Commentary Magazine


Topic: World War II

The “Torture Report” and American Values

One of the most common and most understandable reactions to the Senate’s “torture report” is that the practices described by Dianne Feinstein’s investigators are contrary to “American values.” On a certain level the assertion is undeniable: torture (and that’s what the “enhanced interrogation techniques” amount to, even if it is not torture as heinous as that routinely practiced by dictatorships) is definitely not an “American value.” But what about incinerating civilians? Is that an “American value”?

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One of the most common and most understandable reactions to the Senate’s “torture report” is that the practices described by Dianne Feinstein’s investigators are contrary to “American values.” On a certain level the assertion is undeniable: torture (and that’s what the “enhanced interrogation techniques” amount to, even if it is not torture as heinous as that routinely practiced by dictatorships) is definitely not an “American value.” But what about incinerating civilians? Is that an “American value”?

The reality is that the U.S. has often done things in the past that, looked at in another light, could be judged as immoral acts or even war crimes. Exhibit A is the strategic bombing of Germany and Japan in World War II which culminated in the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The two atom bombs killed an estimated 190,000 civilians. The non-nuclear bombing of Japan killed at least 330,000 more. That’s more than half a million dead civilians in Japan alone. The toll was not as high in Germany but it was high enough. One bombing raid alone, on Dresden, killed between 25,000 to 40,000 people. The total number of Germans killed in Anglo-American bombing raids has been estimated at over 300,000.

It would be interesting to know what those who now decry the torture of terrorist suspects have to say about the deaths of some 800,000 people, mostly civilians, in these World War II bombing raids. Were Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman, the presidents who ordered these bombing campaigns, war criminals? And if not how can one argue, a so many on the left seem to, that George W. Bush is?

This is not purely a historical debate either. Although Barack Obama shut down the “enhanced interrogation” program (or, more accurately, continued the shutdown which had already been ordered by Bush in his second term), he has stepped up drone strikes in countries from Pakistan to Yemen. By one estimate: “the United States has now conducted 500 targeted killings (approximately 98 percent of them with drones), which have killed an estimated 3,674 people, including 473 civilians. Fifty of these were authorized by President George W. Bush, 450 and counting by President Obama.”

Note that there was no judicial review before any of these attacks, nor should there have been. They were purely executive decisions made by President Obama and they resulted, by this estimate, in the deaths of some 473 civilians. Is that OK but the use of coercive interrogation techniques is not? That’s a good question for a college class on the ethics of war. At the very least it’s not an easy question to answer, and it’s one that those who are outraged by the CIA’s interrogation program should grapple with.

I tend to agree that we should not torture, but I am honest enough to admit there are circumstances–for example preventing an imminent, mass casualty attack on the American homeland–when a president may well be right to decide that repugnant measures are necessary to save large numbers of innocent lives. I am also troubled, by the way, by the strategic bombing campaign of World War II, but I am not arrogant enough to second-guess the decision makers at the time who thought that such steps were necessary to defeat the evils of Nazism and fascism. If you think the atomic bombing of Japan was wrong, try reading Paul Fussell’s wonderful essay, “Thank God for the Atomic Bomb,” whose sentiments have been echoed by every World War II vet I have ever spoken to.

It would be nice, but unlikely, if all of those preening about how awful torture is would stop for a minute to wrestle seriously with these complicated moral dilemmas. Try to place yourselves in the shoes of a Truman or a Bush and ask what you would do when you felt that the only way to effectively protect the United States was to use methods that one’s critics could denounce as barbaric. And try to place yourselves in the shoes of a future president who may well have to grapple with such dilemmas while trying to avoid a WMD attack on the American homeland that would make Pearl Harbor and 9/11 combined look like a Sunday picnic by comparison.

But of course it’s much easier to simply flay Bush, Cheney, and the CIA as latter-day Nazis. All of this reminds me of nothing so much as the pacifists of World War II who were “advocating,” as George Orwell once put it, “non-resistance behind the guns of the American Fleet”–or in this case behind the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center.

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Israel’s Conduct in Gaza Is a Model for Other Nations

During his press conference yesterday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was once again asked whether Israel had acted with enough care in responding to the attacks by Hamas (h/t to Scott Johnson of Powerlineblog.com).

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During his press conference yesterday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was once again asked whether Israel had acted with enough care in responding to the attacks by Hamas (h/t to Scott Johnson of Powerlineblog.com).

“Do you feel your actions, Israel’s actions, were proportionate?,” he was asked. “And were you using the appropriate precision weapons, even if Hamas is using [innocent Palestinians] as human shields?”

Prime Minister Netanyahu gives an exquisite response, pointing out that Israel has gone to extraordinary lengths to avoid civilian casualties while Hamas has gone to extraordinary lengths to ensure civilian casualties. And Mr. Netanyahu then posed a question to the journalist. What would you do in a similar situation, in which your nation was being attacked by 3,500 rockets and your territory was being infiltrated by terrorist death squads?

Which got me to thinking about how Israel has acted versus how other nations, including admirable nations, have acted during wartime. And so I went back and read an account from World War II which is worth considering in the context of how Israel has conducted itself in its war with Hamas.

This story comes from the BBC on February 14, 1945:

British and US bombers have dropped hundreds of thousands of explosives on the German city of Dresden… Last night, 800 RAF Bomber Command planes let loose 650,000 incendiaries and 8,000lb of high explosives and hundreds of 4,000lb bombs in two waves of attack. They faced very little anti-aircraft fire.

