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Examining nine landmark battles from ancient to modern times - from Salamis, where outnumbered Greeks devastated the slave army of Xerxes, to Cortes’s conquest of Mexico to the Tet offensive - Victor Davis Hanson explains why the armies of the West have been the most lethal and effective of any fighting forces in the world. Looking beyond popular explanations such as geogra Examining nine landmark battles from ancient to modern times - from Salamis, where outnumbered Greeks devastated the slave army of Xerxes, to Cortes’s conquest of Mexico to the Tet offensive - Victor Davis Hanson explains why the armies of the West have been the most lethal and effective of any fighting forces in the world. Looking beyond popular explanations such as geography or superior technology, Hanson argues that it is in fact Western culture and values – the tradition of dissent, the value placed on inventiveness and adaptation, the concept of citizenship – which have consistently produced superior arms and soldiers. Offering riveting battle narratives and a balanced perspective that avoids simple triumphalism, Carnage and Culture demonstrates how armies cannot be separated from the cultures that produce them and explains why an army produced by a free culture will always have the advantage.


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Examining nine landmark battles from ancient to modern times - from Salamis, where outnumbered Greeks devastated the slave army of Xerxes, to Cortes’s conquest of Mexico to the Tet offensive - Victor Davis Hanson explains why the armies of the West have been the most lethal and effective of any fighting forces in the world. Looking beyond popular explanations such as geogra Examining nine landmark battles from ancient to modern times - from Salamis, where outnumbered Greeks devastated the slave army of Xerxes, to Cortes’s conquest of Mexico to the Tet offensive - Victor Davis Hanson explains why the armies of the West have been the most lethal and effective of any fighting forces in the world. Looking beyond popular explanations such as geography or superior technology, Hanson argues that it is in fact Western culture and values – the tradition of dissent, the value placed on inventiveness and adaptation, the concept of citizenship – which have consistently produced superior arms and soldiers. Offering riveting battle narratives and a balanced perspective that avoids simple triumphalism, Carnage and Culture demonstrates how armies cannot be separated from the cultures that produce them and explains why an army produced by a free culture will always have the advantage.

30 review for Carnage and Culture: Landmark Battles in the Rise of Western Power

  1. 5 out of 5

    Matt

    West is best! East is least! Culturally speaking, of course. Rather, that is the premise of Victor Davis Hanson’s interesting Carnage and Culture. Before I go on, let me stress the interesting, for I mean that in the very Confucian sense of the word. Hanson apes John Keegan’s Face of Battle in using a case study approach of selected battles to prove a larger point. Here, Hanson argues that the nine randomly selected martial encounters he highlights proves that “Western culture and values” consiste West is best! East is least! Culturally speaking, of course. Rather, that is the premise of Victor Davis Hanson’s interesting Carnage and Culture. Before I go on, let me stress the interesting, for I mean that in the very Confucian sense of the word. Hanson apes John Keegan’s Face of Battle in using a case study approach of selected battles to prove a larger point. Here, Hanson argues that the nine randomly selected martial encounters he highlights proves that “Western culture and values” consistently produce “superior arms and soldiers.” More specifically, he posits that Western values such as capitalism, the tradition of dissent, the concept of citizenship, and individualism has allowed the West to consistently triumph over the East. You might, at this point, be asking yourself certain questions. The chief question that came to my mind, is “why would anyone argue this in the first place?” At the very least, it is insensitive. Do we need to rub salt into the wounds of the Aztec or the Zulu? Isn’t it enough that Western culture, in all its glorious “amorality” (Hanson’s favorite word for denying the moral effects caused by the Western armies he endlessly extols) literally destroyed these cultures? Do we really need a 463-page dance on the ashes of their lost civilizations? Unfortunately, at times, which I will detail below, this book lurches past insensitivity into condescension bordering on racial determinism. I suppose at this point I have to explain why I read this book. Fair enough. I was going through a classics phase. I wanted to read about ancient battles. Carnage and Culture features three B.C. battles, and it’s written by a guy who is a classics professor. So, impulsive as always when it comes to purchasing books, I got it. Turns out, I made a bad choice. Carnage and Culture is built upon the premise that nine battles randomly selected by Hanson proves the superiority of Western culture. These battles are Salamis (480 BC); Gaugamela (331 BC); Cannae (216 BC); Poitiers (732); Tenochtitlan (1521); Lepanto (1571); Rorke’s Drift (1879); Midway (1942); and Tet (1968). There is no consistency or similarities in the battles chosen. Some are very old, some are less old. Some take place on land, others on sea. Some are victories, others defeats. The arbitrariness of these nine battles tells you one thing: that Hanson came up with his idea, and then attempted to prove it by plucking these battles from history, and repurposing them with modern meaning. Two things jump out. First, the battles he chooses do a poor job supporting his thesis. From battle to battle, the facts sometimes support, but often times contradict his point. Ultimately, the facts/context of each battle is so different that this entire book feels based on a false premise. Second, the battles he chooses to leave out completely and entirely eviscerate his theory, to the extent that it’s almost not worth debating. Let’s start with the battles that Hanson anoints to support his cause. Take Cannae. That was a Roman defeat at the hands of Hannibal. Not only a defeat, but one of the greatest defeats in history (or conversely, the gold standard of victories; Hannibal’s double-envelopment is the military equivalent of the perfect game). Clearly, Hanson chose Cannae because he had to explain it away. Which he attempts, by arguing that Rome was able to overcome the catastrophe through a system of recruitment. Still, that’s not Hanson’s thesis. His argument is that Western values create superior arms that win “decisive battles” (a phrase that, along with “shock troops,” is much beloved by Hanson). Here, Hannibal won the decisive battle. Moreover, I failed to see tremendously large cultural differences between Rome and Hellenized Carthage. They seem more similar than different. I got to the end of the Cannae chapter and wondered: what did that even mean? (Footnote 1). Then you have a battle like Midway, pitting the Japanese verses the Americans in World War II. Hanson tries to argue that Admiral Yamamoto’s strategic plan was flawed by his culture, which enforced rigid and inflexible decision-making. Wrong. Yamamoto’s plan was flawed, yes, but not because of his cultural background. His assault on Pearl Harbor was almost sui generis. It was way outside the box, which is why it worked. The problem was Yamamoto’s hubris, his arrogance, the massiveness of his plan which involved dispersing his forces all over the sea. This came about because he’d won big already, and was ready for his next gamble. This kind of all-in, don’t-question-me attitude is not an Eastern attribute. It is an attribute of successful military leaders (as well as politicians, athletes, entertainers). Also, as with Cannae, the Japanese featured a very “Western-style” military. They were the ones with better weapons, such as the Zero fighter plan and torpedoes that actually worked. So, once again, key components of Hanson’s self-created matrix are missing. Midway goes nowhere to proving his point. (There is abundant mixing and matching of virtues. In one chapter, Hanson celebrates the “discipline” of British troops. In another chapter, he lauds the “individualism” of American fliers. So which is it? Discipline or individualism? They are different military values). Midway does demonstrate one thing, though: the importance of the God of Battles. Wellington said of Waterloo, it was “the nearest run thing you ever saw.” That’s an apt description for so many battles. I find the notion of culture playing a role in victorious armies to be absolutely ludicrous. It might be one of the dumbest ideas ever turned into a bestselling book. The outcome of battles rely enormously on local factors. The terrain. Who got there first. Who got there with the most. The weather (e.g., Napoleon’s “lion’s leap” from the fog of Austerlitz). The discipline of the troops. Their weaponry. The tactics. The communication between troop bodies. Above all these things towers blind dumb luck. At Midway, Hanson tries to argue that American individualism won the day, after dive bombers finally found the Japanese carriers. Before that deadly strike, however, American torpedo bombers, flying without fighter support, had been slaughtered almost to a man. The American dive bomber attack was not a thing of synchronized beauty. It was rather like the Zulu attack on Rorke’s Drift, ad hoc and uncoordinated. (None of the planes from the carrier Hornet ever made it to battle. Was this a cultural failing? Or something far more prosaic?) When the American dive bombers arrived, it surprised the Japanese, who lacked good intelligence on the number of American carriers. A few well-placed bombs turned the Japanese carrier fleet into flaming wreckage in five minutes. If those bombs had missed… If the Japanese were not in the midst of changing the armaments on their own planes… These are things that have nothing to do with culture and everything to do with the untamed fluidity of battle. A second major concern is what Hanson leaves out. To wit: all the many battles that disprove his controversial proposal. I mean, just look at the time-gaps between battles. Between 216 BC and 732, and between 732 and 1521, and between 1571 and 1879. Hanson touches on World War II, with the Battle of Midway, but entirely ignores the great Eastern armies of Stalin’s Soviet Union. Despite having no free enterprise, no entrepreneurship, no personal freedom, no constitutional democracy, no tradition of dissent, the Soviets became one of the unstoppable military machines in history. Everything that Hanson insists is a necessary condition for military success in “shock battle” and “decisive battles” and blah, blah, blah, is entirely missing in the Soviets. Also missing: any mention of the Soviets. (Footnote 2). One of Hanson’s stalking horses is his disparagement of the ability of Eastern armies to succeed in Western set-piece battles. Of course, Hanson conveniently forgets Dien Bien Phu, which to my mind is the almost perfect rejoinder to Hanson’s nonsense. The French at Dien Bien Phu thought exactly like Hanson. They dropped themselves into the valley of decision, daring the Vietminh to attack them. The Vietminh obliged, and knocked the French out of Vietnam. Checkmate. Hanson’s argument in tatters. Almost entirely ignored. Hanson’s argument lacks merit. It is also poorly delivered. The battle narratives in each section are a mess. He usually starts in media res, in the middle of the action, without first providing any context. Then he circles back, gives a rambling, semi-coherent account of the battle, and then continues on for far too many pages expounding on his argument. That’s one of my major beefs with this book. How much time Hanson banged away at his points. He keeps repeating the same things over and over, as though by repetition they might gain value. His statistics are fantasy. (Footnote 3). I’m not an expert on many of these battles, but I know the Zulu War, and I know that Hanson screws up the Rorke’s Drift chapter. He sneers at Zulu tactics, discipline, and regimentation. He’ll call them brave, but that’s the only virtue they get. (That’s the only virtue any non-Westerners really get). He describes the Zulus attacking Rorke’s Drift in human waves. And then goes on to note the numbers of the British defense. 20,000 rounds fired. 16 hours of battle. Roughly 150 defenders. A claim that each soldier hit 5 Zulus. Let’s do basic math. 20,000 rounds over 16 hours divided by 150 defenders gives us 1,250 rounds fired on average per hour (obviously the fighting was not constant), meaning 8 rounds on average per hour per man. This also works out to each man firing roughly 133 rounds, and scoring 1 hit for every 26 bullets fired. A British soldier could fire 12 rounds a minute from his Martini-Henry. What does all this mean? That the tired concept of Zulu “human waves” attack is garbage. If there were really human waves coming at Rorke’s Drift, and the soldiers were hitting one man in 26, the battle would have been a lot shorter. The Zulus were better fighters than that. They were excellent skirmishers, excellent flankers, and were constantly testing for weaknesses in enemy lines. Hanson won’t admit this, though, because to him, it’s not possible that the Zulus could be these things without also being free market capitalists. Hanson on the Zulu warrior: “He was neither fearsome nor freedom loving. In reality, the most deadly man in Africa was typically a pale British soldiers…” (Footnote 4). Now we’re talking! It’s about time we get to the racial supremacy aspect. A the beginning of Carnage and Culture, Hanson argues that the Western way of warfare is amoral. He wraps himself in this amorality as a cloak. After all, Western civilization doesn’t have to answer for any of its sins if it was acting amorally. Amiright? Of course, this book is full of moral judgments. Chief among them is that civilization equates with Western civilization. Hanson demonstrates repugnance when speaking of the Aztecs and their ritualistic slaughter, but never stops to consider that Western civilization learned how to destroy the entire world by splitting atoms. Hanson finds it despicable that non-Westerners mutilated the bodies of their enemies postmortem, but seems to find things like the Holocaust, fire-bombings, and the slaughter of indigenous villages as exemplary culture. This is a book in which Hanson states that Western armies are “slow to anger” when in fact Western armies have left their homes and traveled across the seas to destroy other cultures who had heretofore been unaware of their existence. (The Aztecs and Zulus are mentioned in the book, for God’s sake! And I’m sure there are some Native American tribes that would beg to differ on how long it took the white man to anger). This is also a book in which Hanson celebrates the quick and efficient Western way of war. You know, like in the Thirty Years War. The condescension is really on display with the Aztecs. Hanson goes out of his way to describe the intellectualism and rationalism of the Spaniards, since “many of the men” were allegedly “avid readers of contemporary Spanish political and scientific tracts.” Take that, Aztecs! That’s why you deserve the boot heel. Because you haven’t read Livy. Those Aztecs were worthless. They were sitting on a bunch of natural resources and they never turned a single bit of iron into a cannon. This was because they lacked a “rational tradition of science” and a “climate of disinterested research.” In other words, they couldn’t read, write, or learn. And those pyramids they constructed? Who cares? Hanson raises hypothetical questions about Aztec inferiority, while simultaneously denying any explanation. In a neat little trick, Hanson dismisses the work of Jared Diamond (Guns, Germs, and Steel) in the introduction. He even calls Diamond a racist for saying that New Guineans are really smart. With Diamond and his “geographic determinism” out of the way, Hanson is free to state his case that Westerners are simply the chosen people. In Hansen’s view, the Spaniards won in Mexico because some of them were notaries who at one point might have read Caesar’s Gallic Wars. I’m guessing it’s that combination of technology, treachery, cultural erosion, and disease that Europeans used to such devastating effect in the Americas. This is a book that only slowly reveals its true purpose. It was originally published in a pre-9/11 2001. This was a time in which the Cold War had ended, some were talking about the “end of history,” and there was a feeling that certain martial traits might be declining. I initially thought this book might have been the chicken-hawk squawking of an angry guy bemoaning peace and complacency. Hanson struck me as a guy who didn't like the fact that the “great man” theory of history was being replaced by inclusive, diverse viewpoints. He complains that no historians have ever compared Aztecs to Nazis. (Just do it yourself, asshole, if that’s what you think). He frets about the things that liberals are doing on college campuses, like celebrating that “genocidal Shaka.” (Hemming about all the foolish things kids do on college campuses is a fool's game. Yet for Hanson, it's a mighty dragon he must slay). It’s mostly curmudgeonly muttering until the chapter on Tet, a chapter I had long been dreading. Here, Hanson drops his hypothesis completely in order to refight – and win – the Vietnam war. Hanson blames the entire loss on left-wing American traitor-journalists. These pusillanimous scribblers connived to get a minority of anti-war Americans to force the end of the war. This chapter is exceptionally revealing. Many of the trumpeted virtues that putatively made the West best, such as dissent and democracy, created the conditions of America’s withdrawal. Hanson sees his argument is in smoke. Instead of admitting that, and quitting, he decides instead to slander men like David Halberstam and Stanley Karnow. Men who had actually gone to Vietnam. Men who had actually seen the sights, heard the lies, and reported the truth. Men who Victor Davis Hanson, the king of the biased secondary source, doesn’t begin to compare in the slightest. This was the meaning all along. (Footnote 5). Instead of trying to salvage his initial argument, Hanson shows how we would have won in Vietnam if we just invaded the North. Well duh! Why didn't anyone think of that. It would have made perfect sense to just flood Vietnam with more American soldiers and march all the way to Hanoi. I mean, it worked so well in North Korea. I’m sure the Chinese wouldn’t have cared. September 11 initially gave this book a boost. It widened the potential audience from cultural conservatives looking for a “politically incorrect” take on history, to include people who just wanted to feel like we’d be all right in the wake of one of the worst national disasters we’ve ever faced. In the paperback afterward, written in 2002, Hanson takes a victory lap. He reveals that many historians call him to tell him he’s exactly right, but they were too scared of the PC police to say it. (If this is true, these historians should all be ashamed). He also acknowledges, humbly, that he’s seen as an expert in the field of Western triumphalism. (He is not an expert. He is a trafficker in secondary sources. During the Zulu War chapter he passes on a fraudulent story first peddled by Donald Morris in The Washing of the Spears. I know this because I have actually read the primary source documents that Morris used to fabricate his story. Hanson repeats the fatuous anecdote like a credulous amateur). Carnage and Culture was good for Hanson’s career. It got him on television, where he got to fulminate in favor of the Iraq War. For a time, it looked like Hanson would be right. That the West would triumph over the (Middle) East… Now, we know a bit better. It ain’t 2002 anymore. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are America’s longest running wars. They cannot be considered, by any measure, successes. And based on Hanson’s adored factors, the West was actually doomed to defeat. The civic militarism (enlistments in the volunteer army are down, time to stop-loss the troops!), capitalism (wait, we spent a trillion dollars on this?), and democracy (time to vote for someone who’ll get us out of there) that Hanson extols as victory-assuring conditions proved anything but against a primitive and tenacious enemy who, despite their refusal to fight like Greek hoplites, managed to wear us to the ground. It is somehow fitting that the wars upon which Hanson staked his public reputation ultimately serve as such a perfect counter-proof. I hated this book. I hate how Hanson thinks that Greek hoplites somehow lead in an unbroken line to drone warfare. I hate how Hanson implies that the Aztecs didn't know how to learn. I hate all the factual errors. I hate the tone. I hate how all these factors made this book so popular. This is supposed to be an antidote to “politically correct” histories. Problem is, there’s just nothing correct about it, save spelling and punctuation. This is the longest review of my life. This book gave me feels. Bad feels. Like Madeline Kahn in Clue feels. ("Flame…Flames, on the side of my face"). I'm including footnotes in the comment section, just in case you feel like there's more to read.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Justin

