Christmas Stories: History Bites Back
How Lynne Cheney (wife of Vice President Dick Cheney) published a children’s book at exactly the wrong moment
At a time of year when others recite “The Night Before Christmas” or sing “Oh, Holy Night,” Lynne Cheney is something of an exception. Cheney is the wife of the former American vice-president Dick Cheney and a conservative figure in her own right. So, when members of the Cheney clan gather with hot chocolate around the yule fire, she tells a story from the America’s revolutionary past: How George Washington and a band of soldier crossed the Delaware River on Christmas night and surprised a garrison of Hessian mercenaries. “This is the story that I tell my grandchildren at Christmas,” and now she has written a children’s book about that historical event.
Published during the holiday season of 2004, Cheney’s “When Washington Crossed the Delaware” was meant to stir patriotic feelings. But what stands out is the book’s extraordinarily unfortunate timing.
You need to pay attention to this provided summary: Cheney’s children’s book tells the story of how George Washington and his ragtag bunch of “insurgents” turned the tide of the war and eventually defeated the British (“the mightiest power of the world”) by adopting cunning guerrilla strategies on Christmas in a surprise attack upon Hessian mercenaries (coalition forces employed by the British).
Here’s the rub. Published in the fall of 2004, Cheney’s book appeared at the same time George W. Bush proclaimed victory in Iraq and stood grinning under a banner announcing “Mission Accomplished.” But at the same moment, the world was beginning to get inklings of the rise of Iraqi “insurgents” — a term the press constantly used — who employed guerrilla tactics against the occupying forces of the mightiest power in the world.
In other words, with American invading forces occupying Iran, Cheney could not have chosen worst time to release a book celebrating freedom fighters standing up to occupying forces! History bites back.
I initially rehearsed these remarks in a review essay in Parents’ Choice (January 2005). They were the beginning of my wider discussion of American politics and children’s books in October 2010 at Université Paris 13 and in April 2016 in Dublin and Galway. See these notes.
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