As soon as one part of the city was alight, the bombers went for another until the whole of Dresden was ablaze.

“There were fires everywhere with a terrific concentration in the centre of the city,” said one Pathfinder pilot.

The contemporary BBC, in putting the firebombing of Dresden in context, said this:

The attack was authorised by British Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Harris, known as “Bomber Harris” for his enthusiastic support of the area bombing strategy. The idea was to target large urban areas to whittle away at German public morale, cut off relief supplies to the eastern front and give support to the approaching Soviet armies.

According to this analysis found at History.com:

On the evening of February 13, 1945, a series of Allied firebombing raids begins against the German city of Dresden, reducing the “Florence of the Elbe” to rubble and flames, and killing as many as 135,000 people. It was the single most destructive bombing of the war—including Hiroshima and Nagasaki—and all the more horrendous because little, if anything, was accomplished strategically, since the Germans were already on the verge of surrender… More than 3,400 tons of explosives were dropped on the city by 800 American and British aircraft. The firestorm created by the two days of bombing set the city burning for many more days, littering the streets with charred corpses, including many children.

My point in raising this isn’t to condemn Great Britain (or the United States) for what it did in Dresden, though the morality of firebombing Dresden is certainly fair to debate. My point, rather, is that in war, terrible things happen. In war, innocent people die. In war, victorious nations–even the most humane nations–make mistakes. Civilian casualties happen in every conflict; and in the history of war, atrocities by the victorious side are the norm. Of course they shouldn’t be excused; but neither should we judge wartime acts without any understanding of the circumstances of the time, at a safe distance, writing from a keyboard when the main hassle of the day is rush hour traffic. The morality of war is a terribly complicated matter to sort through.

What is so unusual when it comes to Israel is that by historical standards it has conducted itself in its conflict with Hamas (to say nothing of past conflicts) with remarkable care and decency. I’m not sure there are many parallels to it. (America’s conduct in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has been similar, I think, to the care taken by Israel in Gaza.) Israel could have decimated Gaza and Hamas within hours, causing far more civilian deaths. It chose a far more humane, and historically rare, option. For much of the world and much of the Western media, then, to judge Israel harshly for how it’s acted in not only wrong; it is historically ignorant and morally obtuse.

The way Israel has handled itself in this conflict is a model for other nations to follow; and the fact that Israel is on the receiving end of venomous attacks is evidence of dark and ugly impulses that need to be named.

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An Extraordinary Letter

The other day my wife Cindy came across a hand-written letter from her uncle, Frank Keaton, that was written to his parents on February 8, 1944. Mr. Keaton landed on Omaha Beach before D-Day, one of a preliminary group to secure an area for the medics. He held the Silver Star, the Bronze Star, Two Oak Leaf Clusters and the Purple Heart. Shot while crossing the Rhine, he refused to go back behind the lines because he did not want to leave his company (he was part of the “Old Hickory” Division). He survived the war. His letter follows: 

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The other day my wife Cindy came across a hand-written letter from her uncle, Frank Keaton, that was written to his parents on February 8, 1944. Mr. Keaton landed on Omaha Beach before D-Day, one of a preliminary group to secure an area for the medics. He held the Silver Star, the Bronze Star, Two Oak Leaf Clusters and the Purple Heart. Shot while crossing the Rhine, he refused to go back behind the lines because he did not want to leave his company (he was part of the “Old Hickory” Division). He survived the war. His letter follows: 

February 8, 1944

Dear Mother and Dad:

Here is the letter I both like and dislike to write. Tomorrow we are scheduled to board the ship which will take us wherever we may be going. I know how you feel about my leaving the States. But I also know how I feel about it, and my way is the way you must learn to look at it.

In my thirty-one years I have had everything a boy could want. I had the love of two parents and wonderful brothers and sisters, with all the [kindness] we had a home that had everything a home should have. Our whole family combined to give me a name of which I can be justly proud. Through these people and through myself there is a list of true friends, many of whom have gone further than anything that friendship demands.

I’ve grown up with the constant help and guidance of these people. I have gone to school, later to college to learn a profession with every advantage of heritage and surroundings. I’ve had everything a boy needs to shape a life of usefulness.

My eyes have seen much of this country of ours. If I do not come back there is nothing to be sorry about because I have had all of these things. I’ve done most of the things I’ve wanted to do, I’ve seen many of the things I wanted to see, and I’ve already had a life-time of fun.

Now, here is the most important thing of all. Up to now, I’ve given nothing for what I have taken, and now I am at the age when usefulness to our society and to the world at large is expected of me, so that my life will be justified in the eyes of God and man.

What better thing can a man ask for than a chance to fight for what he believes in, fight to give the new generation and the generations not yet born a chance to live a life like my own has been, a chance to play, to go to school and learn about the world, not just one race and one creed; a chance to love and be loved, a chance to see the greatness of the world that God has given us, and a chance to add a name to the long line of great men and women who have made names for themselves in every line of endeavor.

When I think of this my heart swells up and chokes me. Here, early in life, I’m given the opportunity to serve, to make the living of my life not in vain. Some men live a full lifetime and do not achieve this one distinction. This world conflict has given me an easy chance and a big opportunity.

This, then is the way I want you to look at it. You both have given me everything that it was in your power to give me. Give all the kids a big hug and kiss for me and say good-bye to all my friends. My last request of you is “Do not pray only that I shall return, but that I will have the power to do my duty.”
Your ever loving son,

Frank

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Anti-Semitism at Islamic Conference: a Wakeup Call for Europe?

