On the eve of an action at Brandywine Creek, Pennsylvania, in September 1777, Major Patrick Ferguson of the British army observed two American officers, one in a large cocked hat, reconnoitering ahead of their front line. Ferguson, a crack shot, called on the Continentals to dismount. Instead, the pair of Americans turned and rode off. “I could have lodged half a dozen balls in or about” the man in the cocked hat, Ferguson wrote. “But it was not pleasant to fire at the back of an unoffending individual who was acquitting himself coolly of his duty, and so I left him alone.” After the Battle of Brandywine, Ferguson learned from captured Americans that his nonchalant almost-target had been General George Washington.
General John Burgoyne fought two small battles near Saratoga but was surrounded by American forces and, with no relief in sight, surrendered his entire army of 6,200 men on 17 October 1777. Burgoyne had agreed to a convention that involved his men surrendering their weapons, and returning to Europe with a pledge not to return to North America. They lost the battle but retained their honor and dignity.
Hopelessly trapped at Yorktown, Virginia, British General Lord Cornwallis surrendered and ordered his second-in-command, General Charles O’Hara, to deliver his sword to the American and French commanders. As the British and Hessian troops marched out to surrender, the British bands played the song “The World Turned Upside Down.” They lost the battle but both officers and soldiers kept their private property, their side arms, many were permitted to go on parole in Europe, New York, other American maritime posts in the possession of the British forces. Once again, they retained dignity and honor.
Chivalry is the recognized ethical code that gentlemen follow during conflicts. It involves both a promotion of clemency between opposing sides and a respect for the fate of all those who support you in any battle, political fight, or other situation where significant loss is possible. When it is clear that you cannot prevail and that continuing the conflict only results in further degradation of your army or other supporters, the honorable thing to do is sue for clemency and surrender. This preserves your people for future endeavors.
There are, of course, exceptions to this rule. Three hundred Spartans held back the Persians at Thermopylae in 480 BCE; 100 Texians held back Santa Anna for 13 days at San Antonio; and in 1944, the 101 Airborne held the bridge at Arnhem for three days. None of these men surrendered but there were other reasons. In each of these cases, holding the enemy back allowed other forces to muster and ultimately prevail. Refusing to surrender when all is lost is different.
So now we come to the present. The votes have been cast; the trends are irrefutable. The honorable thing for Mr Trump to do is to withdraw and regroup not continue to fight hopeless battles. A smart politician, having lost this election, would save his remaining clout and money and put it into winning the run-off elections of his compatriots in Georgia. Of course, using “Trump” and “smart” and “honorable” in the same sentence is an non sequitur, it just cannot happen. He’s not a real Republican who cares about the party, he’s not a real American who cares about the good of the country. He’s a real asshole who only cares about himself.
I must admit a bit of schadenfreude myself. I am enjoying watching Mr. Trump self-destruct. Someone should talk to him and remind him that the dignity of the Presidency is not his plaything. He owes it to the people supported him (some of whom are actual Nazis), the Republican party (some of whom still care about the future of our country), and himself to simply withdraw from the fight.
Anyone who has ever been on a battlefield, real or reenacted, knows that retreat is simply rolling over and quitting. To execute a safe, effective, and honorable retreat requires courage, discipline, and resolve to save what you can for a future engagement. “He who fights and runs away, lives to fight another day.” While I hope he crashes and burns, he should give up the field.