Edmund S. Morgan: What Is at Stake in This Election

Roundup: Historians' Take

Edmund S. Morgan, in the NY Review of Books (Nov. 4, 2004):

In the wake of the many scandals that have disgraced our government in the last four years, who is accountable? Will the secretary of defense be dismissed because of what happened at Abu Ghraib? Will the attorney general be dismissed for what is happening at Guantánamo Bay? Will the secretary of the interior be dismissed for handing national treasures to corporate looters? Will the secretary of state bear responsibility for refusal to participate in efforts of the rest of the world to keep the planet inhabitable? Will the President of the United States disavow what his handpicked agents have done on his watch?

We all know the answers. But in the eyes of the world the ultimate accountability lies not with the President or his men. In the end it lies with the sovereign people of the United States. The government is our government, resting on our choices and supported in all its activities by our taxes. We may claim with some reason that the last election was stolen, but we have had to accept the result. In the last analysis people get the government they deserve, and ours, more directly than most, is the product of our choice. We have been credited, rightly, for what it has done in the past, for standing up, however belatedly, to the Nazis, for assisting the recovery of Europe under the Marshall Plan, for containing the threat of imperial communism. We cannot now escape credit for what our government has so shamefully done. We began as a people with"a decent respect for the opinions of mankind," and we won admiration for it. We have now lost the good opinion of mankind and with it the self-respect of decent Americans.

It may take many years to recover what we have lost. We cannot restore the lives lost in Iraq, the lives of our soldiers, none of whom deserved to die for us, and the many more lives of the people we have professed to liberate in a war fought under false pretenses. But we can dismiss the people responsible for the other horrors committed in our name. Our self-respect, and the respect of the rest of the world for us as a people, hang on the next election. The damage now being done can be stopped. Some of it can be reversed. But the longer it goes on the less reversible it becomes. Seldom has our future as a people been in greater jeopardy. If we continue the heedless destruction of everything the United States has stood for in the past, we will rightly be held accountable, not only by the rest of the world but by our own grandchildren and their grandchildren for generations to come.

comments powered by Disqus

More Comments:

John Robert Huff Jr. - 2/17/2006

As always, Professor Morgan goes to
the heart of the matter. And, all of what he wrote has and is coming true concerning the war in Iraq.

Jeff Schneider - 10/30/2004

I have been waiting for someone to use this quote. It is a pleasure, as always, to read Edmund Morgan. Kerry still supports the war, but Bush is too dangerous to keep in office. At this time there is no alternative to the Democrats. Rosa Luxemburg called it right: "Socialism or Barbarism." This election will be only the begining of a fight for change. How much longer can we believe that the free market will save us or that the Democrats can educate our children, defend our workplaces or save the environment?