Letters to the Editor
Letters from our readers
Jim Sleeper’s review essay “Martial Flaw” is not an analysis of Makers of Ancient Strategy. It is an extended, though odd, personal attack on the editor, whom he accuses of using the “classics as a cudgel to denigrate liberalism as a carrier of unprecedented options.”
Sleeper apparently wanted to prove that an apolitical scholarly book on the ancient world reflects conservative polemics “showing how Athenians, Romans, and, even before them, Persians extended their sway and coped with challenges to it in ways that American grand strategists can learn from.” But when he finds no evidence that I am trying to channel the ancients to the service of American grand strategists, Sleeper laments, “Many of the book’s precedents point in directions Hanson doesn’t want to go.” That self-contradiction is thematic.
For the record, Princeton University Press asked if I would edit a prequel to its well-known Makers of Modern Strategy. The proposal was approved by a university press board on the recommendation of two anonymous outside reviewers. There was no agenda of any kind in the book, since the political affinities of the scholars were irrelevant to the purpose of reviewing strategic thinking of all sorts from the Persian wars to the fall of Rome.
Because the anthology does not support what Sleeper wishes to write, the review turns into a personal screed against the editor. Sleeper alleges that “Hanson was in the White House in January 2005, working with the Cold War historian and would-be grand strategist John Lewis Gaddis to help craft Bush’s second inaugural address (both men received National Humanities Medals from Bush).” For the record, that is simply untrue. A diverse group of four historians was asked to offer historical perspectives on and comparisons with past wars in their own theaters of expertise. At no point in that formal one-hour meeting that I attended did I hear that anyone was asked to “help craft a proposed presidential speech.” Presidents Clinton and Obama likewise have asked historians for perspectives on history and contemporary foreign policy, and there seems nothing sinister about the practice.
The ad hominem attacks extend to some of the contributors. Again, because Sleeper hunts carefully but ends up finding nothing political, much less partisan, in the volume, he concludes that contributors must be “tweaking” me. Of one contributor’s conclusions that please Sleeper, he imagines that she “declines to do what I suspect Hanson hoped.” In exasperation, Sleeper finally cites the affiliations of just two contributors (and only two) whom he suspects are conservatives–“fellow Iraq War zealot” Donald Kagan and Barry Strauss, “a neoconservative professor of classics at Cornell.”
He writes that my account of the preemptive war of Epaminondas is offered as proof of the wisdom of the Iraq War, but again he can find no evidence that I wrote that. In fact, I wrote that I wouldn’t know until the final verdict is in. (“History alone will judge, in the modern instance, as it has in the ancient, whether such an expensive preemptive gamble ever justified the cost.”) Again, this is not a review of the book written, but of the book suspected and imagined, as part of a personal attack on the editor.
In Sleeper’s review of Makers of Ancient Strategy, the reader will learn little about the book’s essays, but instead be told that the editor works at the Hoover Institution; his family has supposedly not farmed where he lives; the occupations of his late mother and father; notes about the Bradley Prize, the National Humanities Medal, and political commentary published in National Review and other journals; a White House visit; and the political affiliations of three of ten contributors–all offered amid Mr. Sleeper’s Orwellian warnings about the dangers of mixing politics with scholarship.
An angry Jim Sleeper offered up to Democracy an extended personal obsession, not a scholarly review of Makers of Ancient Strategy.
Victor Davis Hanson Selma, Calif.
Jim Sleeper replies:
“When someone attacks me, I reply with twice that,” Hanson told the Boston Globe, which noted that he “has penned many a blistering response to a negative review. It’s not unlike the tactic Hanson recommends in war: ‘You do that a few times, and people stop attacking you.’ ”
Sorry, Victor, but the main reason people stop attacking you is that you discredit yourself without their having to bother. No sooner had Hanson submitted his counterattack to Democracy than he posted it, twice, perhaps expecting that this shock-and-awe approach would silence criticism.
It certainly pleased his site’s ditto-heads, but Hanson had no choice but to link the review he was attacking, and I invite any reader to compare it to Hanson’s rant. The review shows that the man can’t separate his historiography of ancient wars from his Vulcan ideology. He can’t help trying to draft his scholarship–and, yes, some of history’s enduring truths–into his efforts to promote and then justify misadventures like ours in Iraq.
These are hard times for would-be warriors like Hanson, Charles Hill, and Martin Peretz, all of whom are scurrying to burnish their scholarly credentials to cover their real-world blunders. But although I’ve caught Hanson trying to do that in his new anthology, some of its contributors–and, he now tells us defensively, its Princeton University Press readers–have higher standards than he does and didn’t let him get away with it entirely.
ISSUE #19, WINTER 2011
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