Well, At Least President Bush Is Trying to Go To War the Right Way
Mr. Fleming is the author of more than forty books including, The New Dealer's War. He is a member of the board of directors of History News Network.
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Watching -- and listening -- to the chorus of voices opposing George Bush's call for war on Iraq has stirred ironic thoughts in this historian's mind. No one seems to be aware that he is the first president in our history to try to persuade the American people to wage war by appealing to their heads rather than their instincts.
Let's start with World War II. Merlo Pusey, in 1941 an editorial writer for the Washington Post and later a distinguished biographer, wanted to see America join the struggle against Fascism and Nazism. "Inevitably we had to get into the war," he later said. "I just wish we had done it honestly and openly in our Constitutional way of doing things instead of...by the back door. I think Roosevelt had a moral responsibility for leadership. If he had been less of a politician and more of a statesman, he would have taken a stand instead of trying to do it covertly."
Most historians know what Pusey is complaining about. FDR got elected in 1940 by promising he would never send Americans to fight in a foreign war -- while Army and Navy staffers were concocting a plan to invade Europe in 1943 with five million men. Unable to persuade the Germans to give him an incident that would trigger a declaration of war, he cut off Japan's oil, provoking Tokyo into an attack. He never dreamt they would have the skill and daring to assault Pearl Harbor. He expected the war to start in or around the Philippines. He ordered the admiral in command there to send an armed schooner, the Lanikai, with a mixed Filipino-American crew, into the sea lanes off Asia. When the Lanikai returned to Cavite on hearing a radio flash about Pearl Harbor, the admiral said to her young commander: "I never expected to see you again!" All in all the president's performance was a far cry from the Constitutional way of going to war that the idealistic Pusey wanted.
When we look closely at World War I, things do not get much better. Woodrow Wilson was reelected in 1916 on the slogan, "He Kept Us Out Of War." Five months later, on April 2, 1917, the president went before Congress to ask for a declaration of war. Why? Germany had resumed unrestricted submarine warfare in a zone around the British Isles and in the waters off France and Italy's Mediterranean coasts and had sunk four American ships bringing war materiel to England. Wilson called the German decision "a war against mankind" and talked grandiloquently of the heinous violation of American rights and of joining the struggle to make the world safe for democracy. He did not say a word about the British blockade of Germany, against which he had made only a few feeble objections, which London ignored. By 1917 the blockade was causing death rates among German children and the elderly to soar from mass malnutrition.
Today most historians agree that the "right" to ship war materiel to Great Britain never existed. In the 1930s, Congress passed (by huge majorities) a Neutrality Act forbidding trade with belligerints, and Wilson's putative heir, Franklin Roosevelt, signed it. We also do not think there is anything wrong with "unrestricted" submarine warfare -- meaning a submarine firing its torpedoes without warning. That was how the United States Navy's submarines fought in World War II. The grand total of Americans killed by submarines in 32 months of war before April 2 was 197 -- with the Lusitania's 128 accounting for the bulk of that number. That is hardly a war against mankind. As for a war to make the world safe for democracy -- our chief ally, Great Britain, at that time ruled an empire of 440,000,000 people of whom about five percent had a vote. Not by chance did a young woman protestor outside the Capitol wave a sign at Wilson as he arrived to make his speech. It read: "IS THIS THE UNITED STATES OF GREAT BRITAIN?"
Wilson said nothing to the American people about the real reasons for his decision to go to war. He had decided it was the only way he could become an influential player in the peace negotiations. Thanks to British propaganda and their iron control of all cable traffic from Europe, the president and everyone else in his administration were under the illusion that the war was as good as won and there would be no need to send a single soldier to Europe. Also unmentioned was a message from the American ambassador to London, warning that the English were within a few weeks of running out of money. That meant J.P. Morgan and other American banks were going to be left holding hundreds of millions of unpaid war loans -- a catastrophe for the American economy.
Next there are the wars started while passive presidents sat around doing next to nothing. In this category are the War of 1812 and the Spanish American War. The first was initiated by "War Hawks" in Congress, who had decided to do something about the British habit of boarding American merchant ships, occasionally flogging recalcitrant captains, and selecting supposedly English born sailors for their men of war. This had been going on for a decade. An examination of the War Hawks rhetoric makes it clear that they were primarily motivated by the idea of conquering Canada and making themselves and their constituents rich on endless acres of open land. President James Madison simply drifted with this illusionary tide.
