Admiral Byng and President Bush

Admiral John Byng was court martialed and shot in 1757 for failing to relieve the British garrison at Minorca. Although both the French  and the British  agreed that he had behaved skillfully and without cowardice, he was executed for 'not having done his utmost'. It is generally agreed that his execution was largely a cover—up for his blundering superiors.

Lewis Carroll may have had Byng's judges in mind when he created the Queen of Hearts, who responded to any hitch in her orders with 'off with his head!'  And to this day, whenever anything happens not quite according to plan, the politicians and newspapers roll out their guillotines and scream for someone's head.

Of course, whose head is largely a matter of political persuasion. The Democrats, and their journalist lackeys, blame everything on President Bush. Some have even tried, by fanciful linkages of hurricanes to global warming, to blame Bush for Katrina's existence. (I'm amazed at their restraint in not blaming Bush for the tsunami in Asia.)  In contrast, the least biased of all the finger pointing, has been that of Charles Krauthammer, who distributed the blame impartially, albeit a bit prematurely.

Krauthammer put the primary blame on God, for Katrina and all natural disasters. This is not as audacious as it may seem. It is the continuation of a long standing complaint about human suffering, a complaint that some of us believe was emphatically resolved when God explained his side of the matter (Matthew 13:24—30) and then filed a nolo contendere, took the rap, and submitted to execution. But demanding that God take the blame for Katrina and resign is not an option; for one thing, we have no competent replacement available.

Krauthammer next assigned the blame on Ray Nagin, the mayor of New Orleans, and on Kathleen Blanco, the governor of Louisiana. I must admit he made a pretty good case of for their specific and critical derelictions. And in the former case, he is weirdly corroborated by Mr. Nagin himself, who has a singular talent for putting his worst foot forward, shooting himself in that foot, and then putting it in his mouth. But these are local officials, who are beyond the reach of federal authority and who, because of sheer regional loyalty, may be unlikely to be impeached by their own electorates.

Going down the list, in order of descending guilt, Krauthammer then blamed Mike Brown, the Head of FEMA. But here he changed his tone and (as he also did with Bush) cited, instead of tangible failures, errors in deportment or public relations. And here is where I am forced to get off his bus. Admittedly, in this Age of Media, image and appearance are important, but their lack, however regrettable, is not a major dereliction of duty. Nonetheless, presumably in response to media outcry, Bush removed Brown from command. Then the media began attacking Brown's resume and screaming for his resignation. It was then obvious that Mike Brown was going down the path that John Byng once trod.

For all I know, these accusations may be true. There will be time enough later for assessment and assignment of guilt. But there are concepts such as 'due process', 'fair trial', and 'waiting until the facts have been gathered', that seem to have become victims of Katrina. We have slipped a notch below the British Admiralty. At least they gave Byng a trial, even if it was of the Judge Roy Bean kind: 'first we'll give him a fair trial and then we'll hang him.' It has somehow become legal for the media, and the public opinion they manage to create, to try and execute public officials in the manner of Judge Lynch.

And this infection of injustice is seeping into even our non—emergency civil affairs. In times of war or emergency, it may be harsh but necessary to insist on success, on the grounds that failure (as Josh Billings said about poverty) is no crime but might as well be.  But in ordinary human activities, such as politics and law, a certain amount of human error and inconsistency must be tolerated. Therefore, it is most unseemly that, in preparation for the present nominations and approvals of Supreme Court justices, the liberals among us should be frantically combing the files of the nominees for any hint of inconsistancy, political incorrectness, or misplaced commas. By the standards that the liberals want to use for John Roberts, we would have to retroactively impeach all the Supreme Court justices in the last two centuries. Let's play fair, as we definitely did not do with Bork, and refrain from viciously nit—picking at a candidate's record as a pretext for rejecting all candidates that don't embrace our particular social philosophy.

When Voltaire quipped (in Candide) about John Byng's case that it was a British custom to occasionally execute one admiral 'to encourage the others' ('pour encourager les autres'), he meant the opposite, of course. Any bright young man thinking of joining the British Navy in those times would have been inclined to reconsider when he saw what the penalty was, not for failure but for inadequate success. Similarly, I have been told that in recent years, many highly qualified judges and administrators, when sounded out about a federal appointment, have refused on the grounds that they were unwilling to face the brutal gauntlet of confirmation hearings and the harassment of the press. If we use every federal nominee as a political football, we will scare away all able and distinguished candidates and be forced to settle for inept mediocriities—which is pretty much what seems to be happening.

Paul Shlichta is a research scientist.

