Neither Candidate Measures Up to Pericles

News at Home

Mr. Palaima, recipient of a MacArthur genius award, teaches war and violence studies and ancient history at the University of Texas at Austin.

In Act 1, Scene 2 of Shakespeare's "Henry V," King Henry, contemplating committing soldiers to a war in France, cautions his advisers, the archbishop of Canterbury and bishop of Ely, to know and know deeply the consequences of the advice they are asked to offer.

They will wake the "sleeping sword of war" and each drop of soldier's blood will be an indictment against those who incite "such waste in brief mortality." Somberness of purpose over the prospect of going to war is what citizens of most nations, when their thoughts are not clouded by fear, patriotic fervor, hatred and other strong emotions, demand of their leaders. In Shakespeare's play, decisions are in the hands of a king and an inner circle of nobility and high clergy.

Things are different in a democracy. Or are they? The presidential and vice-presidential debates and the campaign strategies of both parties have concentrated on the question of leadership. What does it take to be president of our democratic government during large-scale military operations overseas -- notice I do not say war -- when we are also facing major economic and social problems at home? Do President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and Senator John Kerry and John Edwards have the personal qualities and skills necessary to be chief executive and commander-in-chief or a heartbeat away from being so?

These are important questions, and it is natural to focus on them in times of crisis. But they are distracting us from historical perspectives on what overall leadership a democracy like ours needs in troubled times like these. And these questions are framed as if we had the form of government Aristotle thought ideal: a single ruler.

Kerry in the debates has stressed that he supported giving our president unilateral authority to take military action in Iraq because he believes "it was the right authority for a president to have." But is it? If it is, what qualities of leadership should a president have in order to be given the most fearsome powers any national leader can possess? Kerry maintains that President Bush rushed to war incautiously and impatiently without exhausting international sanctions and weapons inspections, without building strong international support and without working out a plan for peace after the major combat phase was over. He also thinks the president misled the American people about the reasons for going to war. So he at least thinks that honesty, a strong grasp of the tools of international diplomacy, patience in dealing with other nations, allied or hostile, and thorough advance preparation for varied outcomes of any actions are four necessary presidential qualities. Bush has emphasized two other qualities: consistency of policy and unwavering determination to see it through.

Candidates and voters need to discuss such things, but our question remains: Why did Kerry, seventy-six other senators and over two-thirds of our representatives think it was wise to put this particular president in a position where they effectively could no longer exercise the controls over war granted to Congress by our Constitution and reemphasized by the congressional War Powers Resolution of 1973? The U.S. Constitution grants to Congress the power to declare war. Yet all of our major military conflicts since World War II have been undertaken without such a formal declaration: the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the first Gulf War, Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom and the open-ended war on terror.

And we commonly call even the two Orwellian-titled "operations" on this list the war in Afghanistan and the war in Iraq.

Why do our elected representatives consistently hand over to the executive branch the authority to make war? In August 1964, only Senators Wayne Morse and Ernest Gruening cast votes against the Tonkin Gulf Resolution. They foresaw the consequences of its clause authorizing the president to repel armed attacks on U.S. forces. This became President Johnson's pretext for committing troops to Vietnam and President Nixon's pretext for continuing the war. Only Morse had the courage in February 1966 to condemn President Johnson for committing us to an illegal war, i.e., one which Congress had not formally declared. He might also have condemned his fellow senators for enabling Johnson to do so. His was truly a voice in the political wilderness.

The lessons of Vietnam have been forgotten -- partly because the memory of the Vietnam War has been trivialized as a mere litmus test for the civic characters of Bush and Kerry when they were of an age to serve in the military, and partly because our all-volunteer, numerically downsized army means that most of our children are not right now at risk to go and fight in the Middle East. It is especially surprising, given what I view as Kerry's courageous congressional testimony in April 1971 as spokesman for Vietnam Veterans Against the War, that he seems to have forgotten how that "wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time" started.

On October 10, 2002, only 23 senators and 133 representatives voted against the joint resolution authorizing President Bush to use the armed forces of the United States as he "determines to be necessary and appropriate in order to defend the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq." Why? We'll leave aside the cynical answer of political expediency.