    This book is drivel, plain and simple. Hanson selects nine battles from history and pairs them with what he imagines to be the characteristics of Western civilization that, when combined in a test tube, have proved to be an elixir of invincibility, carrying the world before them. The Greeks defeated the Persians in 480 B.C. The lesson? A free citizenry was decisive in the conflict. Unfortunately, the slave laborers and women who were considered little more than property and who underpinned the an This book is drivel, plain and simple. Hanson selects nine battles from history and pairs them with what he imagines to be the characteristics of Western civilization that, when combined in a test tube, have proved to be an elixir of invincibility, carrying the world before them. The Greeks defeated the Persians in 480 B.C. The lesson? A free citizenry was decisive in the conflict. Unfortunately, the slave laborers and women who were considered little more than property and who underpinned the ancient Greek economy would probably beg to differ with Hanson's definition of "free". Perhaps he only had men in mind? Hanson's choice of battles is quite arbitrary, and, echoing the Downing Street Memos, he has selected the facts to fit his thesis. If Alexander's victory at Gaugamela illustrates the West's penchant for annihilation, and Charles Martel's victory at Tours shows the superiority of the West's traditional dependence on fortified infantry, what of the obliteration of nearly the entire Roman army by an all-cavalry force at Adrianople in 378? Perhaps the Goths who destroyed Valens and his army were not Eastern enough for Hanson's thesis. How about the Huns in the fifth century? What of the Mongol empire of the 13th century (rulers of the largest land empire the world has known)? Genghis Khan's troops were all cavalry, they were not capitalists, they were very low-tech, not concerned with reason or philosophical discourse--in short, they were lacking just about all of the classically liberal virtues that Mr. Hanson seems to think essential for conquest. Of course, they possessed a knack for annihilation and great discipline, but then, hasn't every great army throughout history had those same qualities? Hanson's use of the Battles of Rorke's Drift (1879) and Tenochtitlan (1521) as examples of Western superiority is particularly illuminating. When a relatively technologically advanced civilization comes into contact with spear-throwing primitives with no biological immunity to say, smallpox, is that really evidence of the inherent superiority of Western civilization, or merely circumstances working out in our favor? The fact that no civilization, Western or otherwise, has been able to truly subdue China (without itself being assimilated by the Chinese), which hasn't (and doesn't) possess many of Mr. Hanson's proposed Western virtues, seems to argue against his thesis. The fact that the coming centuries will likely be Sino-centric merits understanding and an explanation, one that Mr. Hanson is politically incapable of delivering, but that Mr. Darwin's thinking anticipated long ago.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Robert

