Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Meaningful Greatness in Presidents


Today we attempt to rethink that favorite of backwoods editorials:  What makes a President great?  As a historian manque, I have been startled again and again by the tendency of my more academic confreres to limit their full approval when it comes to grading past leaders to "wartime presidents."  Warren Harding and Millard Filmore have rarely made the cut. 

The fact is, much of what is only too quickly undermining what survives of our democracy comes out of the impulse of the likes of George W. Bush to establish his own military legacy, to nail that coontail onto the wall.  War tends to produce triumphal headlines -- at least at first -- a lot of profit -- and employment -- around the munitions business, and a swollen and expensive bureaucracy, military and civilian.  It tends to leave behind tremendous deficits, hundreds of thousands of ex-recruits too shot up or deranged to survive except at the government's expense, and exhorbitant bills for "nation-building" in some barbaric corner of the planet we will soon have forgotten.

All this was evident all along to our more seasoned presidents.  Let's take another look at the performance of, say, Dwight Eisenhower, long dismissed as a snoozer by the preponderance of academic historians.  Eisenhower inherited a war gone very bad in Korea.  He promised to end it while campaigning in 1952. While I was researching my history of the early CIA, The Old Boys,  I ran across a senior Agency official who explained to me how Eisenhower actually ended that war.  Ike called that official in, told him to catch the next plane to New Delhi and tell his Communist Chinese counterpart that unless the North Koreans and the Chinese agreed to come to the table and negotiate peace within a few weeks, Ike would instruct the Strategic Air Command to destroy the industrial cities of Northern China with atomic weapons.

Peace broke out.

In 1956, spurred in good part by CIA broadcasts promising the Hungarians that the U.S. would support a Hungarian uprising against their Soviet masters, the Hungarians revolted.  The Agency had been training an army that approached a million men from refugees out of the East, the so-called Vlasov Army.  One of their encampments was down the road in Germany from where I translated for the US. Army in the middle fifties.  Both Allen Dulles, the director of the Agency, and his brother John Foster, the Secretary of State, attempted to pressure Eisenhower into agreeing to release these refugees into Hungary to fight.  Not at all interested in triggering World War III, Eisenhower refused.

A similar situation played out soon afterwards in Indo-China.  As Ted Morgan brilliantly pieces out the history in his recent chronicle, Valley of Death, the pressure on Eisenhower from elements of his military as well as the leadership of the State Department was unremitting once the French fortress at Dien Bien Phu in Indo China was under seige. Eisenhower held fast.  As I spelled out in my controversial spellbinder Bobby and J. Edgar, during the early sixties John Kennedy -- as with Cuba, unable to resist either the Pentagon or Cardinal Spellman  --  authorized the 16,000 helicopter support troops who involved us directly in the South Vietnamese civil war and led to over fifteen years of senseless slaughter that was to gut a generation of young Americans and sap our economy.

Ronald Reagan, surrounded by cooler heads like George Shultz and Jim Baker and headed off at the pass by the legislative flanking actions of Ted Kennedy that led to the Boland amendments, barely avoided war against Nicaragua.  Here again I can recommend a supporting text by -- surprise! -- me: Edward Kennedy: An Intimate Biography.  Once George W. Bush took office the economy seemed to be under control and the political advantages of a foreign adventure proved irresistable.

Will we ever learn?  Maybe this will help.  Thanks for your patience,


Saturday, May 14, 2011

What's Left Out


As a committed latecomer to technological innovation, I have been thinking about -- but not writing -- a blog of my own for some time.  I suppose I got serious about opening this possibility in the wake of the abuse I've taken over the last few years from establishment media after I joined the ranks of the "conspiracy nuts."  The trouble started with the 2007 publication of Bobby and J. Edgar, my treatment of the series of events that began when Joe Kennedy broke in as a bootlegger and ended with the assassination of John Kennedy and Bobby.

My research and reasoning is laid out in the controversial Chapter 19 of that embattled volume.  Well before the book came out the furor started, reflected in the astonishment expressed by traditional reviewers that a "respected historian," as I was still considered for the moment, would dare to question the conclusions of the Warren Commission.  Over the more recent decades experts from as wide a range as the chief investigator of the U.S. House of Representatives Select Committee on Assassinations to Richard Nixon -- who privately called the Warren Commission report "The greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American public" -- have echoed my fundamental conclusions.  Still, the coverup goes on. 

All this got me to thinking:  What else goes unexamined in the narrative media and government sources impose on us?  What else should we be considering?

This blog will attempt to pry open answers to a number of questions never answered -- and rarely asked -- about our public life.  Keep checking this blog.

Burton Hersh