The main answer seems to be that in unsettled times even democratic states revert to the notion that one leader can better respond to developing crises without being impeded by normal democratic procedures. But this also takes away from that often all-too-human leader the full checks and balances and different perspectives built into democratic governments.

Aristotle was aware, as we all should be, of how this principle can go wrong. He reasoned that the risks of his favorite form of government, enlightened monarchy, being distorted into reckless tyranny are so great that rule of the few (oligarchy) and rule of the many (democracy) are better options. Democracy, the least desirable form of government in theory, was preferable in practice because its aberrant form caused least harm.

The belief that one forceful leader can see more clearly and can do better than the messy procedures of democratic government has a long history in western tradition. Greek political theorists beginning with Homer and Hesiod and down through Aristotle favored the notion found in The Iliad: "Let there be one ruler, one king." But again this is based on the assumption that this one leader possesses nearly ideal qualities and noble intentions.

The poems of Hesiod reflect beliefs about autocratic authority that long prevailed in Greece and the Near East, namely that kings, when they work in harmony with the gods, will literally bring divinely sanctioned law and order and prosperity to their communities. I believe that vestiges of this collective "religious" instinct explain the intensity of reaction by many Americans to Bill Clinton's otherwise inconsequential act of consensual sex with another adult in the Oval Office. This was about more than the dignity of the office of president. It tapped into almost primordial feelings that our president's moral behavior also affects whether divine powers will favor our nation or not.

Do nations have to behave as we have for the last half century? The answer is no. Very clear historical proof of this is offered by what happened during the first major world war in western civilization, the Peloponnesian War (431-404 B.C.) between Athens and Sparta and their respective allies and the fifty-year cold war that preceded it. This conflict has long been studied for historical lessons pertaining to the modern Cold War between the Soviet Union (Sparta) and the United States (Athens). In fact Donald Kagan, the leading American Thucydides scholar of his generation, has used his interpretation of the Peloponnesian War to offer historical support for the policies of the Bush administration.

Athens was the prototypical democracy and headed a large defensive alliance. Sparta was a conservative quasi-socialist state headed by a dual kingship. Both had councils and assemblies that within their systems, roughly speaking, mirrored our Senate and House of Representatives. How did these two different forms of government react to the stresses of a protracted arms race and then twenty-seven years of all-out war? Neither government ever suspended their normal procedures, and both underwent several changes of leadership. The Spartans never became frustrated by United Nations-style consultations with their allies. These conferences often took the form of complex and heated debates among different factions. The Spartan government also contained three safeguards against unilateral action by either of their kings. A senate (gerousia) of twenty-eight elders and the two kings and a public assembly (apella) of all full citizens determined what the two Spartan kings were to do in any annual military campaign season. There was also a board of five appointed magistrates (ephors) who oversaw the conduct of the kings.

Athenian democracy was so radical its full features have never been seen again. It demanded direct participation of its citizens who would not have understood how we can view government as a bad thing. From its 40,000 adult male citizens, all of whom served as soldiers, the Athenians chose yearly by random lot a congress (boulé) of 500 citizens. These 500 common citizens acted as the legislative body. Again the Athenians would be flabbergasted that we find a few days of jury duty onerous.

Still all final decisions on legislation, including whether and how to go to war, were debated and voted on by a universal citizen assembly (ekklesia). During seventy-five years of cold war build-up and world war, this system stayed in place -- after major military set-backs, after political assassinations, after a catastrophic plague. Only at the end of these eight decades was the democratic government overturned by right-wing coups led by conservatives who thought they could do better. They couldn't.

We have a wise conservative voice from this period, the Greek historian and general Thucydides. I think other present-day ancient historians would agree with me that from Thucydides we know Pericles.

Neither George Bush nor John Kerry is Pericles.

Pericles knew war (advantage Kerry) and he knew politics at a level far outstripping our governor-turned-president and our senator aspiring to be president. Pericles ran yearly for the one elected post in the Athenian government, the board of ten generals. And he won every year except one, when his policies caused major suffering among the Athenian populace.

Thucydides also served as general and he, too, understood the down side to Athenian democracy. For a mission failure, he was sent into exile in Sparta in the eighth year of the Peloponnesian War, after which he also saw the war from both sides. His assessment of what the Athenian statesman and general Pericles contributed to Athenian democracy during his more than thirty years of political ascendancy (461-429 B.C.E.) is worth noting.