As for the Spanish American War, even after someone sank the USS Maine in Havana harbor, President William McKinley resisted going to war. Congress did the orating and declaring and William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer provided reams of spurious facts about the hateful Spaniards in Cuba. We now know the entire affair was a manufactured frenzy, with the Cuban rebels led by Jose Marti (who hated the United States) among the most eager manipulators.
The Mexican War was started by a far more aggressive president. James Polk took office with orders from Andrew Jackson, still the de factor ruler of the Democratic Pary, to acquire Texas and make it an American state. When Texas joined the Union, Mexico threatened war. Polk sent envoys to Mexico City with bags of money but Yanqui hatred was so intense south of the border, no politician dared to accept a dollar. So Polk ordered the United States Army to advance to the Rio Grande. The Mexicans claimed the Texas border should be the Nueces River. The advance to the Rio Grande all but guaranteed a clash between patrolling cavalry. The moment American blood was spilled, Polk asked for and got a declaration of war. On the floor of Congress, Representative Abraham Lincoln made a series of speeches, trying to prove Polk was a warmonger. His reward was an abrupt end to his congressional career.
Thirteen years later, President Lincoln found himself in the tightest imaginable spot. Eight southern states had seceded and formed a confederacy. They had taken over all federal facilities in the South except Fort Sumter in Charleston harbor and Fort Pickens in Florida. Lincoln toyed with giving up both places, in return for a promise by Virginia to stay in the Union. His secretary of state, William Seward, was an enthusiastic proponent of this idea. Seward was ready to concede almost anything to avoid a fratricidal war. But from the Midwest and New England Lincoln was hearing ominous sounds from the anti-slavery wing of the new Republican Party. If he did not stand up to the slavocrats, he was going to be a one-term president. Lincoln decided to ignore southern warnings and try to reprovision Fort Sumter. It was almost a certainty that the ship would be fired on. In fact, before the ship even appeared, the news inspired southern hotheads to start their cannonade on Sumter. The heinous act of firing on Old Glory was what the anti-slavery men needed to trigger huge rallies calling for war. No one, including Lincoln, dreamt it would last four years and kill over a million young Americans.
Would Lincoln have gotten anywhere, calling for a constitutional debate instead of triggering hostilities at Sumter? It would have been a long shot. He was a minority president, elected with only 40 percent of the vote. The bottom line is: he did not try it.
In 20th Century wars, Korea and the Gulf offered Presidents Harry Truman and George H.W. Bush no time to give much thought to the Constitution. They were confronted with a raw exercise of hostile power -- the Communist invasion of South Korea and Iraq's invasion of Kuwait. They made a decision to fight and persuaded the American people to approve it. It now becomes clear, however, that Mr. Truman erred in not asking for a declaration of war against North Korea. The decision to call the war a "police action" left it and the United States in a Constitutional limbo. A declaration of war might, among other things, have made the Chinese Communists more reluctant to intervene.
Finally we have Lyndon Johnson's decision to turn the police action in Vietnam into an all out war. Here, too, the picture is blurred because we were already fighting an undeclared war in that embattled country. True to his devotion to FDR, Johnson manufactured an incident in the Gulf of Tonkin, in which North Vietnamese torpedo boats supposedly attacked an American destroyer, to give him a pretext for escalation. Here, too, the Constitution was in limbo.
So we come to President George W. Bush, calling for war against Iraq. He has presented cogent arguments to America and the United Nations, depicting Saddam Hussein's regime as a menace to the free world's oil supplies and to our ally in the Middle East, Israel. What has he gotten for his earnest efforts? Anti-war protestors making a hero out Saddam Hussein, one of the most vicious dictators on the planet; the bishops of the Roman Catholic Church urging their flock to pray for peace; New York Times columnist Bob Herbert accusing him of spending "billions for bombs and pennies for kids" in need of education; Paris, Berlin and Moscow lining up against a war that might damage their profitable business relationships with Saddam. In the light of past presidential performances, one must simultaneously admire George W. Bush for trying to go to war the constitutional way -- and worry that he may be making a grave mistake. History seems to be telling us honesty is not the best presidential policy. But Bush 43 does not seem intimidated by history's so called lessons, as he demonstrated by gaining rather than losing seats in the midterm elections. Maybe he can be the first president to go to war the right way.