    Brave indeed is the academic prepared to take on the cultural relativists in today's academy, but Hanson, like the Westerner he is, suits up here for a massive ground assault straight up the gut. He will surely piss off the fashionably PC crowd who have been reared to despise just about anything Western with his first chapter heading alone, 'Why the West Won.' Based upon his observation that for over 2500 years, the chief military worry of Western armies has been other Western armies, Hanson goe Brave indeed is the academic prepared to take on the cultural relativists in today's academy, but Hanson, like the Westerner he is, suits up here for a massive ground assault straight up the gut. He will surely piss off the fashionably PC crowd who have been reared to despise just about anything Western with his first chapter heading alone, 'Why the West Won.' Based upon his observation that for over 2500 years, the chief military worry of Western armies has been other Western armies, Hanson goes on to explore exactly why that has been the case, arguing that cultural determinants, rather than say biological or topographical ones, have shaped the West into the most successful and, yes, let's say it, superior fighting civilization.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Bookwombat

    "Carnage and Culture" is, in my eyes, an example of essentialist history done badly. So, first I'll just briefly address what I mean by "essentialist": That is when the historian claims to have discovered some essence that define and explain whatever is being discussed. This is clearly both a legitimate and an extremely useful approach - but only if actually true. When done badly, the historian cherry picks only the empirical evidence which fits the essentialist thesis and discards all countervail "Carnage and Culture" is, in my eyes, an example of essentialist history done badly. So, first I'll just briefly address what I mean by "essentialist": That is when the historian claims to have discovered some essence that define and explain whatever is being discussed. This is clearly both a legitimate and an extremely useful approach - but only if actually true. When done badly, the historian cherry picks only the empirical evidence which fits the essentialist thesis and discards all countervailing evidence. Hanson's book is an example of this, and even more glaring as it doesn't do much to justify this sorting process. In short, some of my the central issues with Hanson's book are: A) Hanson assumes a set of "Western values" which are supposed to remain (somewhat) constant for 2.500 years... ('nough said) B) He is cherry picking his battles to a disturbing degree. Note his lack of battles between 216 BC and 732 AD and then again between 732 and 1521, and once again between 1571 and 1879. C) His idea that non-Western peoples do not engage in head-on combat, thereby being less lethal is... well puzzling. Note the lethal effectivenes of Mongol and Ottoman horse archers in defeating "Western" armies on several occasions (and also that Hanson dismisses both Ghenghis Khan and Tamerlane in two paragraphs on page 275...) D) His postulate that "Western" armies in the ancient world and middle ages were based on capitalism and freedom is baffling. E) His definition of "the West" is quite vague. F) His claims such as the one that "Western" armies "were better fed, equipped, and armed by those who saw profit in war." (pp. 275) is patently wrong, at least before sometime in the (latter) 19th century. The problem with Hanson's argument becomes obvious even if one only looks at the table of contents, specifically his choice of battles: 480 BC (Salamis) 331 BC (Gaugamela) 216 BC (Cannae) 732 AD (Tours/Poitiers) 1521 AD (Tenochtitlan) 1571 AD (Lepanto) 1879 AD (Rorke's Drift) 1942 AD (Midway) 1968 AD (Tet) Note the two massive gaps (216BC-732 AD & 732AD-1521AD) and one smaller one (1571AD-1879AD). Note also that Hanson in a book on "Western" warfare manage to completely avoid the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars which gave rise to the modern European conscript army (levée en masse), as well as the Wars of Religion which were central in creating professional standing armies and introducing the "gunpowder revolution" in Europe. What Hanson's curious selection of battles does is allowing him to avoid periods of European history where his "Western" way of war thesis obviously fails. These are in particular: - Warfare of Imperial Rome and late antiquity (lots of mercenaries, lack of the "free citizenry" of Hanson's "West) - The middle ages (particularly chivalry and the crusades with their emphasis on "irrational" elements such as religion and morals) - Renaissance warfare in Italy (the heavy reliance on condottieri and their reluctance to risk their "assets", i.e. mercenaries, in decisive battles lead to a circumspection in warfare that would place them as "Eastern" or at least "non-Western" by Hanson's definition) - The Wars of Religion (again, religious warfare sits ill with Hanson's definition of "Western" warfare) - The so-called "Kabinettskriege" of the early modern era (the great "new monarchies" of Europe and their dynastic wars for limited goals don't sit well with Hanson's notion that decisive victory and conquest is the hallmark of "Western" warfare). Also, in both Salamis and Midway, Hanson's "Western" protagonists used the kind of circumspection he seems elsewhere to consider a hallmark of "non-Western" warfare (the Greek commander tricking both his own and the Persian forces to achieve an advantageous position, the US attempting to "ambushing the ambusher" being forewarned by decrypted Japanese orders). Likewise, by choosing the Battle of Cannae, Hanson gets a "snapshot" of the Roman legionary army during a very short time in which at which it most resembled the armies of today, i.e. after the Marian reforms removed property qualifications, but before the Imperial Roman army began heavy recruitment among the Germanic peoples for legionaries. Not to mention that what rescued the Romans from the defeat at Cannae, the resilience and effectiveness of the Roman recruitment and alliance system, would probably seem rather foreign to Hanson's beloved Greeks... The choice of the Battle of Tours/Poitiers seems to me as if Hanson is merely rehashing the opinion of Edward Gibbon that this obscure and extremely poorly documented battle (both its time and place are in dispute) saved Europe from becoming Muslim. Again, not something which increase my confidence in an already dubious thesis. The renaissance battles chosen by Hanson (Tenochtitlan & Lepanto) are likewise telling: He avoids the numerous wars between Italian city states whose circumspection and reliance on mercenaries don't fit his "Western way of war" scenario and instead get a nice "conquering West" scenario, which omits the numerous Ottoman successes. In Tenochtitlan, it should also be noted both that Cortez barely escaped with his life and that his small force was multiplied many times over by the addition of the Aztec's local enemies; subject peoples of the Aztec empire who used the arrival of Cortez to further a rebellion. Then Hanson skips the entire 17th and 18th centuries to (cherry) pick the Battle of Rorke's Drift. I can't help to wonder if this is merely because Hanson has once watched the film "Zulu" (starring Michael Caine), because just like Tours, Rorke's Drift seems an extremely odd choice. Even were we to follow Hanson's cherry picking approach, why not select the Battle of the Pyramids (1798) instead? Here at least we have a major battle in which the pinnacle of Enlightenment and Revolutionary military might, Napoleon's French army, defeats an unquestionably non-Western army (the Mamluks) in open battle. Instead we get a minor British force using superior firearms from an entrenched position against an opponent with far less advanced weapons. Rorke's Drift is also an ironic choice, since apparently the Zulu king had warned his commanders NOT to engage heavily entrenched British troops. So, if anything, it's an example of a rogue commander as well as the line from Hillaire Belloc's "The Modern Traveller": "Whatever happens we have got; The Maxim gun and they have not" (okay, that had to wait until the Battle of Omdurman, but the principle is there with the rapid fire Martini-Henry rifles and Gatling guns of the Zulu War as well). In addition, I feel tempted to insert a reverse example: The New Zeeland Land Wars in which the Maori, often outnumbered as well as outgunned, successfully fought British troops from their heavily fortified pās, earthwork forts capable of withstanding even British artillery. I've seen another commenter highlighting that the entire book may actually be a lead up to the final chapter on Vietnam with its conservative interpretation that "we could have, should have, and actually did win" interpretation. It comes as a sort of "reverse catharsis": The ultimate betrayal of the (decisive, heroic, yet collegial) "Western" way of war in the face of those sneaky "Easterners" with their inferior guerilla tactics and the home front/liberal media "stabbing our GIs in the back". I also think that Hanson is quite alone with his "the domino theory was right after all" interpretation. As to Hanson's suggestion of a US invasion of North Vietnam, that's just laughable: Has Hanson forgotten a very nice template for the consequences, i.e. MacArthur's drive into North Korea and almost to the Yalu and what happened due to that? Finally, It ought to be pretty obvious to any reasonably historically well-read person to perceive the highly problematic central theme in the book: That some essentially "Western" values stretch seamlessly from Ancient Greece to the Pentagon. I've already mentioned that Hanson shoehorns and/or ignores anything that won't fit his ideas (read: bias), and one glaring example is his curious dismissal of Genghis Khan and the Mongols along with Tamerlane in just 2(!) paragraphs (pp. 275): "The alternative to capitalist-financed warfare was either simple coercion- the forced impressment of warriors without pay- or tribal musters fueled by promises of booty. Both systems could result in enormous and spirited armies: Vercingetorix's quarter-million-man Gallic army that nearly defeated Caesar at Alesia (52 B.C.) and the nomadic invasions of Genghis Khan (1206- 27) and Tamerlane (1381- 1405), who overran much of Asia, are the most notable examples. Cetshwayo, as we shall see, mustered 20,000 Zulus, who massacred the British at Isandhlwana (1879). But even the most murderous hordes could not really sustain- feed, clothe, and pay- a military force with sophisticated weaponry for a lengthy period of time. At some point farmers, traders, and merchants do not work if they are not paid, and standing armies are nearly impossible to maintain without regular salaries and contracts for supply. For those states, ancient and modern, that failed to adopt the tenets of capitalism and private enterprise, if they were to war long enough, they would eventually encounter Western armies that were supplied by an amoral and unfettered market. In such cases, the numbers, brilliant leadership, and battlefield courage of the Other could be nullified by smaller, even poorly led armies that were better fed, equipped, and armed by those who saw profit in war." So Hanson, who specialises in classical history, thinks that the armies of Greece & Rome ran on capitalism and private enterprise?!?! Nor does he provide any examples that non-Western armies were significantly worse provisioned than Western ones (again a highly dubious claim for any era prior to at least the early modern one, with the Roman legions as a probable exception). Hanson also simply adopts the "traditionalist" version of the innumerable "steppe horde" overwhelming "the West" by sheer numbers, as also seen by his ludicrous claim in the same section about Vercingetorix's "quarter-million-man Gallic army that nearly defeated Caesar at Alesia (52 B.C.)"... A quarter of a million men?!?!? Eh, has Hanson ever heard of fishermen's tales? In fact, exactly because the Mongols were steppe nomads, it's quite unlikely that the actually outnumbered their opponents (nomad populations are usually far smaller than sedentary agriculturalists, such as Hanson's "Westerners"). Indeed, the Mongols certainly adopted a both pitiless, rational and effective method of warfare (demonstrating that surrender meant clemency, resistance certain death, willingness to incorporate Chinese and Persian administrators and siege engineers, a professional and meritocratic officer corps etc.). This would place their way of warfare as far more "Western" than that of the European armies they defeated. Given all of these problems, why should you bother reading "Carnage and Culture"? 1) It is useful as a thought-provoking op-ed of the early 2000s, and thus as peek into that era - just not for its insights into the history of warfare, or the rise of the "West". 2) Its provocative thesis and selective use of historical evidence may (hopefully) lead unconvinced readers to study the subject in more depth on their own (as with Niall Ferguson's revisionist/apologetic works om Western/British imperialism). Being challenged is, after all, a good motivating factor.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Jay Greenwood

