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Things That are Not What They Seem

November 28th, 2007 - 6:14 pm

What Happened to Donald Rumsfeld?

In the usual Washington script, an administration official who resigns usually becomes embittered, and then signs a contract for an expose book about his former colleagues—or at least goes on 60 Minutes for a tell-all, ‘they, not me, did it’ interview.

But not quite all. I recently had lunch and spoke at length with former Secretary Donald Rumsfeld for an afternoon. He was cheerful, upbeat, without visible bitterness—and extremely busy.

Doing what?

Almost everything. He is setting up foundations to fund small businesses with micro-loans in third-world countries, especially in Afghanistan. He also envisions funding a program to bring young scholars to Washington for a year of graduate study. Over the past 40 years he has compiled over 1 million pages of personal documents, memos, and correspondence. He has given all of these to the government—but in a very unique way. Rumsfeld, again at his own expense, is having computer experts create digital software that would allow the documents to be scanned, automatically collated, and indexed—and yet appear in their original manuscript form.

He is also beginning to write his memoirs—but not a get-even quick riposte, but rather a long scholarly account of what he has seen and learned in Washington as a Congressman and Defense Secretary.

What struck me in the long conversation with him was the absence of anger or bitterness about his resignation. And unlike Gen. Sanchez who has proclaimed Iraq essentially lost, Rumsfeld was full of praise for Gen. Petraeus, and complimentary even of those who were his critics.

I think over time, given his leadership in restructuring the military, and overseeing the removal of the Taliban and Saddam Hussein, that history will be far kinder than the present convenient writ that he somehow was responsible for the 2003-6 turmoil in Iraq. In any case, there is no question that he is a man of integrity and willing to let history judge his service to the country. The United States was lucky to have him—and will not forget the pictures of him out in the crowd, with smoke everywhere, on 9/11 as a corner of the Pentagon burned.


Our conversation also took place about the time Stanford professors and students objected to Rumsfeld’s proposed brief presence on a Hoover task force here in Palo Alto, especially the use of the word “distinguished” in his title as a visiting fellow. In the upside-down world of the contemporary university, someone who ran a large business, was elected to Congress, and served in two cabinets as Defense Secretary surely could not be “distinguished’.

Of course, none of the public would ever question whether the myriad of “distinguished” endowed professors on campuses had actually earned such accolades by either exemplary teaching or scholarship. Larry Summers, as President of Harvard, tried to inquire about Cornell West—and we know the results.

No matter: the contemporary campus almost habitually serves as fierce critic of society with the understanding that no such scrutiny should ever apply to itself—whether that be tuition that rises higher than the rate of inflation, faculty governance that ensures no outside auditors dare question teaching competency or productivity, lifelong employment through tenure that has resulted in uniformity of belief rather than encouraged mavericks, and the steady erosion in common skills and basic education shown by recent college graduates.


Bill Clinton now claims he was against the Iraq war from the beginning. Really? But as President he got a resolution passed calling for regime change, bombed Saddam on the worries over his WMD program, and, according to both Time and CNN, at various times approved of his successor’s 2003 war—in line with his spouse, who voted to authorize it because, she said, that Saddam had WMD and was supporting Al Qaeda.

Two points here. One, most Americans, after the anger surrounding his tawdry departure and the pardons had slowly evaporated, feel Clinton was an ok President, although he bombed about everybody—Afghans, Balkan peoples, Sudanese, and Iraqis—albeit without losing American pilots. The economy was up, and Dick Morris ensured that Clinton triangulated enough to sound conservative, pass welfare reform, and balance the budget.

Hard call?

But that said, most Americans are still glad that he’s gone. So it is not wise for him to be so ubiquitous, snarling at Chris Wallace in a Fox interview, calling rival Democrats Swift-boaters, and bending, as usual, the truth to make himself look statesmanlike.

All he will do, if he keeps it up—and he will, given his outsized ego and need for constant stroking—is further embarrass Hillary, and remind Americans why they are glad that both are out of the White House. Remember, for Bill Clinton to give a public address is to almost ensure that he will say something that is not quite true. The $64,000 question—which is the greater incentive for him: to get Hillary Clinton elected so he can get back into the White House; or to subtly and insidiously cause her problems, so that history records there was only one Clinton, not two, and especially not one who was the first woman, might do a better job, and thereby overshadow Bill.

Hard call.

The Absence of Character

We are witness to a national trait of never accepting any culpability when it matters, and then when it does not, blaming one’s successors. Neither Richard Clark nor Michael Scheuer could find bin Laden or the 9/11 terrorists before they struck. Both blamed each other, their respective agencies, the Bush administration, and almost everyone else but themselves. Then in retirement they cashed in with books, became the darlings of the Left and provided a blueprint for others.

Now Gen. Sanchez claims we can’t win and must leave—voiced in his service to election-cycle Democrats. But, of course, the insurgency took off under his tenure, even as he assured us in sworn testimony before Congress that we had enough troops, the right tactics, and things were improving under his watch. Was he not truthful then, or now, or both?

Like many, I feel that he was unfairly demonized during the Abu Ghraib scandal, but he does his cause no favors by avoiding responsibility rather than defending his tenure.

Perhaps the most pathetic of all is an earnest and pleasant Scott McClellan who assures us—or at least according to preview excerpts from his own memoir—that he was used by various officials concerning his comments surrounding the Scooter Libby matter.

But, once again, he could have resigned in principle rather than offering a postfacto tell-all book to trash friends and make some money in the bargain. Mr. McClellan, in all candor, was also one of the most inept Press Secretaries in modern memory; his press conferences were akin to a sputtering duck in a pond of snapping crocodiles. Watching him conduct a press conference was painful, and he could make any good news seem bad, and bad news far worse.

The odd thing? Many had compassion for him—that a crony from the Texas days was promoted way over his head into a position in which he was daily embarrassed and gratuitously ridiculed, sometimes for the sheer blood sport of it all.

Leftwing Jews

I recently received an award from a Republican Jewish group in Central California and after the lecture the question arose, “Given the hostility of the Left here and abroad to Israel, why does the majority of us Jews continue to vote for liberal candidates?”

I offered a variety of thoughts on the paradox.

1. In the sixties anti-Semitism was almost an exclusive property of the far right, and Jews, rightly, saw their struggle akin to that of other minorities. So for many, the Civil Rights movement was one of liberal solidarity across the progressive ranks—and these notions die hard even in vastly changed times.

2. In a deeper sense, Jews came to the U.S. fleeing the oppression of European and Russian aristocratic prejudice, in which status was accorded only by birth, not merit or even money. It was natural that they would look to radical social reform, the end of class bias, and meritocracy—and find the liberal left in the 20th century far more sympathetic.

3. In the 1970s-1980s in one of the most brilliant political moves in modern political memory, the radical Palestinians grafted their own agenda onto that of minorities—blacks, Chicanos, women, etc—who were fellow “victims” of Western capitalist male oppression.

So suddenly few in the West questioned the fascistic agenda of Hamas, or the views of traditional tribal and Islamic culture toward gays, women, or Jews. Instead Palestinians successfully posed as victims, and tiny Israel became a big sort of American-like oppressor. Jewish groups in the United States are only belatedly discovering that radical Palestinians’ biggest supporters are on the Left, that anti-Semitism is now mostly a leftwing phenomenon, and that their former allies in the civil rights movement themselves are unsympathetic to Israel.

Investing in Defeat

Many readers persist in thinking that nothing has changed in Iraq. But the savvier Democrats know that it has. Recently I spoke off the record with some Democratic Congressmen in Washington. As one Democrat put it: “Do we really want photos of Nancy Pelosi with Assad, the “General Betray Us” ad, and clips of Hillary’s “suspension of belief” airing next fall juxtaposed to a quiet street in Ramadi or an Iraqi politicans thanking Americans for his country’s salvation?”

