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Tuesday, July 26, 2005

History is my Demon

Some interesting paralells are suggested by the two major leaders of World War Two. Both Hitler and Roosevelt inherited countries torn apart by economic depression, and both inaugurated massive public works projects to put their citizenry back to work. This worked, to a certain degree, in both cases, but wasn't quite enough to fully pull their chestnuts out of the fire. What they really needed was a system-wide infusion of cash; the sort that having to prepare for a war would bring.
Further interesting paralells can be observed between the presidential races of 1940 and 2000. Both involved the scion of a political dynasty, for easy starters. Both victors inherited an economy that had recently crashed (though FDR had got his eight years before '40, of course) after years of prosperity-in both cases, prosperity that was predicated on stock profits from largely illusory corporations, and the bubble always was going to burst: why someone didn't plan for that inevitability is astonishing.
America in the '20's and America in the '90's (under Clinton, anyway, and Bush I only did it once) both pursued paths that didn't include the overt declaration of war, but nonetheless featured many military adventures abroad.
When FDR made the unprecedented move of running for a third term, he had a nation that was 80-90% isolationist. His main opponent in the GOP was one Robert Taft, who was making a great deal of hay telling his skeptically isolationist constituency that their president was already paving the way to war, and would lie to get them into it, the same way Wilson had. Just before the Republican convention, the man in charge of seating for the hall, a dedicated Taft man, suddenly died, after being in rude health just before. The one who took his place was the Republican boss of (Philadelphia? Pittsburgh?), Ernest Cuneo, who saw to it that Wendell Willkie got the nomination.
Willkie was a Wall Street lawyer, though with a rural background, and a good, folksy manner that served him well on the stump. His main backers were Thomas Lamont (chief financial officer of the House of Morgan), and the publishers of Time/Life and "Look" magazines. A former Democrat,he was skeptical of the New Deal, though the idea of intervention in Europe appealed to him. It appealed to his bosses in the money powers, as well, who seem to have put up a candidate so like FDR (in his views on intervention, anyway) that even if Roosevelt lost, they'd still have their war candidate.
In 2000, the younger Bush got as far as Florida on election night, and things started to get interesting. My notes from that evening show that before Florida, Bush was ahead in electoral votes, and running about even in the popular vote. My notes also note my pleasure at seeing the son of Richard Daley, who stole Illinois for Kennedy in 1960, stealing Illinois for Al Gore, forty years later.
As Master of Operations for a public radio station, I got to sit there every afternoon in the control booth, listening to the growing nightmare as the outcome became a series of court cases, with each side claiming only an interest in fairness and legality, and when they'd lose, they'd say, "We'll see..." It was win/lose, win/lose for both sides. When news items about all 15,000 absentee votes in Seminole county, Fla. (for example) being found to be fraudulent, and people who thought that they were voting for Gore having their votes counted on the voting machines (owned by Diebold, a large contributor to the Republican party) as votes for Pat Buchanan, a recount was ordered. The recount happened in the face of what sure looks to me like mob intimidation. Nonetheless, it went on, with the Bush people in particular asking the Florida supreme court to stop it. They said they wouldn't, so the case went to the federal supreme court. Instead of recusing themselves (Scalia had a son highly placed in the Bush camp), they went right ahead and stopped the recount, a judicial coup leading to the victory of Bush.
Mind you, Al Gore may very well have been the Wendell Willkie of his day: a horribly stiff presence on the stump, he also had very little not in common with his opponent. The Dems, as usual, were under the impression that they could somehow sway the religious right to their cause by throwing a few bones their way (gay marriage being "wrong", abortion being "wrong", though the law of the land, Lieberman's quote about how the constitution provides freedom religion, not freedom from religion, etc.). He at least partially deserved to have his ass handed to him, by my observation, but not in the way it happened.
From my notes during this time:
"Frankly, the whole thing is just getting creepy. Bush got his people to do the oldest shoplifter's trick in the world-walk out like you own what you stole. They said he won Florida, so people think he won. And now the polls reflect this, which no doubt gives Al Gore pause...
"The senate is going to be split right down the middle, now that arch-reptile Slade Gorton is gone (which itself only happened after a protracted legal battle). Exciting. Terrifying. We'll see if this prevents Bush from packing the federal courts with back-water troglodytes."
It remained split down the middle, until Jim Jeffords became an independent, over the outraged howls of his fellow Republicans (who basically were making the point that one simply can't do that, which isn't true). Then, Paul Wellstone's plane mysteriously dropped out of the sky, five days before the midterm elections, and now we have a Republican majority in congress.
