Victor Davis Hanson Private Papers

It’s 1968 All Over Again

by Victor Davis Hanson // National Review

 

The United States and the world appear to be reliving the language, politics, and global instability of 1968.

 

Almost a half-century ago, in 1968, the United States seemed to be falling apart.

 

The Vietnam War, a bitter and close presidential election, antiwar protests, racial riots, political assassinations, terrorism, and a recession looming on the horizon left the country divided between a loud radical minority and a silent conservative majority.

 

The United States avoided a civil war. But America suffered a collective psychological depression, civil unrest, defeat in Vietnam, and assorted disasters for the next decade — until the election of a once-polarizing Ronald Reagan ushered in five consecutive presidential terms of relative bipartisan calm and prosperity from 1981 to 2001.

 

It appears as if 2017 might be another 1968. Recent traumatic hurricanes seem to reflect the country’s human turmoil.

 

After the polarizing Obama presidency and the contested election of Donald Trump, the country is once again split in two. But this time the divide is far deeper, both ideologically and geographically — and more 50/50, with the two liberal coasts pitted against red-state America in between. Read more →

From An Angry Reader:

Dear Daniel Longo

Mr Hanson, we can only thank you for the correct verbosity and non overuse of the word anemic, as any student of creative writing or freshman English would appreciate the lesson in your overly wordy presentation; problem is, and this seems frequently to escape your need to be correct, whereas my Colbert may be vulgar in his choice of words, your vulgarity resides in your heart. I’ll choose the profanity every time; so, go f–k yourself and your filthy ideals.

Victor Davis Hanson’s Reply:

Dear Angry Reader Daniel Longo,
Your first sentence is incoherent. Your argument is that while Colbert is explicitly obscene and crude, I am implicitly vulgar in my heart. But whereas I quoted Colbert’s vulgarity as proof, you provided no examples to support your unhinged assertion. You, like Colbert, are repetitive: after exclaiming that you prefer profanity, there was no  need to elaborate with profanity.  I have no idea what “filthy ideals” means nor do I imagine you do either.
Victor Hanson

Columbus Day: Melodrama or Tragedy?

The Corner

The one and only.

by Victor Davis Hanson// National Review

 

Campuses and Western critics in the last half-century have turned a once risk-taking and heroic Christopher Columbus into an evil emissary of disease and destruction. History is now seen as one-dimensional melodrama in which our contemporary duty is to pick sinners and saints of the past based on our own modern (quite imperfect) perceptions of morality and then judge them worthy of either hagiography or banishment from memory — rather than history as tragedy in which various agendas are often far more complex than just evil versus good.

 

In the so-called Columbus exchange, true, diseases were inadvertently brought into the New World by rapacious explorers and grasping settlers who followed Columbus that killed millions, but then so were horses, wheat, and rice, which enhanced the human condition. If history is to be reduced to a tit-for-tat scorecard, who can calibrate the good of the imported New World potato and tomato versus the bad of New World tobacco, cocaine, and, most likely, syphilis that would go on to kill and maim hundreds of millions? Without the fertility, climate, and access of the New World, Old World sugar, in small amounts previously imported from India, would have still remained a relative expensive rarity in the West; after Columbus, it would become a staple, with all its lethal results.

 

Certainly, inherent in the Columbus narrative is now a one-sided anti-Western bias, in which Columbus is demonized for epidemics that followed in a way that, say, the advancing Mongols of the 14th century are not censored as the importers of the plague to Europe that killed more Westerners than any single event until World War II.

 

Columbus left a continent in which, as elsewhere in the world, religious persecution, slavery, and civil wars were commonplace — and found mostly the same in the New World; the difference in destruction was largely one of scale that hinged on demography and smaller New World populations. Otherwise, the organization and efficacy of religiously driven human sacrifices of Aztec prisoners and subjects sometimes had a proto-Auschwitzean nature about them — but without dissident voices and opposition.

