November 5 is one of the ethically significant days in U.S. history and, as Willy Loman’s wife famously said, “Attention must be paid.” For example,
- On this day in 1912, arguably the most destructive and unethical President in US history, Woodrow Wilson, was elected, thanks to Teddy Roosevelt’s inability to get his ego under control. Wilson, a racist, super-charged Jim Crow; after gaining re-election by boasting that he kept America out of the Great War, he entered the war anyway, destroying the lives of thousands of young men to no discernible purpose. When he was a key member of the “Great Powers” leaders to decided on the terms of the Treaty of Versailles, he permitted ruinously punitive conditions to be imposed on Germany, seeding the anger and nationalism that led to the Second World War. He did this so that his pet project, the League of Nations, would be included in the treaty, and then couldn’t even get the U.S. Congress to approve the idea or join the body itself. Meanwhile, Wilson, against the warnings of medical experts, sent thousands of infected soldiers to Europe, spreading the deadly flu that killed millions. If our current pandemic should be laid at the feet of China, and it should, the so-called Spanish Flu by rights should be remembered as “the American Flu,” or better yet, “Wilson’s Flu.”
As a final unethical flourish, Wilson suffered a debilitating stroke while trying to get the public behind his League of Nations, and allowed his wife and doctor to hide the fact, as they illegally ran the country from his bedside. Despite all this, historians lied to the public for decades, listing him as one of the greatest Presidents, when he may have been the worst.
- In Minnesota on Novembber 5, 1862, more than 300 Santee Sioux were sentenced to hang for their part in an uprising that was probably justified by outrageous mistreatment. A month later, President Lincoln all but 39 of the death sentences and granted a last-minute reprieve to one more, but the other 38 were hanged on December 26 in a mass execution. Lincoln is often criticized for this, but in truth he had a very difficult utilitarian ethics conflict to solve, and, as I wrote here, did his usual good and ethical job. From the post: