Get Task & Purpose in your inbox
What America's Wars Revealed About Their Commanders-In-Chief
In Presidents of War, Michael Beschloss, one of our premier historians, looks at eight wars and nine presidents:
- James Madison and the War of 1812
- James K. Polk and the Mexican-American War
- Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War
- William McKinley and the Spanish American War
- Woodrow Wilson and World War One
- FDR and the Second World War
- Harry Truman and the Korean War
- Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, and the Vietnam War
Not much in this fat book on battles and strategy. Instead, the focus is on presidential decision making and the play of political forces in shaping the decisions. The book is superb in its focus and its facts, a new look at a central topic.
Some easy comments on the details:
- Madison was a lot better at writing constitutions than he was at running a war.
- Polk was a sly one, even corrupt, making a war with Mexico out of little conflict, all the while hiding his true purpose, to acquire Mexican land in then-New Mexico and into California all the way to the Pacific. Which he did.
- Lincoln’s war, so well documented by armies of historians, nonetheless striking for its shifting purpose, to hold the Union at the start, to end slavery at the finish.
- McKinley ready to take advantage of the destruction of the USS Maine in Havana Harbor, never using that explosion as his causa bellum but happily starting a war incident to the accident (as is now known to be).
- Wilson contending with contrary forces, reluctant to go to Europe, then seeing American engagement as his segue to a new League of Nations, then fumbling the politics to create the League.
- FDR, again his war so well documented, slipping and sliding at its start to get American help to Great Britain in the face of fierce isolationism, then being the very model of the Commander in Chief ... which is the title of Eric Larrabee’s wonderful 1987 history of Roosevelt in that role.
- Truman, reluctant to war but compelled to stand against Communist expansionism, bedeviled by MacArthur’s insubordination and uncertain of who the enemy was and what that enemy might be prepared to do.
- Vietnam, Johnson the reluctant warrior far more interested in his Great Society, sucked in ever deeper by his Secretary of Defense and his generals but never with a winning strategy. And Tricky Dick secretly blowing up a potential peace in order to get the presidency in ’68.
The harder lessons are four. First is, in presidential war decisions, the unrelenting role of domestic politics and particularly the need to deal with the power and actions of the opposition party. For example, the Federalists in 1812, a party dead for all practical purposes and never after to rise to power, was at every turn stern opposition shaping presidential moves.
Second (and perhaps because Beschloss makes such extensive use of contemporary press quotations), the role of the American free press in moving the debate.
Third, the near-run nature of all these wars. Viewed from history, it seems obvious that they were to turn out as they did. But not in the moment, not in the time of war, and always with great uncertainty in all these presidents on the right thing to do, the best course of action.
Fourth, and the primary point of the book, the slide through the decades and centuries of the Constitution’s easy formulation that Congress declares wars to today’s reality of a powerful standing army and the decision for war in the hands of the president. With the potential need in this nuclear age to act decisively in minutes, a necessary shift. But so amenable to undemocratic actions meant to favor a president’s political position without proper regard for the costs of war.
In his conclusion, the author makes a point I’ve made many times here and Mr. Ricks and Andy Bacevich and others, that the All-volunteer Force makes war too easy. Not ever saying "all-volunteer force," Beschloss makes our argument very well in a single sentence: “With no military draft, Presidents who consider taking the nation into a major conflict in our own time may not feel so constrained as earlier leaders by fear that a widespread antiwar movement might erupt.”
John Byron is a retired Navy captain who comes ashore occasionally in Cocoa Beach, Florida
NTSB releases preliminary report on cause of fatal B-17 plane crash at Bradley International Airport
The National Transportation Safety Board released its preliminary report into the fatal crash of a B-17 bomber crash in Connecticut earlier this month.
Shortly after takeoff at 9:50 a.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 2, the pilot of the vintage WWII-era plane signaled to air traffic control at Bradley International Airport that he sought to land.
While America's forever wars continue to rage abroad, the streaming wars are starting to heat up at home.
On Monday, the Walt Disney Company announced that its brand new online streaming service, aptly titled Disney+, will launch an all-out assault on eyeballs around the world with an arsenal of your favorite content starting on November 12th. Marvel Cinematic Universe content! Star Wars content! Pixar content! Classic Disney animation content!
While the initial Disney+ content lineup looks like the most overpowered alliance since NATO, there's one addition of particular interest hidden in Disney's massive Twitter announcement, an elite strike force with a unique mission that stands ready to eliminate streaming enemies like Netflix and Hulu no matter where they may hide.
That's right, I'm talking about Operation Dumbo Drop — and no, I am not fucking around.
US officials reportedly considered pulling nuclear weapons out of Turkey, effectively ending the US-Turkey alliance
Editor's Note: This article originally appeared on Business Insider.
On Monday, The New York Times reported that U.S. officials were considering plans to move the U.S. nuclear arsenal from Inçirlik Air Base in Turkey.
This move would be likely to further deteriorate the tense relationship between the U.S. and Turkey, which has rapidly devolved as Turkey invaded northeastern Syria in assault on the Kurdish forces that fought ISIS alongside the U.S.
Soldiers are smoking a whole lot more weed if they happen to be stationed in or near a state where it's legal, and the Army has definitely noticed.
At nine Army bases in or near marijuana-friendly states, there has been a roughly 18% increase between 2017 and 2018 in positive drug tests for THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, the principal psychoactive component in cannabis. For comparison, there has been a 5% increase in soldiers testing positive for THC across the entire Army.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper has confirmed that a nightmare scenario has come to pass: Captured ISIS fighters are escaping as a result of Turkey's invasion of Kurdish-held northeast Syria.
Turkey's incursion has led to "the release of many dangerous ISIS detainees," Esper said in a statement on Monday.