|By Tony Russell|
The White House, October, 1863 -
"Well, Charles, that about wraps it up. Mrs. Lincoln will be expecting
me shortly. Is there anything else that needs attention before I leave
for the day?
"Just this invitation, sir. It's from the committee in charge of
opening the new cemetery at Gettysburg next month. They'd like for you
to deliver a speech at its dedication, if you're available."
"Of course I'm available. Almost four thousand of our Union soldiers
died there, and the least I can do is acknowledge their sacrifice with
my presence and a few words."
"Sir, begging your pardon, but are you sure that's wise?"
"What do you mean, Charles?"
"Permit me to speak bluntly, sir. During wartime, a President cannot
take on the role of Mourner in Chief. It would be a strategic error to
amplify and broadcast the pain of those losses by making a great public
show of sorrow, presided over by the President himself."
"Charles, these men were our sons and brothers. They died for
something larger than themselves, and I, as President, represent that
Union of souls for which they sacrificed their lives. Turning my back
on them would be a shameful act."
"Sir, these rebels have only one way of winning: by making our
casualties so painful that we decide to give up. They know that our
weakness is a profound concern for the individual. Despite what you
feel in your heart, you, as Commander in Chief, must not permit yourself
to show that you bleed. You are required to show, yes, a certain
"I would have thought it an occasion to show a certain compassion."
"If you do, sir, it will only encourage them to think their strategy is
succeeding, and give them yet more incentive to keep killing our
soldiers until it does."
"Do you really think that will be the effect, Charles?"
"Yes, sir, I do. You care. Of course you care. But a steely
callousness is what is called for here. That is what great Presidencies
are made of."
"So you think it best to decline the invitation?"
"I do, Mr. President. The world would little note nor long remember
what you might say there, but it would never forget your resolve to
prosecute this war while ignoring the suffering it entails."
"Very well, then, Charles. Please write them that, because of prior
commitments, I regret that I will be unable to attend. Suggest that
they contact Secretary Stanton, to see if he can speak in my stead."
"Yes sir. Shall I send it to their Washington office?"
"No, send it to their Gettysburg address."
Note: A number of sentences and phrases above are taken from Charles
Krauthammer's apologia "Why Bush Stays Away," in the December 8 issue of