The greatest generation

Who were the greatest generation of western political leaders in the twentieth century? Conventional wisdom would say FDR and Winston Churchill. I am not one to diminish the importance, at least in terms of foreign and security policy, of these charismatic and visionary leaders, but I wonder it seems to me that many of those who would nominate this pair are being inconsistent and hypocritical.

Why should we rate FDR and Churchill more highly than Reagan and Thatcher? Plainly, the two pairs have a great deal in common: both defeated genocidal totalitarian menaces and freed tens of millions from oppression and fear. The big difference is that in the cold - and occasionally hot - war against communism, casualties numbered in tens of thousands. Casualties in the war against Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan casualties numbered in the tens of millions.

The sacrifice which first destroyed and then transformed Germany and Japan were worth the reward. But the defeat of communism was achieved by the infinitely preferable route.

Since almost disputes that the destruction of Saddam's rule in Iraq was also an unmitigated benefit for the world there is only one major source of disagreement about the liberation of Iraq. The debate is not about whether it was a good thing, but whether there were better ways to achieve the end at lower cost. You would think that anyone who takes the view that it was not worth the cost must also believe that the cold war was a greater triumph than World War II. Wouldn't you?

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