    At Delphi, the ancient Greeks used two words to inscribe a profound thought: Know Thyself. Socrates made the same point with blunter words: The unexamined life is not worth living. In current parlance, the questions are: Who are we? What are we? If you’re serious about answering these questions, you need to know something about where you came from, which means where it all began for you, which means your cradle. If you are a member of Western civilization, your cradle is ancient Greece. Bottom line: At Delphi, the ancient Greeks used two words to inscribe a profound thought: Know Thyself. Socrates made the same point with blunter words: The unexamined life is not worth living. In current parlance, the questions are: Who are we? What are we? If you’re serious about answering these questions, you need to know something about where you came from, which means where it all began for you, which means your cradle. If you are a member of Western civilization, your cradle is ancient Greece. Bottom line: If you really want to know yourself, you are obliged to learn a few things about the ancient Greeks going back to the Trojan War (3,200 years ago), and Homer (2,800 years ago), and the Greek-Persian Wars, formally called the Greco-Persian Wars (2,500 years ago). Victor Davis Hanson is probably the world’s most prolific war historian and certainly one of the very best. He is especially versed in the warfare of ancient Greece. And a simple fact is that a basic grasp of the ancient Greeks requires an understanding of their fighting prowess. The reason is that their battles—how they fought and why—reveal much about who they were. In turn, their battles—and what they thought about valor in battle and the absolute importance of ensuring their freedom—help explain what Western civilization has become. We sometimes have the notion that the Greeks spent their time strolling around in spotless white tunics while espousing supercilious thoughts and philosophizing about pie-in-the-sky matters that normal folk neither understood nor cared about. Wrong. The great majority of ancient Greeks were tough-as-nails farmers who spent their time working up a serious sweat. And most of these same farmers, along with philosophers and keen thinkers like Aeschylus, Sophocles, and, yes, Socrates himself, spent much of their time as soldiers (hoplites). They were fight-to- the-death warriors who, in Archaic Greece, fought primarily for valor and glory. Later, in Classical Greece, they fought primarily for freedom. Here are two comments on Hanson’s Carnage and Culture: First, the Greek-Persian Wars started with the Battle of Marathon in 490 BC when the world’s first democracy, in Athens, was less than 20 years old (the world’s second democracy came 2,200 years later in America). At the time of the Greek-Persian Wars, East and West had very different views of human relationships. Throughout the vast Persian Empire, there were two types of people, and only two: the Great King compared to everyone else. And everyone else, rich or poor, privileged or unprivileged, was deemed to be a slave of the Great King. Everyone else lived or died at the Great King’s whim; everyone was told what to think and say, and they were well advised to do as they were told—or else. In their battles, the Persians fought for their master, the Great King. The Greeks held a very different view of human relationships, and that view was passed down to their progeny in the West—all the way down to us. During the Greek-Persian Wars, the Greeks fought for themselves, their families, and their land. They also fought for each other, which can be demonstrated by how they fought—in the phalanx formation where the hoplites did not fight as individuals. Instead they fought together as one—shoulder-to-shoulder—with each man depending on the man next to him. This method of fighting together as a single unit, with each man recognized as equal to every other, made Greeks at that time the most awesome fighting force on the planet. In addition to fighting for each other, the Greeks also fought for freedom, a concept unknown in the East. For the Greeks, “freedom” meant “To Live as You Please,” in the words of Pericles and Aristotle. Once again, if you are a product of Western civilization, this is your heritage. Second, Carnage and Culture addresses a grand debate about the difference between Western civilization and all the others. What made the West so superior in battles and wars? Hanson notes the potent arguments of “natural determinists,” and then Hanson substantially rejects them. Currently, the best known natural determinist probably is Jared Diamond, author of Guns, Germs, and Steel. The natural determinists generally argue that the West’s war-making preeminence is a relatively recent phenomenon, beginning perhaps around 1492 with the discovery of the New World and followed a couple of centuries later with the Industrial Revolution. These developments were enhanced in the West by luck, climate, the length of growing seasons, the effective use and production (but not invention) of gun powder and explosives, the development of immunity to deadly diseases that devastated societies invaded by the West, and the list of nature’s influences and determinations favoring the West goes on. Carnage and Culture does not entirely dismiss the natural determinists. Rather, Hanson makes a straightforward and persuasive point—natural determinists shortchange the culture of the West, and that culture is much older than the determinists acknowledge. Hanson notes that neither he nor most natural determinists (with some misguided exceptions) maintain that the West’s military dominance is due to a superiority of genes or morality. The men and women of the West are not inherently more intelligent or more righteous. Rather, the explanation for the West’s preeminence is due to a mixture of other factors that can be summarized as “culture,” which began to develop and evolve a very long time ago. And the heart of this culture is the ancient Greeks’ belief that women and men are at their best when they are free—when freedom of thought and freedom of speech are widely accepted as among the highest virtues we can use to guide our actions.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Silvana

    I've been warned about this book by my buddies at the NFBC group. After reading some reviews, I became wary but still determined to read it After all, this is the oldest book I have unread in my shelf and I got it for just $3.17 from a sale. I want that $3.17 back now, please. The author is not just racist and xenophobic, but worse, his writing is messy and repetitive. This is NOT a book about battle history that I thought it was. Sure there are several historical battles like Salamis, Cannae, Mid I've been warned about this book by my buddies at the NFBC group. After reading some reviews, I became wary but still determined to read it After all, this is the oldest book I have unread in my shelf and I got it for just $3.17 from a sale. I want that $3.17 back now, please. The author is not just racist and xenophobic, but worse, his writing is messy and repetitive. This is NOT a book about battle history that I thought it was. Sure there are several historical battles like Salamis, Cannae, Midway, Tenochtitlan and so on, but I only got so little useful information about the battles. The author spent the majority of the book pointing out that the victories the Western armies achieved were because the Western values were better, and that the Eastern armies were simply decrepit, corrupt, and uncivilized. Ad nauseam. For example, he argued for over than 50 pages that freedom and democracy are the main cause of the Greeks' victory at the Salamis and barely paid any attention (only a few paragraph) to the tactical and strategic acumen of the commanders as well as the choice of battle site that clearly advantaged the Greeks. Now, he is welcome of course for his thesis, but the way it was written was too repetitive and thus tiring. Well, the author just lauded Trump as "a tragic hero" and described global warming as an “apparition” in his latest book so I should have known better. Nevertheless, his politics aside, the jumbled writing style and the lack of so-called titular "landmark battle" accounts ruined the book for me.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Ryan

