Victor Hanson Has Won Fans in the Bush White House by Likening the U.S. to Athens.

Historians in the News

Rone Tempest, writing for the Los Angeles Times (Feb. 25, 2004)

It was the first day of class in Victor Davis Hanson's final course at Cal State Fresno, where he has taught classical history, Greek and Latin for two decades.

The subject, Hanson told the 40 undergraduates, was the 431-404 BC Peloponnesian War between Athens and Sparta."It's a good time to talk about a war, because we are in a war," he said.

For Hanson, ancient reports on the Peloponnesian War are just as relevant today as recent Fox network newscasts on a suicide bombing of a Baghdad hotel. Both, Hanson believes, portray a do-or-die"referendum" on clashing cultures: the democratic republicanism of Athens versus the martial oligarchy of Sparta; the secular," consensual" democracy of the West versus the theocratic dictatorship of militant Islam.

Hanson's moral parallels between the ancient Greeks' fight for democracy and our own struggles in Afghanistan and Iraq have endeared him to the Bush administration and changed his life.

Hanson, 50, recently signed a contract with Random House for a book on the Peloponnesian War, to be titled"A War Like No Other." His $500,000 writing advance is unprecedented for a work of classical scholarship and more than he received for his previous 14 books combined. Hanson will leave Cal State Fresno next summer as one of America's leading conservative writers, most prominently showcased in his weekly online column in the like-minded National Review.

In April, amid the early stages of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, Hanson used his column to hail the American advance on Baghdad as"unprecedented in its speed and daring" and predicted that its"logistics will be studied for decades." Vice President Dick Cheney enthusiastically quoted Hanson in a speech before the American Society of Newspaper Editors.

Hanson's absolute, unflinching belief in the cause and its ultimate success made him a favorite of Cheney, who urges Hanson's books on his staff and on reporters traveling with him for foreign trips.

It's not hard to understand how Hanson has become an intellectual bulwark of administration foreign policy, given his conviction that nothing less than the future of Western civilization depends on our cleareyed recognition of the menace posed by militant Islamic forces.

"We haven't had enemies this antithetical to the United States in a long, long time," Hanson said several days later over coffee in San Francisco, where he was a guest speaker at the Commonwealth Club."Take your pick of the Western agenda. Women's rights? They want to go back to the Dark Ages. Homosexual rights? They want to kill them. Democracy? They don't believe in it. Religious tolerance? You're dead if you're not a Muslim. Technology? They don't like it."...

...Hanson is also a regular consultant to the influential Pentagon Office of Net Assessment, which has emerged as a key administration intelligence gathering and planning agency under Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld and his senior deputy, Paul D. Wolfowitz. This week, Hanson was back in Washington to speak before the Board of Overseers of the Hoover Institution, the conservative Palo Alto think tank where Hanson is a resident fellow. His theme,"This War Is Not New," was the same as that of the Cal State Fresno class. Sharing the podium were Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and Karl Rove, President Bush's main political advisor.

It is an enviable position for someone who never served in the military or trained in the science or tactics of warfare. Hanson's influence on the administration probably comes more in setting a tone or providing a historical justification for tough decisions than it does in the details of policy....

...Hanson had just published"Carnage and Culture," a sweeping look at how leaders have responded to military crises, when the 9/11 terrorist assaults occurred. Hanson first surfaced as a commentator on current events during a C-SPAN interview, and soon after launched his weekly column for the National Review, which quickly attracted the Bush administration's attention.

Hanson's support for the administration's aggressive response to the attacks on New York and the Pentagon has never flagged.

During the rockiest periods of the U.S. occupation of Iraq, Hanson has only amped up his support, dismissing the significance of American casualties and the failure to find weapons of mass destruction.

"In the list of 10 reasons to go to Iraq," Hanson said,"I think WMD was about the 10th. I've told the administration that they made a mistake placing too much emphasis on it."...

...In Hanson's opinion, expressed in his recent military history"Ripples of Battle," Bush, despite intellectual shortcomings ("he lacked his predecessor's encyclopedic knowledge of names, places and dates"), was the right leader at the right time in responding to Sept. 11.

"The terrorist war proved that he [Bush], like the Greek iambic poet Archilochus' hedgehog," Hanson wrote,"knew one thing, but a big one: how to galvanize his people and lead them into battle against an evil enemy in the hour of his country's great peril."...

...Prominent colleagues in classics accuse him of putting scholarship in the service of neoconservative, bellicose politics.

"Hanson is a very skillful scholar who made some major contributions," said W. Robert Connor, a retired Princeton University classicist."What makes me nervous is that over time, the political agenda in his work has become stronger and more evident. I worry that the scholarly talent has become subservient to the political."

Hanson's courses are popular with students. But fellow professors at Cal State Fresno have been bruised by Hanson's uncompromising attacks on modern education, particularly ethnic and gender studies programs that Hanson terms"therapeutic curriculum" and feels should be ejected from the university.

"Being on the wrong side of Victor Hanson is not somewhere you want to be," said Western Washington University English professor Scott Stevens, who spent six years at Cal State Fresno and says Hanson drove him away."Everyone talks about the power of the left on campus, but Hanson led a powerful clique of antifeminist traditionalists who would really like to see the university return to some pre-'60s stage."...

...The farm and life there are at the center of virtually all of Hanson's writing. His scholarly achievement in classics, for example, rests largely on his pioneering writings on the Greek hoplites -- citizen-farmer-soldiers who were the foundation of Athenian democracy....

...In his military books, Hanson draws on his family history -- his grandfather's service in World War I, his father's 39 combat missions over Japan, a cousin's death in the bloody invasion of Okinawa -- to tell his stories. To Hanson, those California farmer-soldiers were modern-day versions of the Greek hoplites....

..."In times of war, I find the wisdom of farmers to be greater than all the fancy academics I ever met. A farmer can sit on his Massey Ferguson tractor and say, 'Osama bin Laden is no damn good.'

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