What would it take for the Europeans to face up to the ever more belligerent degrees of anti-Semitism coming from parts of that continent’s Muslim population? Disturbing reports have emerged about certain anti-Jewish comments made by speakers at one of Europe’s most important Islamic conferences. Writing in Le Figaro Michele Tribalat recounted some of the statements made at the congress of the Union of Islamic Organizations in France, which convened in Paris on Wednesday. The most disturbing statements came from “guest of honor” Hani Ramadan, a prominent Muslim leader in Geneva and the brother of Tariq Ramadan.

Before the delegates Ramadan insisted in his speech that, “All the evil in the world originates from the Jews and the Zionist barbarism.” In his speech Ramadan listed places of conflict across the world and claimed that these wars are being driven by the “hand” of Zionism. Similarly, the audience was informed that Jews control the media and that in America and France no one can be elected to the presidency without first pandering to Jewish organizations. Ramadan was good enough to concede, however, that Europe’s “financial lobbies that practice usury…no longer rely only on Jews.”

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What would it take for the Europeans to face up to the ever more belligerent degrees of anti-Semitism coming from parts of that continent’s Muslim population? Disturbing reports have emerged about certain anti-Jewish comments made by speakers at one of Europe’s most important Islamic conferences. Writing in Le Figaro Michele Tribalat recounted some of the statements made at the congress of the Union of Islamic Organizations in France, which convened in Paris on Wednesday. The most disturbing statements came from “guest of honor” Hani Ramadan, a prominent Muslim leader in Geneva and the brother of Tariq Ramadan.

Before the delegates Ramadan insisted in his speech that, “All the evil in the world originates from the Jews and the Zionist barbarism.” In his speech Ramadan listed places of conflict across the world and claimed that these wars are being driven by the “hand” of Zionism. Similarly, the audience was informed that Jews control the media and that in America and France no one can be elected to the presidency without first pandering to Jewish organizations. Ramadan was good enough to concede, however, that Europe’s “financial lobbies that practice usury…no longer rely only on Jews.”

The fact that these statements could come from such an apparently prominent speaker at such an important Islamic conference surely says something about currents in the wider Muslim community. With such sentiments being bandied around from the podiums of high-profile Islamic conferences, is it any wonder that across Europe there has been such a rise in Muslim hate crime against Jews? In America, liberal Jews have often refused to a hear a word of it. They look at you with wary suspicion if you dare to suggest that Muslims have played a significant part in the upward trend of European anti-Semitism. Even after the harrowing 2012 shootings at a Jewish school in Toulouse and the uncovering of a number of similar anti-Jewish terror plots, many liberals in America seemed to assume that there must be some anti-Muslim prejudice at work on the part of anyone who tried to highlight this phenomenon.

Then last fall the European Union released its own comprehensive survey of anti-Semitism and the figures spoke for themselves. In France, 73 percent of those who reported having experienced anti-Semitism said that it came from what the survey termed “someone with a Muslim extremist view.” Just 22 percent said they had witnessed anti-Semitism from a “Christian extremist” and 27 percent said they had seen it coming from someone with a “right-wing political view.” For what its worth, 67 percent of those surveyed in France said they had heard anti-Semitism coming from someone on the left.

Such trends should hardly be surprising. In recent years Britain has had to deal with the phenomenon of anti-Jewish and hardline Saudi textbooks being used in Muslim education programs for young children. This culture of anti-Jewish education then seems to continue all the way up to the universities, with Muslim student associations still hosting radical preachers who express views no different from those voiced by Ramadan at Wednesday’s conference. Is it any wonder, then, if some members of the Islamic community are ready to believe the most hallucinatory and outlandish conspiracy theories about Jews? And as Ramadan was sure to explain to his audience, “Against these international schemes of Zionist power, there is only one rampart: Islam.”

Given the scale of mass immigration into Europe, the process of acculturation was never going to be immediate or even entirely smooth. Yet, it often appears as if European governments have done less than nothing to westernize immigrant communities, in many instances having even encouraged a certain separateness, just as the doctrines of multiculturalism stipulate. After the horrors of World War Two Europe embraced a kind of post-national cosmopolitan tolerance that forbade calling out bigotry when it emanated from ethnic minorities. As Ed West has written, “the irony is that, out of collective guilt for what happened to Europe’s Jews, Europe imported millions of people from some of the world’s most anti-Semitic countries, [and] made no attempt to counter these prejudices.”

No doubt Ramadan’s comments will make some headlines and provoke some mutters of condemnation and concern, just as the European Union’s recent anti-Semitism survey did. But how many more Toulouse-style terror attacks will Europe go through before it is ready to contemplate getting serious? Perhaps it is incapable of ever doing so. 

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The Debate We Should Be Having About Rand Paul and Sanctions

Rand Paul was put on the defensive this week over criticism stemming from comments he made last year, posted on Jennifer Rubin’s Washington Post blog, on Iran sanctions: “There are times when sanctions have made it worse. There are times–leading up to World War II, we cut off trade with Japan. That probably caused Japan to react angrily. We also had a blockade on Germany after World War I, which may have encouraged some of their anger.”

As with a great many conversations involving Hitler, the debate went off course almost immediately in ways that were unfair to Paul. The senator’s senior advisor told the Post in response: “World War II was a necessary war, a just war, a fully declared war, and an entirely victorious war; the megalomaniac Hitler was to blame for the war and the Holocaust.” So some of the sympathy for Paul is warranted: his recorded statements didn’t suggest that the United States was at fault for Hitler’s rise and the subsequent consequences.