Naturally, the new president in 2000 had a record that made him look a bit suspect. The new president in 1940 would have, too, if the press was a bit more vigilant, and less likely to keep secrets on behalf of their political sources (to my conservative friends: Just think! If the evil liberal media had the big mouth that they have these days-allegedly-you wouldn't have all those socialistic New Deal programs to complain about!). Everything Mr. Bush tried, legislatively, was failing due to a deadlocked senate and widespread mistrust of the government at large, the administration in particular. I had to chuckle: for as long as I had been watching politics, people who referred to themselves as "conservatives" had been getting themselves elected by going on about how they weren't really politicians, beholden to certain interests, and government itself was evil, somehow. They'd hamstring every protective measure that government is there to provide, and underfund needed programs (including schools), and step back, proudly, and say, "See, I told you it doesn't work!" Now, nothing was. Something needed to change.
Roosevelt had already been doing everything he could for England (paralell there too; both he and Churchill had been head of their respective navies, at one time. Both had American mothers, too, for whatever that's worth). England was broke, and their ambassador had, rather bluntly, came out and said so. So, in return for the use of various outposts in their crumbling empire, we leased them battleships and gave them money, which irked the largely isolationist congress not just a little. Roosevelt had promised, in the election, that we would not go to war unless attacked. Eventually, in speeches after the election, he started leaving off the 'unless attacked' part.
Pleas from China to help them in their fight against Japan had largely gone unheeded, but we used our connections to the remains of the British and Dutch empires to see to it that not only were no Japanese battleships going to be fuelling up anywhere in the Pacific, but that no goods whatsoever were going to Japan. Naval intelligence operatives had already cracked the code books, so they knew that Japan was going to attack the Pacific fleet, the only question was where. Conventional wisdom in the administration held that it would probably be in the Phillipines, or Java. At the last minute, the Secretary of State Cordell Hull sent one last possible set of suggestions to Japan as to how they could avoid war with the United States, a document that seems to have been a bunch of things that were obviously unacceptable to a sovereign power, no matter how belligerent. Shortly thereafter, it was reported that Japanese embassies all over the world were burning their cabled dispatches.
Then the order came from Tokyo, on December Sixth, to Yamamoto's fleet, quickly translated, it read, "East Wind Rain".
Pearl Harbor was largely the home of old, on their way to decommissioning battleships. For reasons that the head of the Navy never got to hear, they were all lined up in a row. Admiral Richardson had resigned, a couple months before, over this. The rest is history.
As to what happened on 9/11, I suspect that the truth will come out, say forty years or so in the future (as with Pearl Harbor), if at all. These days, you don't need to burn incriminating paper memoes, you just hit 'delete' on your keyboard. After December 7th, 1941, the only people who questioned the circumstances on that day that led to so much death (the historian/teachers Charles Beard and Harry Elmer Barnes) soon found that they had no jobs, no book deals. Their voices are largely forgotten.
On September Twelfth, 2001, Richard Armitage (who had been the United States ambassador to the United Nations) was asked whether or not there was any possibility of 9/11 being an inside job, in the most roundabout of ways. He said the usual, "I will not dignify such a disgusting assertion with...", which is to say that he didn't answer the question. Anyone since who has raised the question is faced with accusations of 'insensitivity', which is weird, since I think that it's far more insensitive to not seek justice for the dead, and perhaps let their true killers walk free.
But I do know that the arab world stood to gain nothing on that day, short of yet further bombs falling on them (which had been going on steadily since 1991), more starvation (ditto), and occupation, seizing of their oil fields, etc. It has been said that Saddam Hussein was preparing to nationalize the Iraqi oil fields, by the way. I also know that the electorate in both '40 and '00 were in no way enthusiastic about the idea of war against the rest of the world, unless attacked, of course, and right on schedule, there came the attacks.
The questions have to be asked, because it all just looks too damn strange. The government in this country has a long history (Republican, Democrat, Whig) of lying to its people to get them to do things that not only did they not want to do, and work counter to the interests of the people. The very rich few happen to control the media, and the government, and pretty much every avenue of possible employment for your average person, so why is it such a stretch to say that they wouldn't kill their own to get their way?
Remember the Maine. Remember Pearl Harbor. Remember 9/11. Hell, Remember the Alamo while you're at it.

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8 Comments:

Blogger Erudite Redneck said...

Bravo! Bravo!

Charles Beard is not forgotten to students of history, though.

Yep, this would be a bully good country if democracies weren't so stupid about diplomacy. War, too, for that matter. The only way to get a democracy to act, this one anyway, is to allow an attack to provoke action, or to lie.

2:37 PM  
Blogger rich bachelor said...

Well, and I kinda think that the reason that a lot of 'Murkans aren't so up on their history is that they're encouraged not to be.
I mean, didn't the Cap'n say the other day that no other president has had as hard of a time getting his judicial nominees ratified as this one? I mean, that's not even sort of true, but sounds real good when you say it...

3:32 PM  
Blogger Erudite Redneck said...

Sadly, freedom means 'Murkans are free to be dummmer'n stumps.

10:29 AM  
Blogger carrier said...

It would be foolish to believe it is a coincedence that history repeats itself.

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