Sore Losers

Recently we’ve heard a great deal of whining from Trump surrogates and the Republican Establishment (now one and the same) about the fact that in his speech at the Republican National Convention, Ted Cruz exhorted Republicans to “stand, and speak, and vote your conscience. Vote for candidates up and down the ticket whom you trust to defend our freedom, and to be faithful to the Constitution.”

This clear denunciation of Donald Trump brought boos and shrieks of rage from Trump delegates, who know their candidate cares nothing for freedom or the Constitution and also know no one can vote for Trump with a clear conscience. Since then, they’ve been denouncing Cruz as a “sore loser.”

Let’s consider a few prominent “sore losers” of the twentieth century. On April 9, 1940, Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Germany invaded Norway. The outnumbered and unprepared Norwegians fought bravely, but by June 7 it was clear the Germans would soon control the entire country. King Haakon and his government, being “sore losers,” didn’t surrender but instead fled the country and set up a government-in-exile in Britain. Encouraged by his example, thousands of Norwegians escaped to fight against the Germans as sailors, soldiers, and airmen in the Allied forces throughout the rest of the war, while thousands more formed a resistance movement within Norway and performed valuable service to the cause of freedom, including sabotaging important German atomic-bomb research facilities there. Not bad for “sore losers.”

Haakon and his followers missed their opportunity to become part of Hitler’s new Europe. Some Norwegians, who were not “sore losers,” were big enough to realize that the Battle of Norway was over, and they had lost. Norway’s very own home-grown Nazi leader, Vidkun Quisling was one. He chose party loyalty (Nazi Party, of course), and greatly advanced his political career. He became ruler of the Nazi puppet regime in Oslo and helped round up Jews for transport to the gas chambers. Of course, when the war was over, the other Norwegians hanged him. 

Or take the example of France. A few weeks after Nazi Germany overran Norway, its troops also conquered France. Not all Frenchmen were good sports. Charles de Gaulle, a general, was a “sore loser” who escaped to Britain and there organized tens of thousands of other exiled Frenchmen into the Free French Forces. In 1944, as the Allies swept back across France, driving the Germans before them, supreme Allied commander General Dwight D. Eisenhower gave the Free French Armored Division the privilege of liberating Paris. It must have been a pretty good feeling for those “sore losers,” roaring up the Champs Elysee in their American-made tanks, chasing the Germans out of the French capital city.

Other Frenchmen, like fascist-sympathizing politician Pierre Laval and former war-hero Philippe Petain, were not “sore losers.” They recognized the Battle of France was over, and they would just have to deal with it. Actually, they made deals with the Germans, who allowed them to set up a regime governing about 40% of the country (the less prosperous and important areas), as long as they did what the Germans said and provided resources for the Third Reich’s ongoing war effort. When the war was over, Laval and Petain were both convicted of various crimes. Laval went before a firing squad. Petain was spared because of his age and former honored status and died in prison a few years later.

Then there’s one of my all-time favorite “sore losers,” Winston Churchill. When the Germans won the Battle of France in that summer of 1940, virtually the entire available British army was trapped on the French coast. A nearly miraculous effort by the Royal Navy, covered by the Royal Air Force, and aided by the British merchant marine and even private owners of small pleasure craft rescued most of the British soldiers from the French port of Dunkirk, but without their tanks, cannon, and other heavy equipment necessary for war. Britain’s only major ally, France, was about to surrender. The British army would not be fit to fight for months, and German invasion seemed imminent.

Some Britons, like cabinet-member Lord Halifax, thought it was time to recognize they had lost the war and make a deal with Hitler. The Fuhrer was willing to let them keep their country, the Royal Navy, and Britain’s overseas empire, for the time being, because he was eager for Britain to unite with him in his great campaign against the real enemy: the Soviet Union. After all, Hitler had done some nasty things, and planned to do more, but Stalin! Stalin had to be stopped! Surely the British would recognize that Hitler was better than Stalin.

Churchill would have none of it. He knew Stalin and the Communists were bad, and had often said so. But he wasn’t going to make a deal with Hitler or knuckle under to Nazi aggression. In the famous peroration of his speech to Parliament on that occasion he said: “We shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches. We shall fight on the landing grounds. We shall fight in the fields and in the streets. We shall fight in the hills. We shall never surrender.” And they never did. Now there’s a “sore loser”!

But, do I hear someone objecting that these are all examples from a war long ago and far away? Very well then. How about an example of a “sore loser” in modern American politics. In 1976 after a hard-fought primary campaign and a very hard-nosed national convention battle, President Gerald R. Ford won the Republican nomination over conservative challenger Ronald Reagan. Reagan spoke at the Republican convention, but he did not endorse Ford. I guess he must have been a “sore loser.” He didn’t get booed, though.  

As we think about these great figures of the past, the thought occurs that perhaps “sore loser” is not a correct description. If the contests they faced had been soccer, baseball, or football (Yes! Even football!), the term would fit. It would have been right to accept defeat. But that’s not what they were facing. They were contending for truth and justice and the life and freedom of nations, whether in the midst of a war, or in selecting someone to be the leader of the Free World and have his finger on the nuclear button. In those circumstances, instead of calling them “sore losers,” we ought to call them men of backbone and principle, who would not sell out, and who persevered despite setbacks.

Just like Ted Cruz.