“There’s a debate to be had on foreign policy,” David Harsanyi argues, reasonably. “This isn’t it.” Harsanyi goes on to make the following point:

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Rand Paul was put on the defensive this week over criticism stemming from comments he made last year, posted on Jennifer Rubin’s Washington Post blog, on Iran sanctions: “There are times when sanctions have made it worse. There are times–leading up to World War II, we cut off trade with Japan. That probably caused Japan to react angrily. We also had a blockade on Germany after World War I, which may have encouraged some of their anger.”

As with a great many conversations involving Hitler, the debate went off course almost immediately in ways that were unfair to Paul. The senator’s senior advisor told the Post in response: “World War II was a necessary war, a just war, a fully declared war, and an entirely victorious war; the megalomaniac Hitler was to blame for the war and the Holocaust.” So some of the sympathy for Paul is warranted: his recorded statements didn’t suggest that the United States was at fault for Hitler’s rise and the subsequent consequences.

“There’s a debate to be had on foreign policy,” David Harsanyi argues, reasonably. “This isn’t it.” Harsanyi goes on to make the following point:

What Paul never contends is that Hitler’s ideology hinged on the idea of opposing Versailles. He was talking about Germany and Germans. In front of me is Paul Johnson’s Modern Times, where the author basically makes the same case and Margaret MacMillan’s Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed the World, in which she writes that though Versailles’ impact had likely been exaggerated by German governments, it allowed political parties like the Nazis to tap into widespread “anger” and resentment. Sounds like that’s what Rand was saying.

True enough, though it’s worth noting that in Modern Times, Johnson has much more to say about the grievances unleashed by Versailles, and they center on the ethnic strife sparked by transferring Europe to the individual nation-state model from the age of empires–“self-determination,” in Johnson’s writing, which created more restive minority populations because there were more states. Where economic factors played a role, Johnson seems to put emphasis on the fact that more states also meant more poor states, especially in the immediate postwar period, and he notes that Germany was considered to have defaulted on its postwar obligations as well. If any aspect of Versailles encouraged German expansionism, Johnson appears to blame the fact that “under the Treaty it was forbidden to seek union with Germany, which made the Anschluss seem more attractive than it actually was.”

But I think Paul’s defenders here are on less steady ground in dismissing Paul’s comments as they relate to Pearl Harbor. He prefaced his sanctions comments–at least on Pearl Harbor–by saying sometimes sanctions “have made it worse.” Taken individually, sanctions on a nation can be treated this way. But it doesn’t always apply, and it applies perhaps less to Japan than almost any other scenario (Germany, Iraq, Iran, etc.).

As some have said since Paul’s comments, Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor was a sort of preemptive strike to at least temporarily avert an American response to simultaneous Japanese aggression throughout the region, including on Singapore, Hong Kong, and the Philippines. But another important facet of this is that the sanctions weren’t a surprise to Japan, because they were in response to Japanese action. As the historian Ian Toll writes, Japan took action its leaders–reminded by Admiral Yamamoto, who initially wanted to avoid an unwinnable war–knew would precipitate sanctions, and the whole process would bring them toward war:

From his flagship, Nagato, usually anchored in Hiroshima Bay, Yamamoto continued to warn against joining with the Nazis. He reminded his government that Japan imported around four-fifths of its oil and steel from areas controlled by the Allies. To risk conflict, he wrote, was foolhardy, because “there is no chance of winning a war with the United States for some time to come.”

But Japan’s confused and divided government drifted toward war while refusing to face the strategic problems it posed. It signed the Tripartite Pact with Germany and Italy in Berlin in September 1940. As Yamamoto had predicted, the American government quickly restricted and finally cut off exports of oil and other vital materials. The sanctions brought events to a head, because Japan had no domestic oil production to speak of, and would exhaust its stockpiles in about a year.

Yamamoto realized he had lost the fight to keep Japan out of war, and he fell in line with the planning process.

Yamamoto warned against the process because he wrongly thought his leaders wanted to avoid war, when in fact they provoked it. This doesn’t mean Paul is “blaming” the U.S. for the attack on Pearl Harbor (and by extension, American entry into World War II). But it raises questions about Paul’s selective use of history–and bad history does not usually inform good policy.

I have raised this issue with Paul before. When he made his major foreign-policy address a year ago, he advocated a greater emphasis on containment. But he conflated the Kennanite version of containment with the strategy that ultimately won the Cold War, which was far from the truth. In reality, Kennan’s ideas were central to the Truman administration’s decision to embrace containment, but his version of containment was so different that Kennan adamantly refused to take credit for it.

It is far from clear that a nuclear Iran would be containable the way the Soviet Union was–in fact, it’s unlikely. But Paul’s version of containment would not have even contained the Soviet Union. Paul’s habit of cherry-picking history to create precedents for his own preferred strategy seems to be present with his comments on Japanese sanctions and Pearl Harbor as well. It certainly doesn’t make him a blame-America-firster. But it does suggest unsound strategic judgment.

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Shinzo Abe’s Provocation

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan is making predictable waves with his provocative visit to the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo, which honors Japan’s war dead–including a number of war criminals from World War II. He is trying, half-heartedly, to pass this off as a normal visit akin to a U.S. president visiting Arlington National Cemetery, but anyone who has ever been to Yasukuni knows that’s not the case. Right next to the shrine is a museum commemorating Japan’s 20th-century wars, which are presented from an imperialistic and militaristic slant in which the Rape of Nanking is not mentioned, the U.S. is blamed for provoking the attack on Pearl Harbor, and the kamikaze pilots are glorified for their devotion to the nation.

