OF PRINCIPALITIES AND POWERS - "Great Moments in History"

(12/07/2003)

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 callousness."

"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 Time.


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