"DEAR Emory Alumnus/a, These days of political unrest around the globe have demonstrated again how events in one nation can reorder the political and social dynamics by which the rest of the world operates."
So began a letter I received from "Sam Nunn, '61C-'62L, Honorary National Chair" of Emory's new fund-raising drive. It was written just after political unrest in the Persian Gulf reordered his political dynamics. And when I say "reordered" I mean re-ordered! In August he was the leading conservative Democratic presidential contender. In March he was just the "honorary national chair" of the fund-raising drive for Jimmy Carter's favorite college.
Senator Nunn was in Boston last week. There within a weak television signal of most of the population of New Hampshire, where presidents are born, politically speaking, the senator said on not one but two television shows, "I cannot visualize any circumstances under which I would run in 1992. Southerners don't like to make Sherman-like statements, but that's pretty close to one."
He meant that he as a son of Perry, Ga., could not bring himself to utter the words of Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman, who coined the definitive statement of non-candidacy. Sherman is hated in Georgia 127 years after he burned Atlanta, then cut a destructive swath from there to Savannah. Saddam Hussein would have loved General Sherman.
Here is a Sherman-like statement of the sort that make Georgians hate him (to Gen. H. W. Halleck): "If the people of Georgia raise a howl against my barbarity and cruelty, I will answer that war is war, and not popularity seeking." Here is another (to the mayor of Atlanta, in reply to his complaint that Sherman's order to evacuate the city would impose a severe hardship): "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn." No, wait! That was somebody else. Sherman told the mayor, "I give full credit to your statements of the distress that will be occasioned by it and yet shall not revoke my order, because my orders are not designed to meet the humanities of the case."
Sam Nunn was probably thinking a Sherman-like statement to himself when he saw his presidential hopes destroyed by George Bush's dazzling success as commander in chief in the Persian Gulf War. He was thinking, "war is hell." Sherman said that in a speech to Union Army veterans in Columbus, Ohio, 15 years after the Civil War ended. Actually, while that is the most celebrated version of the quote, what he really said was, "There is many a boy here today who looks on war as all glory, but, boys, it is all hell."
In that speech he helped popularize another famous phrase: "It delights my soul to look on you and see so many of the good old boys left."
The "Sherman-like statement" of political lore was his response to a move to draft him as Republican presidential nominee in 1884. He said, "I will not accept if nominated and will not serve if elected."
Saturday: He didn't mean it.