Admiral John Byng was court martialed and shot in 1757 for failing to relieve the British garrison at Minorca. Although both the French  and the British  agreed that he had behaved skillfully and without cowardice, he was executed for 'not having done his utmost'. It is generally agreed that his execution was largely a cover—up for his blundering superiors.

Lewis Carroll may have had Byng's judges in mind when he created the Queen of Hearts, who responded to any hitch in her orders with 'off with his head!'  And to this day, whenever anything happens not quite according to plan, the politicians and newspapers roll out their guillotines and scream for someone's head.

Of course, whose head is largely a matter of political persuasion. The Democrats, and their journalist lackeys, blame everything on President Bush. Some have even tried, by fanciful linkages of hurricanes to global warming, to blame Bush for Katrina's existence. (I'm amazed at their restraint in not blaming Bush for the tsunami in Asia.)  In contrast, the least biased of all the finger pointing, has been that of Charles Krauthammer, who distributed the blame impartially, albeit a bit prematurely.

Krauthammer put the primary blame on God, for Katrina and all natural disasters. This is not as audacious as it may seem. It is the continuation of a long standing complaint about human suffering, a complaint that some of us believe was emphatically resolved when God explained his side of the matter (Matthew 13:24—30) and then filed a nolo contendere, took the rap, and submitted to execution. But demanding that God take the blame for Katrina and resign is not an option; for one thing, we have no competent replacement available.

Krauthammer next assigned the blame on Ray Nagin, the mayor of New Orleans, and on Kathleen Blanco, the governor of Louisiana. I must admit he made a pretty good case of for their specific and critical derelictions. And in the former case, he is weirdly corroborated by Mr. Nagin himself, who has a singular talent for putting his worst foot forward, shooting himself in that foot, and then putting it in his mouth. But these are local officials, who are beyond the reach of federal authority and who, because of sheer regional loyalty, may be unlikely to be impeached by their own electorates.

Going down the list, in order of descending guilt, Krauthammer then blamed Mike Brown, the Head of FEMA. But here he changed his tone and (as he also did with Bush) cited, instead of tangible failures, errors in deportment or public relations. And here is where I am forced to get off his bus. Admittedly, in this Age of Media, image and appearance are important, but their lack, however regrettable, is not a major dereliction of duty. Nonetheless, presumably in response to media outcry, Bush removed Brown from command. Then the media began attacking Brown's resume and screaming for his resignation. It was then obvious that Mike Brown was going down the path that John Byng once trod.

For all I know, these accusations may be true. There will be time enough later for assessment and assignment of guilt. But there are concepts such as 'due process', 'fair trial', and 'waiting until the facts have been gathered', that seem to have become victims of Katrina. We have slipped a notch below the British Admiralty. At least they gave Byng a trial, even if it was of the Judge Roy Bean kind: 'first we'll give him a fair trial and then we'll hang him.' It has somehow become legal for the media, and the public opinion they manage to create, to try and execute public officials in the manner of Judge Lynch.

And this infection of injustice is seeping into even our non—emergency civil affairs. In times of war or emergency, it may be harsh but necessary to insist on success, on the grounds that failure (as Josh Billings said about poverty) is no crime but might as well be.  But in ordinary human activities, such as politics and law, a certain amount of human error and inconsistency must be tolerated. Therefore, it is most unseemly that, in preparation for the present nominations and approvals of Supreme Court justices, the liberals among us should be frantically combing the files of the nominees for any hint of inconsistancy, political incorrectness, or misplaced commas. By the standards that the liberals want to use for John Roberts, we would have to retroactively impeach all the Supreme Court justices in the last two centuries. Let's play fair, as we definitely did not do with Bork, and refrain from viciously nit—picking at a candidate's record as a pretext for rejecting all candidates that don't embrace our particular social philosophy.

When Voltaire quipped (in Candide) about John Byng's case that it was a British custom to occasionally execute one admiral 'to encourage the others' ('pour encourager les autres'), he meant the opposite, of course. Any bright young man thinking of joining the British Navy in those times would have been inclined to reconsider when he saw what the penalty was, not for failure but for inadequate success. Similarly, I have been told that in recent years, many highly qualified judges and administrators, when sounded out about a federal appointment, have refused on the grounds that they were unwilling to face the brutal gauntlet of confirmation hearings and the harassment of the press. If we use every federal nominee as a political football, we will scare away all able and distinguished candidates and be forced to settle for inept mediocriities—which is pretty much what seems to be happening.

Paul Shlichta is a research scientist.