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FJLieser - 11/6/2003
I see it as none. The idea that Bush was appealing to our heads is ludricous. This clown misrepesented our efforts in WWII and WWI by concealing more important facts to make his own bias view more credible is among the many things he has done to revise history.
Bush has no idea what war is. He deserted during Vietnam from the National Guard yet, how idiotic. The Admionistration chicken hawks that use this puppet to get rid of Saddom should be invetigated. Along with Bush making 9/11 possible through ineptness in policies.
As for the desertion charge I made, here is a bit of the evidence that Bush ignored his obligation then and does so now.
From May to November 1972, George W. Bush was living in Alabama working on the US senate campaign of Winton Blount and was required to attend drills with the Air National Guard unit in Montgomery, Alabama. There is no record that he attended any drills whatsoever. Additionally, General William Turnipseed (r) who was commander of the unit at that time has stated in interviews that he never saw Bush report for duty.
On September 5, 1972, Bush had requested permission to perform duty for September, October, and November at the 187th Tactical Recon Group in Montgomery. Permission was granted, and Bush was ordered to report to General William Turnipseed. In interviews, Turnipseed, and his administrative officer at the time, Kenneth K. Lott, have stated that they had no memory of Bush ever reporting.
Seven months later, at Ellington Air Force Base in Texas, Bush's two superior officers were unable to complete his annual evaluation covering the year from May 1, 1972 to April 30, 1973 because, "Lt. Bush has not been observed at this unit during the period of this report." Both superior officers, who are now dead, and also Ellington's top personnel officer at the time, mistakenly concluded that Bush served his final year of service in Alabama. Bush returned to live in Texas after the senatorial election in November, 1972, so this is obviously not true.
According to the records available from the National Guard, the period between May 1972 and May 1973 remains unaccounted for. George W. Bush himself has refused to answer questions about this period in his life, other than to state that he fulfilled all of his National Guard commitments. If this were true, why is there no record of him fulfilling these commitments at either of his posts in Texas or Alabama? Why is there not one commanding officer that can come forward and state unequivocally that Bush reported for duty?
**Then we have a report from a NG man**
Bush's Military Record Reveals
Grounding and Absence
for Two Full Years
by Robert A. Rogers
(ret. 1st Lt. Mission Pilot)
With two years left in his six-year obligation to the Texas Air National Guard, 1st Lt. George W. Bush was mysteriously suspended from flight - and never again reported for a single day of duty.
Robert A. Rogers is a self-employed Northern Virginia businessman and an Air National Guard veteran of eleven years, 1954 through 1965. After this he had a 30-year career in the commercial airline industry, including independent consulting with various US Government civilian agencies and military services.
"I think that people need to be held responsible for the actions they take in life. I think that's part of the need for a cultural change. We need to say that each of us needs to be responsible for what we do." ? George W. Bush in the first Presidential debate, October 3, 2000.
''I did the duty necessary ... That's why I was honorably discharged" ? George W. Bush, May 23, 2000
From the beginning of his Presidential campaign, George W. Bush has forcefully and repeatedly insisted that he faithfully fulfilled all his military obligations by serving his time as a member of the Texas Air National Guard.
But the first independent investigation of Bush's military record by a former Air National Guard pilot has revealed the following:
Pilot George W. Bush did not simply "give up flying" with two years left to fly, as has been reported. Instead, Bush was suspended and grounded, very possibly as a direct or indirect result of substance abuse.
The crucial evidence ? a Flight Inquiry Board ? that would reveal the true reasons for Bush's suspension, as well as the punishment that was recommended, is missing from the records released so far. If no such Board was convened, this raises further questions of extraordinary favoritism.
Contrary to Bush's emphatic statements and several published reports, Bush never actually reported in person for the last two years of his service ? in direct violation of two separate written orders. Moreover, the lack of punishment for this misconduct represents the crowning achievement of a military career distinguished only by favoritism.
This in-depth investigation and analysis of Bush's apparent misconduct over the last two years of his six year obligation suggests that Bush did not fulfill all of his military obligations to the Texas Air National Guard and to his country, contrary to his repeated assertions.
