Someone else noticed Fred Thompson’s bit of stupidity that I criticised here.  It is apparently also a regular part of his stump routine.  The Post writer notes:

Even if the Soviet Union is not included in the calculation, U.S. military casualties in all wars combined remain lower than those of the British Commonwealth (”a combination of nations,” in Thompson’s phrase) in World War I and World War II. According to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, the British Commonwealth lost 1.7 million troops in the two world wars.

Even excluding WWI, which was a fight for the “rights of small nations” only in the delusional mind of Woodrow Wilson and his admirers, Thompson’s claim is false and obviously so.  Of course, in my original post, I didn’t talk about the Soviets, because the idea that the Soviets were fighting for “other people’s liberty” was ludicrous and obviously so.  The Post does itself no favours by even mentioning this, since it has a perfectly solid argument against Thompson’s claim by looking at the sacrifices made by all our free allies in WWII.  There might be another occasion for acknowledging the enormous losses suffered by the USSR in WWII, but this was not it.

Thompson’s claim wasn’t exactly “jingoistic,” though it might be employed in service of future jingoism, but it was certainly nationalist and was rather chauvinistic at that.  It is a declaration of vast American moral superiority over all other nations put together.  These are the words of someone who would be President?  He would be the one to represent our country to the world?  The President, whose words carry tremendous influence for good or ill, cannot long afford to be so reckless and sloppy in his language as this. 

Thompson’s statement was an insistence that Americans have sacrificed more than all other nations combined for the sake of liberty.  It was plainly inaccurate, which is bad enough, but the significance of the remark is much worse.  I say again that this is an example of appalling arrogance and a show of enormous disrespect to all those soldiers of free nations that fought alongside our soldiers.  We expect, no, we normally demand that western Europeans remember the sacrifices made by Americans on their behalf.  They should remember and respect our war dead, just as we should remember and respect theirs.  We were allies, fighting on the same side towards the same end.  

Republican politicians were not always so oblivious to the rest of the world.  We once had a President who proudly acknowledged the contributions of U.S. allies in Normandy:

Do you remember the story of Bill Millin of the 51st Highlanders? Forty years ago today, British troops were pinned down near a bridge, waiting desperately for help. Suddenly, they heard the sound of bagpipes, and some thought they were dreaming. Well, they weren’t. They looked up and saw Bill Millin with his bagpipes, leading the reinforcements and ignoring the smack of the bullets into the ground around him. Lord Lovat was with him — Lord Lovat of Scotland, who calmly announced when he got to the bridge, “Sorry I’m a few minutes late,” as if he’d been delayed by a traffic jam, when in truth he’d just come from the bloody fighting on Sword Beach, which he and his men had just taken. There was the impossible valor of the Poles who threw themselves between the enemy and the rest of Europe as the invasion took hold, and the unsurpassed courage of the Canadians who had already seen the horrors of war on this coast. They knew what awaited them there, but they would not be deterred. And once they hit Juno Beach, they never looked back.

All of these men were part of a roll call of honor with names that spoke of a pride as bright as the colors they bore: the Royal Winnipeg Rifles, Poland’s 24th Lancers, the Royal Scots Fusiliers, the Screaming Eagles, the Yeomen of England’s armored divisions, the forces of Free France, the Coast Guard’s “Matchbox Fleet” and you, the American Rangers. 

“The impossible valor of the Poles” has no place in Fred Thompson’s view of what happened in WWII, nor do the forces of free France or the Royal Winnipeg Rifles.  Apparently, he thinks it’s all about us, or at least it is so much more about our role that everyone else just pales in comparison.  In his view, we must have done all the heavy lifting and all the real work.  The hundreds of thousands of Allied dead?  Fred Thompson doesn’t remember them, doesn’t even seem to know that they exist.  With his embarrassing statement, which he keeps reiterating, Fred Thompson is reminding us why he is not like that President and why he is not fit to be our next President. 

Taking pride in the achievements of our country is admirable and good, and we should be enormously grateful to those who served and those who lost their lives in America’s foreign wars.  Maybe that was Thompson’s original intention in saying what he did, but even the best of intentions do not excuse such historical ignorance and disrespect to some of our oldest, most reliable allies.  Patriots do not need to boast of the greatness of their country or the extent of the sacrifices made by their people.  They do not need to tally up casualties to prove their country’s value, nor do they need to constantly talk about how superior the country is.  Indeed, they can bring disrepute to their country by insisting on its superiority.  As we are reminded (a little too often) in other contexts, Americans have no monopoly on the love of liberty, nor have we outdone all other nations combined in the sacrifices made in its defense.  A patriot loves and admires his country and its people because they are his own and because they possess virtues peculiar to them–not because they are The Best Ever or The Most Heroic Ever.  Such an attitude seems to premise patriotism on the greatness of a people’s achievements, when patriotism should inspire the native of the tiniest, least powerful land in the world. 

It should be enough to say that our armies truly have fought and sacrificed for the sake of the freedom of other peoples.  That is true, that is admirable and that is something that should never be forgotten.  Neither should it be distorted or exaggerated into something that it is not–this is actually to fail to respect the actual achievements of our soldiers and to invent other achievements to take their place.  The reality of American sacrifice in WWII, for example, is sufficient to merit great honour and respect, and it does not need this exaggeration.  Chauvinists exaggerate the reality because they cannot tolerate other nations sharing in the praise and the glory of the achievement–they want it all for their own country.  Chauvinism of this kind is a disorder of the appetitive part of the soul.  It is an excess of pride. 

What can Thompson’s remarks be but a slight (unwitting and ignorant as it may be) to all those British, Commonwealth and free European soldiers who were there together with ours in France, Italy, the Low Countries and Germany?  How would Thompson’s defenders react if a foreign politician said something that excluded and ignored the sacrifices of Americans?  They’d scream bloody murder, that’s what they’d do, and they would have a point.  Well, it works both ways.  Some people have forgotten how to show respect to American allies over the last few years, and in the process they have forgotten that Americans will soon receive no respect if they do not show it towards other nations as well.   

Update: Alex Massie makes other good points related to WWII and modern American obliviousness about Allied contributions in his post on Gelernter.