Home/Daniel Larison/Fred’s Sense Of History (IV)

Fred’s Sense Of History (IV)

If it weren’t for political disputes over the current war in Iraq, and if Fred Thompson weren’t a presidential candidate, no one would criticize his praise of those Americans who have shed their blood for the liberty of others. ~Robert Stacy McCain

That’s not true.  This has nothing to do with his praise of Americans who have shed their blood “for the liberty of others.”  It is his blatant, repeated insult against all of those allied soldiers who shed their blood and risked their lives in the same causes during the same wars while they fought alongside our soldiers that drives people to criticise him.  People who think that the controversy is over Thompson’s praise of American sacrifice are not paying attention.

Which brings to James Joyner’s question:

Over the last century, though, all of them have had at least some substantial “other people’s liberty” component. Who else can make that claim?

Well, obviously, the British and the Dominions can make that claim over the last two centuries, and well they might, because they have at least as strong (or weak) a claim as we do.  It depends on how many of Britain’s wars you want to credit as being on behalf of “other people’s liberty.”  The Spanish living under Bonpartist occupation might have thought the Peninsular campaign was being fought at least in part for their liberty from foreign domination, and from the German and Austrian perspective the same could be argued for the Napoleonic Wars all together.  If the Spanish War counts for us, the British have to get credit for the South African War.  Never mind that both were wars of aggression against states that had never done the invaders any harm–one of the official lines was that we were fighting for Cuban freedom and the Brits were fighting to help the black and coloured populations of the Boer republics.  Obviously, these are debatable claims, which is why it was a mistake for Thompson to phrase things the way he did. 

If our involvement in WWI must be treated as a war for “other people’s liberty,” when that was always secondary or even tertiary to other concerns, both the British and Russians have to get credit for fighting on behalf of Belgium and Serbia (and don’t forget the “liberation” of the Arabs from Ottoman rule–ha!).  As this list makes clear, such comparisons depend heavily on whether you endorse the official propaganda circulated about the war at the time and afterwards.  In fact, the men fighting in the Pacific weren’t fighting for the freedom of the nations of East Asia, but to retaliate for an attack.  Less gauzy sentimentality and mythology in our collective memory of our foreign wars would probably be more desirable than what we have been getting from Thompson.       

Update: It seems that some of our friends to the north have taken notice of Thompson’s claim and made their objections known.  Mr. Gardner writes in The Ottawa Citizen, making some familiar points:

Now, I don’t want to answer dogma with dogma. Strategic and national interests played major roles in the decisions of all combatants in the First and Second World Wars. They do in every war. It’s a messy world and the motives of nations are seldom simple and pure.

The sort of Americans who cheer for Fred Thompson would agree with that statement — as it applies to other countries. What they cannot seem to accept is that it applies to their country, too. For them, Americans are unique. The United States is unique. And what sets America and Americans apart is purity of heart.

“We are proud of that heritage,” Thompson said in Iowa after citing the mythology of America-the-liberator. “I don’t think we have anything to apologize for.”

Nothing to apologize for. Never did anything wrong in 231 years of history. Nothing.

This is infantile. And dangerous. A superpower that believes it is pure of heart and the light of the world will inevitably rush in where angels fear to tread. And then it will find itself wondering why the foreigners it so selflessly helps hate it so.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

leave a comment

Latest Articles