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March 30, 2005

Carnage and Culture

Carnage & Culture
Victor Davis Hanson
ISBN – 0-385-72038-6 $16.00 (paperback)

Here, in a brilliant exposition of the inherent superiority of Western armies—and, not incidentally, the superiority of Western culture--you will read one of the best such discussions in print. The book is one which ought to be required reading of anyone interested in understanding survival in this, or any other world. In addition, those on the left might better appreciate our cultural heritage and be more active in protecting it.

Popular mythology has it that cultural--including military--dynamism is dictated by the availability of natural resources, not culture, per se. Were this so, the Aztecs, amongst others, who sat upon an entire subcontinent replete the raw materials of gunpowder, bronze and steel should have explored and conquered the world. It was the lack of a systematic approach to abstract learning and science, not the dearth of ores or minerals that doomed them. The Aztecs, indeed, were even without wheel-based vehicles and tools (except, interestingly, for toys).

Societies have always engaged in activity designed to improve their lives and to enhance warfare, but the Greeks were the first to debate knowledge in the abstract, and to devise ways of adapting theoretical breakthroughs for practical use. In total, these capacities explain the dominance of the West.

While courage on the battlefield is a human characteristic, the ability to craft weapons through mass production to offset such bravery is a cultural phenomenon. Since the Greeks, Western captains have usually annihilated their numerically superior foes, not because their soldiers were necessarily better, but because their traditions of free inquiry, rationalism, and science were. Further, the (cultural) value given the life of every Western soldier since Greece, is unheard of in the non-Western world.

Muslim intellectuals and mullahs did (and do) not see war as innately wrong. There is nothing at all comparable to the Western interest in pacifism or “just war” theory. No Islamic treatise or philosophy suggests that war itself is somehow intrinsically evil and ought to be waged under the narrowest moral circumstances. In a word, Islam is not a religion of peace. It is, and has always been a religion of war and conquest. Despite near constant internecine wars in Europe after the fall of Rome, there was unified Western resistance to Muslim incursions during their attempt at military hegemony.

Likewise, the Samurai traditions of the Japanese rendered them largely unable to wage battles of total annihilation and relentless war. Or even to understand it. They killed thousands on the battlefield and were willing to sacrifice even more of their own, but their ferocity was not the same as the Western ability to wage continual and sustained encounter until one was victorious or annihilated. In Japanese, as in the Islamic way of war, surprise, sudden attack, battlefield calamity and disgrace are presumed to force an opponent to the bargaining table to discuss concessions. (e.g.: the Pearl Harbor attack left America defenseless but they failed to follow thru. After the initial assault they promptly sailed home, leaving American to recover.)

Since Xerxe’s invasion of Greece, it has been the custom of non-Western armies to assume that democracies are timid. They fail to understand that, while slow to anger, the West, when forced into battle, fights wars of total annihilation. (Wiping the Melians off the map of the Aegean, sowing the ground of Carthage with salt, turning Ireland into a wasteland, leveling Jerusalem before reoccupying it, driving an entire culture of Native Americans onto reservations, firebombing Dresden, Berlin and Tokyo, and atomizing Hiroshima and Nagasaki are but a few examples.)

The root cause of Japan’s defeat lay deep in the Japanese national character: its irrationality and impulsiveness. The American faith in individuality rather than group consensus, spontaneity rather than rote, and informality rather than hierarchy provided decisive in Midway and thereafter. For example, after the Yorktown was disabled at Midway Admiral Fletcher transferred to Admiral Spruance key decisions for launching the fleet’s planes--an act of selfless integrity and patriotism in action. By contrast, the exalted warlord Yamamoto drew up his formal plan, ordered his subordinates to follow it, and then in relative isolation and silence cruised out to battle in the huge, ostentations and mostly irrelevant Yamato.

Western “pacifism”, and doubt about its cultural superiority make us unduly and unwisely sensitive. The great, unsung tragedy of the antiwar movement(s) have been its own lack of credibility and fairness, and a fondness for hyperbole. It impairs credible combat. “No American army in 1944 would have fought the Germans in France without permission to cross the Rhine or to bomb Berlin at will. Japan would have won WWII had the U.S. simply fought in the jungles and occupied towns of the Japanese empire, promising not to bomb Tokyo, mine its harbors, attack its sanctuaries, or invade its native possessions, while journalists and critics visited Tokyo and broadcast to American troops from Japanese radio stations. Neither Truman nor Roosevelt would have offered to negotiate with Hitler or Stalin after the successful Normandy landings or the devastating bombing campaign over Tokyo. GIs in WWII were killed in pursuit of victory, not in order to defeat or to pressure totalitarian governments to discuss armistice.” In war it is insane not to employ the full extent of one’s military power or to guarantee to the enemy that there are sanctuaries for retreat, targets that are off limits, and a willingness to cease operations at any time, even for the pretext of negotiations “to begin.”

“The freedom among citizens to criticize wars and warriors openly and profligately has no pedigree outside the European tradition. . . . Western civilization has given mankind the only economic system that works, a rationalist tradition that alone allows us material and technological progress, the sole political structure that ensures the freedom of the individual, a system of ethics and a religion that brings out the best in humankind—and the most lethal practice of arms conceivable.

“Let us hope that we at last understand this legacy. It is a weighty and sometimes ominous heritage that we must neither deny nor feel ashamed about—but insist that our deadly manner of war serves, rather than buries, our civilization.”

Posted by respeto at March 30, 2005 2:22 PM