Ron Paul on Osama bin Laden’s Assassination: Not Our Finest Hour

Monday evening, US Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.) attempted to explain in a debate amongst Republican candidates for President why he’d said Osama bin Laden should have been captured and tried, as Saddam Hussein and Adolf Eichman were.

By all accounts, he was something less than lucid.  The reported him saying, in part:

 If somebody in this country, say a Chinese dissident come over here, we wouldn’t endorse the idea, well, they can come over here and bomb us and do whatever.  I’m just suggesting that there are processes that if you could follow and that you should do it. heard the audience boo the self-professed Libertarian.

Paul’s position, as reported if not stated, is mine.

Whether our assassins are drones or SEALS or porpoises, America has retreated to the days in the ‘Old West’ of ‘WANTED Dead or Alive’.  Our undiscriminating shooters bring to mind Tom T. Hall’s great song from the ‘law and order’ ‘70s, ‘Hang Them All’ (hear it here):

 If they hang them all, they get the guilty;
That’s what you say we ought to do;
If they hang them all, they get the guilty;
But remember they’re gonna hang you too.

 The Bush-Obama policy brings to mind the Germans’ approach in WWII to Resistance attacks in France and Poland.  I was brought up to believe Americans didn’t do things like that.

There was a notable exception.  And, according to’s Roger Simon, Monday night Newt Gingrich invoked him whilst criticising Ron Paul: ‘Andrew Jackson had a pretty clear idea about America’s enemies.  Kill them.’  I suspect there are about as many Cherokee registered Republicans in South Carolina as, says Simon, there are Afro-American.

So, how should Americans react to the threats of our age?

For my post on George Orwell and Winston Churchill, I read the Prime Minister’s speech to Parliament on the Fall of France, June 18, 1940, known to posterity as ‘Their Finest Hour’.  The real threats to Britain’s existence were far greater than those to which we’re subjected today.

Churchill outlined the threats to Britain – and its advantages, while exhorting his listeners.  This passage, about two thirds of the way through a 4000 word presentation, struck me:

           There remains, of course, the danger of bombing attacks, which will certainly be made very soon upon us by the bomber forces of the enemy….  I do not at all underrate the severity of the ordeal which lies before us; but I believe our countrymen will show themselves capable of standing up to it, like the brave men of Barcelona, and will be able to stand up to it, and carry on in spite of it, at least as well as any other people in the world. Much will depend upon this; every man and every woman will have the chance to show the finest qualities of their race, and render the highest service to their cause. For all of us, at this time, whatever our sphere, our station, our occupation or our duties, it will be a help to remember the famous lines:

 He nothing common did or mean, Upon that memorable scene.

Churchill foresaw the Blitz to come.  But 70 years on, his reference to Barcelona is obscure.  He referred to the aerial attacks on the city during the Spanish Civil War (1936-39).  For two years German and Italian bombers hit civilian areas in Republican Barcelona to support of General Franco.  Until Coventry, Dresden and Hiroshima, it defined the outrageous use of bombing against non-combatants.  These raids dwarfed in both number and effect the raid on Guernica Picasso memorialized. [1]

Not surprisingly, Churchill’s message is ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’.  But what about his ‘famous lines’?  Where do they come from?  What do they mean?  Here, things get strange, even bizarre.

Churchill quotes Andrew Marvell, author of ‘To His Coy Mistress’ which I suffered through in grade 11.  But these lines are from his ‘An Horatian Ode upon Cromwell’s Return from Ireland’ (1650).  They praise Cromwell’s successes in the just concluded English Civil War and describe the execution of King Charles I.

What field of all the civil war
Where his were not the deepest scar?
And Hampton [2] shows what part
He had of wiser art,

 Where, twining subtle fears with hope,
He wove a net of such a scope
That Charles himself might chase
To Carisbrook’s [3] narrow case,

 That thence the Royal actor borne
The tragic scaffold might adorn:
While round the armèd bands
Did clap their bloody hands.

 He nothing common did or mean
Upon that memorable scene,
But with his keener eye
The axe’s edge did try;

 Nor call’d the Gods, with vulgar spite,
To vindicate his helpless right;
But bow’d his comely head
Down, as upon a bed. [4]

So what is Churchill saying when he tells the British people to behave like Charles I before the headsman?  I have no idea.

As I’ve written here and here, our concepts of a fair trial, trial by jury, the right to counsel, the right to a defense and others spring from Charles’ trial.  Little else Charles did was as admirable as the way he met his fate.  But what that had to do with enduring the Luftwaffe, I can’t imagine.

But I think I know what Churchill meant in the final, immortal paragraphs of his June 18, 1940, speech:

           Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this Island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be free and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands. But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science.

           Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, ‘This was their finest hour.’

No drone strike, no assassination can conceivably be in our ‘finest hour’.  As we abandon our principles of justice hard won in the English Civil War, we are sinking ‘into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science.’


 1.  I did not mention in my earlier post that Orwell’s revelations on totalitarianism came from his combat service to the anarchist units in the Loyalist cause during the Spanish Civil War.  His Homage to Catalonia (1938) described the Communist war on other Loyalists and permanently severed Orwell’s relations with British Marxists.  One wonders whether Churchill knew the book.

2.  Hampton Court was the royalist seat in the early Civil War and the site of many of the failed negotiations and conspiracies.  But Cromwell appropriated it for his use and it was his favorite location.  So maybe Marvell is referring to it as we would to Buckingham Palace.   (I can’t find an authoritative note explaining Marvell’s reference.) has a very serviceable summary of the Civil War, albeit with a Royalist bent.

3.  Charles I fled to, then was imprisoned, at Carisbrooke Castle on the Isle of Wight until he was brought to London for his trial and subsequent execution.

4.  Andrew Marvell, ‘An Horatian Ode upon Cromwell’s Return from Ireland’ (1650), lines 45-64.