    This book would be decent if it was simply an introduction to some of these battles, but every time Hanson makes an argument it is either poorly supported by evidence or comes across as some absurd nonsense about continuity between ancient Athens and Frankish warriors in the 8th century AD. This has got to be one of the most bizarre cases of torturing history to make your thesis work. I can barely get through a few pages without stopping to think about how harebrained and poorly contextualized t This book would be decent if it was simply an introduction to some of these battles, but every time Hanson makes an argument it is either poorly supported by evidence or comes across as some absurd nonsense about continuity between ancient Athens and Frankish warriors in the 8th century AD. This has got to be one of the most bizarre cases of torturing history to make your thesis work. I can barely get through a few pages without stopping to think about how harebrained and poorly contextualized these arguments are. I encourage you to read other critical reviews of this book and Hanson’s “The Western Way of War” which, apparently, was a starting point for this work. I first read this as an undergrad and didn’t find anything too objectionable about it. I guess 10+ years has made all the difference. I’m doing this review in a note format below, because honestly, I don’t want to spend anymore time on this book. I’ve stopped writing at the Cannae chapter, but believe me, there is much more I object to after that. Introduction: -Is it strange that Hanson is so disinterested in the morality of Western Warfare, but decides to take a moral stance against sanitized battle descriptions. Maybe it would have served him well to ask why cultures have sanitized war in the past, or perhaps even more pointedly, why they viewed carnage as simply unimportant? I am reminded of a French veteran of Verdun who suggested that modern Europeans viewed their bodies with a medieval contempt. The only important thing was the reason it was sacrificed, not the details of how. Cardinal Mazarin’s grief over a lost battle in the 30 years war also comes to mind. The Prince of Conde consoled him: “A single night in Paris gives birth to more men than this action has destroyed.” -Here’s quite a whopper on westernization. “Other” armies westernized but “Alexander did not hire the immortals, the crusaders did not transfer the capital of France or England to a conquered Tyre or Jerusalem; the British did not outfit regiments with assegais; and the American navy did not institute samurai sword training.” Alexander used thousands of Iranian horse archers after conquering Persia, and Agrianian javelin throwers from Bulgaria, and neither group were “western” by Hanson’s definition. Alexander’s successors used soldiers from literally everywhere, including Celts and Elephants. Western armies clearly borrow from others. Does Hanson realize there was a Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem with its own nobility? They had a king in Jerusalem, their capital. They also had local Emirs who provided them with Muslim soldiers. Despite “Western superiority in warfare”, the crusader states were conquered by Muslim armies in the 13th century AD. The British used large numbers of Native American and Indian soldiers as allies, mercenaries, auxiliaries, etc, etc, during the history of the empire. These troops used weapons like tomahawks and kirpans. Is it me or does Hanson likes to cherry pick? The British army paid dearly when it operated in the back country in America without native allies (1755). Would any seasoned colonial officer be as cavalier as Hanson is with this dismissal? Yeah, the US military didn’t train samurai, but it was sure grateful to non western people like the the Papua New Guineans or the crack Moroccan mountaineers during World War II. -“Freedom of expression, for instance, was integral to the Greek cause at our first battle, Salamis, and characteristic of the American Army at our last example, Tet, some 2,500 years later.” Does any military truly value freedom of expression? Freedom to suggest practical solutions to tactical problems, maybe. Freedom to be individualistic or question strategy, usually not. Themistocles didn’t ask every oarsman at Salamis if his ideas were sound. Can Hanson imagine a modern US private successfully second guessing his Sergeant or Lieutenant? -“Yet even horrific individual disasters like Carrhae (53 B.C.) did not affect the ultimate superiority of Western forces.” Except it did, and Roman defeats in the east were many over 600 years, not just one battle. The Romans couldn’t conquer Parthia or the Sassanid Empire and it’s silly to pretend there are not military reasons for this. These campaigns are a gaping hole in Hanson’s argument. -Hanson repeats Ad nauseum that the “others” can only borrow from the west. Apparently Chinese tanks look European (even the mandarin characters?) and Asian jet manufacturers have no indigenous method of producing thrust. By this logic, don’t the Greeks just owe everything to Mesopotamia and Egypt because they borrowed the agricultural revolution? What about the westerners who traded in their Bronze for iron from the east? -“After Thermopylae, and with the exception of the Moors in Spain and Mongols in Eastern Europe, there is virtually no example of a non-Western military defeating Europeans in Europe with non-European weapons.” Really? -The Carthaginians won plenty of battles on Italian soil in the first two Punic wars. Hanson can’t quite decide if they are western or somewhere in between. Is it significant that Numidian horsemen, Native to Africa, were prized by both Rome and Carthage? -The Huns, 4th-5th century AD -The Muslim conquest of Sicily, 9th century AD -The rise and fall of the Avar Khaganate in the Balkans, 6th-8th century AD. In general, the failure of the Eastern Roman army to maintain control of the Balkans against various eastern migrations. -The Magyar conquests in Eastern Europe in the 8th-9th centuries AD. -I’m interested to see if Hanson deals with the Byzantines in this book, I assume not. Are they western or eastern? Since Rome was fundamentally a Mediterranean civilization, it’s sort of a silly question, but acknowledging that would throw a wrench in his argument. Isn’t it also interesting that the Byzantines copied Hunnic horse archers and cavalry tactics in the 6th century? “Western” armies don’t do that though!? -“There is no military concept of ‘Easternization’ within the armed forces of the West.” Something tells me you could compare an eastern Roman legion to a western one in the 3rd century AD and put this idea to bed quickly. Especially if you looked at something like archery. What does Hanson think of the Imperial Roman auxiliary corps which used indigenous weapons and tactics rather than standard legionary ones? Using eastern auxiliaries is a form of “easternization”, no? Can Hanson explain a Seleucid order of battle that incorporated lots of former Persian subject peoples? Definitely not “easternization” though. If memory serves, the Romans were inspired to use Elephants against the Macedonians and the Seleucids. War elephants are a “western” thing right? -“... the west, ancient and modern, placed far fewer religious, cultural, and political impediments to natural inquiry, capital formation, and individual expression than did other societies, which were often theocracies, centralized palatial dynasties, or tribal unions.” Theocracy/ Palatial dynasty is a pretty accurate description of most Roman Imperial families. Add in tribal union and you would have Alexander’s empire! The ancient “West” killed Socrates and Jesus, but freedom of expression was important? Would the Dionysian cultists, the Druids, and early Christians also agree? Hanson is describing the modern west since the 18th century, and this description is just way off when applied before then. Even during the enlightenment it’s problematic. -“The Islamic world never developed the proper tactics of shooting in mass volleys to accompany weapons that were so antithetical to the idea of personal bravery of the mounted warrior.” The Ottomans conquered the “westerners” in the Balkans and held on to them for 500+ years. They defeated Hungary in the 16th century. They defeated the British at Gallipoli and at Al Kut, and then multiple “western” opponents in the Turkish war of independence. I guess by then they figured out how to shoot in mass? Also, what happened to the French army in Egypt after Napoleon abandoned them? By the way, if you enjoy some haterade dumped on gunpowder weapons, you might consult “obscure” European writers like Cervantes or Petrarch. The sensibility Hanson describes here was hardly unique to Muslims. -The Byzantines appeared in this book to invent Greek fire, hold of Islam, then leave. It’s a shame, I really wanted to hear how the Varangian guard was an example of civic militarism. -“Western armies often fight with and for a sense of legal freedom. They are frequently products of civic militarism or constitutional governments and thus are overseen by those outside religion and the military itself.” This has nothing to do with the most powerful western armies from the 1st century AD to the 18th century. The Romans, the Carolingians, the Hapsburgs and the Bourbons had little interest in legal freedoms and certainly not in constitutions that would curtail the power of the emperor or the monarchy. Words like “often” and “frequently” are completely misused. Salamis Chapter: -Hanson writes that 200k+ Persians died trying to conquer Greece in 480 BC. Considering the limitations of ancient logistics, it seems unlikely that the Persian invasion force could have been more than 100k. Even supplying that effectively over time would have meant a superhuman effort. Delbruck suggested 100 years ago that the Persian army at Platea was probably about 30,000 strong, and that this number was the maximum any ancient state could supply. It’s a bit surprising Hanson believes these numbers he puts forth. At least he doesn’t go with Herodotus’ 1,000,000 figure. -Hanson likes to make tendentious generalizations without citing any sources directly. "... in Greece by the fifth century almost all political leaders in the city-states were selected by lot, elected, or subject to annual review by an elected council... execution by fiat was tantamount to murder... the greatest vigilance was devoted to preventing the resurgence of tyrants... Even personal slaves and servants in Greek city-states were often protected from arbitrary torture and murder. These were not alternative approaches to state rule, but fundamental differences in the idea of personal freedom that would help determine who lived and died at Salamis." The first question to ask about this paragraph is "What do we actually know about the governments of Greek cities aside from Athens and Sparta?" Probably not enough to justify the arguments being made. Isn't it also interesting that most of the Greek cities payed homage to the Great King during the Persian invasion, rather than take a chance on the Spartan/Athenian coalition? Apparently they didn't believe these values were worth fighting for, assuming they had them at all. This is also illustrative of a bigger problem when generalizing about ancient Greece - people conflate Athenian values/culture/institutions with the Greeks as a whole. What does Athenian democracy have to do with the Greek tyrants ruling small Mediterranean islands or a place like Syracuse? Herodotus tells a story about one such Tyrant that asked for advice on how to stay in power. His advisor walked through a wheatfield and cut off all the highest stalks of wheat. Recognizing the symbolism, the tyrant killed everyone on his island who seemed more talented than average. Are we really to believe that summary execution was some sort of serious taboo? Obviously, the large fly in the ointment here is Sparta. Sure, the Spartan Kings had some checks on their power, but these were possessed by other elites within the society, not average people. A government that completely subordinated the individual to the state from birth to death doesn't seem too interested in "personal freedom". It also seems worth mentioning that Sparta was generally a supporter of Tyranny and Oligarchy in Greece and that they had tried to reinstall Hippias as tyrant in Athens only a few decades before Salamis. Can Hanson imagine a Greek victory at Platea without Sparta? If not, and I assume that is the case, what does this suggest about the importance of personal freedom in armies? How is a citizen that is completely subordinated to the state that much different from a slave? The Crypteia contradicts these strange statements about slaves possessing some legal rights. -Hanson writes that the Persian empire had a command economy that was replaced by Macedonian capitalism. There is a very vigorous debate about using economic terms like this in ancient history and it is probably anachronistic to do so seriously. -At the end of this chapter Hanson repeats, ad nauseum, that the Greeks won at Salamis because of freedom and that “free men” fight better. For evidence, he presents a few supporting passages from Herodotus and Aeschylus. It’s almost mind blowing that he considers ancient editorializing to be enough to support his argument. How, precisely, does “freedom” correlate to battlefield success? It may be possible to try and measure freedom and motivation in a modern army, where there is actually a serious source base, but in antiquity this is just a joke. I feel like I am reading an undergraduate thesis which the student will prove to be true by repeating the same thing over and over. -Hanson admits that little is actually known about the battle itself, which suggests to me that almost anything could have happened. The Persian army had just subjugated the rebel Greeks in Ionia, destroyed the Greek force at Thermopylae and burned Athens. Maybe they had no reason to think they would lose, and this battle was just an upset? Are we really to believe the Persian sailors weren’t enthusiastically rowing for their lives because they didn’t have freedom? It seems more likely to me that Xerxes got overconfident, made a tactical error, and fell into Themistocles’ trap. Gaugamela chapter: -Hanson suggests that the Persian horsemen went for the baggage train when they penetrated the Macedonian line because they preferred plundering to finishing off the enemy army. By comparison the Macedonians preferred killing their remaining enemies because that was “the essence of three centuries of the Western way of war.” Later Macedonian generals like Demetrius Poliorcletes and Antiochus III would make the same mistake as the Persians. This was a danger of successful cavalry charges in antiquity, not a cultural difference. -To Hanson, Alexander’s successors were easternized theocrats who spoiled Greek liberty and civic militarism. Their states were unstable, even though most lasted more than 100 years. The Ptolemies in Egypt lasted 300 years. The Romans, of course, ended their decadence because the republic had “deadly forces of voting citizens, whose government created the army, rather than the army the government.” Except when the soldier-voters chose Sulla and Caesar, eh? Both men were still dealing with Alexander’s successors during their careers. It also seems noteworthy that Augustus was the one who finally conquered the Ptolemies, and his ideas on Republican government don’t exactly measure up to Hanson’s. -Hanson compares Alexander to Hitler. I share his distaste for both, but this comparison is really silly. Hitler and the Nazis rejected the moral refinements of European civilization, whereas Alexander didn’t have much moral refinement to inherit. Pre-modern people didn’t have the same ethical ideas about warfare, conquest, torture, killing, etc. that 20th century people did. Homer was like a bible for many ancient Greeks, and the moral universe of the Iliad is not one of love thy neighbor or turn the other cheek. Alexander’s tutor Aristotle compared barbarians to animals and plants - a mentality that speaks for itself. -“Due to our Hellenic traditions... incinerating thousands of Japanese civilians on March 11, 1945, is seen by westerners as not nearly so gruesome an act as beheading on capture B-29 fliers.” I can’t say I’m one of those westerners and I doubt there are many. -Hanson dismisses the empires of the Near East, their battles before archaic Greece, and their approaches to warfare. It’s unconvincing. The Hittites and the Assyrians somehow conquered masses of people without decisive battles or a “total war” mentality? The Greeks and the Macedonians are entirely responsible for these ideas in Hanson’s view, because they had heavy infantry. So you can’t do anything decisive with archers, spearmen and chariots? Give me a break. Cannae chapter: -Hanson argues that “civic militarism” allowed the Romans to recover from their defeat at Cannae and raise more armies. Undoubtedly true, but this line of argument fails to mention the obvious: this was an option for Rome because of its large population size compared to other Mediterranean states. Examine the Roman wars with Macedon for instance. Here you will find, for both monetary and manpower reasons, the Macedonian monarchy could not quickly recover from a single decisive defeat, whereas Rome could draw on its greater resources to do so, if necessary. A Macedonian ruler risked everything in a single pitched battle. A Roman consul did not. The point is that this culture of civic militarism was not sufficient by itself unless properly resourced. It also seems worth mentioning that the decision to supply Rome’s war machine in this fashion perpetually led to the rise of warlordism, client armies, and the fall of the republic. Hence, the end of this tradition of civic militarism that Hanson so values. Yet, somehow, the Romans did without it for another 1400+ years, and even overcame a crisis as serious as the 2nd Punic War in the 3rd century AD. -Apparently, non-romans had such “utter hatred” for Roman tactics that they vented their rage on the corpses of dead legionaries when they were victorious. Does crucifying defeated armies (Spartacus, the Jewish Revolt, etc) perhaps suggest some similarity here? What about Polybius’ description of the destruction of New Carthage, where Scipio’s army built piles of human and animal skulls after they were finished butchering every living creature in the city? Hanson uses Aztec and Zulu behavior to imply this is some sort of trend between westerners vs others. I wonder what he makes of Vlad Tepes’ forest of impaled Turks in Targoviste? Crusader cannibalism at the siege of Maarat? American soldiers and marines collecting various body parts as souvenirs from dead Japanese soldiers? -Like the Greeks, Hanson says, the Romans “put little faith in ruse or ambush”. Can someone please remind Victor how Scipio won at Utica? -Hanson believes Hannibal was “naive” for invading Italy without realizing that he was up against “the lasting power of an idea”, rather than individual armies and generals. That idea being civic militarism. This type of flawed thinking is characteristic of this entire book. Hanson reads history backwards from the result and considers no other possibilities or chance outcomes. As Wellington said of his victory at Waterloo, it was the “nearest run thing you ever saw”. Hannibal had every reason to expect that after annihilating multiple Roman armies, the Republic would make peace. Their decision not to, and their subsequent victory was not pre-ordained, it was a surprise. In fact, after a battle like Cannae, which came after two other other crushing victories, you can forgive Hannibal for thinking his approach was working. Hanson doesn’t mention that Athens made a similar decision to fight on after the Sicilian expedition failed, and still lost the Peloponnesian war. There is nothing predestined about achieving victory with civic militarism. The citizen armies of France were eventually defeated by the soldier-serfs of Russia, Austria, Prussia, and the non-voting soldiers of the British underclass.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Gavin