The Ghost of LTC Bateman

Many readers pointed out that after publishing his four volleys, Bateman has now moved on to the pages of Wikipedia to further his case—at least in the sense that a one-sided addition about his attacks was mysteriously inserted to my biography there.

More power to him or his fans. But again, his own essays speak for themselves, and their invective and absence of analysis only brought his own reputation and character into doubt. I bear him no ill will.

End of the Year Politics

November 22nd, 2007 - 9:55 am

Autumn in California

This is about the most picturesque central and northern California autumn in memory. Week after week goes on of bright skies, sunny weather, and days in the 70s. We are getting close to a point, however, that if the rains don’t come, we will be entering a pattern of 1976-7 drought.

I remember then that we turned our farm turbine pumps on in April and finally off in August—not a drop of ditch water from the mountains, but the water table dropping 5-feet a month. And that was about 1-2 million people less in the Valley than at present.

Very shortly California will be reaching the point of no return on some tough decisions: either make the necessary investments in infrastructure and a change of attitude to accommodate the enormous jumps in population, illegal immigration, and changed lifestyles, or witness a real drop in the standard and quality of life.

It’s not just that we spend rather than invest, or grow without planning, but the educational level and competence of the average California is in clear decline given the status of our therapeutic school and university systems. Gov. Schwarzenegger seems to be trying, by emulating the good governor Pat Brown of the late 1950s, but it’s awfully late in the game.

Yesterday I drove down I-5—still two lanes only, after nearly 40 years—and it was jammed packed, as cars pulled off the off-ramps, lined up to pay $3.87 for regular. We talk of our special green state status, but the three 1980s cars ahead of me were smoking and belching exhaust. The San Luis reservoir was about half empty, even thought over 100,000 irrigated acres have gone out of production on the West Side. Going eastward, I stopped in San Joaquin on the way home; no one spoke English in the store I usually visit. And the truck ahead of me on Manning Avenue was cruising along with two swaying trailers about 85 mph.

This is a great state, the most beautiful of the 50, but it is on the edge, and I don’t know whether it is going the way of Tijuana or Cairo or will end up like Victoria—or neither. It’s hard to think San Joaquin and Atherton are both California communities, but they are just 3 hours, and a world, apart.


I used to think it would be very unlikely that Israel would preempt and bomb Iran’s nuclear infrastructure. But lately I’m not so sure. There is a growing sense the US probably won’t—given the election cycle, growing confidence it can line up partners for sanctions and embargoes, its concern about the spreading but still fragile success in Iraq, and sky-high oil prices.

The Israeli view may be that if they were to hit the facilities, oil will be largely left alone, and the price not affected, and the Iranians won’t send missiles against Saudi Arabia or US facilities. They also may figure that they did far better in Lebanon than they let on, and should Syria or Hezbollah send in rockets, it would then be open-season for them again for truly air punishing attacks in a 1-2 week all-out war on anything they chose in Syria and southern Lebanon—while the Sunni nations would publicly condemn them, but privately for the first time egg them on.


Pundits seem to think turn-arounds are slow things in war, and the militaries win or lose in gradual fashion. In fact, the change-about usually happens overnight. The US army lost two entire divisions in December 1944 in the Ardennes, but was on the Rhine by March. 50,000 Americans were killed, wounded, or missing in and around Okinawa—less than 90 days later the war with Japan was over. No need to juxtapose the terrible May and June of 1864 with September 1-2, 1864, and “Atlanta is ours and fairly won.” The WWI near disaster of March 1918 was followed in August with an unstoppable allied offensive that won the war. Seoul was gone by January 1951 (the great “bug out”), but by March 1951 Ridgway had retaken it for good. And on and on. The one constant is that nothing is constant in war, and once things shift, they can move in ways absolutely unforeseen.

Iraqi Catharsis

It is a tired game counting up all the mistakes in Iraq since 2003. What is left unsaid that much of our success may have been simply impossible in 2003. I don’t think had we reconstituted the army immediately, that the bruised Baathists would have cooperated, but instead would have fished around for another Saddam, or turned on the Shiites. Now, the exhausted tribes and ex-Saddamites know they can not win, know their allied al Qaedists are worse than Americans or Shiites, and are tired and attrited.

And the country itself may be undergoing a collective catharsis, as it sighs that it tried jihadism, sectarianism, war, insurgency, and terror, and now wants to experience something like Kurdistan or Dubai. Once someone on a block begins calling in the location of the local IED bomber, or rounds up his neighbors to oust a terrorist enclave—and that is replicated thousands of times daily in some sort of mass collective outrage—an entire war can change.

Central here are all the tens of thousands of now anonymous American soldiers who fought so hard and courageously all during 2003-7, without whose sacrifices the later surge and change in tactics would have been impossible. As we struggled to counter IEDs, bring in new equipment, learn that the tribes, not the mullahs, of Iraq, held the power, went through Sanchez, Bremer, etc, witnessed Michael Moore, Sean Penn, Moveon.org, “the war is lost” by Harry Reid, et al. they quietly kept fighting and so saved Iraq.

We also don’t seem to factor in $100 a barrel oil, and the extra billions that are pouring into the country. If they are not channeled into massive weapons systems, circa 1975-1991, then the region as a whole has a real chance that is unimaginable with a Saddam in Iraq.

And what some day will be the public reaction to all this? Something like, “I’m glad it was done (the removal of Saddam and the reconstruction), but I would never do it again”—something like the groggy patient after major surgery.

The tragic irony is that in the future the earlier hopes might yet come true, even a day late and a dollar short: Iran really is starting to seem shrill and isolated; without Saddam around, the Sunni world is lining up against Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas, and Syria; oil may well finally be Iraq’s path to reconstruction; there is a renewed push for political reform from Pakistan to Libya.

Politicking the war

Last post I mentioned Democrats and their changing strategies on the war. That was confirmed when talking to various Democrats and Republicans last week in Washington—the mood over Iraq is changing and the opposition to the war is gearing up to redefine it not as un- winnable but not worth the cost.

One top Democratic Congressman lamented to me that the party of liberalism came across as illiberal in its trashing of the Maliki government, as if ‘those Arabs aren’t capable of running their own country.” And he worried about the Pelosi trip to Syria, the moveon.org ads, the Hillary sarcasm about Petraeus—all when it was far easier to get on board and stop the bit about incompetent Iraqis, trisecting the country, Bush is Hitler, and instead start taking credit for what may be a major American victory. I asked him the chances of all that—very slim he thought.

We still await former supporters of the 2003 war gradually to inch back to expressions of their erstwhile support. The subtext of their elegant triangulations will be something like the following: ‘For four years I have watched in horror as the brilliant removal of Saddam was squandered by an inept administration. I have been driven to my wits’ end by such incompetence and expressed my opposition serially to this misguided effort. But finally such criticisms were taken to heart and slowly they are finally listening to brave voices of opposition, and at last Iraq may well end up as I originally envisioned it.”

It will either be the above or “the violence is simply in a temporary lull” or “ there is no chance that tactical success can be translated into strategic stability”—until even that is untenable.

I don’t think Iraq will play a great role in the campaign as once promised, and instead the concerns will be financial—budget, trade, dollar problems—immigration (the Republicans will dodge the bullet of blindly advocating the deportation of every illegal, the Democrats won’ be so lucky, since they simply would not close the border), and energy ($100 oil hurts the Republicans more I think).

One thing to watch: how nasty and underhanded will the Clintons have to get to derail the natural addictive exuberance and charisma of the utterly inexperienced Obama? I say that not in cynicism, but because rarely have two public figures so justified their means by the ends, feeling that their own careers and progressive ethical agenda demand doing almost anything to achieve it for the greater good of all of us. Every time a wearied Bill Clinton speaks he simply restates the old theme—

“I suffered so much for the good of all of you.”

Iran–and the final Bateman reply

November 16th, 2007 - 8:14 pm

Iran and the next administration

There is nothing but the proverbial bad choices involved with Iran. My hunch is that the United States will not act during the final year of the Bush administration, especially as Iraq improves and the Europeans slowly consider more sanctions.