 

So, what did Columbus accomplish? If demography was destiny, he found a New World in which, to take one later example, North America was by European standards largely underpopulated and his successors opened it to exploration and settlement from a continent whose cities were sometimes 100 times more densely populated. Whereas Europeans had the ability to navigate around the world, indigenous people tragically did not. The logical result was that the more technologically advanced, poor, and overpopulated were going to seek out the naturally rich and sparsely settled, not out of evil per se, but out of collective individual desires to survive and prosper. Both tragedy and civilization followed.

 

It is fashionable to trash the civilization that created Columbus as destructive and pathological, but those who do so often have never experienced the alternative first-hand or at length, and assume that their own prosperity, security, and protected freedoms are birthrights rather than fragilities that exist largely only in the West and Westernized Asia or emanate only from the Western anomalies of self-criticism, secular rationalism, unfettered inquiry, free expression, constitutional government, free-market economics, private property and religious tolerance.

 

Today, millions from often premodern conditions in Africa and in southern Mexico and Central America vote with their feet to seek out Europe and the United States, not because it is perfect or they like the West, but because they believe it is potentially advantageous for them in a way their own familiar landscapes and environments have proven quite disadvantageous. In my own environs, Mexican flags and Aztec statuary are quite commonly on display as proof of indigenous credibility, but the real emotion arises at any hint that the border might be closed and pathways into the United States and all that it is and represents, might be curtailed. In some strange reductionist and iconic way, the symbolic world of the Aztecs is romanticized — and left far behind; the world of Columbus is still demonized but constantly sought out. History is ironic and tragic, not a modern melodramatic morality tale.

 

 

 

 

 

From An Angry Reader:

Mr. Hanson,

I read your opinion piece in Newsweek and wanted to respond.

I wish you’d included numbers, information on programs and systems, budget levels, and other trends, rather than just a few quotes. Funding within the DoD always fluctuates, given whatever is the shiny new toy of the moment (it was drones for a few years, for instance), but missile defense has always gotten plenty of money.

While there were plenty of detractors, missile defense was still given more priority than a lot of other programs before the never-ending war on terror began in the early 2000s. That’s when the DoD’s focus and funding shifted to aviation (drones, helicopters, etc.), ground vehicles, networks, and other systems that needed improvements, innovation, maintenance, etc.—because those are the capabilities needed for the current conflicts. One could say that’s shortsighted, but the U.S. got here by getting into a war with no predefined strategy or exit criteria (very shortsighted), so we all have to play the hand we’re dealt.

There is simply not enough money to go around. It’s not because of Congressional budget levels (and I’m not sure I understand the finger-pointing at “liberals,” given that Republicans have controlled fiscal spending for at least half of the past 30+ years). It’s because there is literally not enough money in America’s coffers to pay for the kind of military expenditure the country seems to expect. Wars are expensive, and long wars are basically black holes sucking in all resources that get anywhere close.

Building and testing missile defense systems is, likewise, extremely expensive. Defense contractors charge the Government ungodly amounts of money for systems that repeatedly fail to work as promised. And yes, that’s a systemic problem that needs to be addressed, but reining in free-market capitalism in the military-industrial complex takes a lot of time and requires political backing to put regulations in place. Contractors don’t like to have their hands tied, and they have well-paid lobbyists, so…we know how this story ends.

Also, to be fair, it is unbelievably freaking hard to develop a missile interceptor, especially one that’s effective in the midcourse phase. There’s a reason why we have the lower tier (PATRIOT) and upper tier (THAAD) fairly well covered with proven missile defense, but not midcourse yet. And those systems that work take years, if not decades, of development and testing to reach full operational capability. PATRIOT, which of course made its battleground debut in Desert Storm, was being developed under the program name SAM-D in the late 1960s.

Plus, I feel like people operate under the delusion that, even if we did have a fully operational midcourse missile defense system, it would be 100% effective. An intercept rate of about 70% or more is considered really successful. This is, in fact, rocket science. Actually, it’s more difficult than your everyday rocket science.

