Exposing the Celebrated Mass Murderers
by Anthony Gregory
Ralph Raico, Great Wars & Great Leaders: A Libertarian Rebuttal (Auburn, Alabama: The Ludwig von Mises Institute, 2010), 246 pages.
The greatest leaders, according to conventional appraisals, are usually those who draw the most blood. Most opinion makers distance themselves from Hitler, Mao, Stalin, and their ilk, although even here who can doubt they tower over modern history precisely because of their bloodletting? But in the West and especially the United States, historians, journalists, pundits, and especially politicians tend to admire leaders in proportion to the powers they claimed and exercised, which almost always corresponds with war making and killing.
“One of the most pernicious legacies of Hitler, Stalin, and Mao,” writes Ralph Raico, “is that any political leader responsible for less than, say, three or four million deaths is let off the hook. This hardly seems right, and it was not always so” (163). This is an astute observation, and it has relevance even in considering the “civilized” leaders of the United States and its allies, to say nothing of the second tier communist butchers who continue to enjoy a cult following.
Historians, conservative and liberal, when asked to rank U.S. presidents, consistently put war presidents around the top and the ones who oversaw relatively peaceful years for the republic near the bottom. Across the spectrum, commentators adore both Presidents Roosevelt and swoon over the idea of another Truman in the White House. Poor Warren Harding, whose years were prosperous and relatively free, is universally ranked as one of the greatest disappointments. Woodrow Wilson, his predecessor, whose reign yielded over a hundred thousand dead Americans, a pulverized First Amendment, a nationalized economy, not to mention cataclysmic diplomatic consequences throughout the world, was one of the best, everyone seems to agree.
In the 20th century, it was Democrats who did the most to expand power, from the Progressive Era and New Deal to the Great Society. And, perhaps not coincidentally, they were most responsible for America’s biggest wars – the World Wars, Korea, and Vietnam. Yet certainly by the time of the George W. Bush administration, if not much earlier, the Republican line was to claim the most power-hungry of Democratic presidents as their own proper antecedents, and in fact to criticize modern Democrats for betraying their 20th century roots as the party of power.