Thucydides famously concluded that Athens was a democracy in name only, and effectively the rule of one man, Pericles. Thucydides describes Pericles' actions and sums up his qualities as a leader. He had good breeding. Both Kerry and Bush are children of privilege and Ivy League educations. Pericles had Clintonesque intellectual ability and more. The advantage here surely goes to Kerry. Pericles also had integrity. No comment.

Pericles was capable of laying out to the Athenian people at length an ideal vision of the best they could be. Here President Bush's clear talking points probably give him an edge with the broad populace. Pericles praised the fact that Athens, even in times of war, had an open society and no need for a Spartan-style secret police or other restrictions on what we would call civil liberties.

He would have had no use for the Patriot Act.

At other times, Pericles could speak publicly with shocking frankness and absolute honesty about the use and consequences of Athenian imperial power and about the failures of his own policies.

Recall how President Bush dodged the Town Hall questioner who asked him to name three mistakes he had made and what he had done to remedy those mistakes.

Pericles was a master of international diplomacy, advised patience in the use of force, and stressed that the Athenians should not overextend their military or waste their manpower. These have been key topics of dispute in all of the debates. Pericles had the knack both for calming down the Athenians when they got too worked up and for restoring their confidence when they turned defeatist.

Keep in mind, too, that when Pericles spoke to citizens, he was speaking to citizens who were also the soldiers, legislators and active voters of Athens. Pericles used his virtues and wrought their effects within the framework of a full democratic process. He never asked for unilateral war powers -- and it is unlikely he would have been granted them if he had. And he was held fully accountable for his actions and policies by the Athenian government and electorate.

Pericles is certainly a good model for the qualities an ideal democratic president should possess. But we rarely get the ideal. It is giving away no secrets to say that we will not get the ideal this time, no matter which candidate we choose.

My own strong feeling, based on these and other lessons of history, is that we should do much more besides voting for Bush-Cheney or Kerry-Edwards. We should put bipartisan pressure on our senators and representatives and other public figures, including journalists, to represent us as they should. They should not cede the voice they are supposed to give us to one man, Republican or Democrat, and his inner circle of advisers, especially when the result may be the tragic "waste in brief mortality," American and foreign, we caused in Vietnam and are now causing again in Iraq. Most of all, we should remember that right now we still resemble Periclean Athens more than the England of Henry V.


This article was first published by the Sacramento Bee and is reprinted with permission of the author.

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More Comments:

Joey Johnson - 6/7/2005

Has anybody else noticed that with Maarja we always end up talking about something else other than the article?

Dave Livingston - 1/7/2005

Palaima bleats he thinks Kerry's lying back-stabbing testimony to the Senate couradeous. Yes, it was in a sense. It took courge to openly serve a Vietnamese Communist front organization during the Viet-Nam War.

See www.worldnetdaily.com/news/article.asp?ARTICLE_ID=41106 for evidence that the VVAW was indeed a Communist directed organization. Kerry is and was a traitor!

Dave Livingston - 1/7/2005

As usual, I made typos. Oh well.

Maarja Krusten - 10/31/2004

I'm old enough to have lived through the Vietnam era. It bothers me still today when people seem to insult Vietnam war vets, hence my original comment to Graham Hicks about his comment to veteran Dave Livingston. Also, you may want to remind yourself of HNN's rules for posting, they address ad hominem attacks, etc. but do not require posters to stay strictly on message. I saw your comments on the Fagan Reagan article recently, I'm not sure why going off topic is an issue for you more so than for other HNN readers. Actually, what seems off topic to one reader may simply be going off on a different angle to another, there are no arbiters here. But, as you can see from HNN's rules, you certainly are free to gripe about most anything. At any rate, as I explained on the Reagan thred, posts often wander off topic, so be prepared to see it with other HNN posters if you continue to visit this website.