There are a lot of factors at play when it comes to this issue. I think it’s unfair, incorrect, and misleading to say or imply that past administrations, Congresses, and the DoD have somehow ignored missile defense, and that the reason we don’t currently have a reliable “missile shield” is because no one cared enough to fund it.

Respectfully,

Whitney Hedges

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Victor Davis Hanson’s Reply:

Dear Angry Reader Whitney Hedges,

All of what you say—missile defense is expensive, often without surety of hitting the target, and embedded in opportunistic politics—has elements of truth. But in comparison to what?

For a variety of avoidable decisions, we are now on the eve of a North Korean nuclear-tipped missile capability of reaching the West Coast. I simply quoted in my essay past statements, whether Walter Mondale’s dismissal of missile defense as a “hoax,” or Clinton Defense Secretary Perry’s belief that it was not necessary to provide missile defense against a someday nuclear North Korea, or Barack Obama’s hot mic promise to Russian President Medvedev to be “flexible” on Eastern European missile defense agendas (cancelled by Obama)—if Putin would give him “space” during his reelection efforts in 2012.

Is your argument that those quotations are wrong? Or that Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush likewise had no interest in pursuing missile defense?

Note that in my piece I did not suggest missile defense was ever a sure thing. But when faced with North Korea, and the specter of losing a U.S. city, all sorts of things that in the past were considered “problematic” become preferable to the alternatives.

A costly system that offers only a 60% likelihood of knocking down an incoming nuclear missile is preferable to nothing, and I confess also preferable to spending commensurate funds on further entitlements, which will be unnecessary if we are hit by enemy nuclear missiles.

Respectfully,

Victor Hanson

The Glass House of the NFL

by Victor Davis Hanson// National Review

 

The league’s national significance is rapidly diminishing, due to hypocrisy and hyper-politicization in a once-loved American establishment.

 

The National Football League is a glass house that was cracking well before Donald Trump’s criticism of players who refuse to stand during the national anthem.

 

The NFL earned an estimated $14 billion last year. But 500-channel television, Internet live streaming, video games, and all sorts of other televised sports have combined to threaten the league’s monopoly on weekend entertainment — even before recent controversies.

 

It has become a fad for many players not to stand for the anthem. But it is also becoming a trend for irate fans not to watch the NFL at all.

 

Multimillionaire young players, mostly in their 20s, often cannot quite explain why they have become so furious at emblems of the country in which they are doing so well.

 

Their gripes at best seem episodic and are often without supporting data. Are they mad at supposedly inordinate police brutality toward black citizens, or racial disparity caused by bias, or the perceived vulgarity of President Donald Trump? Read more →

Are Wars Caused by Accidents?

by Victor Davis Hanson// National Review

 

History shows that a lack of deterrence, not loose rhetoric, spurs aggression.

 

As tensions mount with North Korea, fears arise that President Trump’s tit-for-tat bellicose rhetoric with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un might lead to miscalculations — and thus an accidental war that could have been prevented.

 

Is there evidence in history that wars break out largely because of an accident or over a misplaced word? Seldom.

 

Enemies Fight, but Neutrals, Rivals, and Friends Rarely Do

The precise timing of particular outbreaks of war, of course, can depend on unique factors. A sudden perception of a loss of deterrence can cause an army to mobilize. So can almost anything, from the introduction of a new weapon to a change in government.

 

Yet the larger events that originally drove two sides to fight are rarely, if ever, accidental in the manner of car wrecks.

 

Enemies go to war; rivals, neutrals, and friends rarely do. There is little chance that an accidental foreign incursion across the Canadian or even the Mexican border will result in war. The apparently accidental, but quite lethal, 1967 Israeli air attack on the USS Liberty did not result in a U.S. retaliatory strike on Tel Aviv, much less escalate to a general war. Yet a similar Soviet strike might have.

 

In general, the best deterrent policy in dealing with multiple aggressors is Teddy Roosevelt’s dictum to speak softly and carry a big stick — because loud speech is sometimes misinterpreted as a compensatory effort to disguise military incapability, and thus paradoxically it can lead to a fatal loss of deterrence.