    Written as a rebuttal of Mr Jared Diamond's book Guns, germs and Steel. Mr. Hanson is trained as a Classicist, though he only started academic work after his Californian raisin farm failed. It is well written. Diamond's (I have not read it) thesis is that cultures become superior through accidental circumstances like, Europe and Asia being mostly along similar latitudes, so farming tech can be transferred East-West, but because the Americas are not, it is harder to transfer tech North-South beca Written as a rebuttal of Mr Jared Diamond's book Guns, germs and Steel. Mr. Hanson is trained as a Classicist, though he only started academic work after his Californian raisin farm failed. It is well written. Diamond's (I have not read it) thesis is that cultures become superior through accidental circumstances like, Europe and Asia being mostly along similar latitudes, so farming tech can be transferred East-West, but because the Americas are not, it is harder to transfer tech North-South because of diffeerences in climate. Hanson's thesis is that Western civilization became superior because we kill better in warfare.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Christopher

    This was a very thought-provoking book. At first, I was expecting more of a historical survey "12 Greatest Battles of World History" and there was an homage to those sorts of volumes dating back to Gibbon and beyond. Instead, this book is a rebuttal to Jared Diamond's Guns Germs and Steel and the larger geographical argument to historical analysis. Hanson's thesis is that a collection of complimentary memes (though he never uses the term)in military, political, and economic practice that together This was a very thought-provoking book. At first, I was expecting more of a historical survey "12 Greatest Battles of World History" and there was an homage to those sorts of volumes dating back to Gibbon and beyond. Instead, this book is a rebuttal to Jared Diamond's Guns Germs and Steel and the larger geographical argument to historical analysis. Hanson's thesis is that a collection of complimentary memes (though he never uses the term)in military, political, and economic practice that together comprise "Western Culture" arose in the Greek city-states in about the 5th Century B.C. and that this culture is directly responsible for creating more effective militaries in states that followed these tenets, especially over states that did not subscribe to these ideas. The author is very careful to make it clear that a 'superior' military does not mean that Western culture is morally superior. The fact that Western armies can conquer non-western civilizations doesn't mean they should - that question is conveniently not within the area he's looking at. Hanson also makes it clear (though a little less often) that the 'superiority' of Western arms is not due to biology, race, or religion. I feel a bit like Hanson has missed his mark in targeting Diamond's thesis. Diamond is getting back into root causes that are deeper than the Western culture that Hanson extols. Could the combination of forces that created the Greek city-states have existed anywhere else? If so, why didn't these memes arise there independently of Greece? If not, then why not? These are variations on the questions that Diamond addresses - and Hanson ignores them. Instead, we have one creation of a superior Western culture and all other cultures, whether Islamic, Persian, African, Asian, or Mesoamerican, are lumped under "non-Western" (with occasional division between 'tribal' and 'imperial' - both seen as equally stifling and inefficient). Hanson's analysis is very interesting and thought provoking. But at the end of the day, it feels like window-dressing on the same Victorian social-Darwinist pap that gave the world the White Man's Burden and Manifest Destiny. If you're going to propose an alternative to Diamond's geographic thesis for the creation of civilization, I'd like to see something more falsifiable - something that I could imagine running history again and again as an experiment to see how the world would be different. Instead of the evolution of culture and civilization, I feel like Hanson sees a divine hand in the gift of Western culture to the Greeks and their cultural descendants while all others must suffer since they are not among the chosen.

  10. 4 out of 5

    S.

    international socialism can never triumph over nationalism because nationalism is sexy or at least, that's what some famous historian said. here in CARNAGE AND CULTURE by VICTOR DAVIS HANSON, professor emeritus at CalState, Fresno and Fellow at Stanford's right-wing Hoover Institute, isn't accurate. he isn't correct in his conclusions. his judgments aren't global, well-informed, or multi-perspective. the text, however, is just sexy. what is meant by 'sexy,' is that Hanson is arguing, repeatedly, a international socialism can never triumph over nationalism because nationalism is sexy or at least, that's what some famous historian said. here in CARNAGE AND CULTURE by VICTOR DAVIS HANSON, professor emeritus at CalState, Fresno and Fellow at Stanford's right-wing Hoover Institute, isn't accurate. he isn't correct in his conclusions. his judgments aren't global, well-informed, or multi-perspective. the text, however, is just sexy. what is meant by 'sexy,' is that Hanson is arguing, repeatedly, a nationalist and relentlessly Western viewpoint (the name of this book in Australia is 'Why the West Has Won,') that only makes sense to the True Believer in triumphalism and Western Rule. is Professor Hanson crazy? is he tottering on the verge of total schizophrenia? let's abandon any reference to the US or West vs. the Turks. how about Holland and Indonesia, Professor Hanson? do the Netherlands merely need to recover their sense of direction, their Westernness, their work ethic, and their belief in freedom and democracy and Indonesia will once again fall under the obviously superior Dutch culture? Hanson--and we do forgive a little because he is writing in the immediate aftermath of 9/11--takes the cult of the individual to some unknown epitome. for a man who's never led soldiers in combat or even like organized a minimum security prison, Dr. Hanson offers tellingly broad, beautiful syntaxed solutions. look in the mirror: you see a Westerner, you know that free speech and democratic change, progress and scientific breakthrough come from one and only source. Believe in yourself. one against the hordes. this is Dr. Hanson's evangelical philosophy, and of course it will last until about the 2nd millisecond of actual combat, when, as Rudyard Kipling wrote decades ago but with one ten penny bullet from the rifle of an Azail a ten thousand pound education is brought to waste for somebody's who so fantastically wrong, I still rate the 4/5. the thing of course in the end if any sensible person were to choose between being an American soldier in Vietnam or a Vietnamese, of course anybody would pick the former.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Jack

    Hanson argues for a distinct western strategic culture through the retelling of 9 historical battles. The Greek naval victory against Persia at Salamis demonstrates the efficacy of "free" soldiers against "slave" eastern soldiers, Alexander's victory against the Achaemenids at Gaugamela demonstrates a Western preference for decisive battle, the Roman recovery after the defeat to Hannibal at Cannae shows the unique resilience of a Western army of citizen soldiers, Charles Martel's stand against t Hanson argues for a distinct western strategic culture through the retelling of 9 historical battles. The Greek naval victory against Persia at Salamis demonstrates the efficacy of "free" soldiers against "slave" eastern soldiers, Alexander's victory against the Achaemenids at Gaugamela demonstrates a Western preference for decisive battle, the Roman recovery after the defeat to Hannibal at Cannae shows the unique resilience of a Western army of citizen soldiers, Charles Martel's stand against the Saracens at Poitiers shows the potency of the western tradition of heavily-armored ground infantry, Cortes' conquest of Mexico is told as a victory of Western emphasis on reason, empirics, and capacity for innovation, the British stand against Zulu warriors at Rorke's Drift demonstrates the superiority of western discipline in battle, Midway shows the value of individualism and flexible decision-making in battle, and American engagement in Vietnam as demonstration of a western tradition of self-critque that in the long run makes for a more dynamic and innovative fighting force. Although well-written, the limited anecdotal nature of this book makes an ultimately unpersuasive case for a very ambitious case. Hanson's argument would have benefited from a section on the historical and intellectual continuity of the "western traditions" described. I remain skeptical on how robust a superior western culture of war really is. Is discipline of formation and tactics really unique to Hellenic origins? Does not the greater efficacy of Roman forces under Authoritarian Imperial rule than under Republican guidance undermine the supposed martial virtues of democracy, freedom, and individualism? Did not Attila and Ghengis Khan, who are well outside the Hellenic western traditions utterly devastate European defenses? And given the periods of great stability, prosperity, and peace in Persia, China, and other "eastern" regimes, there seems to be a case to be made that if the Western tradition is better at war, the Easter tradition seems to be better at peace.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Mark

    Hanson hits a homerun here! His premise that all cultures are not created equal is startling considering the orthodox "I'm OK, you're OK" line on comparative cultural thinking these days. I think reading this book marked a milepost for me in that it helped convince me that I'm not exactly on board with the multiculturist point of view that all cultures are more or less equal. While I love to consider diverse cultural viewpoints and I love the celebration of many cultures from a moral perspective, Hanson hits a homerun here! His premise that all cultures are not created equal is startling considering the orthodox "I'm OK, you're OK" line on comparative cultural thinking these days. I think reading this book marked a milepost for me in that it helped convince me that I'm not exactly on board with the multiculturist point of view that all cultures are more or less equal. While I love to consider diverse cultural viewpoints and I love the celebration of many cultures from a moral perspective, I do in fact believe that some cultures are better than others. I'm getting ahead of myself because Mr. Hanson's narrative isn't about which cultures are "morally" better rather he's making the argument that militarily, some cultures are obviously and blatantly better than others. He claims that several aspects of "western" culture make it likely - even inevitably - that in a military contest between western culture and other civilizations, the western culuture will prevail in a prolonged contest of arms. This serves as a nice counterpoint to Jared Diamond's "Guns Germs and Steel" which seems to crown "geography" king of cultural variable when it comes to explaining why certain civilizations have prevailed over others.