Moreover, Bush's misconduct could have resulted in significant disciplinary action by his Commanding Officer, ranging in severity from temporary or permanent grounding, a career-damaging letter of reprimand, to forced reenlistment in the US Army (including active duty in Vietnam), to a less-than honorable discharge.
These issues are not trivial, nor are they ancient history. This cloud of questions goes to the heart of George W. Bush's promises to restore honor and integrity to the White House, to strengthen the military, and to speak the plain truth on the campaign trail.
If Bush had received a less-than honorable discharge, it is safe to say that he would not be the Republican candidate for President today. But the absence of any sign of severe disciplinary action in the records we obtained raises serious questions that can only be answered if Bush himself requests the release of his full military service record.
**And last, the record itself of Bush's service. Well, it isn't in Texas.**
Texas cattle rancher Bill Burkett, formerly a Lieutenant Colonel in the air guard. Seems that Burkett was in the office of the Guard’s Adjutant General when a call came in from then-Governor George W. Bush’s office. As is normal procedure, the call was put on the speaker box, but the request was not so normal. The Governor’s office was sending over an official biographer and the Governor’s minions wanted to make sure the files did not contain not-so-heroic info. Burkett told me:
”I was in the General’s office, General Daniel James . He gets a telephone call from Joe Albaugh, who was the Governor’s chief of staff, and Dan Bartlett on the voice box and they wanted General James to assemble all of the Governor’s files, that [Karen Hughes, Bush’s aide] was going to write a book. But Joe told General James, Make sure there’s not anything in there that’ll embarrass the Governor.”
And there wouldn’t be. Burkett asked if the general’s staff really intended to purge the files; and sure enough, as evidence of the affirmative reply, he was shown the piles of pay and pension records in the garbage pails destined for the shredders. Colonel Burkett did not run off with those files so we can only conclude this: the only evidence that Bush showed up for duty during the war is now missing. Military pay records are public records and now they are conveniently unavailable.
from two National guard officers themselves.
I am a Vietnam vet who sees this as a insult. Fleming is nothing more than a ultra conservative hack masquarding as a FDR liberal.
Gus Moner - 3/17/2003
You make a good point. The rest of the world hasn't bought it. Why? Becaue they haven't had the lies, the constant obsession and the propaganda barrage the US public has been subjected to and eventualy been subjugated by.
Just one day's reading of Britain's, Germany's, Italy's, Chile's, Mexico's, Brazil's or nearly anyother press anytime since Nov. 02 would have driven the point home.
Gus Moner - 3/17/2003
As usual, I appreciate your comments regarding our recent exchange of opinions.
My first comment is that you might have pondered longer before your attacked me regarding my alleged presumptuousness. Mr Biden, has a learnt mind indeed and his opinion is not a voice in the wilderness.
However, his is not the Gospel on this. As lawyers are wont to do, they profess diverging opinions. It follows that he does have an opinion at variance with many other equally or more learnt minds. Therefore the if. I stand by it.
I realise it’s hard for you to consider other opinions at times. However, they are there. Including one from the legal services of the Kingdom of Spain, one of the three nations politically covering Bush's precipitous actions, specifically characterising this war as illegal without further explicit UN authority. So, we may at least agree there is differing opinions by experts on all sides, all of them expert well beyond both of our knowledge.
Yes, I am as tangled in my web as you and Bush are in yours, I cannot deny that, although I doubt you’d be willing to admit it. The difference between us lies in that I listen, entertain and consider varying opinion in formulating mine. It may be wrong, it may be, but it considers everyone’s opinion. You seem to be displaying in a little microcosm the US attitude towards the UN, the world, consensus and diplomacy.
Iraq attacked Kuwait and was expelled in short order once attacked. That is over and done with. Are we to fight that one again? An important axiom of war is don't start fighting the last war.
What bearing has Kuwait on today’s wmd affair? In fact, I have always held out the probability that Iraq has these weapons, we have always agreed on that. The US, UK, France, USSR and others know it also, for they supplied them. My concern is he’ll be backed into a corner and use them causing a catastrophe for innocent people and soldiers sent there. I fear the soldiers being rushed into these potential perils because of the whim of a few. All, for not waiting XX days and following a timetable with benchmarks, in coordination and cooperation with the rest of the world. Everyone is on board for disarmament. Unanimously. Practically no one, however, at the UN is on board for the precipitous war.
