Lincoln And Bush’s War Leadership By Betsy Newmark

It seems that opinions against the war in Iraq have to permeate everywhere. Here is Jonathan Yardley reviewing a compilation of essays, This Mighty Scourge, by renowned historian James McPherson on the Civil War and he can’t resist a little dig at the present administration.

He shows how the “Brahmin elite” of Boston provided invaluable leadership for the Union forces, acting with “an ethic of sacrifice, the noblesse-oblige conviction that the privileged classes had a greater obligation to defend the country precisely because of the privileged status they enjoyed.” Tell that to today’s privileged ones who evade military service and then, in high office, send the less privileged to die in a foolish, unnecessary, mismanaged war.

Indeed, much in these pages can be read as a rebuke and a corrective to contemporary American leadership — regardless of political party. Unlike some of his colleagues, McPherson doesn’t use history to preach political sermons, but what he has to say about Lincoln, Grant, Sherman and others leaves no doubt as to how impoverished the country’s leadership has become.

What a twofer! Yardley can bring in the chickenhawk argument and then praise McPherson for not preaching the same sort of sermon that Yardley can resist indulging in. As if Lincoln and his cabinet had great military experience.

And I can easily picture how today’s media would have covered Lincoln’s leadership during the Civil War. Think of the blunders he made in his choices of generals! I doubt if they would have been praising the man who chose Ambrose Burnside or John Pope to command the Army of the Potomac. Or chose McClellan twice. Or Hooker. And then kept with General Grant after the death tolls of the Overland campaign. Sure, it’s easy to praise their leadership now when we know the outcome of the war. But at the time, Lincoln’s war leadership was not so admired by much of the nation’s press. There were many in his own party who wanted to dump him off the ticket in the 1864 election. And think how we alienated our allies during this war. We almost came to blows with Britain over the Trent affair in the first year of the war and Lincoln had to constantly worry about Britain and France deciding to aid the Confederacy.

And yes, we know now that Sherman and Grant were successful. But they were also the men who were surprised at Shiloh. How many men died there because of their failure to guard against a Confederate attack? And how many men needlessly died in assaults at entrenched enemies in the battles of Kennesaw Mountain and Cold Harbor? Many more than have died in Iraq. I’m not criticizing these men. They are men I also admire. However, it is fatuous to pretend that today’s media would have cut them any slack for the errors that they made in the Civil War. The Yardleys of the 1860s would have been the first calling for Lincoln to step down for all the mistakes made then. Would Jonathan Yardley have been praising Lincoln, Grant, and Sherman for their perseverance in the face of mounting casualites? I doubt it.

Yardley would do much better to stick to book reviewing and not insert his own political views. It is unfair to the book he’s reviewing (which sounds quite worth reading since James McPherson always has well-written and thoughtful things to say about the War) and simply strikes an irritatingly jarring note in his review.

Today is the anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s birth. We can honor his contributions to our country without using him as a bat to hit the present administration over the head. Using Lincoln as a political weapon demeans his own greatness.

This content was used with the permission of Betsy’s Page.

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