Maarja Krusten - 10/31/2004

I've explained numerous times that I am a federal government official and that for the most part, it is not prudent for me to take positions which might be deemed political. The law actually prevents me from engaging in certain political activities. Most readers seem to know and accept that. Natch, since I am here at HNN mostly to learn how others view issues, rather than express my own opinions, I tend to speak up about matters of style and tone rather than substance. I also post about Presidential records, access to them, what they reveal about governance, etc. Mostly, I hope to keep discussions from turning into name calling and flame wars--I learn the most when threads discuss issues instead of trading insults. I take it you are not a Fed yourself? If you were, how would you handle HNN postings?

If you read through various threads, you'll see that they often wander off topic. By all means, skip my posts if you don't find them useful, I don't mind, LOL. And feel free to interject when you see posts turning into flame wars, anything to douse the heated rhetoric undoubtedly would be welcomed by many readers.

Maarja Krusten - 10/29/2004

Sorry if the extract from my response to Dave is confusing. I forgot to replace a double quote with a single quote in the paragraph where I mention what I said elsewhere about Ann Coulter. If it is not clear, the subsequent questions about Republicans and the armed forces were addressed to Dave. The old posting actually concludes with the sentence "our nation strong in the past." I often post during breakfast and just don't always re-read carefully before hitting submit, which takes us back to your original posting about typos, LOL.

Maarja Krusten - 10/29/2004

Graham, I hope you keep posting to HNN, we need fresh perspectives here!! You write, "Basically I am a political independant, and I've had enough of the mud slinging from both sides, especially about issues that have nothing, in my opinion, to do with current events, and come from the Rush Limbaugh/Ann Coulter of web information sites." I agree about the mud slinging! Since you mention Coulter, here's what I wrote a couple of weeks ago in response to a post by Dave, where he talked about voting patterns:

"question for Dave (#44527)
by Maarja Krusten on October 16, 2004 at 12:39 PM
You make some interesting points about demographics. I would add to them that the shift of some traditionally Democratic voters to the Republican party first was seen during the Nixon administration. Remember the "southern strategy?" Consider also the demonstrations in support of Nixon by the "hard hats," and so forth.

I now am an Independent, but comfortably called myself a Republican during the 1970s and 1980s. I guess at one point I actually truly was a "compassionate conservative." (Again, I cannot reveal my more recent voting record.) The main reason I no longer feel comfortable in the Republican party has as much to do with rhetoric as with public policy.

Once a "compassionate conservative," I haven't lost my compassionate side. I genuinely believe in freedom of speech, the value of listening to and even learning from dissenting opinions, all the stuff that separates the U.S. from totalitarian regimes. So I really struggle with some of the rhetoric I hear these days.

Dave, you and I disagree about Ann Coulter, for example. I noted elsewhere on another thread, "I have heard that many people--not in my circle of personal friends, which as you might guess, is made up of intellectuals, both Republican and Democrat--enjoy hearing her. I guess you have to love the smackdown style of discourse to be drawn to Coulter and I clearly do not. I obviously reflect distaste for communisim and totalitarianism, under which some members of my family suffered. How the Republican party, which took so strong a stance against Communism and still values democracy and freedom in terms of public policy, tolerates and even seems to condone bullying and intimidation in public discourse by the likes of Coulter, is an enduring mystery to me."

I have to tell you, I watched FoxNews for years, but stopped watching it altogether this year. I found a lot of the anger expressed by commentators to be a total turn-off. More to my liking are the sentiments expressed by former Bush official Christine Todd Whitman in an article about moderate Repubicans at

My question to you is, if conservatives or members of the Republican party express anger at moderates in their own party, and reject the validity of opposing viewpoints in the Democratic party, how do they view a President's obligations to the nation as a whole? It isn't an option to round up those who do not agree with the right wing of the Republican party and put them in internment camps, LOL. But I hear so much rage from people such as Coulter, who calls liberals traitors, that I have to wonder where they are headed.

And what about the military? You mention that most present and former members of active duty forces support Bush. Do they see themselves as just defending the freedoms of Republicans--surely not--or as defending the nation as a whole, including Democrats and even liberals? Sounds like a dumb question and I apologize if I cannot express it better. But the partisan divide is so great these days, I really worry about how we can hold on to the underlying democratic notions that have kept our nation strong in the past."

