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September 27, 2004

Infamy

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"You may find those who will go faster than I, Mr. President; but it is very doubtful if you will find many who will go further."
- General George B. McClellan

This would not be the last time General McClellan would disagree with America's greatest president. His losing bid for the presidency in the war election of 1864 would see much more impassioned rhetoric. McClellan described the war as a "failure" and favoured a negotiated settlement of the conflict. He disliked slavery, you understand, he just opposed "forcible abolition as an object of the war or a necessary condition of peace and reunion." Would I question his patriotism? Would I question his resolve? Would I question his character? Would I question his fitness for the presidency? More important, would the millions he condemned to toil in slavery? Would the enslaved children of those enslaved? Their children's children? McClellan cared about slavery. But not enough to fight it.

Ralph Peters launches an impassioned broadside in the context of another war election.

Imagine if, in the presidential election of 1944, the candidate opposing FDR had insisted that we were losing the Second World War and that, if elected, he would begin to withdraw American troops from Europe and the Pacific.

We would have called it treason. And we would have been right.

The example of General George McClellan shows imflammatory rhetoric is not without precedent in time of war and peril perhaps surpassing even that which faced President Roosevelt. But we do not need to imagine an alternate universe where an ungracious Governor Thomas Dewey faced Roosevelt in 1944. Let us imagine instead another counterfactual world.

Imagine if, in the gruelling four month battle to take Monte Cassino, every casualty was broadcast. By Nazi German film crews. Behind the Allied line. For the American market.

Imagine film reels of every grieving mother of every lost man asked what she thought of Roosevelt's war. If ersatz documentarians mocked the President for taking the war to Germany and not to Japan. If conspiracy theorists in university lecture halls insisted Roosevelt knew in advance of the attack on Pearl Harbor. If the whole war were blamed on a "cabal" of influential Jews. If everything from Roosevelt family commercial interests to oil in the Caucasus was cited as the real reason for the war. There is, of course, no need to imagine people who would make such claims: they were Nazis and their apologists. Only in those days Nazi press credentials were not lauded in leftist documentaries lecturing us on the perfidy of capitalism and the romantic nationalist cause of Adolph Hitler, "spiritual leader" of the German people. His maniacal aims excused as the result of Versailles. The mass graves of his numberless victims overlooked by preference to finger-pointing at President Roosevelt's college drinking.

Now imagine if, having defeated Hitler, we were subject to knowing assertions that while Hitler was bad, deserving of a special place in hell in fact, that his dictatorship was no threat to America and preferable to the chaos of post-war Europe. If Nazi holdouts and a strengthened Soviet hand and unfinished business with Japan all made front page news with the word "quagmire" in the headline. If weedling, weak-kneed excuse were offered of voting for the Marshall Plan before voting against it.

1864. 1944. Welcome to the bizarro world of 2004. In this thing Karl Marx was right: History repeats itself, first as tragedy and then as farce.

Since the crisp September morning of America's second Antietam some who hold true to the strength of the West have remembered the shame of Chamberlain. Let us not forget the shame of McClellan, another name that lives in infamy.

Posted by Ghost of a flea at September 27, 2004 08:37 AM

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Welcome to the bizarro world from Abraca-Pocus!
The Flea spells it out. Imagine film reels of every grieving mother of every lost man asked what she thought of Roosevelt's war. If ersatz documentarians mocked the President for taking the war to Germany and not to Japan. If... [Read More]

Tracked on September 27, 2004 12:12 PM

Food for thought. from Welcome to Castle Argghhh! The Home Of Two Of Jonah's Military Guys.
George McClellan, 1864. John Kerry, 2004. Now imagine if, having defeated Hitler, we were subject to knowing assertions that while Hitler was bad, deserving of a special place in hell in fact, that his dictatorship was no threat to America... [Read More]

Tracked on September 27, 2004 12:31 PM

I'm a blog pimp, and your links are my whores! from mypetjawa v. 2.0 (beta)
No time for the morning breakfast roundup today. My students were pissed! Note to students: it might help if you, er, actually read the textbook. So what is up in the blogosphere? -Bill at INDC on Iraqi WMD. Also, Mary... [Read More]

Tracked on September 27, 2004 02:39 PM

2004 is 1864 from Solomonia
An essay worth your time at Ghost of a Flea: ...Imagine film reels of every grieving mother of every lost man asked what she thought of Roosevelt's war. If ersatz documentarians mocked the President for taking the war to Germany... [Read More]

Tracked on September 27, 2004 04:03 PM

Blogging update... from Stygius
His analogy between Union Gen. McClellan, WWII politics and the morass of anti-Americanism as a moral position offers food for thought, and maybe some points worth arguing with. [Read More]

Tracked on September 29, 2004 04:29 PM

Comments

Nick, you mean the Marshall Plan, don't you?

Posted by: Damian at September 27, 2004 10:36 AM

A Freudian slip: when you say one thing and you mean your mother!

Thanks for spotting that... there is no substitute for an editor.

Posted by: Flea at September 27, 2004 10:39 AM

Bravo. 'Nuff said.

Posted by: MLM at September 27, 2004 11:06 AM

Over the weekend, I heard a discussion of a criticism of Wilson during the USA's part of the First World War. The criticism was by a former president (T. Roosevelt?) and incldued a statement on the need to criticize the president during war. I cannot find the quotation so am of less use than I would like to be but it would serve as an interesting counter-point.

Posted by: Alan at September 27, 2004 02:55 PM

The quote to which you refer is to the effect that * not * offering criticism is also a problem. Well, of course and such is democracy. But this does not imply that such criticism cannot itself be called into question. So much of Senator Kerry's campaign relies on saying whatever he likes about his Vietnam record and that none may gainsay it, anything he likes about Iraq and none may hold him to any of dozens of positions and anything he likes about the service of President Bush no matter if he must rely on proxies in the press to present forgeries to make his case.

My argument is with cowardice, equivocation and moral turpitude not the right of people to hold stupid opinions. In fact, the more such opinions are expressed the more likely they are to be refused just as were those of Chamberlain and McClellan. That last is for me not only an observation of history but an article of faith.

Posted by: Flea at September 27, 2004 03:46 PM

Excellent stuff.

Posted by: Solomon at September 27, 2004 03:49 PM

Quite so. The give and take in criticism exposes both sides to challenge and hones the idea and the policy through testing.

Posted by: Alan at September 27, 2004 04:32 PM

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