Abe knows all of this, and he knows how Japan’s neighbors perceive high-level visits to the Shrine–about the same way as a bull perceives a waving red cape. So what is he up to? The obvious explanation is that he is enhancing his domestic popularity, already high, by catering to his right-wing supporters. He may also feel that China and South Korea have shown little interest in rapprochement with Japan so he has nothing to lose by doing what he has wanted to do all along.

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Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan is making predictable waves with his provocative visit to the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo, which honors Japan’s war dead–including a number of war criminals from World War II. He is trying, half-heartedly, to pass this off as a normal visit akin to a U.S. president visiting Arlington National Cemetery, but anyone who has ever been to Yasukuni knows that’s not the case. Right next to the shrine is a museum commemorating Japan’s 20th-century wars, which are presented from an imperialistic and militaristic slant in which the Rape of Nanking is not mentioned, the U.S. is blamed for provoking the attack on Pearl Harbor, and the kamikaze pilots are glorified for their devotion to the nation.

Abe knows all of this, and he knows how Japan’s neighbors perceive high-level visits to the Shrine–about the same way as a bull perceives a waving red cape. So what is he up to? The obvious explanation is that he is enhancing his domestic popularity, already high, by catering to his right-wing supporters. He may also feel that China and South Korea have shown little interest in rapprochement with Japan so he has nothing to lose by doing what he has wanted to do all along.

Some Japan watchers posit a more conspiratorial explanation for his provocation: By visiting Yasukuni, Abe will enrage China, North Korea, and South Korea, among others, possibly prompting symbolic Chinese retaliation, thereby making the Japanese people feel threatened and making them more receptive to his agenda of rearming Japan and adopting a more aggressive posture in foreign and defense policy.

This sounds plausible to me, but it is also short-sighted on Abe’s part, because he is simply feeding Chinese nationalism and xenophobia–the greatest threats to East Asian security today. He is also making it harder, indeed nearly impossible, for Japan to work together more closely with South Korea on issues of mutual concern, such as the threat from North Korea. Japan and South Korea–both democracies closely aligned with the U.S.–ought to be natural allies, but for that to occur South Korea would have to overcome decades of bitterness over Japan’s imperialistic exploitation of their country. Abe’s visit to Yasukuni makes that nearly impossible.

Abe has the potential to be one of Japan’s greatest prime ministers. He has already achieved a great deal by turning around the Japanese economy, which is emerging from years of stagnation. He will also do much good if he succeeds in expanding Japan’s capacity and scope for military action. Japan is America’s closest ally in Northeast Asia and one that can do a good deal of good by checking the rise of Chinese power. The just-concluded agreement to keep a U.S. marine base on Okinawa by relocating it to a remote part of the island is an example of Abe at his best. The visit to Yasukuni, unfortunately, undermines this achievement and creates needless antagonism toward Japanese rearmament.

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Truman’s Lesson for Presidents: Imagine the Farewell Address

Today President Obama’s second term begins in earnest, with a public swearing-in ceremony and a traditional inaugural address. There is and will be much written about what Obama said and what he should have said. No doubt the president has his plans for a second term, and his inaugural address was shaped in large part by his intentions. But another way to prepare such an address is for the president to imagine what he would want to be able to say in his farewell address, or his last remarks as president.

As it happens, this past week marked the 60th anniversary of Harry S. Truman’s farewell address to the American people, as he prepared them for the transition of power from the Democratic Party’s Truman to the Republican Party’s Dwight D. Eisenhower. As is often the case, Truman offers lessons of his own for modern presidents, but because of certain historical conditions he probably has even more to say for someone like Barack Obama. Both Truman and Obama had taken over from presidents who began their term in peacetime and would go on to prosecute America’s participation in a war that necessitated major changes in the country’s approach to national security, leaving that legacy to senators who rose suddenly and unexpectedly to the White House.

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Today President Obama’s second term begins in earnest, with a public swearing-in ceremony and a traditional inaugural address. There is and will be much written about what Obama said and what he should have said. No doubt the president has his plans for a second term, and his inaugural address was shaped in large part by his intentions. But another way to prepare such an address is for the president to imagine what he would want to be able to say in his farewell address, or his last remarks as president.

As it happens, this past week marked the 60th anniversary of Harry S. Truman’s farewell address to the American people, as he prepared them for the transition of power from the Democratic Party’s Truman to the Republican Party’s Dwight D. Eisenhower. As is often the case, Truman offers lessons of his own for modern presidents, but because of certain historical conditions he probably has even more to say for someone like Barack Obama. Both Truman and Obama had taken over from presidents who began their term in peacetime and would go on to prosecute America’s participation in a war that necessitated major changes in the country’s approach to national security, leaving that legacy to senators who rose suddenly and unexpectedly to the White House.

Of course, while Truman may have even more in common with Obama’s predecessor, it is the nature of Truman’s experience in office that makes him the natural model for a certain kind of president: one who battles low approval numbers while in office, reshapes American policy in some fundamental way, especially with regard to national security, and sees himself as somewhat ahead of his time and destined to be vindicated by the history books and appreciated in hindsight. But most of all, Truman’s farewell address can serve as a guide for a course correction from Obama’s disappointing, highly partisan first term.

