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Victor Davis Hanson on the Kerry gaffe and the Penn University pictures.

Friday, November 3, 2006
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HH: Joined now by Victor Davis Hanson, one of the country’s preeminent military historians, as well as classicists. Professor Hanson, always a pleasure. Thank you for being there.

VDH: Thank you for having me, Hugh.

HH: I want to talk about Kerry, but before we do, during the last segment, when I was replaying Mark Steyn from the first hour, I was sent an e-mail, and I went to the Democracy Project. I’ve linked this at Hughhewitt.com. And there are pictures posted there of a Halloween party at the University of Pennsylvania on Tuesday night at the President’s house, at which a student showed up dressed as a suicide bomber with a Kalashnikov. And the pictures are just very disturbing. And the President of the University of Pennsylvania appears alongside a suicide bomber and is laughing. Your comments, Victor Davis Hanson?

VDH: Well, I saw that, and again, I think it’s emblematic of this endemic problem on the left, that they don’t really see that we’re in a war, they don’t really see that there’s a moral difference between suicide bombers and people who try to deliberately kill people, and people in the war who have collatoral damage by accident, when they try to target terrorists. So I mean, it’s a problem we’re having, these Fraudian slips. John Kerry didn’t mean to slur soldiers, but he has a problem. And when he makes a mistake, and he makes a gaffe, that’s the type of things that comes out. It reveals a deep-seated distrust, just like Kennedy, just like Jay Rockefeller, just like Senator Durbin, just like all of these people when they have these outbursts, and they lapse into sort of a stream of consciousness. What you expect to come from them is a 1960’s deep distrust of the United States socio-economic and military system. And then they do silly things, such as President Gutmann, who was provost at Princeton University, allowing a picture of her with a suicide bomber. They just don’t have the same antenna that most of us do.

HH: Well, it’s beyond not having an antenna. It’s lacking any moral sensibility. I’m sure that there were Jewish-American students at Penn deeply offended by this. But I mean, Iraqis died today from a suicide bomber.

VDH: I know it.

HH: They died in Jordan. They died in London.

VDH: I know it.

HH: It’s…

VDH: But Hugh, Mohammed Katami just got an honorary degree from the University of Edinburgh. This is a man who may have been in on the planning of the blowing up in 1994 of Jews in Argentina, and may be a target of investigation by the Argentine goverment. So there’s something…and he spoke at the Council of Foreign Relations. There’s something wrong in America, and in the West in general, that we just don’t have the ability to identify evil from good. And there’s a large number of people whose worldview, I think, was formed in the 1960’s during the Vietnam War, a period of affluence and leisure, and they’ve completely forgotten the lessons of their parents that went through the Depression, World War II. And we’re going to be…this generation, I don’t want to us an obscene or a gruff metaphor, but they’re sort of like a rat and a snake, and they’re slowly going through the American process, and they’re not aging well. So when we have these outbursts by Al Gore, or these outbursts by Dick Durbin, or…all of these things are connected. And I think it’s a frustration that most American people have rejected that worldview. And they get more and more hysterical, and they look for scandal. And then when they’re natural, and they’re thinking out loud, we start to get a window into their soul. And it’s pretty bleak what we see.

HH: Has this, Professor Hanson, happened before, where an imperial power…we’re not an imperium, but we have that kind of power. When the world’s only or greatest power self-destructs from within?

VDH: Absolutely. Absolutely. You can read the speeches of Demosthenes in 350 BC. You can read Petronius’ Satyricon. It was talking about a bankrupted lead at Rome who made fun of the legionnaires who were guarding the Rhine and the Danube, so they could have these lavish feasts back in Rome. You can look at the illness that was in the British aristocratic society in the 1920’s and ’30’s, that made fun of people like Churchill. And this is what we, in America, collectively, have to guard against, that we don’t allow these people, these affluent elites, who are cynical, skeptical, nihilistic, and we can’t let them adjudicate what America is about. And because we all know that the people overseas that we’re fighting, the terrorists, the Islamicists, the Islamic-facist movements, they find resonance with these people. These people don’t mean to deliberately help them, but their attacks dovetail at a time of war with the people that we’re fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan and elsewhere.

HH: And what does the enemy think, both of John Kerry and this week’s brouhaha, and also about these University of Pennsylvania pictures?

VDH: They think that we are a wealthy, affluent, leisured society that doesn’t have a moral sense, that are corrupt, that are godless, and that they are zealots. They believe in a hereafter. They have a more pure view of human experience, and that we hide behind our technology and our sophisticated weapons, and we’re not able to get down and dirty with them and fight for what we believe in. They believe that we don’t know who we are, if we’re better than the alternative. And they think in the long war that this is becoming, they’re going to outlast us. So when they see a John Kerry say these things, or they see a Dick Durbin, or they see a picture like this, they say a-ha. You see? We’re winning on the battlefield, because these people do not want to support this long war. They don’t believe in it.

HH: Victor Davis Hanson, the American military, obviously, was slandered this week. And they live by a different code than most civilians do, and it’s a code deep in honor. And they’re outraged, and I see their e-mails, and I’m sure you’ve gotten them as well and read them. And the American media is indifferent to it. They won’t report what they think. They didn’t even carry that amazing picture that you wrote about at Nationalreview.com yesterday. It played in two out of 520 newspapers surveyed. I’ve linked it at Hughhewitt.com. Can you support and purport to admire a military when you won’t listen to it, and are indifferent to what it thinks?

VDH: No. Absolutely not. And we have a crisis with our youth today, but they’re not the youth in the military. They’re the youth in the college campuses, and the professors that teach them, not the officers who teach our young enlisted men. If you go out on a carrier today, and I have, and you see 19 year olds, they eat together with all different races and religions, they’re entrusted with $70 million dollar airplanes. You go to a college campus in the free speech area, you see segregation you haven’t seen since the 1950’s, and you see people who are listless, they don’t know what they do, they absorb these rants and rages from the professor’s class that is immune from scrutiny because of tenure in a way that officers are not. The problem we’re having, really, is the university, and what emanates from it. But the military is one of the last bastions of Americanism that goes right to the founding fathers. It’s the thing that keeps us going. It’s the fountainhead for our values.

HH: Well now, given all that this has happened, do you think it has an impact? Does it sober people up or electrify them? I actually think these pictures are so shocking that it might, it just may shake some cobwebs again that did not have them shook off by Kerry.

VDH: Absolutely. You know that, Hugh. We’re in one of the greatest revolutions in communications in the history of civilization. And we have a dying institution, public radio, public TV, the three major networks, the New York Times. And they are fighting a rear guard action to make sure the American people don’t get this information instantaneously. Talk radio, cable news, the internet, they’re sort of a prairie crier mechanism to allow Americans to see what’s really going on. And this is why you get this hysteria from this old, aristocratic, high-brow media that’s losing control, and losing and audience, and they’re trying to protect this worldview of the Democratic left.

HH: Well, I hope we break through with this story as we did with Kerry. Victor Davis Hanson, appreciate all your writings at Nationalreview.com, and at www.victorhanson.com.

End of interview.

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