A Veterans Day Lesson for the GOP

On Veterans Day, it is appropriate to remember things from the past, and learn the lessons offered so that the sad events of history may not be repeated.  This is particularly true now for Republicans in the United States, who seem unwilling to learn from past mistakes.  A vivid place of the past -- offering many lessons for those willing to confront and learn them -- is a small village in Flanders called Ypres. 

Ypres, Belgium, was the scene of horrific bloodletting during the First World War.  A series of battles were fought there -- four to be exact -- between 1914 and 1918.  Our attention should be drawn to the Third Battle of Ypres, known to our Canadian cousins as the Battle of Passchendaele, which occurred in the Summer and Fall of 1917.  The Allies -- Great Britain and her colonies, France, and Belgium -- and Imperial Germany faced each other in this area from parallel trenches which were separated by a few hundred yards of countryside which had been blasted by three years of trench warfare into a nightmarish Dante's Vision of mud, splintered trees, and exploding steel. 

Sir Douglas Haig, the British Commander, initiated the battle to regain ground lost during a German offensive in 1915.  The objective was to take high ground to the south and east of the village, then break through the German lines to move eastward.  Haig was a believer in what has become to be known as attrition warfare -- to wear down the enemy by inflicting greater losses on the enemy than you sustain in combat.  As Haig prepared for his offensive campaign, the Germans recognized that a large-scale attack was imminent and made some strategic withdrawals to well prepared bunkers which offered protection from British artillery barrages and were located a few hundred yards behind the trench line. 

On the morning of 31 July 1917, the main battle opened as Haig sent thousands of troops over the top charging across the shell-torn landscape.  Initially the Allies gained 2000 yards of enemy territory, but as they closed with the prepared German fortifications the offensive bogged down.  Haig's response was to send yet more troops -- attacking in frontal assault manner -- against the German lines.  Day after sodden day, Tommies, Poilus, Canucks, Diggers, and Kiwis fixed bayonets and charged over the top each morning as their sergeant's whistles blew to signal the attack.  Each night, the survivors crawled back to their flooded trenches to bind their wounds, mourn their lost comrades, and prepare for the next dawn and the next attack. 

The Allied soldiers performed heroically, braving the storm to face their enemies.  The Allied High Command, however, performed abysmally.  Erich Ludendorff, the ranking general for the Second Reich in the west, later commented that, "British soldiers were lions led by donkeys."  Historian William Manchester observed that Haig sent wave after wave of brave troops to crash against the German dike, and day after day failed to take the high ground only to learn nothing from the entire futile exercise.  The value of lives squandered and resources lost there is incalculable.  No one in the entire British command structure could develop a winning alternate strategy, nor able to recruit other officers to support that new strategy if one were conceived.  One could say that the setting of the sun on the British Empire began in earnest during the late summer of 1917 in an obscure village in Flanders.

It is this point -- of continuing failed methods when all observable evidence demands a change of strategy -- that I wish to address.  As a physician, I have counseled many patients that to continue the same behavior expecting a different outcome is madness.  Unfortunately, the Republican Party is now in the political wilderness is a result of such a madness. 

I submit that there actually have been a total of six Battles of Ypres -- the Fifth and Sixth battles occurring within the borders of the United States during the elections of 2006 and 2008.  Republican leaders -- for reasons known best by themselves -- persisted in a failed theme of compromise, of reaching across the aisle in moderation to find some common ground with the left.  This strategy of offering "Liberalism Lite" under the moniker of "Compassionate Conservatism" has been a loser from the start.  One would think that after the electoral squeaker of 2000 and the rancor of 2004 that the bright minds on the Republican high command would have tumbled to the concept that an apologetic, watered-down version of ersatz conservatism was not a sound strategy for victory. 

One can trace the origin of this sort of thinking to the 1988 election, where George H.W. Bush proposed that the Republican Party adopt "a kinder, gentler conservatism" which would be more appealing to so-called moderates.  Most know about the result of his re-election bid of 1992 using the same strategy: conservatives were uninspired, moderates were not recruited, and liberals took the day.  Like Haig, then, the Republican leadership have tried and failed, tried again and failed again on a massive scale... and they haven't learned a thing. 

There is a silver lining in last week's catastrophe that has befallen us which was reported in an AP story in this Sunday's newspapers: Mike Mokrzycki and Coralie Carlson in examining the election propose that while there was a large shift in persons voting from Republican to Democrat, exit polls showed that there was no broad ideological realignment behind the shift.  America remains a center-right nation in outlook.  There also is good news about what the local Lions of Conservatism were able to accomplish when the donkey leadership got out of the way.

