Author & Speaker

Lord Chatham in Iraq

This week’s reports from Iraq disclose that after almost four months of American military “surge” in Iraq, U.S. troops currently control fewer than one-third of Baghdad’s neighborhoods. This depressing news gives unwelcome force to the remarks two hundred thirty years ago of Lord Chatham (William Pitt the Elder) as he denounced British policy towards the American rebels. (I happened onto Chatham’s remarks while working on my upcoming book on the impeachment trial of Andrew Johnson. To buck up his spirits during the protracted trial in April and May of 1868, the Tennessee autodidact read Chatham’s speeches aloud to his secretaries — a distinctly Nixonian scene.)
On May 30, 1777, Chatham was disgusted with British policy. He demanded of the King’s ministers: “What though you march from town to town and from province to province? How shall you be able to secure the obedience of the country you leave behind you?”
Assuring his listeners that he was “experienced in spring hopes and vernal promises,” Britain’s great war leader insisted, “You have got nothing in America but stations. You have been three years teaching them [the Americans] the art of war. . . . What you have sent there are too many to make peace, too few to make war. If you conquer them, what then? You cannot make them respect you; you cannot make them wear your cloth. You will plant an invincible hatred in their breasts against you.”
The British Government turned a deaf ear to Chatham’s insights, persisting in a policy that ended in ignominious defeat six years later. When will we learn what Chatham explained so succinctly?