 

Next best perhaps is speaking loudly while carrying a big stick. Intemperate words are not fatal if ultimately reinforced by overwhelming force.

 

Most dangerous is speaking loudly (and especially sanctimoniously) while carrying a twig — basically what we have seen in the past eight years with Russia, Iran, and Syria. Read more →

How Silicon Valley Turned Off the Left and Right

by Victor Davis Hanson// National Review

 

After years of regulation immunity and radical profiteering, Silicon Valley mega-corporations are alienating their friends on both sides of the political aisle.

 

When Left and Right finally agree on something, watch out: The unthinkable becomes normal.

 

So it is with changing attitudes toward Silicon Valley.

 

For the last two decades, Apple, Google, Amazon, and other West Coast tech corporations have been untouchable icons. They piled up astronomical profits while hypnotizing both left-wing and right-wing politicians.

 

Conservative administrations praised them as modern versions of 19th-century risk-takers such as Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller. Bill Gates, the late Steve Jobs, and other tech giants were seen as supposedly creating national wealth in an unregulated, laissez-faire landscape that they had invented from nothing.

 

At a time when American companies were increasingly unable to compete in the rough-and-tumble world arena, Apple, Microsoft, and Facebook bulldozed their international competition. Indeed, they turned high-tech and social media into American brands. Read more →

From An Angry Reader:

Dear Mr. Hanson,

I’m a black Ivy-League educated liberal raised in NC and something in me snapped last week.

Have no fear, I’m still in the liberal camp, but it perturbs me greatly to see all the hoopla over Confederate memorials.

This is so not important on the list of what my community needs or wants. I dare say that this is not even the focus of the blacks of Black Lives Matter. It’s more white liberals looking for a convenient way to make them not racist. How dare they! Charleston was different. THAT CITY was looking to heal after a horrific event and the removal of statues there seemed justified. But let’s face it, a white liberal hates nothing more than to be called racist and after Trump’s crazy remarks last week, they were looking for an easy scapegoat.

I’m a progressive and want better education and health care for all, state-sponsored.

My cheeky idea of dangerous white nationalism is the playground of the PUBLiC school on Greenwich Avenue in NYC, where only white kids play at lunchtime. Imagine, in the most liberal of liberal cities, an all white elementary school.

Cheers,

Warner

 

Victor Davis Hanson’s Reply:

Dear Not Really Angry Reader Warner,

You do not sound like a “black” liberal, but a thoughtful empiricist person for whom race is a second or tertiary consideration. Be careful, once the liberal facade cracks, like Humpty Dumpty it cannot be put back together again. You are on your way to the Enlightenment of judging the world in the manner you see and hear it.

I take it you object to liberal virtue signaling and prefer to judge actions, not rhetoric.

If so, I sympathize with you, because the liberal elite mindset is about symbolic, not real action. It is easy to decapitate statues, not so easy to be a DC grandee politician or reporter and put your children in the public schools rather than in private and often mostly exclusive academies, easy to be Mark Zuckerberg demagoguing a border fence, not so easy to leave his estates unwalled; easy to “celebrate diversity,” but apparently not so easy to prefer living with the “other” of less economic means. So yes, I get your point that kindred liberals are hypocritical.

But erasing the past was not the fault just of “white liberals.” Black liberals were at the forefront too; those calling for the poor USC mascot to be renamed were mostly African-American students. Perhaps the general explanation is that white privileged liberals, whose lives are mostly apartheid in nature, feel guilty, but not so guilty to live the lives they advocate for others. So to assuage guilt and to justify their continued privilege they blame distant, poorer whites for “white privilege” as if minorities at their workplace or at the university will deem them “correct whites” and leave them alone or even praise them.

In general, class is a far better bellwether in 2017. Privilege is predicated on opportunity: a black Ivy League professional has far more opportunities than does a white working-class tire changer in southern Ohio; just as an inner-city African-American lacks the chances of a white or Asian Google techie.

