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October 08, 2009

Avoiding Nemesis

Donald Pittenger writes:

Dear Blowhards --

Victor Davis Hanson writes here about the Greek goddess Nemesis and how she seems to be doing what she does best with regard to Barack Obama (Hanson references some other presidents as well).

This brings to mind the matter of whether there were any people who attained pinnacles in politics or government who avoided her retribution.

One example might be George Washington. But as best I can tell, he never reached the hubris, let alone atê (destructive behavior) stage that triggers a Nemesis reaction. Washington was modest (he took plenty of knocks fighting the British) and his refusals to become king or serve more than two presidential terms were important factors in making the United States as we have known it.

Then there is France's Louis XIV, an absolute monarch. Although he allowed splendor to surround him, accounts I have read suggest that he has a hard-working, fairly unassuming man, given his circumstances. He was a good ruler for much of his reign, but allowed France to get embroiled in a long, costly war in its later years. If Nemesis appeared, it might have been in the form of two hellish, pre-anesthesia operations he endured late in life.

Churchill had his wilderness years and a defeat by Attlee in 1945. Reagan took a bullet in the chest in the opening months of his first term. No Nemesis here because they weren't very lordly and bounced back from these crises.

Question for today: Who in history really deserved a visit from Nemesis yet beat the rap?



posted by Donald at October 8, 2009


Frederick the Great whose mischievous tongue almost got Prussia dismembered (on more than one occasion) but who basically lucked out on a cosmic scale when the overpowering coalition assembled against him collapsed suddenly when his back was absolutely against the wall?

Scipio Africanus, who was big on dressing in spotless, all-white togas to (rather theatrically) commune with the gods, yet managed to bring down Hannibal and the Carthaginian Empire that had killed his father and uncle? (And who even pushed things further by relentlessly hounding Hannibal into the grave decades later.)


Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on October 8, 2009 4:23 PM

Mao, Franco.

Posted by: Peter L. Winkler on October 8, 2009 7:11 PM

Any of the allied military planners who gratuitously slaughtered civilians in WW2 seem to have gotten away with it scott-free. I quote from Wikipedia...

"The figure of roughly 100,000 deaths, provided by Japanese and American authorities, both of whom may have had reasons of their own for minimizing the death toll, seems to me arguably low in light of population density, wind conditions, and survivors' accounts. With an average of 103,000 inhabitants per square mile and peak levels as high as 135,000 per square mile, the highest density of any industrial city in the world, and with firefighting measures ludicrously inadequate to the task, 15.8 square miles (41 km2) of Tokyo were destroyed on a night when fierce winds whipped the flames and walls of fire blocked tens of thousands fleeing for their lives. An estimated 1.5 million people lived in the burned out areas.[4]"

Dresden is a well-known incident whose planners and executors skated away with minimal opprobrium.

Posted by: Charlton Griffin on October 9, 2009 1:01 AM

FDR took the USA on a Marxist path, tearing up the Constitution while pretending not to, setting the stage for the disaster endgame we're in the beginning innings of, and died a virtual demigod. Of course he was paraplegic, but AFAIK that was the case before he took office.

Gory details begin on page 14

Posted by: James O. on October 9, 2009 6:28 AM

Josef Stalin. When the Germans invaded in 1941, it seemed like Nemesis had come for him, in the biggest way possible. He'd ignored every sign that doom was coming, so destruction would have come as a direct consequence of his failings. He fled to his dacha, and when his subordinates came to find him, he thought they had come to kill him for his grotesque failure. Instead, they had come to plead with him to come back and take charge again. He did, defeated Hitler, and tormented his nation until his death.

Posted by: A Jablokov on October 10, 2009 10:40 AM

Mao Tse-tung would be a good example, I think.

Otto von Bismarck, another. I don't think the minor humiliation of being pushed into unwilling retirement at age 75 really counts as Nemesis, though it does seem to have been painful.

Mayor Daley the first.

Brigham Young, Francisco Franco, Oliver Cromwell, Pierre Trudeau.

Alexander the Great -death from natural causes, even if aggravated by lifestyle, is not nemesis.It wasn't the failure of his enterprise or career, nor a grand public repudiation of his policy.

Some who did meet Nemesis: Napoleon, Hitler, Kaiser Wilhelm II, Nixon, Woodrow Wilson, James II, Charles XII of Sweden, Eliot Spitzer.

Posted by: Rich Rostrom on October 11, 2009 5:50 PM

Came here to nominate Oliver Cromwell, glad to see someone else had already done so.

Posted by: Joe on October 12, 2009 10:32 PM

Tony Blair.

Posted by: Roland on October 15, 2009 1:40 AM

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