Newspapers like to play gotcha games with presidential candidates and their stump speeches. Most of the time, the fact-checking sessions focus on number-juggling on tax proposals and spending policy, and they find plenty of daylight between claims and reality. However, when the Washington Post attempts to fact-check Fred Thompson on historical references, they reveal more of their bias than of Fred's. They try to take apart Fred's claim that Americans "have shed more blood for other people's liberty than any other combination of nations in the history of the world", and manage to completely miss the point:
The number of overall U.S. military casualties, while high, is still relatively low in comparison to those of its World War I and World War II allies. In World War II alone, the Soviet Union suffered at least 8 million casualties, or more than 10 times the number of U.S. casualties for all wars combined. According to Winston Churchill, the Red Army "tore the guts out of the Nazi war machine." It can be argued that Soviet troops were primarily fighting to free their homeland from Nazi occupation. After fighting its way to Berlin, the Soviet Union imposed its own dictatorship over Eastern Europe. Even so, Soviet sacrifices contributed greatly to the liberation of Western Europe from Nazi domination. Soviet forces died for their own country and their own tyrannical government, but they also spilled blood on behalf of their Western allies.
Even if the Soviet Union is not included in the calculation, U.S. military casualties in all wars combined remain lower than those of the British Commonwealth ("a combination of nations," in Thompson's phrase) in World War I and World War II. According to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, the British Commonwealth lost 1.7 million troops in the two world wars.
The Post awards Thompson "four Pinocchios" for his statement. I'd award the Post about ten dunce caps for borderline illiteracy.
Thompson specifically mentions that we shed our blood for "other people's liberty", not our own. That excludes any nation that fought to defend its own territory. The Soviet Union had allied itself with Nazi Germany -- right up to the moment of Hitler's invasion of June 1941. The Soviets did not fight the Germans to liberate anyone except themselves. True, they bled massively in their defeat of the Nazis, but they didn't do it out of love of liberty or selfless devotion to France or Britain. Their effort certainly helped the West in achieving victory on Hitler's Western front, but that wasn't why Joseph Stalin insisted on crushing the Nazis. Had Hitler not launched Operation Barbarossa, Stalin wouldn't have lifted a finger for anyone's liberty, let alone those of his own people -- which he proved in the post-war Iron Curtain he imposed on Europe.
Anyone who can't figure this much out has no business writing for a professional newspaper. It's a ludicrous, almost ghoulish argument in the face of what followed World War II in Europe. It's worthy of Walter Duranty, the disgraced Soviet apologist of the 1930s New York Times.
The rest of the piece is almost as bad. The unidentified writer uses the conquests of the Alexandrian Greeks (actually Macedonians, to be accurate) as a counter-example to Fred's claim, as well as Napoleon. The Post seems to have some trouble distinguishing imperial acquisition from liberty, a lost distinction that explains quite a bit of what appears on the pages of its newspaper.
It also uses the British as a counter to the claim, an example that actually may have some merit -- but only in World War II, and only if one believes that Britain defended North Africa to bring liberty there. In fact, Britain was defending its empire and its trade routes, and had they lost in Africa, they would have lost the entire southern empire. France and Britain declared war on Germany in response to the invasion of Poland, but then did nothing until both were attacked by Germany almost nine months later. The British fiercely held off Germany through waves of devastating aerial bombings in London and its environs until the US finally joined the war. They were magnificent, but they fought for their own survival and that of their empire, not to liberate anyone else except possibly the French, and only secondarily.
In its previous wars, Britain fought for empire. In fact, Wilson was so suspicious of Britain's intentions towards the Ottoman Empire in that war that he refused to ally the US to Britain or France, instead calling them "associates". His fears were justified, as the Versailles treaty and its related protocols proved. Britain and France carved up the Middle East into spheres of influence and de facto colonies, and attempted to force the US to take a mandate for Palestine. Much of that mischief continues to haunt us to this day.
The US never asked for territory in Europe or Africa, except enough to bury our dead. America has gone to war on massive scales throughout the 20th century to free captive peoples, including a six-decade effort to beat communism and help liberate Eastern Europe from Stalin and the rest of the liberty lovers in the Soviet Union. We did not fight these wars to gain lebensraum or gain colonies.
Thompson knows of what he speaks. The Washington Post should be embarrassed by their historical and rhetorical illiteracy, and should offer an apology for calling Thompson a liar.
UPDATE: Tom Shipley points out that the piece was written by Michael Dobbs, but at the time I posted this, no by-line appeared on the article. Also, James Joyner at OTB joins me in awarding Dobbs ten dunce caps for this effort.
UPDATE II, BUMP to top: Jules Crittenden also has a few thoughts about the Post's fact-checking abilities.