It is past time to forget statue smashing and race mongering and get back to judging people on the basis of character content.

Cheers,

Victor

From An Angry Reader:

Dear Professor Hanson,

You are a hypocrite.

You endlessly, in your writings and talks, decry people who say ‘if it ain’t perfect it ain’t good’, and yet you constantly moan about Obama just because he ‘wasn’t perfect’ and did some crooked things. You, sir, are a hypocrite. You could at least admit that both parties stink and that all politicians are liars.

By the way, you need to stop moaning about how ‘the elite’ should do more ‘hands-on’ work (I will soon start calling you Victor ‘Hands-on’ to reflect your obsession). Have you ever thought that maybe nobody wants to do those grueling back-breaking jobs for a dollar an hour, and that maybe some people want to get away from that life? Do you really think Donald J Trump, your hero, ever did a single day of hard basically unpaid work like that? Who would want that life if they could get a decent wage—or better rich—without breaking their back? Do you really expect kids to aspire to be fruit-pickers when they could be lawyers earning 200k a year working 5 days a week? I call BS.

Maybe you’re right in principle, but nobody is as principled as you who could or would want to do that. Also, lots of people in inner cities want to do that kind of manual labor or farm-work, but have no access or ability to do it because unlike you they don’t have a farm of their own. How the h*ll can they do what you want them to do when they don’t even have the social mobility to have access to the countryside? Heck, most people struggle just to pay the rent in the inner cities nowadays; most people are slaves to the state. I would rather be a real slave than have the fake urban ‘freedom’ (i.e. prison) that modern scum politicians have created for us.

Dan Smith,

Miami

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Victor Davis Hanson’s Reply:

Dear Angry Reader Dan Smith,

Calm down; your anger clouds all reason. Most politicians, but not all, are liars. While I agree that both parties lie, at this particular juncture in American history, nevertheless the two parties are not morally equivalent.

nstead they represent vastly different world views: identity politics versus the melting pot; illegal massive immigration vs. legal, measured, diverse, and meritocratic immigration; more taxes and larger government vs. lower taxes and less government; a therapeutic foreign policy vs. deterrence; less defense spending vs. more of it; curbs on expression vs. free speech. The antitheses are really quite endless.

Obama did not grow the economy (sluggish and always less than 3%). His rhetoric divided the nation. The world abroad fell into chaos. The debt doubled. Taxes rose. Health care deductibles, premiums, and copays skyrocketed. Programs like cash for clunkers, “shovel-ready” jobs, or Solyndra-like subsidies were embarrassing. The border was left open. Eric Holder was cited for contempt by Congress. Corruption—at the IRS, Secret Service, GSA, VA, and EPA—was commonplace. Reporters had their communications tapped. Unmasking and leaking were normative. Need I go on? Obama was an iconic president—fine; but there was no record of accomplishment and a great deal of deliberate polarization.

Donald Trump is not my hero; did I write that? He is a corrective to the Obama years. Few others were willing to take up that role.

Stopping illegal immigration and pro-growth policies might give entry-level workers clout with their employers, and allow wages to rise. The proponent of open borders is the proponent of low wages. “Fruit pickers” could once again be summer job seekers and entry level employment that soon led to higher paying and more skilled work, especially if labor is not cheap and accessible through illegal immigration. I think my writings have supported the idea that muscular labor should be more highly rewarded.

Do you not see that the opponent of illegal immigration wishes wages to rise and inner-city youth to be in demand as workers?

In a full-employment economy, employers could not ignore inner city youths, but would work with them to reenter the work force. I don’t see at all the morality of importing a half-million foreign nationals to work when we have millions of Americans who are not employed and have dropped permanently out of the work force.

Finally, no one is a perpetual victim. We all face constant pressures and personal tragedies. Claiming always of a stacked deck and blaming others or cosmic forces in general guarantee personal failure.

I’d like to engage your questions, but there are few coherent inquiries here.

Victor Hanson

Selma

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