Truman began by explaining the responsibilities of the office, and famously reminded the public that the president “can’t pass the buck to anybody.” There is much Truman could have blamed on his predecessor Franklin Roosevelt, who made key strategic and political mistakes that Truman had to fix, and for which Truman gets far less credit than he deserves. Obama, unfortunately, has taken exactly the opposite approach, blaming his predecessor for the failure of his own economic initiatives; blaming a GOP-controlled House even though the Democrats control the Senate and the White House; passing the buck on Benghazi, and others. (Keith Koffler has a handy list of 13 problems Obama has blamed on others, especially the GOP and George W. Bush, here.)

President Obama’s excessive partisanship and relentless demonization of his opponents and their motives stand in sharp contrast to not only the behavior of most of his predecessors and the expected dignity of the office, but to Truman’s plea for unity and support for his successor, who bested Truman’s own party a few months prior:

I want all of you to realize how big a job, how hard a job, it is–not for my sake, because I am stepping out of it–but for the sake of my successor….

Regardless of your politics, whether you are Republican or Democrat, your fate is tied up with what is done here in this room. The President is President of the whole country. We must give him our support as citizens of the United States. He will have mine, and I want you to give him yours.

In matters of war and peace, Truman put special emphasis on his decision to go to war in Korea, which he called “the most important in my time as President of the United States.” Here there is another important lesson for Obama, who has derided calls for military action as the rash actions of men who have not considered the horrors of war. Obama then chose as his defense secretary a man who had served in Vietnam heroically, and whose experience, he said, has taught him the futility of armed conflict to such an extent that he made it his practice to publicly take the military option off the table so as to try and ensure it won’t even be considered, whatever the progression of crisis.

Truman also served with distinction, but didn’t believe his service required him to refuse to send others into the field. “I was a soldier in the First World War, and I know what a soldier goes through. I know well the anguish that mothers and fathers and families go through. So I knew what was ahead if we acted in Korea,” Truman said. But he also remembered what came before the Second World War, and had to allow history into his decision making process as well: “The Japanese moved into Manchuria, and free men did not act. The Fascists moved into Ethiopia, and we did not act. The Nazis marched into the Rhineland, into Austria, into Czechoslovakia, and free men were paralyzed for lack of strength and unity and will. Think about those years of weakness and indecision, and the World War II which was their evil result.”

Individual liberty and religious liberty are not to be trifled with, Truman warned. They are in large part the reason he predicted the demise of the Soviet Union and the success of the American tradition: “In the long run the strength of our free society, and our ideals, will prevail over a system that has respect for neither God nor man.” Those around the world yearning to be free, fighting against oppression and the injustice of dictatorship, must know the president of the United States is in their corner. America will win the Cold War and the battle of ideals, Truman said, but not through a policy of nonintervention born of perceived futility.

Sixty years after that speech, Obama—and any president, really—should take to heart Truman’s message, and the way history judges a leader who can honestly deliver such a farewell address.

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Have Patience with the Arab Spring

Watching political developments unfold in the Middle East—from Libya’s post-Qaddafi chaos to the growing authoritarianism of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and of Nouri al-Maliki in post-Saddam Hussein, and now the violent dissolution of post-Bashar Assad Syria—it is easy to despair of the possibility of real democracy taking root in the region or to pine for the days of the strongmen. Sheri Berman, a professor of political science at Columbia University, offers a must-read counterpoint in the new issue of Foreign Affairs. She reminds us that the process of democratic development was not very smooth in Western Europe either—that in fact it took decades, even centuries.

She offers the examples of France, Italy, and Germany: all now well-established liberal democracies but at one point they were anything but.

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Watching political developments unfold in the Middle East—from Libya’s post-Qaddafi chaos to the growing authoritarianism of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and of Nouri al-Maliki in post-Saddam Hussein, and now the violent dissolution of post-Bashar Assad Syria—it is easy to despair of the possibility of real democracy taking root in the region or to pine for the days of the strongmen. Sheri Berman, a professor of political science at Columbia University, offers a must-read counterpoint in the new issue of Foreign Affairs. She reminds us that the process of democratic development was not very smooth in Western Europe either—that in fact it took decades, even centuries.

She offers the examples of France, Italy, and Germany: all now well-established liberal democracies but at one point they were anything but.

France, after all, transitioned from absolute monarchy by way of the French Revolution and its Reign of Terror. This was followed by numerous further upheavals that Berman does not mention, including the Bourbon restoration from 1815 to 1830, the July Revolution of 1830, the Revolution of 1848, the proclamation of the Second Empire in 1851, the creation of the Third Republic in 1870, the Vichy regime from 1940 to 1944, and, finally, in 1958 the overthrow of the Fourth Republic and the birth of the Fifth Republic which has lasted to this day.

Germany, for its part, was forcibly created by Bismarck out of numerous smaller states in the decades leading up to 1871 and democracy did not emerge until after World War I—only to be snuffed out starting in 1933 by Adolf Hitler. Out of the post-war rubble emerged a West Germany that was democratic and an East Germany that was not. A unified, democratic Germany was not created until 1990.

As for Italy, it, too, did not emerge as a unified state until relatively late (1870). And it, too, saw its nascent democracy usurped by a fascist (Benito Mussolini), and it did not become a true liberal democracy until after World War II.

Nor was the process of democratization painless in the United States: It took two outright wars (the War of Independence and the Civil War) to establish self-government and another period of violent upheaval (the Civil Rights era of the 1950s-60s) to realize the potential of the Constitution.