But should Sen. Hillary be elected and have to negotiate with an Iran with enough enriched uranium to make 5-6 bombs, I’m sure that there will be grumbles about the Iranian “mess” left for her to sort out, but much silence that during the Democratic primaries there was even talk of impeachment should Bush have bombed the facilities—a tactic that I agree would be disastrous.

Few were complaining in 2001 that Clinton on his watch had left Bush a nuclear Pakistan with bin Laden and al Qaeda under its umbrella. At some point, some campaign strategists should warn the Democrats that they are slowly boxing themselves into a corner. By trashing Iraqis they only play the bad cop to Bush’s good (besides appearing as contrary to their traditions of advocating sympathy to the “other”), who can then plead with Baghdad to deal with us now or face liberals who are not so liberal about the notion of Iraqis being able to govern themselves.

And as they stay fixated on the 2005-2006 war, the Democrats continue to pile up footage that will be inevitably used during the late summer of 2008, when the course of the war may in fact be even more promising. If Iraq is quiet, a sound bite with Hillary claiming Petraeus was disingenuous and not truthful, with some sort of foreboding voice-over won’t look good.

Consequently, Democrats need to bring in some pro like Carville who might advise them to cool the rhetoric, take credit for pressuring for the shake-up that led to Petraeus and the change in tactics, and then growl but stay mum on Iran—if for no other reason that, if Bush acts, they can criticize him now if it doesn’t work, and if it does, privately sigh relief later when in power that they won’t have to do much.

The Bateman Files–Case Closed

I was once more under-whelmed by Mr. Bateman’s fourth and final attack on Carnage and Culture.

Despite the promises and braggadocio, nowhere does Robert Bateman critique the book as he promised at the outset. Perhaps he will do so at some future date, but for now after thousands of words, we are left only with a Media Matters partisan, raging at the wind for mysterious untold reasons.

He had oddly alleged, six years after the book appeared, that suddenly he became outraged by its thesis, and therefore went of all places to Media Matters—apparently assuming it was the logical forum for a historian to review books—to demonstrate how Carnage and Culture’s thesis of how a 2,500 year cultural tradition in the West resulted in military advantage was flawed.

But that did not follow.

Bateman—if he were scholarly and intent on demonstrating a counter-thesis—might have tried to argue that there is no such unique Western tradition of exceptional military practice—or, that if there were, it neither reveals special preeminence nor offers real advantages, then or now—or, again if there were a dynamic Western way of war, it accrues from either the borrowing or theft of others’ ideas—or is a result of exploitation—or perhaps an artifact of geography—or only a relatively recent phenomenon.

But instead of exploring such alternatives to the arguments of Carnage and Culture, Bateman simply reverts to still more ad hominem attacks. And here he unfortunately reveals a pattern of behavior unbecoming a Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. Army, which, one would hope, might at least serve as a reminder of how any officer and gentleman should not conduct himself in the public arena.

Other disturbing characteristics appear in LTC Bateman’s four serial attacks on Carnage and Culture.

Not content with past use of words like pervert, feces, and devil, Mr. Bateman, in exasperation at his repeated inability to fault the thesis of the book, now questions my patriotism for registering for the draft, instead of volunteering to join the military, some 36 years ago (more below).

Second, sadly Bateman cannot be relied upon to tell the truth, but consistently alleges that I wrote things that I did not— hence the frequent resort to paraphrase in absence of quotation marks (see replies 1-3, and, once more, below)

Third, there is something seriously wrong with Bateman’s ability to grasp an argument, and to express a logical alternative to it. For example, last time he stated that I am as pernicious an influence as Howard Zinn. But when I reminded him that Bateman writes for Media Matters that reflects the same general ideological worldview as Zinn’s, he suddenly now reverses course, praises Zinn’s patriotism, and now suggests that I am not like Zinn, after all.

Media Matters, as Mr. Bateman has belatedly learned, is apparently not the natural forum to attack a fierce critic of American politics and culture like Howard Zinn—and thus perhaps the recent about-face.

Fourth, he has very little knowledge of either historical facts or geography. In the world of Robert Bateman, a Sicily or Spain lies in the heart of Europe; there are simply no major battles of the Second Punic War for years after Cannae; the key to the battle of Yarmouk is Muslim infantry; Manzikert is not near the border of the Byzantine Empire; and if an English translation of a Latin text he read differs from my own in Carnage and Culture, he never imagines that an author himself translated it from Latin, much less that it would be incumbent upon Bateman, if he is apparently concerned, to recheck the Latin for its accuracy—and any other of the translated quotations in the book from Greek, Italian, or Spanish.

[Again, like the third reply, these are abbreviated responses, since the point of Bateman’s harangue was political and personal; and, as the theme of these attacks showed, he actually has little interest in Carnage and Culture per se.]

Among many professional historians, the book has a horrid reputation (and Hanson’s personal reputation as the thinnest-skinned writer out there only exacerbates this evaluation). Indeed, Carnage and Culture is one of the few works of history to ever prompt an entire book written in rebuttal almost immediately.

[Still more heat, still less light. I commented earlier on Bateman’s affinity for Halloween-like hyperbole. The book was once “feces”, but now evolves to merely “horrid.”

We also are again subjected to the grandiose bluster in the paranoid style like “few works of history to ever…” (e.g., cf. the prior “I take down one of the most profound perverts of the historical record in the modern era”). But why all the psychodrama?

He confuses assertion with explication: if Bateman believes the above, he simply can go over the reviews, summarize them, and then show how their critiques of the book resonate.
In fact, the book’s reviews are a matter of record. It has sold over 100,000 copies in dozens of languages, and is discussed and debated in not one, but in a variety of books.

Many military histories—whether by a Geoffrey Parker or a John Keegan—often evoke book-length responses. I don’t know which book Bateman is referring to that took issue to Carnage and Culture, but I welcome any genuine criticism and hope the controversy over the nature of Western conventional military advantage is one that is debated and explored.

At least in one case, a historian who was planning to attack the book after hearing an early lecture I gave outlining my proposed thesis, instead wrote me a complimentary letter, in admiration making the odd request to see my work in its rough draft form two years before publication. I gladly consented, sent him Carnage and Culture’s original draft— whereas he used that ms. in progress, without acknowledgment, to frame his own book’s immediate counter-argument.

So I have welcomed all sorts who seek to refute the book’s thesis, since I think it is sound, can be easily defended, and will stand the test of time.

As far as “thin-skinned,” this seems sadly a case of the habitual bully suddenly shocked that someone chooses to defend himself. In part, I reply here to demonstrate the poverty of his thinking in hopes that he will learn in the future to concentrate on research, writing, and avoid the quick-fix of “taking down” others as a way to garner notoriety.

In all my replies, I have tried to avoid resorting to the language Bateman favors. Again, the reader can compare the past exchanges and make his own determination about the temperament and manners of the respective authors.]

So it was, in this case, that I very early stumbled upon these lines about the present day written by Victor Davis Hanson:

Mercenary armies in America and Europe are the norm. They are not necessarily entirely professional militaries, but outlets for the disaffected of society who seek economic opportunity alone in serving, with the realization that those of a far different social class will determine where, when, and how they will fight and die. (Page 449)

This, as you may have now surmised, got my dander up.

Calling me names is one thing. But calling the men with whom I have served for the past 18 years “mercenary,” and claiming that the soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines who manned the walls through the 70s, 80s, 90s, and into the 21st century are “the disaffected of society” pisses me off. You cannot seriously write a book in which you say that the service members who stood tours in the Sinai Desert, fought and died in Mogadishu, gave up years of their lives living in tents in the Balkans or aboard ships drilling holes in the Adriatic, Pacific, Atlantic, etc., did so solely to “seek economic opportunity” and not expect people to look closely to see what other sort of tripe you are pushing. So, annoyed, I wrote to Eric and asked if he would mind lending me some space. He agreed, and here we are.