First is the passage of Proposition 8 in California, which amended the state constitution to define marriage as being between a man and a woman.  This overturned a grabby, unconstitutional finding by the California Supreme Court which established so-called gay marriage by judicial fiat.  Standing on principle, a coalition of conservatives, religious leaders, and ordinary citizens defied the conventional wisdom and placed the proposed amendment on the ballot.  Then, unapologetically, they took on the left, the media elites, and the Hollywood luminaries with clear and convincing arguments that cut through the disinformation and propaganda of the left to gain a majority of votes to pass the amendment.  The lions roared like lions...and won the day in California!

The election of Bobby Jindal in Louisiana is another good news story.  Jindal is clear when it comes to stating his conservative principles.  He has been at the forefront of efforts to open the continental shelf areas for oil exploration in the face of censure from various environmental groups.  While serving previously as secretary of the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals, he managed to turn a $400 million deficit into $220 million surplus over three years.  While the unions and the local media are critical of his service, yet he stands his ground- and is respected.

As conservatives, we want no more failed strategy, no more moves to placate the moderates and appease the liberals.  It is past time for conservatism to have a new leadership.  Lieutenant Bush will soon reach mandatory retirement; let us honor him for his successes, yet learn from his mistakes.  Captain McCain has run the ship aground; it is time for him and his staff to go ashore and relinquish command to someone who can keep us off the reef.  There is a war going on -- a war for the future, the heart of what and who we are as Americans.  We want someone who knows the difference between good and evil.  We want someone who isn't concerned about gaining the goodwill of liberal activists because we have seen that they have no good will.  We want someone who is more interested in being conservative rather than seeking the approval of a craven media who seek our destruction.  We want someone who is unafraid to speak up for things we value: preserving the Constitution and the family.  We want a lion!

So on this Veteran's Day, let us consider anew the lessons of Ypres, far away in Flanders Fields.  Let us honor the memory of brave soldiers who were poorly led.  And most of all, let us as conservatives learn from our mistakes and vow that there will not ever be an Eighth Battle of Ypres.

James R. Stewart was a flight surgeon in the United States Air Force for 26 years, retiring with the rank of colonel.
On Veterans Day, it is appropriate to remember things from the past, and learn the lessons offered so that the sad events of history may not be repeated.  This is particularly true now for Republicans in the United States, who seem unwilling to learn from past mistakes.  A vivid place of the past -- offering many lessons for those willing to confront and learn them -- is a small village in Flanders called Ypres. 

Ypres, Belgium, was the scene of horrific bloodletting during the First World War.  A series of battles were fought there -- four to be exact -- between 1914 and 1918.  Our attention should be drawn to the Third Battle of Ypres, known to our Canadian cousins as the Battle of Passchendaele, which occurred in the Summer and Fall of 1917.  The Allies -- Great Britain and her colonies, France, and Belgium -- and Imperial Germany faced each other in this area from parallel trenches which were separated by a few hundred yards of countryside which had been blasted by three years of trench warfare into a nightmarish Dante's Vision of mud, splintered trees, and exploding steel. 

Sir Douglas Haig, the British Commander, initiated the battle to regain ground lost during a German offensive in 1915.  The objective was to take high ground to the south and east of the village, then break through the German lines to move eastward.  Haig was a believer in what has become to be known as attrition warfare -- to wear down the enemy by inflicting greater losses on the enemy than you sustain in combat.  As Haig prepared for his offensive campaign, the Germans recognized that a large-scale attack was imminent and made some strategic withdrawals to well prepared bunkers which offered protection from British artillery barrages and were located a few hundred yards behind the trench line. 

On the morning of 31 July 1917, the main battle opened as Haig sent thousands of troops over the top charging across the shell-torn landscape.  Initially the Allies gained 2000 yards of enemy territory, but as they closed with the prepared German fortifications the offensive bogged down.  Haig's response was to send yet more troops -- attacking in frontal assault manner -- against the German lines.  Day after sodden day, Tommies, Poilus, Canucks, Diggers, and Kiwis fixed bayonets and charged over the top each morning as their sergeant's whistles blew to signal the attack.  Each night, the survivors crawled back to their flooded trenches to bind their wounds, mourn their lost comrades, and prepare for the next dawn and the next attack. 

