of comparing and explaining key “take aways” from each war.
I did enjoy reading the book because it did give you a perspective or each war. This will give you enough of a background so speak somewhat knowledgeable on the subject matter.
It was a bit confusing at times when a few of essays would jump to a war that you read about a couple of essays earlier. I had to flip back and forth a few times, especially when he would insert a thought from an earlier war from Greek history.
The author, a Stanford professor and renowned scholar, examines the question of why wars exist: Why did wars occur in the past? The present? Most important, will they continue to exist in the future?
With remarkable breadth of knowledge, Hanson reaches back to ancient times, to the Peloponnesian War between Greece and Sparta, then walks us through history—Caesar, Napoleon, the American Civil War, the World Wars of the twentieth century, the present-day war on terror—and draws correlations that provide us the answers.
There is far too much here to touch on in a blog post or review, but I can list a few select highlights:
–The field of military history itself is of vast importance, yet it is increasingly isolated and hard to find in today’s college environment. As a formal academic discipline it is atrophied, shunned by political correctness that finds the subject distasteful. Yet only by objectively studying past military conflict can we prevent or minimize future conflict.
–The balance between war and democracy, freedom and security. Are dictatorships, with their command structure, innately superior in fighting wars? Fortunately, no. The political and economic freedoms of the United States, and the resulting innovation and dynamism, have produced the world’s finest fighting forces.
–The rise of “utopian pacifism.” This is the belief that wars are the result of a misunderstanding, and that future wars can be eliminated through reason, education, and diplomacy. Such a myth has cycled throughout history, as it appeals to the romantic yearning for the perfectibility of human nature. Such beliefs are prevalent again today, despite the disconnect from reality.
The truth is that war has always been a part of the human condition, and always will be. War should always be a last resort, but will always be necessary for the survival of civilization. As the author points out, the United States of America was “born through war, reunited in war, and saved from destruction by war.” Moreover,
“Our freedom is not entirely our own, in some sense it is mortgaged by those who paid the ultimate price for its continuance.”
America today, with its prosperity and its principles of personal freedom, market capitalism, and constitutional government, is ipso facto envied and hated by the various warlords, dictators, and tribalists that litter the globe. For this reason, our continued existence is best assured by military preparedness, deterrence-based diplomacy, and the courage to fight and defeat our enemies.