[After three lengthy attacks, Bateman now suddenly suggests that his “dander” arose to such a degree that he “wrote to Eric” at Media Matters, not because, as he once alleged, of the thesis of the book, but because I was supposedly “calling” him “names.” This final resort to find some sort of victim status is a disturbing symptom of our modern malaise.

Of course I never called Bateman names, much less any of the military whom I have supported unwaveringly in print in all my work.

The quotation he extracts is part of a discussion over the future of the Western military tradition, in which the use of mercenary denotes the end of wide civic participation in the military in Western societies. It clearly was a lamentation that civilian society is increasingly becoming divorced from those who defend it. It was written during a time of peace, when a national discussion was underway over the connection between economic need and enlistment—and public apathy about the connection.

Pace Bateman, I show empathy for soldiers who serve in harm’s way on behalf of all of us who are often more privileged (“e.g., those of a far different social class will determine where, when, and how they will fight and die.”). The chapters in Carnage and Culture on the US military (Midway and Vietnam) are sympathetic to our soldiers; the chapter on Vietnam takes on the traditionally stereotyped view of Vietnam soldiers as disturbed or amoral, and instead argues that they were as stable and courageous as any in World War II.

Of course, I worried and still do that a professional military class, and many who volunteer to serve under them, are increasingly not appreciated nor even well known to civilians. Since I wrote that in 1999, things have improved, and wartime for a while brought us together, but not enough to allay concerns. The worry—neither mine alone nor original—about the divide between soldier and civilian is central to scores of critics, as diverse as Robert Kaplan, Charles Moskos, and Josiah Bunning. And dozens of remedies have been proposed, ranging from reinstitution of the draft and increased public education to expansion of ROTC on campuses and programs for civilians to visit military facilities.

Bateman has an unfortunate habit of somehow putting himself at the center of almost everything (note at the beginning here the collective US military is dubbed “my men”); thus a generic remark about worries over the military/civilian divide becomes, of course, commentary about one LTC Robert Bateman.

After the appearance of Carnage and Culture, I have been invited to speak on the book at military institutions such as the US Naval Academy, the US Air Force Academy, the Army War College, and dozens of others, as well as being asked to visit with soldiers on duty at Quantico, Camp Pendleton, the USS John F. Kennedy, Lemoore Naval Air Station and in Iraq to name a few. I mention that for a reason: of the many hundreds of officers I have discussed the book with, LTC Bateman is the first—and so far the only one—either to see himself in the text, or to suggest that it was anyway unfair to military personnel.

In truth, through these replies LTC Bateman has brought far more embarrassment through his language and misrepresentations to those he represents than any paragraph that expresses worries about the neglect of military personnel by civilian society]

Hanson’s polemic position in Carnage and Culture, it turns out, is really more about his personal pining for a myth of his own creation. He seeks an idyllic pastoral past, rather like Lake Woebegone, and like that place, largely exists only in the fantasies of its creator. In Hanson’s vision, even a name can evoke the image of the stalwart yeoman, which of course stands in contrast to the slacker youth of today. In discussing the future (circa mid-2001, when this book came out), Hanson even manages to cast aspersions on our present day soldiers, the ones who have joined since 2001. This is what Hanson wrote about them (Note: Here Hanson is referring to a few of the naval aviators who fought and died at Midway in June 1942.):

Even their names seem almost caricatures of an earlier stalwart American manhood — Max Leslie, Elm Massey, Wade Clunky, Jack Waldron — doomed fighters who were not all young eighteen-year-old conscripts, but often married with children, enthusiastic rather than merely willing to fly their decrepit planes into a fiery end above the Japanese fleet, in a few seconds to orphan their families if need be to defend all that they held dear. One wonders if an America of suburban, video-playing Nicole’s, Ashley’s and Jason’s shall ever see their like again.” (Page 351)

He wrote both of these passages without, apparently, noting the complete illogical contradiction contained within his own words within this single book. Those men he lauds, the naval aviators, did not join at the outset of the war. They were long-serving officers. They were men who had joined the peacetime military voluntarily, during the height of the Great Depression in the mid-1930s. In other words, by Hanson’s logic and words, they were just as mercenary as the “Nicole’s, Ashley’s and Jason’s” who have fought and died in Iraq and Afghanistan these past six years…

[The problem of logic belongs to Bateman once again. "Nicole’s, Ashley’s and Jason’s” refers to a generation in toto; it does not refer to those who enlisted in the US military. That’s why I deliberately prefaced those symbolic names with “an America of _____”, and not “a military of_______”.

I have no apologies in expressing worries that the generation who fought WWII, given the ordeal of the Depression and the acceptance of a more tragic vision of life, was more likely than our own contemporary one to accept certain finalities of the human experience—that it can very hard, that war is unfortunately part of the human condition, and that we struggle, age, and die in ways we don’t like. Everything from the ubiquity of cosmetic surgery and the decline in educational standards to the obsession with video-games and the fixation on pseudo-celebrities like Paris Hilton and Anna Nicole Smith by millions of youth are symptomatic that our much greater affluence and leisure do not necessarily create more engaged citizens.]

Indeed, I am not the only one to do this. Here is an opinion about the importance of documentation with which I completely agree. In this case, the reviewer is talking about the “popular, mass market” book by Tom Ricks entitled Fiasco. But, obviously, the passion this reviewer has for rigorous documentation in history comes through clearly:

History is not the impressionistic art of autobiography, memoir, or essay, but is to be offered as an account of what happened with sources that provide the means of checking the historian’s veracity. Once journalists decide that they are no longer writing dispatches of the moment but real histories in the midst of a controversial and hotly debated war — and are intending to hype their work as a best-selling exposé — then they become historians and so are obligated to inform the reader, and posterity itself, where and from whom they obtained their primary evidence.

This being Altercation, you already knew who had to have written that blistering commentary about the importance of documentation in best-selling works of historical import, don’t you? Victor. Davis. Hanson. (Policy Review, 23 December 2006) Once again, apparently without a trace of irony.

[Here Bateman outdoes himself in intellectual dishonesty. My worry about some of the methodology of citation used in the Ricks book had nothing at all to do with notes per se which is never mention in this excerpt. The problem is the very different issue of Ricks use of unnamed sources to buttress often very controversial claims about an ongoing war.

It matters little that these anonymous sources are formally on occasion listed by Ricks in notes, underscoring the very point that it is not the structure of citation per se that is the problem, but any evidence that cannot (ever) be cross-checked since the source is known only to the author.

In Carnage and Culture, the veracity of every quote can be checked, since it is cited by author, work, and page. In contrast, what would be the reaction should a historian use quotation marks to record verbatim a speech or conversation by an Italian at Lepanto or a Spaniard at Tenochtitlan, only to direct the reader to a endnote at the back of the book where he would then find documentation something like Ricks’ “a rower” or “senior conquistador”)?

Bateman has conflated two entirely different issues of footnotes and identifying the source of direct quotations, and then used a quote to prove something that is entirely extraneous—cf. his earlier twisting of my argument of the need to emphasize the battle experience in military historical narratives to prove that I think decisive battle alone constitutes war.]

Last week, I also expounded upon the similarities twixt Mr. Howard Zinn and Mr. Hanson. Now, I should note that unlike Mr. Hanson, Howard Zinn came to his opinions about war through direct personal experience in the Second World War. Moreover, Zinn’s experiences were the result of choice. Because he had a job working in the defense industry, Zinn was exempted from the draft. Yet, during the height of World War II, when thousands upon thousands of airmen were being shot from the skies over occupied Europe, Zinn volunteered for the Army Air Corps. He was accepted, trained, and then deployed to England as a bombardier. (In WWII era aircraft, this is the officer who pulled the trigger that dropped the bombs.) He manned a .50 caliber machinegun in combat over Germany, braved flak and enemy fighters, and looked through a Noreen bombsite and dropped bombs in combat. More than 25,000 of his peers died in the air over Europe doing much the same thing during the course of his war.