The Allied soldiers performed heroically, braving the storm to face their enemies.  The Allied High Command, however, performed abysmally.  Erich Ludendorff, the ranking general for the Second Reich in the west, later commented that, "British soldiers were lions led by donkeys."  Historian William Manchester observed that Haig sent wave after wave of brave troops to crash against the German dike, and day after day failed to take the high ground only to learn nothing from the entire futile exercise.  The value of lives squandered and resources lost there is incalculable.  No one in the entire British command structure could develop a winning alternate strategy, nor able to recruit other officers to support that new strategy if one were conceived.  One could say that the setting of the sun on the British Empire began in earnest during the late summer of 1917 in an obscure village in Flanders.

It is this point -- of continuing failed methods when all observable evidence demands a change of strategy -- that I wish to address.  As a physician, I have counseled many patients that to continue the same behavior expecting a different outcome is madness.  Unfortunately, the Republican Party is now in the political wilderness is a result of such a madness. 

I submit that there actually have been a total of six Battles of Ypres -- the Fifth and Sixth battles occurring within the borders of the United States during the elections of 2006 and 2008.  Republican leaders -- for reasons known best by themselves -- persisted in a failed theme of compromise, of reaching across the aisle in moderation to find some common ground with the left.  This strategy of offering "Liberalism Lite" under the moniker of "Compassionate Conservatism" has been a loser from the start.  One would think that after the electoral squeaker of 2000 and the rancor of 2004 that the bright minds on the Republican high command would have tumbled to the concept that an apologetic, watered-down version of ersatz conservatism was not a sound strategy for victory. 

One can trace the origin of this sort of thinking to the 1988 election, where George H.W. Bush proposed that the Republican Party adopt "a kinder, gentler conservatism" which would be more appealing to so-called moderates.  Most know about the result of his re-election bid of 1992 using the same strategy: conservatives were uninspired, moderates were not recruited, and liberals took the day.  Like Haig, then, the Republican leadership have tried and failed, tried again and failed again on a massive scale... and they haven't learned a thing. 

There is a silver lining in last week's catastrophe that has befallen us which was reported in an AP story in this Sunday's newspapers: Mike Mokrzycki and Coralie Carlson in examining the election propose that while there was a large shift in persons voting from Republican to Democrat, exit polls showed that there was no broad ideological realignment behind the shift.  America remains a center-right nation in outlook.  There also is good news about what the local Lions of Conservatism were able to accomplish when the donkey leadership got out of the way.

First is the passage of Proposition 8 in California, which amended the state constitution to define marriage as being between a man and a woman.  This overturned a grabby, unconstitutional finding by the California Supreme Court which established so-called gay marriage by judicial fiat.  Standing on principle, a coalition of conservatives, religious leaders, and ordinary citizens defied the conventional wisdom and placed the proposed amendment on the ballot.  Then, unapologetically, they took on the left, the media elites, and the Hollywood luminaries with clear and convincing arguments that cut through the disinformation and propaganda of the left to gain a majority of votes to pass the amendment.  The lions roared like lions...and won the day in California!

The election of Bobby Jindal in Louisiana is another good news story.  Jindal is clear when it comes to stating his conservative principles.  He has been at the forefront of efforts to open the continental shelf areas for oil exploration in the face of censure from various environmental groups.  While serving previously as secretary of the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals, he managed to turn a $400 million deficit into $220 million surplus over three years.  While the unions and the local media are critical of his service, yet he stands his ground- and is respected.

As conservatives, we want no more failed strategy, no more moves to placate the moderates and appease the liberals.  It is past time for conservatism to have a new leadership.  Lieutenant Bush will soon reach mandatory retirement; let us honor him for his successes, yet learn from his mistakes.  Captain McCain has run the ship aground; it is time for him and his staff to go ashore and relinquish command to someone who can keep us off the reef.  There is a war going on -- a war for the future, the heart of what and who we are as Americans.  We want someone who knows the difference between good and evil.  We want someone who isn't concerned about gaining the goodwill of liberal activists because we have seen that they have no good will.  We want someone who is more interested in being conservative rather than seeking the approval of a craven media who seek our destruction.  We want someone who is unafraid to speak up for things we value: preserving the Constitution and the family.  We want a lion!

So on this Veteran's Day, let us consider anew the lessons of Ypres, far away in Flanders Fields.  Let us honor the memory of brave soldiers who were poorly led.  And most of all, let us as conservatives learn from our mistakes and vow that there will not ever be an Eighth Battle of Ypres.

James R. Stewart was a flight surgeon in the United States Air Force for 26 years, retiring with the rank of colonel.