Considering the tribulations suffered by the U.S. and Europe on the road to democracy, it is hardly surprising that the process of political reform is proving painful in the Middle East. As Berman reminds us: “Stable liberal democracy requires more than just a shift in political forms; it also involves eliminating the antidemocratic social, cultural, and economic legacies of the old regime. Such a process takes lots of time and effort, over multiple tries.”

She is right. Anyone who reads her article, “The Promise of the Arab Spring,” should gain a measure of patience and understanding for what it is currently happening in the Middle East. We cannot expect overnight miracles, but that does not mean that it is possible to cling to the rule of discredited strongmen—any more than Europe today could possibly return to the rule of absolute monarchs.

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Remembering Daniel Inouye

When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in December 1941, Daniel Inouye, the son and grandson of Japanese immigrants, was 17. “I was filled with grief as I came to the realization that the pilots who had dropped the bombs were people who looked like me,” he later wrote, as recounted in the Washington Post. He rushed to the scene to help the injured. Two years later, when Japanese-Americans were permitted to serve in the army, Inouye dropped his studies and enlisted with the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, with whom he would deploy to Italy and earn the Distinguished Service Cross, the Bronze Star Medal, the Purple Heart, and later the Medal of Honor.

So when he warned at the 1968 Democratic National Convention of a “retreat from the responsibilities of citizenship,” he had all the authority in the world to do so. In the interim, he had been elected to represent Hawaii in Congress beginning the day Hawaii became a state, and then was elected to the Senate a few years later. Inouye died yesterday at the age of 88. Perhaps this week as much as any, as the country recovers from the tragedy in Newtown, it’s worth remembering that the nation also produces men like Daniel Inouye–men of uncommon courage and devotion, who exemplify national service. Here is the summary of his war heroics from his Medal of Honor citation:

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When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in December 1941, Daniel Inouye, the son and grandson of Japanese immigrants, was 17. “I was filled with grief as I came to the realization that the pilots who had dropped the bombs were people who looked like me,” he later wrote, as recounted in the Washington Post. He rushed to the scene to help the injured. Two years later, when Japanese-Americans were permitted to serve in the army, Inouye dropped his studies and enlisted with the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, with whom he would deploy to Italy and earn the Distinguished Service Cross, the Bronze Star Medal, the Purple Heart, and later the Medal of Honor.

So when he warned at the 1968 Democratic National Convention of a “retreat from the responsibilities of citizenship,” he had all the authority in the world to do so. In the interim, he had been elected to represent Hawaii in Congress beginning the day Hawaii became a state, and then was elected to the Senate a few years later. Inouye died yesterday at the age of 88. Perhaps this week as much as any, as the country recovers from the tragedy in Newtown, it’s worth remembering that the nation also produces men like Daniel Inouye–men of uncommon courage and devotion, who exemplify national service. Here is the summary of his war heroics from his Medal of Honor citation:

While attacking a defended ridge guarding an important road junction, Second Lieutenant Inouye skillfully directed his platoon through a hail of automatic weapon and small arms fire, in a swift enveloping movement that resulted in the capture of an artillery and mortar post and brought his men to within 40 yards of the hostile force. Emplaced in bunkers and rock formations, the enemy halted the advance with crossfire from three machine guns. With complete disregard for his personal safety, Second Lieutenant Inouye crawled up the treacherous slope to within five yards of the nearest machine gun and hurled two grenades, destroying the emplacement. Before the enemy could retaliate, he stood up and neutralized a second machine gun nest. Although wounded by a sniper’s bullet, he continued to engage other hostile positions at close range until an exploding grenade shattered his right arm. Despite the intense pain, he refused evacuation and continued to direct his platoon until enemy resistance was broken and his men were again deployed in defensive positions. In the attack, 25 enemy soldiers were killed and eight others captured. By his gallant, aggressive tactics and by his indomitable leadership, Second Lieutenant Inouye enabled his platoon to advance through formidable resistance, and was instrumental in the capture of the ridge.

The full details are even more impressive, and a bit more gruesome. When Inouye died, he was the Senate president pro tempore, putting him third in line for the presidency. A Democrat with a reputation for bipartisanship who was happy to stay out of the limelight–though he did serve on the inquiry committees of Watergate and Iran-contra–Inouye was the second-oldest serving senator and the ranking Democrat on the appropriations committee, where he was never shy about requesting, and getting, earmarks for his state.

Though Inouye is surprisingly anonymous for someone who served in Congress for as long as he did, he was a sort of political founding father for his state the way his colleagues in Alaska, like Ted Stevens, were for theirs.

Inouye was also a reliable pro-Israel voice in the Senate. “Our people owe him an immense historic debt,” Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren said in a statement. “The Iron Dome system that recently intercepted hundreds of terrorist rockets aimed at our homes stands as enduring proof of his commitment to the defense of the Jewish State.”

As the Jerusalem Post reported in January, on a recent trip to Israel Inouye told an audience that he was the first in his state to buy an Israel bond, which he kept framed in his office. He also told the group that when he was recuperating from his war wounds in 1945, in the hospital bed next to him was a soldier who had liberated a prison camp, and spoke of the horrors he witnessed. Inouye said he asked the soldier if it was a camp for criminals:

“‘No,’ he said, ‘they were Jews.’ I asked what crime they committed, and his answer changed my life. He said, ‘Well you know, Dan, people don’t like Jews.’” Inouye said this left a lasting impression on him, and that a few years later, when the honor society at his law school, George Washington University, refused to accept two students because they were Jewish, he said he told the group that if the Jews were blackballed, “then kick me out, too.”