[I am once more confused. In the last reply Bateman demonized Zinn. I replied that this was odd since he writes for Media Matters, which often echoes a Zinn-like worldview. Now he suddenly has reversed course (“I should note..), and is praising Zinn.

But I need no lectures from Bateman about the air war. My father flew 40 missions on a B-29 over Japan. He had been drafted after graduating from the College of Pacific. But in the upside-down world of Robert Bateman, is his war record suspect since did not quit school and volunteer during the first year of the war? Those in the arms industry were exempted from conscription because someone needed to make munitions—in the manner that some adult males of military age were needed to produce fuel or to grow food—if the war were to be won. And many of these key industries required a great deal of physical strength, long hours, and sacrifice.]

Hanson, who turned 18 two years before the end of the U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War, apparently had better things to do at a time when America was at war and desperately needed smart young men in the ranks. Hanson’s own idea of “civic militarism,” which he espouses in his book, was, apparently, not one he felt compelled to exhibit in any sort of personal manner. He felt it sufficient to wait for the State to compel him with the draft, should it choose to do so, rather than volunteer for military service, as had Zinn.

[Unlike Zinn, I see the history of the United States and its military as one of exceptional morality, a constant striving for the promise of the Constitution that has left the world a far better place since 1776.

Like my father, I registered for the draft on my birth date at 18 in September 1971, sought no exemption, waited to receive a lottery number sometime in February 1972, was not called up, and finally was informed by the selective service that the lottery numbers were to be abolished in 1973. By 1972 there were few, and by 1973 essentially no, American ground troops fighting in Vietnam. By 1972-3, I simply followed the example of my grandfather, who did not enlist, but was drafted in WWI (he was gassed in the Argonne and for the rest of his life partially disabled), my father, and my uncle (transferred to Marine corps after being drafted by the army, and killed on Okinawa). According to the logic of Robert Bateman, my family is one of dubious patriots because they felt it “sufficient to wait for the State to compel … with the draft, should it choose to do so, rather than volunteer for military service.”

At the time, I had two elderly grandparents in their mid-80s, whose small family farm where we lived was in disarray. I spent weekends and summers working it. Upon immediate completion of graduate school, I went back home to try to save what had been in my family since 1870, during the general agricultural depression of the early 1980s.

One can support—and harm—the United States in a variety of ways; according to one’s station. I have always supported this country wholeheartedly and especially its military. To suggest, as does the moral censor Robert Bateman, that millions of Americans who were drafted in WWII were somehow less patriotic than those who immediately volunteered ignores all sorts of individual circumstances, and is an insult to their memories. Some who volunteered in WWII ended up in non-combat scenarios; others who were drafted ended up in nightmares like Okinawa.

But as Bateman envisioned, we are now a long way away from a promised scholarly discussion of Western military advantage advanced in Carnage and Culture.]

That, ladies and gentlemen, is probably a crucial difference. On the one hand, there is a man who fought in war, Zinn, and he has a problem with war, but not the warriors.[1] On the other side is a man, Hanson, who decided not to fight in his generation’s war and has no apparent problems with war, but does refer to those of us in the U.S. Army (and the other services) as “mercenary” and describes our motivations as being that solely of people, “who seek economic opportunity alone in serving.”

[More of the false intimacy. “That, ladies and gentlemen…” sounds more like a magician in mediis rebus that a critique of a book. And what does “no apparent problems with war” mean? The themes of the earlier Western Way of War were the grotesque nature of battle that often escapes formal histories, why we have a moral duty to look at fighting from the perspective of the combatant, and the worry that this lethal tradition might be turned against itself.

I tried to bring that same moral concern to Carnage and Culture. One who studies the horrors of wars usually wishes to prevent them, by learning how and why they start, and how they might be deterred. According to this puerile way of Bateman’s thinking, the military historian ipso facto must love wars—in the manner the oncologist must love tumors or the virologist the plague.

Here we have come full circle. Robert Bateman chose to find resonance with Media Matters, as he put it, by “taking down” a “conservative”. He promised to critique Carnage and Culture and its theme, but never explored whether there was a uniquely lethal western tradition of warfare over some 2500 from the Greek to the present that is the consequence not of race, accident, or geography, but of cultural practice—one that gave the West inordinate political dominance not commensurate with its population or land.

We never heard any sustained critique of that idea at all.

Instead, we’ve now endured four episodes of Media Matters-type rambling accusation, hodge-podge anecdotes, and finally the raising of the “bloody shirt”. And so after all the bumper-sticker promises of scholarship, references to Bateman’s sojourn at West Point, his teaching at Georgetown, his tour of Iraq, his Pentagon fides, his resorts to invective, the scary warning that I was to be forewarned that Robert Bateman was taking me down, we end not with a bang, but a whimper that the now hurt name-caller retreats to the status of a victim, and the author of a work of military history is somehow tainted because nearly four decades ago, I once registered for the draft, but did not volunteer to serve in a war in which the American role was nearly over.

I tried to follow the Tet offensive closely in the papers, but I was 14 at the time.

Robert Bateman for a few weeks perhaps will gain some modicum of the attention that he sought by these serial hit pieces. Yet sadly the accompanying embarrassment will be longer-lived and won’t be the sort of notoriety he envisioned when he “wrote to Eric.”

In the end, he has managed to do a disservice to more than his own reputation.]

Iraqi thoughts

November 13th, 2007 - 9:33 pm

The New Iraqi Debate

Now that the Democrats suspect that the U.S. is not only not losing Iraq, but may well “win”—victory being defined by stabilizing the country with a radical cessation of violence—expect the critique suddenly to morph as well.

We will soon hear that the war, while granted that it may be winnable, was not worth the commensurate cost, from liberal critics who have embraced much of the realist and neo-isolationist creed of the past (at least apart from Darfur). That is a legitimate debate—as long as opponents accept that it is a fallback position, and Harry Reid was mistaken when he announced the war “lost”.

Also expect Democrats to find ways to exaggerate the aggregate costs (like counting the rise from 20-100 dollars a barrel for oil entirely due to the Iraqi war without notice of the new Chinese/Indian demand, unrest in Africa, and declining production from the UK to the US), while Republicans will claim that Iraq is part of a larger existential war against Islamic extremism. How to resolve the dispute?

It depends on whether Iraq is stable—and the effect it has on Lebanon, Iran, Syria, the Palestinians, etc. I know such thinking is now dubbed “Neocon” warmongering and worse, but should the constitutional government in Iraq encourage reform in the region, then it would be impossible to compute all the multifarious ways in which that would contribute to world stability and US security. We’ll see, and 2008 for a variety of reasons will be interesting to say the least.

Iraqi Turn-about

I posted this thought the other day on NRO about the radical change in Iraq. There are three sub-texts rarely discussed—at least publicly—about the so-called Anbar awakening. First, oil is now $98 a barrel. Even with oil production still not quite at 2003 levels, the Iraqi government is raking in an enormous amount of cash–the equivalent of Iraq pumping about 7-8 million barrels per day at the 2002-3 price. Even if oil production were to stay flat (and some think it may climb to over 3 million b. a day by next year), Iraq might earn per annum well over $70 billion from oil alone at the present price. And for all the inefficiency and corruption, the money is starting to permeate Iraq, as any can attest from the storefronts stuffed with consumer goods and the astronomical climb in Iraqi demand for electricity. And Iraq is not the Saudi desert, but has the richest and best irrigated land in the Middle East, with an ideal commercially-strategic location, all suggesting that without Saddam’s wastrels, the country could very rapidly turn things around.

Second, the US military has eliminated a large number of terrorists, insurgents and general terrorists since 2003. Given the noxious fumes of Vietnam-era “body-counts” we don’t mention this. But many of the sheiks suffered horrendous losses among their tribes to the US in the past four years that led to some demoralization and the simple absence of their more skilled and veteran fighters. So, when they weighed the odds–increasing oil-generated wealth on the one hand versus being mowed down by the US on the other–the choice was to join us.