You probably saw the recent column--was it in the NYT or the Washington Post, I subscribe to so many papers, LOL--that said the major split among U.S. voters these days is between modernists and traditionalists. Although I am a Christian, I fall into the modernist camp and so find myself to be a centrist and an Independent these days. You'll see in my postings that I never mention whom I voted for in the last ten years or so, and I am somewhat constrained from addressing some issues, however, because I'm a Fedeal employee. Also, I keep in mind that I've taken positions on some controversial issues already and there's enough out there already for partisans who might want to attack me, LOL (See my op ed for the History News Service at http://www.h-net.org/~hns/articles/2004/020504a.html )

Again, do keep reading and posting and many thanks for your thoughtful response!


Graham Hick - 10/28/2004

First of all my original comment was rude. I found it funny at the time but I see I've rubbed some strangers the wrong way and apologize for dragging this discussion down to an adolescent level. I try to treat strangers both virtual and real with respect. I failed that here due to this unusally emotionally charged campaign. Basically I am a political independant, and I've had enough of the mud slinging from both sides, especially about issues that have nothing, in my opinion, to do with current events, and come from the Rush Limbaugh/Ann Coulter of web information sites. Sometimes though, I just add to the pile. My only reasoning is that at this point, no one is going to convince anyone of anything contrary to what they already believe, so why bother? Defeatist I know, but as you have more experience than I discussing history and politics, am I wrong to want to give up? As lovers of history don't we all see that people never learn from it? However, next time I'll let the mud fly on the other boards I lurk in.

Secondly, thank you so much for taking the time to put this together. I read it with great interest. I should say that of course I understand that some people see the current conflict through the prism of Vietnam, but that I don't, which is part of what makes up my opinion on it in relation to the current conflicts. However I don't see my worldview as being the proper one, simply different because I didn't experience it the same way. I would never disregard someone else's experience of that time nor the weight it adds to their opinions, though I might argue against that opinion. I see the Vietnam issue as rasied by both candidates as distracting from the current issues. So I find both at fault. Further I see the constant attempts at discrediting Mr. Kerry's service as a cheap smear campaign. The Democrats are no angels either. It's like static on the radio when you're trying to dial in your station. Where is the campaign for the adults? Is this it? But the fact is John Kerry signed up for combat and George Bush didn't. John Kerry was decorated, George Bush reprimanded. So the smear continues.

Third, of course this is the proper forum for seeing the world in an historical context. I just don't find conspiricy theories to be history, nor relevant to the article above.

Fourth it's funny that Mr. Livingston in the quotes above call the draft dodgers, like George Bush, cowards, then backs him in his decision to take us to war while later calling John Kerry, who signed up for combat, a traitor. But then I've never found the right wing world view to hold any philosophical consistency. Which leads me back to the mud slinging...

Thank you again for your patient discussion.

Maarja Krusten - 10/28/2004

Mr. Hick: Sorry I didn't get the point of your joking comment. I am not familiar with Worldnet Daily, it's not a place I go to for news. So, I missed the point, just ignorance on my part, I guess. I mostly read old fashioned mainstream media.

You're welcome to say anything you like on HNN, of course. (I saw the good points you made last week on the thread about teaching children history, BTW). I probably didn't make my point very well in the post about Dave, Vietnam, and typos. Let me try again, if you'll bear with me--this is a tad loooooong. The point about Vietnam is that some of those who lived through that era may be looking at the Iraq war through the prism of past experience. Here on HNN, we older people are not monolithic in how we look at things. We lived through the same era but formed very different conclusions. Consider the following, if you have time to look at a few extracts put together, from different threads in response to various articles from 2004 and 2003. None of the four people quoted look at things quite the same way, as you'll see. Of the four, one is me, a civilian, the other 3 are Vietnam veterans.

(1) “The Whirlwind begins (#40522)
by Bill Heuisler on August 24, 2004 at 12:48 AM
Mr. Leckie,
We never should've gone. JFK bequeathed fatal altruism and LBJ's phony Silver Star made him think he was too tough to reconsider. We didn't belong there. But when we arrived, our political leaders should've let us win -should have unleashed that strategic interdiction to starve NV into submission while we killed VC in the South. Risk war with China? they asked. In for a penny? Risk one drop of American blood, risk the rest.

