Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Bad analogies with Victor Davis Hanson

Roy Edroso of alicublog has mentioned  in a tweet that Victor Davis Hanson has written a blog entry at and it is very special.  In it he tells of the Civil War general William Tecumseh Sherman and his march to the sea.  As a recap, during the civil war, General Sherman destroyed a whole bunch of southern plantations, freed a whole bunch of slaves, wrecked every railroad track and telegraph line he could find and not least, burned Atlanta to the ground.  By doing this, General Sherman crippled the financial ability of the Confederacy to make war, and demonstrated that the majority of the Confederacy had been stripped of defenses in order to equip their troops in the field.

Dr Hanson then claims that this very same tactic is being employed by the IDF in their current military operations in Gaza.  This is what many armchair military historians like myself would refer to charitably as a bad analogy and more pithily as utter horseshit.  If we summarize General Sherman's march to the sea into it's defining elements, we have a large conventional army conducting anti infrastructure campaign deep behind enemy lines with the intent of causing financial hardship to the enemy thereby reducing it's capacity to wage a conventional war.

Setting aside value judgments regarding the ongoing violence in Gaza, it is clear that none of those elements apply.  If the IDF wanted to recreate Sherman's march to the sea, it would require the IDF to be conducting its operations completely on enemy soil, primarily in an anti infrastructure role, taking pains to minimize civilian casualties far away from the nonexistent conventional army of Gaza which if analogy were to work, must be marching in strength towards Tel Aviv.  Given that 50% of Hamas's funding comes from Saudi Arabia, and much of the rest comes from Iran and Egypt, there are a wealth of enemy lines to march behind.  (my source is As I mentioned, I am an amateur historian)

Which is not to say that a case can't be made for the IDF to try and stop rocket attacks. Convincing arguments in favor of military force can and has been made with varying degrees of success by allies of Israel around the world. However, when trying to make an argument by analogy, pick one that works.  Unfortunately all of the close analogies for what the IDF is doing in Gaza tend to show the IDF in an unflattering light. Sieges are not pretty.  And when a population is surrounded, cut off from food, water and power and continually bombarded, siege is the word that applies.


  1. Look one group of people was fighting another group of people and that's good enough for VDH.

    1. I wonder if his thesis has the same level of commitment to historical accuracy? Because if history departments accept that level of 'scholarship' I've got some fanfic to write that will get me some bitchin' letters behind my name too.