Third, for all the criticism of the Shiite government, it continued to function despite hourly threats and constant assassinations, both from Iranian-backed extremists and Sunni-backed Al-Qaedists. It has been a congressional pastime to trash the Iraqis, but few people in the world have so braved daily mayhem and still clung to a constitutional government process, however sometimes exasperating.

I’m not suggesting that the repugnance of al Qaeda, concern that the US pressure the Shiite government to help Sunnis, or machinations about the future did not play a role in bringing the Sunni tribes to our sides. But the notion that life could be pretty good with oil wealth and without US bullets—coupled with the acknowledgment that the elected government wasn’t going to quit or flee—played a large role in turning things around.

European Battlefields

Half the available slots for our European battlefield tour next May have already been reserved. Bruce Thornton will give a number of lectures on Nato and the EU, drawing on his just released book on Europe’s decline and fall. Tom Connor, an excellent military historian at Hillsdale College, will also give site lectures. I’ll give formal talks, on both ancient and modern battlefields. All three of us plan to dine separately with each of the participants. The price was fixed months ago, so the slide of the dollar should not factor into the cost.

What Drives Americans Crazy

Travelers seem to become unglued during the boarding—and especially the un-boarding—of airliners. I was watching their reactions during a number of recent trips, especially those who seemed frenzied and swore they were missing planes during the 10-15 minutes it sometimes can take to deplane. I omit airline error, especially the inability to get the ramps to the plane in reasonable time. So what causes the problem?

1. Window/Middle/Aisle. I’m sure sophisticated studies resulted in Zone 1-5 loading patterns, whether getting people to the back first or privileging those with frequent flyer statuses. That being said, what seems to slow everything down is the person searching for his window seat, and stopping in the aisle while two others must get up, get out of their seats, and return to the aisle.

Solution? It would seem wiser to load planes in window/middle/aisle sequence, with perhaps exemption for frequent flyers the airline wishes to reward for patronage.

2. These ensemble-sets of a big wheeled carry-on, with a bag sort of strapped on top. That monstrosity apparently counts as one item, since the owner often has in addition a third brief case or purse. The result? Passengers block the aisles wrestling with their carry-ons, as they try to squeeze them in overhead slots—too few and too small.

Solution? Enforce one carry-only and insist it’s of reasonable size

3. Idiocy and Selfishness. Too many passengers shuffle on the plane, often while talking on their cell phones, or slowly shedding coats as if they are undressing before a mirror while blocking the aisle. They could usually do their business by stepping to the side, but instead simply hold up 60-70 others while they unthinkingly stay fixed. Others can’t find an overhead, so they walk back and forth blocking the aisle as they hunt for space. Then when they leave, instead of staying seated until all have left, they get into the aisle, hold up the line, and try to squeeze four or five rows back to retrieve their luggage.

Solution? Bar cell phones while boarding or deplaning. Have constant announcements NOT to block the aisles. Warn those to remain in their seats until others have deplaned if their luggage is not in the immediate vicinity.

4. Body size versus seat capacity. In a recent flight I deplaned last, and so watched all 140 passengers leave. At least 50 seemed far larger than their seats, and had real trouble squeezing through the aisle even without their bags.

Solution. There is none, barring taking out seats and widening the aisle—or putting us all on a national diet.

5. Rudeness. Or is it the new equality of post-feminism? Often a middle-aged woman will struggle with her oversized carry on—as if she can push or pull out 30 lbs with her arms far above their head. As often as not, bystanders are too busy phoning or black-berrying to assist.

Solution. When passengers pull out the first bag, they might ask if any in the vicinity wish their own luggage in the compartment taken down as well.

Getting in and out a plane has become analogous to finding a rare parking spot, when perfectly normal people resort to their primordial selves and see all others for a few moments not as fellow humans, but rival carnivores that must be gored or run over—or else!


I received a deluge of private mail concerning the Bateman replies, 99% of it positive, though many thought his savage and incoherent attacks were not worth the time to reply.

I tried to be systematic in the first two replies to illustrate the poverty of his analyses. Last time, and in future replies, I’ll just summarily go through his mistakes, since I know the modus operandi of Media Matters, which is to target a moderate-right TV personality, columnist, or perceived ‘enemy’, then go on the ad hominem attack (I suppose that explains the flavor of slurs like ‘pervert’ and ‘feces’ and ‘devil’), and then either hope the target wastes time replying to the inane slanders, or receives enough mud through the blogosphere that some eventually sticks.

Old and New Battles

November 9th, 2007 - 12:30 pm

The Same Old, Same Old.

Muslims are killing each other in Pakistan, Iraq, and Afghanistan. A Muslim axis of Iran, Syria, Hezbollah and Hamas is galvanizing against the Palestinian authority, the Gulf monarchies, Jordan and Egypt. Muslim Turkey wants to invade Muslim Kurdistan. The list of crises could go on.

But a few reminders: there are no eternal Shiite/Sunni splits, or even predictable nationalist blocs, but simply shifting alliances of convenient allies that pits Shiite Iran on the side of Sunni Hamas, or Sunni Jordan quietly hoping that Israel deal with Syria.

Russia looks at all this and smiles since the tension raises oil prices. China and India watch it all—and look for signs of anti-Westernism that can be translated into secure oil supplies and increased petrodollar trade.

To the extent that there is a common denominator, it is simply the general failure of the Middle East, where tribalism was made far worse, not better, by a half-century succession of Soviet-style strongmen, Baathist cranks, and nomad monarchs. It differs from Africa—and is far more dangerous—in two regards.

One, with oil at $100 a barrel, and with 40% of the world reserves, these nations have the ability, well apart to weaken oil-based Westernized economies, to bribe any Westerner or Westernized Russia or China to sell them almost anything from reactors to poison gas.

Second, Islam far from making sense of the confusing globalized world, or at least receding into private life to offer spiritual guidance about the contradictions of the modern landscape, instead is trying to fight a rearguard action against modernism at every level of Middle Eastern society.

And the problem is not really say the 10 or so million who are radical Islamists and support eternal jihad, but the 300 million, who see a Western comedown as psychological palliative for the humiliation of watching almost daily the growing affluence abroad, and the growing poverty at home. A Kurdistan or Dubai suggests that there are ways of reconciling modernism and Islam, and westernization, but for most relaxing tribal loyalties, gender apartheid, and religious intolerance is not on the agenda—not when you can listen to an imam or strongman blame Americans, the Jews, and the West for self-inflicted miseries.

Musharraf and the Way of the Dictator

The likely presence of bin Laden in Waziristan and the arsenal of Pakistani nuclear weapons, against the backdrop of Americans fighting to foster constitutional governments in Afghanistan and Iraq, certainly all complicate the otherwise easy decision to cut Musharraf lose for breaking his word, jailing dissidents, and canceling elections. I don’t know what to make of this strange character who goes on Fox News to plug his flashy memoirs, and has immediate family living all over the United States.

His supporters here point to the experience of the Shah, arguing a secular dictator is better than a nuclear theocracy. But I am not sure I would frame the question quite like that.

Like Marcos in the Philippines and the Greek colonels, authoritarians both whip up anti-American hatred, and yet count on our support on the premise that the alternative to them is worse for us. In the short term, perhaps, but not necessarily in the long term, especially if we get out ahead of the curve as we almost did in the Philippines, but not at all in Greece.

I think there is still only one option of supporting the 2008 elections, pressuring Musharraf to relent, and trying to promote parliamentary dissidents who are not al-Qaedists. We should remember as well that Musharraf, while an ally of the US and perhaps even a more willing ally than events have allowed him, is nevertheless illegitimate and couldn’t muster public support for an all-out attack on the Taliban and al Qaeda. Maybe an elected Bhutto or someone else couldn’t either, but at least we would know why not.