While Robert Strange scribbled plans, peered at maps and culled ROEs, men died to rent ground and bomb worthless targets in the North. But they died for their duty and their country and their comrades. They were dishonored by their leaders and some hollow, jaundiced countrymen. And after the fall there was no reassurance, no pride, no understanding, only bitterness and new betrayal. The Left nursed the cause, requited the mistakes and iniquities of JFK and LBJ for their base purposes. And Nixon's pride allowed more to die for future hustings. The Left exulted.

What about the men? Those were not "boys" as you casually stated. Their youth became sour apples; their legacy was shaped by Janus-mouths like Kerry. Don't let your concept of a "ferociously determined enemy" take even one laurel from those American men who did not lose even one battle.”

(2) I [Maarja], who voted for Nixon, looked at Vietnam through a different prism when I asked at

“I supported the government's policies during the Vietnam War under LBJ and Nixon, right up to the bitter end. Obviously, as someone with family members (from my father's first marriage) who suffered under Communism, I cannot see myself going back and joining the protestors who chanted Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh and spat on the vets. But, given what LBJ's secret tapes reveal, what McNamara has said retrospectively, and what Ellsberg describes in his book, did those of us who showed unquestioning loyalty to LBJ and Nixon serve you [the soldiers who were sent to Vietnam] well or ill? I struggle with this now as I try to figure out how to support the troops in Iraq while still demanding accountability from the govenrment officials who put our troops in harm's way. I am deeply disturbed by the fact that any attempts to raise such questions seem to be brushed off as giving comfort to the enemy. That just doesn't sound like the America I grew up in.”
--more tough questions for those who lived through Vietnam War era (#42844)
by Maarja Krusten on September 25, 2004 at 2:05 PM

(3)Jerry West, a Vietnam vet, responded to me at

"I haven't read Ellsberg's book, but am familiar with what he did. Like a number of Marines before and after him he had the guts to stand up and be a critique of bad policy. . . As for supporting the troops vs supporting the war, one does not predicate the other. Except in the case of mercenaries troops do not choose their wars and generally act in good faith. I have a number of family members who have been in and out of both Iraq and Afghaniztan. I want to see them with enough supplies and equipment and care by the government to bring them through as safely as possible, regardless of how I feel about the validity of the mission itself. It is not their fault that they are there.

The argument that one has to support the mission morally (as opposed to providing the material) inorder to support the troops is bogus. The you are either for us or against us mentality is quite frankly unAmerican.

Like you I take exception to those who imply that opposing the Iraq War means that they support Saddam staying in power. That is an ignorant, childish and unAmerican position to take (or purposefully disingenious for partisan political reasons), more in line with what one would expect to find in a place run by the likes of Saddam than in the USA."

And finally, there is Dave Livingston, who wrote

And finally, there is Dave Livingston, who wrote
at http://hnn.us/comments/40482.html:

“Many of the protestors against the Viet-Nam War were students looking for any excuse to get out of their classes, studies, & tests. Some were pure cowards afraid to wear the uniform lest they be in that comparatively small number of draftees to be sent to Viet-Nam. Only 26% of the G.I.s who served in-country in Viet-Nam were draftees and fewer than 10% of that 26% were frequently engaged in combat. In short, an amazing amount of energy was expended and an equally amazing amount of cowardice was demonstrated to avoid a miniscule chance of getting shot at by the enemy.”

As for Iraq, Dave Livingston noted a year earlier at http://hnn.us/readcomment.php?id=18719 in response to another post by Jerry West:

"RE: U.S. Should Advance Its Self-Interest (#18781)
by Dave Livingston on September 21, 2003 at 2:59 PM

Yes, indeed, the administration has lied time-after-time on Iraq, but by the same token at least one member of it has admitted that they did so. Deputy Secretary of Defense Wolowitz said, more or less, "We settled on the threat of WMD because it was one justification on which we all [the policy wonks] could agree upon." Lacking faith in the common sense of the American people the administration sought to use a, they thought, more politically palable reason for conquering Iraq than the true reasons. For Pete's sake, the photos and casualty lists from 9/11 made it clear to anyone with eyes that we were now again at war . All the administration needed to do to justify taking on Iraq was to have told the American people the plain truth. Just as the people now back our remaining in Iraq until we set it staight they would have gone along with the President had he told us the truth.” But the accountability issue does not seem to bother him as much as it does many of the people here in Washington, as Dave ends his post by writing, “Youse Bleed'n Heart Liberals belly-ache all you want, yours truly is glad we have a President with the gumption and determination to lead the defense of the U.S.”

