Carnage and Culture: Landmark Battles in the Rise of Western Power
Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
, Aug 1, 2001
- 492 pages
Through vivid depictions of historic battles, Victor Davis Hanson reveals the connection between the West's superiority on the battlefield and its rise to world dominance. Why have Western values triumphed? Why are Western ideas and practices spreading unopposed throughout the globe? In this sweeping and ambitious work of military and cultural history, Victor Davis Hanson convincingly argues that it all comes down to the Western knack for killing. Hanson is a superb writer with a particular gift for dropping the reader into the midst of clashing armies. With his trademark zest for bringing the gritty realities of battle to life, he vividly re-creates nine important confrontations between Western and non-Western armies, from the stunning Greek victory at Salamis in 480 B.C. to Cortes's conquest of Mexico City in 1521 to the grueling urban warfare of Vietnam's Tet Offensive. But Hanson goes beyond the conventions of the "guns and trumpets" genre to reveal the cultural underpinnings that determined the course and consequences of each engagement and in the process advances a bold and provocative thesis about the reasons for Western global dominance. Replying to those who stress environmental and other nonhuman factors in the rise of Western hegemony, Hanson shows that the rise of the West was not a fluke of geography or "germs" but a logical result of Western cultural dynamism as manifested in its ways of making war. Each battle illustrates a crucial element in the distinctive and powerful matrix of Western identity. Hanson delineates the characteristics of successful armiesincluding individual initiative, superior organization and discipline, access to matchless weapons, and tactical adaptation and flexibility. Then he shows how these characteristics develop and flourish as a result of such traditional Western institutions and ideals as consensual government, free inquiry and innovative enterprise, rationalism, and the value placed on freedom and individualism. These are the cultural values that have enabled Western armies, often vastly outnumbered and far from home, to slaughter their opponents and impose their social, economic, and political ideals on other civilizations. Through his detailed reconstructions of these battles, some of which were actually lost by Western armies, Hanson tells the story of the rise of Western global dominance. He thereby joins the great debate about the character and future of the West, sparked by recent controversial works by authors such as Samuel Huntington, Paul Johnson, and Francis Fukuyama.