We should remember as well that Pakistanis know that Islamists hate constitutional reform more than anything else, as we see with al Qaeda in Iraq. And should Islamists come to power in Pakistan they would almost immediately draw the scrutiny of far more powerful nuclear India, as well as face the ostracism that Iran is beginning to experience.

So rather than try to sort all the complex strands in this mess, it seems far easier and more consistent simply to state we support constitutional government, and to the degree Musharraf does too we support him, and to the degree he now apparently does not, we don’t.

America is a strange place

The idea that an American could, under any circumstance of naturalization, become a governor of an Indian province, or be elected to high office in Austria seems remote. Yet we take the inverse for granted here.

On Sunday night I spoke to a Jewish group in Fresno in support of Israel; on Wednesday I debated at a local mosque. The two venues were not more than 5 miles distant in the same city. Both were peaceful, both conducted to an accepted American sense of lecture, questions and answers.

For all the talk of lack of diversity and rampant exploitation and prejudice, this is about the only country in the world in which a myriad of races, religions, and tribes get up each morning, work side by side, and are more likely to marry than kill each other.

Neoconservative! Neoconservative!

Neocon is something like “enough said,” an apparent slur of sorts that is supposed to end the discussion. So one Michael Lind wrote the following:

“When distinguished mainstream scholars like Chua and Maier, and not just neoconservative polemicists like Victor Davis Hanson and Max Boot, seek to compare the United States to ancient and modern colonial empires, the Zeitgeist has become truly ominous.”

“Neoconservative polemicist”?

As evidenced by his latter highly polemical work, Lind continues to think and write in sloppy fashion. About five years ago before the Iraq war I wrote an article for NRO arguing just the opposite of what he now alleges—“A Funny Sort of Empire”—in which I tried to show that the US was not an empire, much less comparable to imperial Rome. I reiterated that formal position in a debate with Arianna Huffington, taking the side that the US was, again, not an empire, and then again when reviewing Cullen Murphy’s “Are We Rome?” Can Lind produce an argument I made suggesting we are like Romans of the imperial age and that is a good thing?

I have noted similarities between Athens and the United States, but mostly in the tragic sense and have never written supporting the idea of empire, ancient or modern, a notion that is not comparable to the American sense of self.

To the degree that Rome and the US share similarities—a multiracial population, an expansive idea of Roman citizenship, a fluidity in class and wealth— that we see, for example, in literature such as Petronius’s Satyricon, empire is not the central issue.

Apparently, just toss in “neoconservative” and facts don’t matter.


And on and on and on and on from the increasingly unhinged LTC Bateman….

I devoted many thousands of words, in systematic fashion debunking one LTC Robert Bateman’s charges and slurs (“I take down”, “worst sort”, “feces”, “pervert”, “devil”, etc). His first two attempts at Media Matters and my responses are now a matter of record. I see no need to continue since his latest outburst does not acknowledge any of his past slurs, misquotations or mistakes, but simply gushes on with the same that would require once more thousands of words in correction.

So as promised from now on, I will just post a few examples of his serial mistakes, rather than offer lengthy rebuttal yet a third time to his errors. Mr. Bateman is clearly obsessed about Carnage and Culture, and shows neither the sobriety nor the intellectual honesty that we expect in, and should demand of, an officer of the US military.

Again, the issue is not really a particular book I’ve written a number of years ago, but—as Bateman revealed in both the first and this latest rant—my political commentary.

I have had mixed feelings about replying a third time, even in abbreviated fashion, since he doesn’t seem to quite fathom the extent of how his temperament, style, and poverty of analysis, apparent also in his other controversies, will surely harm his reputation—though it was apparently a desire for the just the opposite that explained his chest-beating at Media Matters. In any case, I would imagine that he will not continue long with a chapter by chapter critique, since the matter was largely settled in the first two exchanges.

Here are abbreviated responses to more of the same from Bateman in his third critique.

“I cannot know much more than that because the only sources for this battle are scraps from two different medieval chronicles which together offer only two or three descriptive sentences about the actual fighting. But then again, I did not try and extrapolate an entire chapter out of those few lines and use that to fill a 1,700-year gap in my thesis, as Victor Davis Hanson does in his chapter on the battle of Poitiers/Tours in his book Carnage and Culture.”

[The poverty of contemporary primary sources about Poitiers is well known to historians, and noted in C&C (“the meager account” [137; cf. 475); but nevertheless the battle has earned considerable attention in books and articles (cf. 475-77).] as a landmark event and thus is an ideal introduction to the chapter’s larger discussion of the Islam and the West, and the Western emphasis on landed infantry and battles of shock.]

[After another long harangue Bateman writes:]

“The fact of the matter is that Islamic armies were originally infantry-based. From the time of Mohammed they were designed for massed infantry shock combat, and they had (especially at the outset) very few horses. (They had camels, but you don’t fight from a camel. You use it for carrying luggage and food and water.) Take, for example, the classic battle of Yarmouk in 636 A.D.

This battle, which took place in the area which is now known as the Golan Heights, well inside the borders of the Roman empire, occurred just two years after the death of Mohammed. It was one of the first major battles of expansion of the new Islamic empire. At that battle, although outnumbered by roughly 4-to-1 by the Romans of the Eastern Roman Empire, the Muslims utterly destroyed the Romans, killing as many or more than had Hannibal at Cannae in 216 B.C., roughly 50,000, and doing so with an army that was smaller than Hannibal’s! In this fight the Muslims had an army that was 75 percent infantry (and of the infantry, at least 50 percent heavy infantry). They then moved on and conquered the rest of Syria, then Lebanon, then Palestine, before moving on and across north Africa. It was like that for much of the first century of Islamic expansion, with infantry-based armies defeating the armies of the Eastern Roman Empire again and again. It was not until around the 10th century that the Muslims truly began to focus upon the horse as the center of their efforts in warfare. (As opposed to raiding.)”

[This is both incoherent and inaccurate. Gaza was not well within the often changing and fluid borders of the 7th-century Byzantine empire, but always considered at the further region of Roman or Byzantine influence. Muslim armies usually won by the skill of their horsemen. The relative percentages (25% cavalry of a force is considerable, given the expenses in acquiring and feeding horses in the ancient world) are not just the critical factors, but rather the role of cavalry.

The battle of Yarmouk, in fact, hinged on Islamic horseman of a relatively unified Muslim force—and the vulnerability to them by an often contentious alliance of disparate allies—Arabs, Armenians, Byzantines, Franks, and others—under Byzantine and Armenian leadership. The victor Khalid ibn al-Walid selected the battlefield on the basis of its suitability for his cavalry, kept his battered infantry units viable by several mounted counter-attacks, saved his infantry from defeat by the frequent use of a mobile mounted reserve, and finally defeated the Byzantine force by flank and rear mounted attacks, before shredding the defeated by constant cavalry pursuit.]

But then also one must ask, when looking at Poitiers and Hanson’s thesis, how did we leap from 216 B.C. to 732 A.D.? Cannae, you recall, was the subject of the last chapter, and occurred in 216 B.C. To get to Poitiers we just leapt 948 years without a single intervening case study or example. Hanson does it again too, since the chapter after this one concerns events in 1521, almost 800 years later still. And thus we arrive at one of the core problems of Hanson’s book: He makes an assertion for a thesis which he contends is valid over 2,500 years of history, and then more or less skips providing evidence for the middle 1,700 years out of that 2,500.]

[Bateman once again apparently has problems grasping basic principles of language. The battles, as explained in the introduction, are emblematic of larger trends, and themselves used as launching pads for analyses, and thus only account for about a third of each chapter. Then a larger discussion ensues about the principles raised and the general historical period discussed. So after a description of Poitiers, two-thirds of the chapter deals with the Western reliance of landed infantry, in which the militaries of Islam and the West over a large chronological continuum are explored.