The serious consequences promised Iraq were to be issued by the UNSC, not the Warring 3. Who is making the world topsy-turvy? No one, save the US and the UK with Spain tagging along to get in the picture, have made the US the enforcer.
I see you have joined the herd in the buffoonery of a propaganda war on France!
After France’s defeat and armistice in 1940, parts of France and the French forces continued to fight the war. They distinguished themselves as best they could with their limited resources in Africa and France, as well as in air squadrons in the UK.
Additionally, partisan groups provided important intelligence and provoked important actions that were helpful in saving US lives during the invasion and subsequent campaign. Granted, being conquered their contribution from exile was small in comparison to WWI.
So, they were not “victorious” in WWII by your reckoning. Using that line of thinking Britain was not victorious in the Gulf War because its contribution paled in comparison to the USA’s.
If you want the truth, the USSR was the nation that defeated Germany, not the UK or the USA. Nearly 75% of the dreaded German army was defeated there.
As it so troubles you in light of your recently ignited anti-Gaul attitude, I’ll rephrase the comment. The five most powerful warring nations remaining standing after WWII sit on the UNSA. OK?
Finally, I would urge you to buy Spanish wine. My wine shop has supplied an excellent pair of bottles at half the price of comparable French wine. It is excellent. The shopkeeper has assured me their bubbly also compares favourably to all but the top French champagne. The alternative is there. Ah, but where will you find the 380 varieties of cheese?
Have a pleasant evening.
Bill Decherd - 3/17/2003
"he is the first president in our history to try to persuade the American people to wage war by appealing to their heads rather than their instincts."
Scaring the hell out of the American people is NOT appealing to their heads. Fabricating evidence is NOT appealing to their heads. Bush is going to war on the irrational fears of the American people by telling the Big Lie.
I notice he hasn't been able to appeal to the heads of the rest of the world. At least he's managed to unit most of the world against us.
Bill Heuisler - 3/16/2003
1) Senator Biden is clearly more expert than you on matters of his Senate Committee, therefore your use of "IF" he is correct on this matter is flagrantly presumptuous.
2) You don't realize how tangled you've become in your own web. Strident procedural defenses of Saddam become laughable when the argument completely - and inadvertantly? - indicts Saddam.
To quote you, "However international law clearly prohibits attacking other nations except in self-defence, and pre-emptive strikes are not allowed. So there is indeed a conflict when we want to start a war of aggression, because we have binding treaty obligations to do behave in accordance with the UN. We’d be in breach of those covenants."
Right. Saddam attacked Kuwait twelve years ago.
Multiple U.N. resolutions ending with 1441 promised serious consequences to Saddam upon material breach. Saddam's in material breach. Where's the International law in your topsy-turvy world? How does the U.N. enforcer become an aggressor?
3) "Victor nations"? France was defeated and surrendered. We gave them the gift of a veto out of misguided charity or in memory of Lafayette. The French army was not victorious in WWII.
Gus Moner - 3/16/2003
I appreciate your taking the time for writing again; as usual your comments are motivating.
In reply to your query the answer is no, I have obviously not chatted with the gentleman regarding ‘process’. Form your note clearly his answer says they believe it is the same thing a as declaring war. Semantically speaking that vein holds water.
Still, I am puzzled as to why you are asking me that. Perhaps an earlier comment, or perchance you want to make a point and say that the war you so fervently seem to yearn for, when unleashed, is legal and all is well with the world. I know not but it doesn’t matter.
If the latter is the case, my position would be that it would be legal under the US constitution IF Mr Biden is correct. However international law clearly prohibits attacking other nations except in self-defence, and pre-emptive strikes are not allowed. So there is indeed a conflict when we want to start a war of aggression, because we have binding treaty obligations to do behave in accordance with the UN. We’d be in breach of those covenants.
Thus, given that we live in a world of rules we largely organised to fit our image of how the world should be run, and then convinced everyone to join and play along, we are now saying we don’t like the rules we made and we’re changing the location of the goal posts, right in the middle of a hot match. Now, is that fair play?
