Sunday, January 08, 2006

The Use and Abuse of History


Today's Explorator (which you can subscribe to by sending a message to Explorator-subscribe@yahoogroups.com) refers us to two reviews of Victor Davis Hanson's new book on the Peloponnesian War, A War Like No Other. Hanson is a Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, an expert on Greek warfare, and an energetic supporter of the American presence in Iraq. (You can read more about him here.) Like many a historian, he tends to see the present in terms of the period he knows best.

Whether that's a good thing is another matter. The two reviewers found by Explorator,
"Spengler" at Asia Times and
Gary Brecher at the American Conservative (via James Woolcott) have a low opinion of Hanson's latest effort, for different reasons. I think the best point they make is that the differences between Athens and the USA and the Iraq war and the Peloponnesian war are so great that you can't just assume that the two pairs are essentially similar.

I like the fact that Brecher gives due praise to Thucydides, the original historian of the Peloponnesian war. Without him we'd know nothing much about that conflict. If he wasn't so good, none of us (including Hanson) would care about it in the slightest.

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