Victor Davis Hanson

Third, there is a “not me” theme in many of the tell-alls. Officials who used to praise each other in televised press conferences and assure Americans that things were going well apparently now turn out to have not liked each other.

Sanchez argues that he was not to blame for Abu Ghraib, but rather Pentagon higher-ups. George Tenet swears that he was not the only one who fouled up the prewar intelligence. Tommy Franks concentrates on his successful war, not someone else’s plagued occupation -- since he retired right after the three-week victory. Richard Clark argues he couldn’t stop 9/11 because of others’ mistakes. Likewise Michael Scheuer’s special group failed in its mission to catch bin Laden due to the blunders of rival agencies.

Is any of this finger-pointing new? Hardly.

The battle of Shiloh (April 1862) was re-fought for nearly a half-century, and we still don’t know whether Grant was drinking before the battle, or why Gen. Lew Wallace took the wrong road and came late to the battle with reinforcements. You can read various versions of who was to blame in the memoirs of Gens. Grant, Sherman and Wallace.

After World War II, British Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery and American Gens. Dwight D Eisenhower, Omar Bradley and George Patton (posthumously) all bickered in print over the strategy after D-Day, the disastrous Arnhem campaign and the complete surprise at the Battle of the Bulge -- issues still not resolved over 60 years later.

Was Vietnam a necessary war, always a hopeless fiasco or a squandered victory? You can read all those versions and more in the books of Sec. Henry Kissinger, Sec. Robert McNamara, Lt. (now Sen.) Jim Webb and Gen. William Westmoreland.

The only difference with the Iraq war is that in the modern age of instantaneous global communications, those involved right in the middle of it, at least on the American side, scramble to get their “true” story out first -- and get even -- well before the war is won or lost. In such an ongoing conflict, these memoirs are often out-of-date even before they hit the bookstores.

Victor Davis Hanson

Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and a recipient of the 2007 National Humanities Medal.