For example, as often as the USA used the veto, it never once referred to an ‘unreasonable’ veto. A veto was a right of the victor nations. Suddenly, however, we want that if they exist, we can be distinct and only ours are reasonable.
Do you sir, understand the distinction? Moreover, I wonder if you can differentiate between an aggressive war and a war of defence, and if you feel you are defending anything or obeying orders. We are attacking a nation that has done nothing to us, and that through the UN is disarming as required. As we don’t like the pace, we’ll blow them to smithereens and sack their leader. Can you tell the difference between the process of a charade and a diplomatic process to accomplish an objective through right, peaceful and legal means?
Bill Heuisler - 3/14/2003
Mr. Moner, have you written Joe Biden to argue about process?
Do you agree with his press conference answer here?
"My question is this, do you foresee the need or the expectation of a Congressional declaration of war, which the Constitution calls for, and if so, against whom?" (Scattered Laughter)
JB: The answer is yes, and we did it. I happen to be a professor of Constitutional law. I'm the guy that drafted the Use of Force proposal that we passed. It was in conflict between the President and the House. I was the guy who finally drafted what we did pass. Under the Constitution, there is simply no distinction ... Louis Fisher(?) and others can tell you, there is no distinction between a formal declaration of war, and an authorization of use of force. There is none for Constitutional purposes. None whatsoever. And we defined in that Use of Force Act that we passed, what ... against whom we were moving, and what authority was granted to the President."
Does the Senator know what he's talking about, Gus?
Gus Moner - 3/12/2003
Speeches. Choreographed press conferences. That's Bush.
The only leader who has shown how a true democratic debate ought to be held on a significant issue has been Mr Blair, who has weekly faced questions in open parliamentary debate. Their media engages in thorough and provocative debates, so much that US hits on UK news sites have increased by 50% per week the past few weeks.
We get secrets, propaganda, lies, falsifications, confusion, propaganda, accusations without foundation, hidden costs, controlled media, the entire gamut. To add cheekiness, Halliburton plus the other firms with former CEOs in the administration get the contracts. Britain has proven to be the stronger democracy.
John Fremont - 3/12/2003
It is fascinating to learn that we are about to be the aggressor (which is, of course, the "right way" to start wars) in order to counteract a menace to the "free world's oil supplies" and to Israel. How clever of the president and secretary of state to talk endlessly in public about "disarming Iraq", thus putting the nefarious French and Russians off their guards. What a pity that a computer glitch destroyed the substantiating footnotes in this brilliant essay by Pulitzer Prize winning author Fleming. I'm not donating to HNN, in order to give (all the proceeds from my sale of Enron shares at the top) directly to the Republican National Committee and the Likud Party instead.
Bill Heuisler - 3/11/2003
President Bush has given three more TV speeches than his predecessor did before dispatching U.S. troops to the Balkans. These speeches included the State of The Union, but each was prime time and you were probably doing homework. As to your physical appearance, don't let the other boys tease you. The President has prominent ears also and look how far he's come.
Gus Moner - 3/11/2003
So we are all agreed, it's through the 'legal' way that if we must, we should go to war. Mr Fleming, I appreciated reading this fine sequence of reasoned argument to make a brilliant point, the constitutional way is the right way.
To avoid total adulation, I’ll comment, and say that I agree with many of the historical assertions made on the facts and the conclusions. One factual point: the Maine explosion on Havana was caused by accumulated coal gases. Notwithstanding these trivia, it changes (nor would have then changed) anything, nor does it change the worthiness of the argument posed there.
Finally, about all I regretted was that your analysis regarding the nature of the opposition to Mr Bush’s quick war, in the last paragraph, detracted from the otherwise excellent style, objectivity and dissertation made. Thank you again.
dan - 3/11/2003
"...he is the first president in our history to try to persuade the American people to wage war by appealing to their heads rather than their instincts."
So far, all I have heard is a call to emotion. If you have eveidence that Mr. Bush has attempted to use reason to sell his war, I'm all ears.
Bill Heuisler - 3/11/2003
Your article is well-written, broadly informative and thought-provoking. The specific premise is a series of small surprises building to a startling conclusion so obvious that it should have occurred to most of us before. Bravo to W.
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