So, all four of us look at the Iraq war through the prism of our experiences during the Vietnam war, and for voters such as us, Vietnam is not just history, as you say. Anyway, this is the history news network, aren't we supposed to be looking at things in the context of history, LOL. Otherwise it would just be another blog or message board, like the countless political ones out there.

Maarja Krusten - 10/28/2004

Very interesting background info, thanks for passing it along. I remember bulletin boards in my office in the early 1990s. BTW, as agency Historian, I collect artifacts as well as documents, photos, etc. I actually have an old "luggable" computer on display in my office. Not so luggable, were they, LOL?

Den Mother, eh? I really did LOL at that one. I'll take it as a compliment, hahaha. I only interject from time to time if a thread catches my eye and I feel like saying something. I don't have time to read everything. Would you believe I occasionally actually work on office e-mail sover breakfast at home, and bring work home to do in the evening? Wouldn't believe those "slugs" in the Federal bureaucracy do that, would ya? On those (relatively few) occasions I don't have time to check HNN. Most morning and evenings I do have time to check the boards, however.

Yeah, there do seem to be some flame wars here. Guess they show something about the individuals posting. Me, I've always been a live and let live person. Watching my twin sister bravely battle for 18 months the cancer that killed her in 2002 reinforced that tendency in me. (Boy, do I miss my dear sis.) Hey, life is just too short! But it does fascinate me to see how people dispute issues here. What was that they had on Star Trek, the IDIC--Infinite Diversity in Creation, or something along those lines? Whatever the saying was, you sure see it on HNN!!!

Graham Hick - 10/28/2004

Typo's are no shame and we all make them. You missed my point. My comment was a short and humorous way of pointing out that the World Net Daily site is a dubious and questionable source of information at best. In my opinion it is biased towards right wing religious fanatics. Mr. Livingston's honorable service and sacrifice aside (and I sincerely thank you, sir, for that service to this great nation), I found the article to be on the same level as Michael Moore's films or saying Bush made 9/11 happen. I'm not attempting a flame war, nor do I know anything about anyone's personal history here. Nor would that distract me from discussing the subject as it was brought up. Beyond all of that, I don't care about who did what during a war that was over by the time I was barely 3 years old. I care about the current conflicts that are going on RIGHT NOW. The whole Vietnam issue has been a distraction from current events and real issues like the kids dying today as I type this. Vietnam is HISTORY. I understand that for people of your generation it's a scar that has not yet healed. But until the "facts" presented in that article are proven, it's hearsay and conjecture. That's the basis of our legal system, and that's the basis for my opinions.

Andrew D. Todd - 10/28/2004

It's called a flame war.

We had those back in the 1980's, back when we were still using dial-up bulletin boards. At the time, I thought it had a lot to do with the age of the participants. They were all young techie hackers, because at that time, you still had to know a lot about computers to get one computer to talk to another computer. I thought, what the hell, kids like that get into a lot of fistfights anyway. The people at the WELL (Whole Earth Magazine) thought it had more to do with lack of emotional cues. Of course, a lot of them had come on from Stephen Gaskin's The Hog Farm in Tennessee, where they had been doing the work of psychiatric nurses. As you may be aware, 1960's communes tended to collect a lot of people who would otherwise have had to be institutionalized. Given that some of the most vociferous HNN scrappers are Vietnam veterans, which is to say, that they are old enough to be grandfathers, I am inclined to think that the WELL-beings were right about lack of emotional cues.

One of the things I learned is that a blogsite simply cannot get along without a good Den Mother unless most of the participants have a lot of online experience. There is a whole different set of online social skills. If you Google people on HNN, you find that HNN is usually their first blogsite. People keep disagreeing on basic subjects, grate on each other's tempers, and become convinced that the other party is the devil incarnate. Things sort of spin out of control. "The center cannot hold... Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world."

