The Father of Us All is a book by Victor Davis Hanson that is absolutely fantastic. In it, Hanson shows not only his immense knowledge of military history from the classical age to the great wars for civilization in the Middle East, but also his ability to distill complex topics and situations down into ones simple enough for the average layperson, such as this young conservative, to understand.
However, I was a bit reluctant to read The Father of Us All at first. Unlike Hanson’s more famous books, such as The Second World Wars (which is fantastic), it’s not really a traditional book. Instead, its more an anthology of updated articles that he’s written in the past that, when combined, form a semi-continuous narrative about why learning Western history, specifically military history, is important and what it can teach us about the wars we’re in now.
But that’s difficult to tell from just picking it up; I only read it because my grandpa, who gives terrific book recommendations, loaned me a copy and said I should read it.
So, I did. And I wasn’t disappointed. The Father of Us All is a terrific book and one that I highly recommend you read, for the reasons you’ll see in this review of it.
Summary of The Father of Us All
As I stated in the introduction, The Father of Us All doesn’t have a continuous narrative, as most books do. It is coherent and makes sense, but it’s an anthology, not a traditional book.
Despite that, Hanson is able to prove his point, which is that more Americans need to seriously study military history so that they can understand the wars we’re in and learn how to win them.
Too few colleges and universities, in Hanson’s opinion, have professors that study military history and teach it to their students. What courses do exist are popular, as the topic excites the imagination and is at the core of Western culture, but generally, it is shunned by academia. It doesn’t fit the narrative of the leftist professors and administrators that have seized control of most American universities and ruined them.
As a result, the problem isn’t just that we don’t understand our history, but that we don’t even know it. Because of that, Americans don’t understand how to win wars. We won World War II and the Civil War through the use of overwhelming force. Sure, that overwhelming force sometimes resulted in war crimes, such as General Sherman’s war crimes against my home state of Georgia, but it resulted in unambiguous victories.
Hanson states in The Father of Us All that in every war since World War II, the US has tried to limit its use of force to be more “humane.” Read The Frozen Hours, Blackjack-33, or My Share of the Task if you want to learn more about those ridiculous rules of engagement in Korea, Vietnam, and the war on terror.
Because of those rules, we haven’t won any wars other than conventional wars against minor and insignificant states. In Hanson’s view in The Father of Us All, our counterinsurgency campaigns have failed because we won’t examine our military history and see that the use of overwhelming force is necessary to win, whatever the cost in lives it creates.
His case in point is Iraq as contrasted with Germany and Japan. By the end of World War II, as you can read about in Armageddon by Max Hastings, we had absolutely destroyed Germany and Japan. As a result, we faced no insurgencies despite the regime change we engaged in. The populations were too decimated and humiliated to fight, so democracy was able to triumph.
Conversely, as Hanson describes it in The Father of Us All, our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan never destroyed and humiliated those countries. We temporarily defeated the Taliban and Saddam Hussein’s army, sure, but we limited violence against the civilian population. The same thing happened in Vietnam, as you can read about in Stalking the Vietcong.
Because of that, the war was never really brought home to potential insurgents. They never learned that the cost of allowing an insurgency to fester, so we couldn’t gain any ground and have been stuck in stagnant, unwinnable wars.
Hanson’s view in The Father of Us All is that we need to read and understand military history from the Classical Age onward to relearn how to win wars. America’s military needs to relearn how and when to fight so that America can win wars again.
My Analysis of The Father of Us All
I completely agree with Hanson’s points in The Father of Us All. America needs to start fighting wars like actual wars, not police actions.
We used to be able to defeat guerrillas and nation-build. The Philippines are a good example; we faced Muslim insurgents there for 14 years towards the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century and were able to win. How? By looking at history and seeing how to win that sort of war. US troops under the command of Blackjack Pershing took the war home to the insurgents and their supporters. They shot prisoners with pork-soaked bullets (as a psychological weapon against their Muslim enemies), and utterly destroyed the morale of those enemies.
In so doing, they followed the examples set by past generals from the Romans to the British that used their utter disdain for local culture to break the spirit of their enemies. A more modern example is General MacArthur (whose Reminiscences was another book recommendation from my grandfather), who stood in a photo with the Japanese emperor to show his superiority. That helped prove to the Japanese that we were the dominant power. The result was that we faced no Japanese insurgency.
All of that is my long way of saying that Hanson is absolutely correct in The Father of Us All. Americans, especially our military leaders, need to relearn how to fight and win by studying military history.
The Father of Us All is a fabulous book. Hanson is a genius, his writing is excellent, and the subject matter is interesting and varied. What more could you want from a military history book?
By: Gen Z Conservative