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The Nobel Peace Bribe and Bureaucratic Self-Congratulation

In 2009, when Barack Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, it was pointed out that his nomination for the award almost perfectly coincided with his inauguration as president–that is, he was given the award not for anything he had done, but rather for what the Nobel Committee wanted him to do. Hoping for American surrender in the Middle East and capitulation in the war on terror, the Nobel Committee assumed Obama shared their penchant for appeasement and decided to nudge him along.

Since there are often candidates for the prize that actually deserve it, this did not go over all too well. Yet the Nobel Committee has done exactly this again, awarding this year’s Peace Prize to the European Union for what it hopes the union will–or, more accurately, won’t–do. The commission ostensibly gave the EU the prize for completing European integration and reconciliation after the two world wars, stressing that today war between France and Germany is unthinkable. Of course, as Max noted, the Second World War may have revolved around the violence and depredations in Western Europe, but peace was delivered by Americans and Russians most of all. (Speaking of Russians, this has been a momentous year in the Russian people’s willingness to challenge the thugocracy of Vladimir Putin; was there no Russian thought worthy of the prize by the Nobel Committee?) As the New York Times reports, the committee was open about the real reason for the prize:

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In 2009, when Barack Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, it was pointed out that his nomination for the award almost perfectly coincided with his inauguration as president–that is, he was given the award not for anything he had done, but rather for what the Nobel Committee wanted him to do. Hoping for American surrender in the Middle East and capitulation in the war on terror, the Nobel Committee assumed Obama shared their penchant for appeasement and decided to nudge him along.

Since there are often candidates for the prize that actually deserve it, this did not go over all too well. Yet the Nobel Committee has done exactly this again, awarding this year’s Peace Prize to the European Union for what it hopes the union will–or, more accurately, won’t–do. The commission ostensibly gave the EU the prize for completing European integration and reconciliation after the two world wars, stressing that today war between France and Germany is unthinkable. Of course, as Max noted, the Second World War may have revolved around the violence and depredations in Western Europe, but peace was delivered by Americans and Russians most of all. (Speaking of Russians, this has been a momentous year in the Russian people’s willingness to challenge the thugocracy of Vladimir Putin; was there no Russian thought worthy of the prize by the Nobel Committee?) As the New York Times reports, the committee was open about the real reason for the prize:

Thorbjorn Jagland, the former Norwegian prime minister who is chairman of the panel awarding the prize, said there had been deep concern about Europe’s destiny as it faces the debt-driven woes that have placed the future of the single currency in jeopardy.

“There is a great danger,” he said in an interview in Oslo. “We see already now an increase of extremism and nationalistic attitudes. There is a real danger that Europe will start disintegrating. Therefore, we should focus again on the fundamental aims of the organization.”

Asked if the euro currency would survive, he replied: “That I don’t know. What I know is that if the euro fails, then the danger is that many other things will disintegrate as well, like the internal market and free borders. Then you will get nationalistic policies again. So it may set in motion a process which most Europeans would dislike.”

When Jagland warns of the dangers of disintegration and the reemergence of borders and “nationalism,” he is concerned first and foremost with preventing the revival of democracy and sovereignty–two things he neither cares for nor truly understands. The lessons some Eurocrats have learned from the Continent’s battle with fascism and communism is to give a centralized government more power over its citizens.

Jagland also explains that the Continent may be dealing with an economic crisis, but that economic crisis was caused by the United States in his expert opinion, so no one need bother with Greek debt or French socialism. Speaking of Greece, how do they feel about this year’s award winner? Not great:

“I think it’s unfair,” said Stavros Polychronopoulos, 60, a retired lawyer, as he stood on Friday in central Syntagma Square in Athens, where residue from tear gas fired by the police during demonstrations on Tuesday to protest a visit by the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, still clung to the sidewalks.

“The leader of the E.U. is Germany, which is in an economic war with southern Europe,” Mr. Polychronopoulos said. “I consider this war equal to a real war. They don’t help peace.”

So some Greeks think they’re currently at war with Germany, in part due to the very lack of sovereignty and self-determination that Jagland credits for its contribution to European peace.

And then there’s another problem: who will accept the award on behalf of “Europe”? The Times notes that the European Commission, European Council, and European Parliament are fighting over the honor. This is, in a way, perfect, since it shows that not even the mostly unaccountable bureaucrats running the EU can keep the peace among themselves.

There’s also the minor point of America’s role both in propping up NATO and in keeping much of the world free from the anarchy that likely would prevail if the U.S. took the same attitude toward security and defense as does the EU. In other words, though Europe is at peace currently, we have yet to arrive at a time at which Europe is responsible for that peace.

Although the Times story reads like the Onion, it is neither satirical nor particularly funny. Europe’s turn away from democracy, sovereignty, and identity undermines the West’s dedication to freedom around the world. Additionally, the EU’s dismissive approach to self-defense means either the world becomes less secure or the United States shoulders even more of the burden. A collection of welfare states becomes a welfare continent, though since most Eurocrats couldn’t lose their jobs if they tried, the attendant skyrocketing unemployment will be a curious statistic to them, and nothing more.

This future is also unlikely to be particularly peaceful. But the EU knows full well that if needed, the U.S. will help set things right so that nameless, faceless bureaucrats can once again take credit for someone else’s success.

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