Have a look at Stacy Horn's _Cyberville_

Horn is another of the old 1980's pre-blog-sphere types, only she wrote a book about the experience. I don't suppose Rick Shenkman knew what he was letting himself in for when he started HNN-- he must have expected that it would be like editing a journal. I was relieved when you turned up.

We had someone very much like you on my first blog-system (*), only she was a lawyer. If I recall rightly, Eileen had injured her back, and was killing time while waiting for it to heal, and at the same time, taking stock, and figuring out what she wanted to do with the rest of her life. The man who had actually started the system was a technical genius with a very short temper. He didn't suffer fools, gladly or otherwise, nor was he likely to consider whether he might be wrong in a particular instance. The same basic breed as Bill Gates and Richard Stallman, in short. He was more likely to pour gasoline on a quarrel than to smooth it down. At that date, the combination of technical skills and academic connections required to start a system dictated that the person who ran the technical side had to be a computer science major or computer science grad student. Computers were much more expensive then, and apart from anything else, setting up an organization meant being an effective military-type scrounger (what the Russians call "tolkachi," I believe). Given all those requirements, it was too much to expect people-skills as well.

(*) In those days, we called it a conferencing system, and the best ones, such as ours, ran the CoSy software produced at the University of Guelph in Ontario.

Maarja Krusten - 10/28/2004

Good advice, Andrew. I've been doing this with some of my longer posts but only sometimes. I use it also when I cut and paste extracts into my postings from some of my other writings or from other articles. I have to say I don't bother to do it with my shorter posts. All in all, it doesn't seem as if it is worth getting excercised over something so benign as typos, yet I occasionally see people sniping at each other over them (not you here). Go figure!

Andrew D. Todd - 10/27/2004

I don't know about structural differences per se. The main thing is that all the great leaders of the past were leading much smaller populations. Washington and Jefferson exercised limited powers over a country of three millions. There were about 20,000 civil servants, I believe, but most of those were part-time postmasters. Say, 2000 full time equivalent? The army amounted to a brigade by modern standards.

Queen Elizabeth I? Her England had a population of two million, and London of two hundred thousand.

I am not sure what a figure for Periclean Athens would be but the area of Attica was only 2500 sq. kilometers, and if that is typical of Greece, 500 sq. kilometers would be arable. In terms of realistic crop yields, it is difficult to see how the population of Attica could have been much in excess of 50,000.

Andrew D. Todd - 10/27/2004

The trick is to write in a word processor, e-mail program, etc, then copy and paste into the form

Richard Henry Morgan - 10/27/2004

I think the structural diffrences of a direct democracy produced different leaders than we have today, and produced a different process. The role of media as intermediaries and as a separate unelected power was less developed. Everyone who could vote, essentially, knew war.

I would not make too much of Kerry's 3 and 1/2 months on a boat as basis for saying that Kerry "knows war". His knowledge by acquaintance of war, slim to the point of near-anorexia, outstrips Bush for sure, but doesn't lay much of a foundation for wisdom. For instance, he was for putting the entire coalition under UN control during Gulf War I -- imagine the fun that would create. He saw a parallel between Nicaragua and Vietnam, and opposed the Reagan buildup. If there is a prize somewhere for military experience giving rise to a lack of military wisdom, Kerry certainly contends favorably for it.

Maarja Krusten - 10/26/2004

Mr. Hick, I don't always agree with Dave's opinions. For example, although, as someone who cast her first vote for Richard Nixon in 1972, I didn't agree with many of the dissenters at the the time the U.S. was fighting the Vietnam war, I do not view Kerry as a traitor for his anti-war actions. Since the war, as I've studied later historical revelations, I've come to better understand those who protested the war, although I do not support all their tactics, even now. But, while we sometimes disagree, I always read and consider carefully what Dave writes. And I always keep in mind Dave's courageous service to the nation. He served in the the U.S. Army in Vietnam and was wounded, seriously at that. I respect Dave's sacrifices for our nation. Finally, as does Dave, I make lots of typos in posting and as you know, there's no automatic spell checker here. No shame in making typos, surely?

Graham Hick - 10/26/2004

I guess your tinfoil hat prevented you from spell checking.