In this regard, Bateman must also omit mention that the criteria for selecting nine emblematic battles from many thousands are explained in detail—“The Great Battles” (8-13) and “Other Battles (443-4)?”—at the beginning and end of the book. Within a general chronological procession, there was an effort to introduce as wide a variety of battles as possible, rather than simplistically spacing them out every 200-300 years from the Greeks to the present—e.g., both Western victories and defeats, fighting both at sea and land, battles in and outside Europe, concentration on Greeks, Macedonians, Romans, Christian forces, imperial Spanish and British forces, and contemporary American militaries, etc.]

For a moment then, let us set our back to the problems with Hanson’s version of Poitiers and proceed on to the meat of the issue. Let us address the thesis. At issue is Mr. Hanson’s central assertion in Carnage and Culture: that there is a uniquely Western way of war, derived from Western culture. I may have overstated this two weeks ago. Mr. Hanson, commenting upon my characterization said last week:

I never wrote that the West was “always successful in war.” How silly! That’s a laughable distortion, and again Mr. Bateman should use quotation marks when he writes what I did not write. [Hanson wrote this on his blog.]

[But Bateman then gives no example to prove that I ever said “always successful in war” and cannot.

Instead, he takes out of context quotations and argues that they imply “always.” But when I am using phrases like a “certain continuity” or “the history of warfare is so often the brutal history of Western victory” or “Numbers, location, food, health, weather, religion -- the usual factors that govern the success or failure of wars -- have ultimately done little to impede Western armies” I have carefully not said anything like Bateman’s fabricated “always successful in war.” And then when Bateman does not even believe that his own exempla from C&C here prove his point, he sighs:

“Now, it does appear true that he never said "always." You can decide for yourself, based on the above sampling of his comments, if I overstated his general thrust and intent.”]

[Next Bateman complains that I evoke a number of other battles in addition to those I selected:]

“The problem, of course, is that even if he were honest about the depictions, these are not “randomly selected.” They are selected by Hanson. But for the sake of argument, and because they illustrate his technique wonderfully, let us just focus upon two of those exceptions that he cited no fewer than four times in the book, Adrianople and Manzikert.”

[Again, Bateman does not seem to understand language. When I evoke a number of battles, of course those are selected by me. Who else wrote the text? Anytime an author cites examples–battles, generals, tactics, etc.—he must make decisions of what to omit and include. ]

Note how when he asserts his selected counter-examples, Hanson tries to let the “West” off the hook by asserting that the “horrific” losses at Adrianople and Manzikert were somewhat understandable because they were fought “far from home” or were fought by the armies of “crumbling empires,” or that they were “vastly outnumbered.” These are not true statements.

[Mr. Bateman does not know the difference between the conjunctions “and” and “or”. And once again he did not tell truth, but omitted the qualifier “In most of these cases…” when I listed a number of other battles that he does not acknowledge. And then to specify what I meant, I further elaborated on Adrianople and others—noting that the battle “came at the borders of European territory and near the end of collapsing regimes or empires.”]

Adrianople was the site of a battle between the Eastern Roman Empire and the Goths. The Roman Emperor was killed during the battle, and the Goths moved on. A generation later they would invade the Western Roman Empire and sack Rome. Adrianople is now the Turkish town of Erdine. In 378 A.D., when this battle took place, it was (and still is) only 120 miles from the very capital of the Eastern Roman Empire. Indeed, instead of being “far from home” it was the very opposite, as it was the closest city to the capital at Constantinople.

[Rome, not just Constantinople, was still the capital of the empire. And it would become an eventual target of the Goths’ invasion. And that is an important fact in the context since Adrianople was representative of the beginning of the collapse of the Western empire. In fact, Adrianople fit exactly the qualifiers that I wrote: the battle was a result of the Goths crossing the border at the Danube to the north and marked the beginning of the end of the Western empire. Given incursions across the Danube, enemy fleets on the Black Sea, and attacks from Anatolia, Constantinople itself was often quite near the often fluid and changing borders of the Eastern empire.]

Hanson’s second example, Manzikert, though it would be a slow march to get there, is about the same distance from the capital at Constantinople as Taranto, Italy, is from Genoa, Italy. And, unlike what Hanson would have his readers believe, the odds between the armies were just about even there too, though that apparently did not matter all that much. Hanson calls the loss “horrific,” but when he does so he is apparently leaning upon 19th century interpretations of the battle. The battle was certainly a disaster for the Eastern Romans/Byzantium, but apparently there was not much bloodshed. Modern scholarship suggests that the Byzantines did not lose as many men as earlier historians thought. In fact, it appears, physical loses were nearly negligible from an Empire standpoint.

[Once more Bateman simple is not a student of language. Manzikert in Eastern Turkey was again at the borders of the eastern empire. Losses—killed, wounded, missing, and captured—are not equivalent exclusively to deaths. Even revisionist estimates that seek to downplay contemporary conclusions about the severity of the Byzantine defeat, sometimes put losses at 7,000-8,000—or about 20% of the aggregate Byzantine military force lost in a single battle. At Manzikert, the outcome really was horrific—the emperor himself was captured, the Armenian contingent virtually annihilated, and the army routed. To Byzantines themselves the losses marked the beginning of the decline. Twentieth-century historians like Norwich cannot be dismissed as “19th century,” but rather reflect primary source accounts that reflect the Byzantine consensus of the battle’s terrible costs.]

“He does cede that the Muslim armies took Spain, but glosses over the fact that they then held it, a country in the heart of Europe, for more than 600 years.”

[Once again, not true at all: Spain is not “in the heart of Europe.” And by the 11th century most of northern Spain was back in Western hands.]

Similarly, he completely ignores Sicily and Corsica. Instead, he focused on the Crusades to make a point. According to Hanson, “It was impossible for any Muslim army, unlike the Crusaders, to transport large armies by sea to storm the heartland of Europe” [pg. 168]. Yet in the 8th, 9th and 10th centuries, the Muslim armies took to the sea and did just that, they conquered both places, sending army after army (it took 75 years of reinforcements to conquer Sicily) despite Mr. Hanson’s assertions, and once completely subjugated, held them for longer than the Crusader states existed in the Middle East. Oh, and they did this with infantry-based armies.

[I ignore a lot of battles and sieges in Carnage and Culture, given that it explores 2,500 years of Western warfare, in the context of art, literature, science, and finance in addition to military history. Muslims armies did not do “just that”: they did not transport large armies by sea to storm the heartland of Europe. Sicily and Corsica are large islands in the Mediterranean, about the same distance to the coast of Africa as they are far from the heartland of Europe.]

Indeed, in his distortions, obfuscations, and general torturing of the facts in order to arrive at his preconceived thesis, Hanson is on par with historian-turned-polemicist Howard Zinn. If you do not know of Zinn, do not regret. You are missing as little as you were before you ever heard of Carnage and Culture. Zinn’s signature work, A People’s History of the United States, now on its gazillionth printing, follows the same formula as does Hanson’s, albeit on a different topic… Both of them approach their topic as though it were a strawberry patch, picking only the ripest of selected strawberries, removing them from the area, and then using the artfully displayed fruit to “prove” to people who have never seen a strawberry bush that all strawberries are ripe. I suspect that it is not coincidental that both of them are very vocal in modern political issues, and both make illogical appeals to their historical credentials to support their respective opinions. Yes, Howard Zinn and Victor Davis Hanson, to continue the produce analogy, are two peas in a pod.

[“Very vocal in modern political issues” gives away the Bateman journalistic game and explains this Media Matters hit-piece, which will not even igratiate him with that now embarrassed patron.

This is all so very sad and the final outburst sums up why this time I write briefly. In lieu of argument, now Bateman can only go off on a bizarre tangent about Howard Zinn—and even there Mr. Bateman misses the irony since Zinn’s general views and methodology are often similar to those expressed at Media Matters where Bateman now writes. ]

Next Week: Conclusions and Wrap-up.

You can write to LTC Bob at R_Bateman_LTC@Hotmail.com