  13. 4 out of 5

    J.W. Vohs

    I periodically re-read this book, and just finished the fourth reading a few days ago. Hanson, in my opinion, is America's best historical author when it comes to explaining how Democracy and lethal war-making go hand-in-hand. He explains the development of western civilization in a way that makes sense, and is easily understood. I do NOT agree with his politics, which I feel the need to say because I've read plenty of his columns in periodicals. But I don't believe his current political views a I periodically re-read this book, and just finished the fourth reading a few days ago. Hanson, in my opinion, is America's best historical author when it comes to explaining how Democracy and lethal war-making go hand-in-hand. He explains the development of western civilization in a way that makes sense, and is easily understood. I do NOT agree with his politics, which I feel the need to say because I've read plenty of his columns in periodicals. But I don't believe his current political views affect his presentation of history.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Rob

    At first I thought I did not like this book because to put it bluntly I don't like the inherent right wing politics of the book. In the end though it is just a really badly structured and I suspect edited book that often repeats itself in flabby prose that makes me not like it. The format of the book is too look at 7 battles that best distinguishes the peculiar nature and superiority of Western warfare. The West won, not because of necessarily superior weaponry, but a spectacularly effective war At first I thought I did not like this book because to put it bluntly I don't like the inherent right wing politics of the book. In the end though it is just a really badly structured and I suspect edited book that often repeats itself in flabby prose that makes me not like it. The format of the book is too look at 7 battles that best distinguishes the peculiar nature and superiority of Western warfare. The West won, not because of necessarily superior weaponry, but a spectacularly effective war culture. Lets name these traits so you don't have to read the book. The author does however virtually repeats the same mantra when he discusses each battle. 1) A citizen soldiery. By this he means a couple of things. Western soldiers were not arbitrarily treated as if they had no rights. There were regulations describing there rights and responsibilities. They were part of a society that was a democracy and/or had clear constitutional outlines of the duties between the ruled and the rulers . They were not owned by their kings or Emperors. 2) A tradition of frontal shock tactics that often turned into battles of annihilation. 3) Disciplined massed shoulder to shoulder infantry tactics. The emphasis being on not breaking the ranks. 4) A tradition of empirical argument and reason that when applied to warfare meant that lessons were learned and decisions discussed to the point of violence between not only between officers but between offices and soldiers and not only between officers and officers and soldiers and soldiers but also the society in general. 5)Capitalist systems with governments that respected private property and the acquisition of wealth and property. The interaction between these cultural norms born in antiquity with the Greek city states lead to decisive victories and domination of the non western world. My problem is that I, as an averagely intelligent reader, can see other battles or wars that did not turn out so well for western democratic capitalist societies. The French in Algeria and the Dutch in Indonesia for instance. Why did the Turks beat back the democratic citizen soldiers of the allies in the Dardanelles campaign in World War One? What about the peak of the British Empire being a time of impressment in the Royal Navy? As for his awful right wing analysis of the Vietnam war... well it almost discredits his other history. He does in the end convince me though that dynamic constitutional societies when they make war are peculiarly efficient at it.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Kaan

    Like all proper historians of war, Hanson never spares the reader the horrible gore, pain, and loss from combat. Indeed, I believe war historians, like Stephen Ambrose, have a duty to convey the experience of war such that the regular civilian will never see--that there may be no illusions about what war actually does. It spills the blood of the innocents and combatants alike; it maims countless others; it leads to rape, famine, and disease; it stimulates the economy, but only until it evaporate Like all proper historians of war, Hanson never spares the reader the horrible gore, pain, and loss from combat. Indeed, I believe war historians, like Stephen Ambrose, have a duty to convey the experience of war such that the regular civilian will never see--that there may be no illusions about what war actually does. It spills the blood of the innocents and combatants alike; it maims countless others; it leads to rape, famine, and disease; it stimulates the economy, but only until it evaporates the government. Hanson is suitably emphatic, furthermore, on just how much worse the West has made this carnage, how much better at it it has been--starting with the Groovy Greeks. And he's very meticulous. The reason I have not given this book 5 stars, however, is because I think the book could have gone a little farther condemning the bloodthirsty West. When my class read this, there was a tendency to view the successes this book chronicles as proof of Western moral superiority. I hate to point out that an incredible ability to kill on a large scale is not something to be proud of. The book does point out that men who climbed into a WWII fighter felt entitled to gun down scrambling Japanese infantry on the ground; these men felt that if the Japanese could have made better weapons, they would have, and since they obviously didn't, they should bow down to, or die in the face of, their Western greatness. I could tell that a lot of the male students in my class felt this way, too, without thinking. I would have wanted Hanson to talk about how this might coincide with problematic hegemonic male identity, or relate to America's profound problem with rape and men's violence against women. Alas, Hanson is a historian, and for some reason he didn't feel like combining forces with some of the intellectual males working to re-vamp the military's policies on sexism and other moral violence. I guess my true disappointment with the book is seeing all the evidence that a culture (or group of related cultures) needs a lot of work; the West's ability and history in war tells us so much about its values and its terrible departures from rationality, humanity, and sanity. So everyone should read this, but they should read it knowing that war oppresses us, both men and women in the usual complimentary ways, and should be avoided at all costs.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Tim

    The very interesting verse with a very controversial premise - exploring "why the west has won" - militarily. Other books have been written which try to attribute their success to geography or natural resources or disease or technology. But this author makes a bold claim that Western military success can be attributed to their culture. He gives full credit to the bravery, genius, heroism, and physical strength of the armies that lost in battle to dominant Western powers over the last 2500 years. The very interesting verse with a very controversial premise - exploring "why the west has won" - militarily. Other books have been written which try to attribute their success to geography or natural resources or disease or technology. But this author makes a bold claim that Western military success can be attributed to their culture. He gives full credit to the bravery, genius, heroism, and physical strength of the armies that lost in battle to dominant Western powers over the last 2500 years. But starting with Greece and continuing through the histories of Rome, France, Spain, Italy, Britain, and the United States, He highlights certain cultural characteristics that were common to all of these western armies. The citizenship and freedom of individual soldiers made them more loyal and determined. Their preference for direct and decisive battle led to clear victories. Their democratic states were able to conscript large, willing armies. Their heavily armed, disciplined, and well organized infantry worked together as one unit, protecting each part. Their free-market capitalism produced innovative weapons. Their individualism allowed for creativity, flexibility, and spontaneity. And their habit of self critique allowed them to fix their mistakes and win over their enemies through culture. The author does not claim that western armies were stronger or smarter or braver. But the way that they organized their society gave them certain advantages on the battlefield. Definitely interesting read!

  17. 4 out of 5

    Kali

    Readable and full of interesting details, but the author failed to convince me that Western culture is inherently superior at mustering and supporting armies, and at military strategy than all other cultures which it has encountered. I'm not enough of a military historian of ancient battles to know how accurate his portrayals of those conflicts were, but I am an historian of the Vietnam war and his account of the Tet Offensive and his embrace of the "stab in the back" theory, in which civilian l Readable and full of interesting details, but the author failed to convince me that Western culture is inherently superior at mustering and supporting armies, and at military strategy than all other cultures which it has encountered. I'm not enough of a military historian of ancient battles to know how accurate his portrayals of those conflicts were, but I am an historian of the Vietnam war and his account of the Tet Offensive and his embrace of the "stab in the back" theory, in which civilian lack of support snatched away U.S. military victory, is entirely discredited in all but right wing revisionist circles. Similarly, the "proof" offered of liberal media treachery quotes extensively from the well-debunked Braestrup tome, and completely avoids reference to the best book debunking Braestrup's argument: Daniel Hallin's Uncensored War. It's interesting to me that this narrative of Western superiority through a combination of democracy and ruthlessness does not continue into a present in which we've been engaged for decades in wars we cannot seem to win, despite our military might and technology.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Erick Stonefield

    Victor Davis Hanson injects a fresh stream of truth into the stale, feelings filled debate over history and western culture. Carnage and Culture says right from the beginning, it does not intend to deal in the morality of decisions, but rather in their results. It is not meant for those who are constantly looking to be offended over things that doesn't fit with their overblown, self-professed compassion, because it contains alien ideas like the notion that cultures are different from each other, Victor Davis Hanson injects a fresh stream of truth into the stale, feelings filled debate over history and western culture. Carnage and Culture says right from the beginning, it does not intend to deal in the morality of decisions, but rather in their results. It is not meant for those who are constantly looking to be offended over things that doesn't fit with their overblown, self-professed compassion, because it contains alien ideas like the notion that cultures are different from each other, and that this is reflected in their ability to wage effective war. If, however, you're a history loving individual, with an avid interest in warfare, who favors hard knowledge, cold reasoning, and disseminating actual facts, then READ-THIS-BOOK.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Miroku Nemeth

    Hanson's book, like much of his work, is a sad commentary on a fictionalized and narrow view of America and the "West" that is maddening to read for it's contorted logic and myopic view of history. Yet, sometimes, it seems that such drivel passed off for the nationalist or ideologue as true scholarship should be read and critiqued. Hanson's book, like much of his work, is a sad commentary on a fictionalized and narrow view of America and the "West" that is maddening to read for it's contorted logic and myopic view of history. Yet, sometimes, it seems that such drivel passed off for the nationalist or ideologue as true scholarship should be read and critiqued.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Old-Barbarossa

