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An Autumn of War: What America Learned from September 11 and the War on Terrorism

An Autumn of War: What America Learned from September 11 and the War on Terrorism

by Victor Hanson

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On September 11, 2001, hours after the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, the eminent military historian Victor Davis Hanson wrote an article in which he asserted that the United States, like it or not, was now at war and had the moral right to respond with force. An Autumn of War, which opens with that first essay, will stimulate readers across the


On September 11, 2001, hours after the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, the eminent military historian Victor Davis Hanson wrote an article in which he asserted that the United States, like it or not, was now at war and had the moral right to respond with force. An Autumn of War, which opens with that first essay, will stimulate readers across the political spectrum to think more deeply about the attacks, the war, and their lessons for all of us.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

Editorial Reviews

Fires were still raging in the rubble of the World Trade Center when military historian Victor Davis Hanson put his fingers to the keyboard on the afternoon of September 11, 2001. In a rapidly written essay, reproduced that very day in National Review Online, Hanson insisted that America, like it or not, was now at war. In these essays, which fellow conservative Richard Pipes called "bold and politically incorrect," Hanson rails against terrorism and those he identifies as its fellow travelers.
Publishers Weekly
"Why do they hate us?" is the wrong question to ask after September 11, writes Hanson; war and tragedy are to be expected, as the ancients knew. Hanson's classicism informs this collection of essays that appeared mostly on National Review Online, presented here chronologically, from September (when, he argues, "we had no choice but to counterattack long and hard") through December 2001, when he considers the implications of that counterattack. Liberals beware: Hanson has no patience for these who believe the condition of the world can be ameliorated. (On sale Aug. 13) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Essays originally published in National Review Online from just after 9/11 through January 2002, arguing that the war on terrorism is justly rooted in both American and classical ideals. The classical connection will not surprise those familiar with the author's previous work (Carnage and Culture, 2001, etc.), many of which highlight the ancients' mastery of the arts of war and battle as the paramount hallmarks of classical culture. Since conservative thinkers must by definition be anchored somewhere in the past, even readers of a liberal bent may conclude that Hanson (Classics/California State Univ., Fresno) could have made a worse choice than ancient Greece, though they may well deplore the amount of time he spends flaying his fellow academics as "elitists." The vast majority of Americans supported the US administration's response to the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, so these pieces primarily offer the comfort that what little dissent was registered stemmed, in the author's view, from feckless or ultraliberal know-nothings. The author is at his best in hammering America's own experiences (with emphasis on the exploits of prosecutorial warriors like Grant, Sherman, and Patton) into a paradigm for confronting state-supported terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism. This crusade is occasionally hampered by the wide factual latitude Hanson exercises even as he derides the "distortions" of the media. For example, he continually alludes to the World Trade Center fatalities as if no foreign nationals were included, using the estimate of about 3,000 casualties to support the need to avenge "more American dead than in every battle up to Shiloh." In his Arab world of "noelected leaders," Arafat is not present. The Islamic nations, the author believes, cannot cope with modernity and are incapable of providing participatory government because of their roots in a hopelessly antiquarian system. At the same time, noting that "dangerous ideas" are being fostered in American universities, he cautions us to "cast them aside and look to our past." A victory-or-death view of America's mission against terror.
From the Publisher
“Bold and politically incorrect, An Autumn of War is like a breath of fresh air in pointing to the real causes of terrorist outrages and the need for a decisive response.” —Richard Pipes, author of The Russian Revolution

“Victor Hanson is a national treasure. No one has written with such great prescience about the present war or more accurately predicted the course of events, on the fighting front, at home, and around the world. His wisdom arises from a deep knowledge and understanding of history, ancient and modern. His uncanny accuracy in prediction comes from a full and clear grasp of the facts and the application to them of an informed understanding of human nature and of the character of war. All this he presents in clear, vigorous, and eloquent prose. Every American needs to learn from him." —Donald Kagan, author of On the Origins of War and the Preservation of Peace

“Together with John Keegan, [Hanson] is our most interesting historian of war.” —Jean Bethke Elshtain, author of Women and War

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Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
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Read an Excerpt



(The destruction of the World Trade Center; the attack on the Pentagon; the explosion of four jet airliners; President Bush's promises of a worldwide war on terror; dispatch of American carriers to the Indian Ocean; initial criticism of proposed American response both at home and abroad)

During the three-week lull between September 11 and our military response in early October, it was not clear when and if America would strike back. Despite our president's immediate and firm assurance that we would battle terrorists across the globe for years to come, critics both here and abroad immediately questioned the morality of our tactics in bombing the terrorist enclaves in Afghanistan and the military feasibility of finding the al-Qaeda camps--and then destroying them without either killing scores of innocent civilians or causing such disruption as to precipitate wide-scale starvation and disease.

In addition, we did not know exactly the number of our own dead, as casualties on September 11 were at first feared to be in the tens of thousands, before generally being reduced to a round figure of between seven thousand and three thousand killed--a total by January 2002 that would be generally recognized as around three thousand fatalities. Both friends in Europe and neutrals and enemies in the Middle East demanded "proof" that bin Laden had, in fact, masterminded the attacks. Yet throughout these dark days, the Taliban and al-Qaeda alike promised annihilation for any Americans foolish enough to enter Afghanistan and raised the specter of further terrorist attacks here and abroad against the United States.

In the numbing aftermath of September 11, Americans were presented with a daily variety of myths--military, cultural, and political--designed to temper our military response. I was chiefly worried that we were awash in a sea of false knowledge concerning everything from the military history of Afghanistan, the lessons of Vietnam, misinformation about the Northern Alliance, half-truths about the effectiveness of our air forces, the purportedly hopeless struggle against a "new" form of terror, the reasons for al-Qaeda's assault, and the nature of American foreign policy in the Middle East.

September was perhaps the most hectic and depressing month in our nation's history. In the following nine essays, composed in those times of chaos and uncertainty, I employed occasional parody, posed counterfactual scenarios, and drew on classical history--as well as the careers of General Sherman and Winston Churchill, the 2,500-year Western military tradition, the heroism of the New York policemen and firefighters, and our struggle against the Japanese during World War II--all to argue that we had no choice but to counterattack long and hard in Afghanistan.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

Meet the Author

Victor Davis Hanson was educated at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, and received his Ph.D. in Classics from Stanford University. He farmed full-time for five years before returning to academia in 1984 to initiate a Classics program at California State University, Fresno. Currently, he is the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow in Residence in Classics and Military History at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University.

Hanson has written articles, editorials, and reviews for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Daily Telegraph, International Herald Tribune, American Heritage, City Journal, American Spectator, National Review, Policy Review, The Wilson Quarterly, The Weekly Standard, and Washington Times, and has been interviewed on numerous occasions on National Public Radio and the BBC, and appeared with David Gergen on The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer. He writes a biweekly column about contemporary culture and military history for National Review Online.

He is also the author of some eighty scholarly articles, book reviews, and newspaper editorials on Greek, agrarian, and military history, and contemporary culture. He has written or edited eleven books, including The Western Way of War, The Soul of Battle, and Carnage and Culture. He lives and works with his wife and three children on their forty-acre tree and vine farm near Selma, California, where he was born in 1953.

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