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Tony Grist

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Heroes And Villains [Feb. 28th, 2011|11:07 am]
Tony Grist
I was watching a documentary about Abe Lincoln last night. It was examining the legend and asking whether he was really such a visionary and saint as the legend makes him out to be- and the answer was, "No, of course not, but..."  He was a man of his time- and not any kind of advanced thinker. He had some pretty scummy ideas and did some pretty bad things.  What made him special was his capacity to respond to events and learn from them and change his views and policies accordingly. For instance, for most of his life he was a white supremacist; he thought slavery was wrong, but for reasons that didn't include a belief in racial equality. He had a plan to ship emancipated slaves to colonies overseas, but the staunchness of black soldiers in the Union cause made him row back on that one and by the end of his life he was thinking that maybe it was a good idea to treat black people as citizens after all.

It's interesting how we need our heroes to be consistently noble and virtuous. The British equivalent of Abe is Winston Churchill. Both men were consummate politicians- which means that much of the time they behaved like sonsabitches- but we sweep all the dirt under the carpet and remember them for the one or two things they did really well- and get huffy when people draw attention to their flaws. It works the other way too. When we've typed a person as one of the villains of history we really don't want to hear excuses for them. Neville Chamberlain, for instance. We are so certain- by reason of hindsight- that appeasement was a bad thing that all we want to know about him is that he was weak, weak, weak. The fact that his policy had the support of millions- including the sainted- and Oscar-winning- George VI-  is unwelcome in our drawing rooms and had best not come calling.

Our need for our heroes to be unflawed and our villains double-dyed goes very deep. We cling to it even though our best writers- beginning with Homer and Aeschylus- have been telling us to get over it for thousands of years. 
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Comments:
[User Picture]From: ron_broxted
2011-02-28 11:52 am (UTC)
Lincoln's main thing was the Union, slavery is added in to make him seem Gandhiesque. He hated Native Americans (Lincoln, not Gandhi). Churchill? Remembered in my household for Gallipoli and a less than enlightened attitude to striking miners.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2011-02-28 12:39 pm (UTC)
Well exactly. Churchill was an adventurer and a bit of a shit. He happened to be the right man for the job in 1940. Both he and Lincoln were racists and (arguably) war criminals.
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[User Picture]From: ron_broxted
2011-02-28 01:21 pm (UTC)
I can see why the British (English) like Winnie, if he had not been here in 1940 history may have taken a turn for the wurst.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2011-02-28 03:09 pm (UTC)
LOL.

There doesn't seem to have been anyone else around who could have roused the nation the way he did.
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[User Picture]From: sovay
2011-02-28 11:43 pm (UTC)
He had a plan to ship emancipated slaves to colonies overseas, but the staunchness of black soldiers in the Union cause made him row back on that one and by the end of his life he was thinking that maybe it was a good idea to treat black people as citizens after all.

See, I think that sort of thing is fascinating. I love John Adams: I'd still punch him for the Alien and Sedition Acts.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2011-03-01 11:07 am (UTC)
The true story is- as always- more complicated and interesting than the legend.
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[User Picture]From: michaleen
2011-03-01 12:07 pm (UTC)
Lincoln is not universally recognized as an American hero, by any means. My opinion of the man is based on a simple observation: 600,000 dead and half the country left in smoldering ruins, the lasting effects of which we still suffer today. Were there a Hell, Lincoln would be there, no doubt.

The war between the States ended in the triumph of the New England plutocracy over the last, degenerate vestiges of an American aristocracy. Lincoln is just a figurehead tending to make that contest and triumph seem more noble and articulate than it was.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2011-03-05 11:20 am (UTC)
The TV programme offered- as some sort of excuse- that no-one anticipated just how murderous the Civil War would turn out to be.
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[User Picture]From: raakone
2011-03-07 02:15 pm (UTC)
Reminds me of something I read sometime ago....one of those online "jokes" that makes you think....

It is time to elect a world leader, and your vote counts. Here's the scoop on the three leading candidates.

Candidate A associates with ward heelers and consults with astrologists. He's had two mistresses. He chain smokes and drinks 8 to 10 martinis a day.

Candidate B was kicked out of office twice, sleeps until noon, used opium in college and drinks a quart of brandy every evening.

Candidate C is a decorated war hero. He's a vegetarian, doesn't smoke, drinks an occasional beer and hasn't had any illicit affairs.

Which of these candidates is your choice??

well...

The first candidate was Franklin D. Roosevelt. The second....Sir Winston Churchill. And the third one....Adolf Hitler.

Also, the Sir John A. MacDonald, best known as the first Prime Minister of Canada, a "father of confederation", and all that....he also had affairs, and got drunk...in fact he once addressed parliament....not with a speech...but with a loud belch (thankfully, microphones weren't yet invented).
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2011-03-07 10:01 pm (UTC)
Hitler was also very fond of dogs...

Has there ever been a great political leader who was also a conventionally "good" man.
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