    Interesting in bits but I'm not sure about the conclusions he draws. Based on a western idea of "victory" though he's right, unfortunately as Afraqistan is showing not everyone plays by the same rules. Interesting in bits but I'm not sure about the conclusions he draws. Based on a western idea of "victory" though he's right, unfortunately as Afraqistan is showing not everyone plays by the same rules.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Jonathon Laudinsky

    6 Stars! Review will follow.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Ensiform

    “Why has the West won” – why did Europe dominate Asia, Africa and the New World, and America dominate them in turn – is the question of this book. Focusing specifically on military power rather than the nature of Western civilization in general and avoiding the question of whether a civilization is more “moral” than another, military historian Victor Hanson uses nine landmark battles to illustrate his point that the Greco-Roman creation of enlightened economic, moral, and political systems – an “Why has the West won” – why did Europe dominate Asia, Africa and the New World, and America dominate them in turn – is the question of this book. Focusing specifically on military power rather than the nature of Western civilization in general and avoiding the question of whether a civilization is more “moral” than another, military historian Victor Hanson uses nine landmark battles to illustrate his point that the Greco-Roman creation of enlightened economic, moral, and political systems – and emphatically not geography (burke Jared Diamond), genetics, or the simple use of more advanced technology – Westerners have traditionally been more effective in wars of conquest and annihilation. Hanson posits that due to personal freedom, group discipline, and capitalism, powerful "marching democracies" were more apt to defeat non-Western nations hampered by unstable governments, limited funding, intolerance of open discussion, and a tradition of war that prized honor and multiple personal kills rather than standing your ground and acting in unison. Hanson uses each of the battles to describe a certain element of Western culture, as he sees it, that illustrates best how it pertains to battle. Some of the battles are Western defeats, but these tend to bolster his argument all the more. Overall, he makes a fairly convincing case for Western culture as the best birthing-ground for military innovations, although his argument falls apart in a few places (Alexander the Great was an Asian-style autocrat, not the epitome of Greco-Roman values; the Mongols invaded half of Europe; landscape does play a huge role in the defeat of nomadic archers, who arise naturally from and are most successful in their native plains; medieval European peasants were hardly the equivalent of Greek citizen soldiers, and more akin to the Aztecs who lived at their emperor’s whim). The nine battles are: Salamis, for freedom – Hanson makes a good case here. Gaugamela, for decisive battle – another winning argument, but one which ignores the decidedly broken line from citizen soldiers to Emperor Alexander the genocidal. Cannae, for the idea of citizen soldiers – a weak case; Cannae more accurately represents the idea that a centralized, capitalistic state can shrug off severe defeats to win the overall campaign. Poitiers, for landed infantry – another good case, and Hanson makes the point that the European armies that held off the Islamic invaders there were following a direct line of descent from Greek ideals of war. Tenochtitlan, for technology – Hanson argues, reasonably, that Cortez and his conquistadors had initiative and reason on their side which enabled them to survive overwhelming odds. But I contest the point that 16th-century Spaniards lived in an atmosphere of free inquiry and dissent. Again, the culture line from the Greeks is quite broken by this point. Six: Lepanto, for capitalism – it’s certainly true that energetic economies beget formidable armies. Seven: Rorke’s Drift, for discipline – easily the weakest argument. The massacre at Isandhlwana happened because of grievous breaches of discipline, while the 150 Brits at Rorke’s Drift survived only due to superhuman bravery and discipline. So, which is “representative” of Western “culture” – the defeat or the victory? Eight: Midway, for individualism – no one would deny that American GIs were more individualistic and creative than the average Japanese kamikaze, but Midway, it seems to me, is a poor example, being mostly the product of blind luck (happening on the Japanese ships while planes were all being refueled) than some cunning plan. Nine: The Tet offensive, a psychological defeat for the U.S. but an acceptable military recovery – here, Hanson goes off the rails almost completely, savagely attacking the liberal media for losing the war, then reining himself in and denying that the media lost the war for the United States, even though that’s clearly what he just argued at length. His concluding argument that dissent made the American army stronger is probably true, but it kind of negates his example, since dissent at home is what ended the war and blunted the option for total war (and was that a bad thing? Should we have started World War III just because we could?). In the book's fascinating, post-9/11 but pre-Iraqmire final chapter, he ponders the consequences of a global cultural victory, challenging the widespread belief that democratic nations do not wage war against one another: "We may well be all Westerners in the millennium to come, and that could be a very dangerous thing indeed," he writes.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Evan

    Most of this book was repetitive and tedious, although Hanson has a real flair for describing combat. It was almost worth it just for the brilliant depiction of Parmenio's desperate stand at Gaugemala or the opening salvo of the Galleases at Lepanto. Unfortunately, he avoids the most interesting questions about Western superiority in arms. We all already know that the combination of capitalism and science has been deadly. Of course a Martini-Henry is a more dangerous weapon than an assegai. You Most of this book was repetitive and tedious, although Hanson has a real flair for describing combat. It was almost worth it just for the brilliant depiction of Parmenio's desperate stand at Gaugemala or the opening salvo of the Galleases at Lepanto. Unfortunately, he avoids the most interesting questions about Western superiority in arms. We all already know that the combination of capitalism and science has been deadly. Of course a Martini-Henry is a more dangerous weapon than an assegai. You don't need to be a classics professor to figure that out. What would be more interesting would be to investigate why rationalism, capitalism, etc developed in Europe and not, say, the Persian Empire. In the opening chapters of the book he acknowledges this conundrum but then dismisses it by essentially saying "We'll never know lol." It just gets a bit dull reading about Redcoats slaughtering thousands of Zulus before they even get into spear range when we all know this was a foregone conclusion. And then Hanson makes it worse by re-iterating his theses ad nauseam in every bloody chapter. Most readers are pretty smart guys/girls, we don't need to be spoonfed.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Caroline

    Beyond any problems with Hanson's thesis (any all encompassing historical thesis is guilty of cherry picking), this book is too poorly written to slog through! I made it through the first three of the nine battles and barely, at that. There is very little narrative logic, either in the chapter organization or even in individual sentences. The battles are not discussed linearly, but are often introduced from the middle (or near end) of the battle and then at some point later in the chapter the ac Beyond any problems with Hanson's thesis (any all encompassing historical thesis is guilty of cherry picking), this book is too poorly written to slog through! I made it through the first three of the nine battles and barely, at that. There is very little narrative logic, either in the chapter organization or even in individual sentences. The battles are not discussed linearly, but are often introduced from the middle (or near end) of the battle and then at some point later in the chapter the actual context and leading events are given (and even then, in a very unclear manner). It is very confusing. The subsequent discussion of how each battle represents this superior Western military culture and power is likewise poorly delivered and lacks cohesion. I wanted to enjoy this book more than I did, but alas it is not worth the time it takes to read and comprehend.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Blaine Welgraven

    “Western approaches to culture, politics, economics, and citizens' rights...gave European states and their offspring military power well beyond what their relatively modest populations...might otherwise suggest”—Victor Davis Hanson A stately, deeply Western perspective on nine impactful battles that reshaped or maintained the geopolitical realities of their worlds. It’s probable most cultural historians would take serious issue with Hanson's bold, civilization-focused assertions, wherein the aut “Western approaches to culture, politics, economics, and citizens' rights...gave European states and their offspring military power well beyond what their relatively modest populations...might otherwise suggest”—Victor Davis Hanson A stately, deeply Western perspective on nine impactful battles that reshaped or maintained the geopolitical realities of their worlds. It’s probable most cultural historians would take serious issue with Hanson's bold, civilization-focused assertions, wherein the author finds the superiority of Western socio-economic ideas impacting the outcomes of battlefields across millennia (as much or more than guns, germs, or steel). However, Hanson's vivid account of the actual battle strategies and tactics employed across critical historical conflicts will keep the reader engaged regardless of personal viewpoint.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Sierra

    Carnage and Culture by Victor David Harrison is an excellent war history read, detailing a few of the great western battles from ancient to modern times. These well-known battles come alive by Harrison’s pen in ways that are fresh and exciting. Harrison also provides an analysis of why the west won these battles or why they impacted western society as a whole continuing through history. He, thankfully, includes a few lines stating that these are not the only great battles or the greatest battles Carnage and Culture by Victor David Harrison is an excellent war history read, detailing a few of the great western battles from ancient to modern times. These well-known battles come alive by Harrison’s pen in ways that are fresh and exciting. Harrison also provides an analysis of why the west won these battles or why they impacted western society as a whole continuing through history. He, thankfully, includes a few lines stating that these are not the only great battles or the greatest battles that led to western superiority and that they are only a sampling of such battles throughout history. I agree with his analysis that there are other greats, but that they would show essentially the same things as the ones that he chose to portray.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Ronald Jones

    Victor Davis Hanson does a fine job of describing in narrative detail the battles he focuses on in Carnage and Culture. Where he falls short is his attempt to delineate European warfare from other warfare practices in other parts of the world. Warfare as I have concluded from my readings, while adorned with certain ceremonies and rituals specific to one group or another, ultimately is a blunt instrument used for gaining or maintaining power. While strategy and tactics may vary, wars throughout w Victor Davis Hanson does a fine job of describing in narrative detail the battles he focuses on in Carnage and Culture. Where he falls short is his attempt to delineate European warfare from other warfare practices in other parts of the world. Warfare as I have concluded from my readings, while adorned with certain ceremonies and rituals specific to one group or another, ultimately is a blunt instrument used for gaining or maintaining power. While strategy and tactics may vary, wars throughout world history have been savage, bloody affairs.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Bill Berg

    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 Gree 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 Clint Eastwoods character in "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 orgininal 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 designated as "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 learn more about western military tradition and some of the key battles of history.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Sam Williams

    Fantastic! A modern view of the most important battles in history and how they affect modern life. From Lepanto to the Zulu wars to Ancient Greece, Hanson skillfully presents the facts and then expounds on how each event controls us still today. Definitely on my list of rereadbales.

  30. 4 out of 5

    D. L.

    Fascinating tour of history with details of some epic conflicts from B.C. to the '70's; presents some VERY interesting observations on democracy and freedoms (of choice, the press, etc.). Fascinating tour of history with details of some epic conflicts from B.C. to the '70's; presents some VERY interesting observations on democracy and freedoms (of choice, the press, etc.).

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