Monday, February 27, 2012

Geezer Books


THE AMERICAN CAESARS
Just returned from my monthly book club meeting. It's a curious group of old guys, all retired and all avid book readers.We tend to choose non-fiction to read and discuss. Oh, now and then a novel slips in but not often. It's a guess, but I think more than 50% of the books we review are "political", and of that group about 95% have a left-liberal political slant. There's only eight of us right now and it's a comfortable number. We each get an opportunity to venture our opinion, and we each are free to suggest a book for future discussion. Our meetings are from 12:15 to 2:30 pm.

It's interesting, at least to me, that all of the club members are opinionated and intellectually curious, and all are worried about our current geopolitical world. The daily media disturbs everyone. We seem to be on the cusp of war again.  If so, there will be terrible consequences.

ROOSEVELT
FDR took the helm when our economy was barely starting to recover from a vicious depression and war was in the wind booth in Europe and Asia. He used dictatorial management tools to control the monetary recovery and to ramp up our ability to fight. The day was coming and he knew it. FDR directed the government to be greatly expanded. He created countless government agencies to take over, expand and control America,s industrial might. The Constitution,  Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights were necessarily "bent" to allow the nation to quickly follow his instructions. The government leaned to the left.

FDR died in office just before the European war ended. Harry Truman took over and finished up. He more or less carried forward FDR's projects and plans. At his direction atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, ending the Asian war. There wasn't much time to rest before the Korean "police action" started. This was to be Harry's war. General MacArthur was initially in charge and he made some masterful military moves. Inchon for one. But MacArthur wanted the war to encompass not only South and North Korea, but China as well. Harry wanted it to end at the 38th Parallel, and he did not want to involve China. Truman won the argument. MacArthur was fired. The North Korean aggression stopped at the 38th Parallel and the Americans went home.

TRUMAN
Truman turned out to be a strong President, very much the chief executive and Commander in Chief. When the Russians became obtuse and forbid any supplies into or out of Berlin, Harry began the largest airlift in history. Berlin was supplied by air for umpteen months. It was called the Marshall Plan and known as the Berlin Airlift. It finally amazed the entire world and Russia was forced to back off and allow freight in and out by rail and road.
EISENHOWER
Eisenhower was our next President. Of presidents from FDR to the present, Eisenhower was the only one that did not have to deal with a shooting war, yet he was perhaps the most qualified to do so. Eisenhower kept us ouit of war and paved our roads, and despite the huge embarrassment of losing an intact U-2 spy plane and it's pilot,  evaluating his term in office,  most historians give Ike good marks. He knew how to delegate, kept an eye on the "big picture", and was generally thought to be an excellent chief executive. Nixon was his Vice President - but did not get along with the boss. Ike just  did not like Richard Nixon.
KENNEDY
With the powerful backing of his wealthy father, John Kennedy won the next election over Nixon, and chose Lyndon Johnson as his Vice President.  Kennedy seems to have been doomed from the start. He took responsibility for the disastrous "Bay of Pigs" fiasco. His opponent in the USSR, Nikita Krushchev, concluded from the handling of the Bay of Pigs that Kennedy was "weak". He decided to test Kennedy by establishing nuclear armed guided missiles on bases in Cuba. Kennedy said "no". The two administrations stood "eyeball to eyeball" and it was Kruschev that blinked. Kennedy stood tall, firm and powerful. Krushchev went home with his tail between his legs, with his administration was badly embarrassed.

Kennedy, at the same time, was forced to do "something" about the escalating war in Viet Nam. Eisenhower had sent "advisors" who gradually became participants. Kennedy committed our military to reinforce the South Viet Namese resistance. The war escalated. Our troops began to return in body-bags. The American public wanted to win it fast or get out fast. Kennedy chose to escalate American involvement.  With more ground troops and increased airpower the our military leaders promised a quick end of the war. It didn't happen. Kennedy was assassinated and Lyndon Johnson took over.

JOHNSON
Lyndon Johnson added even more military force in Viet Nam, and at the same time LBJ attempted major changes in America's social fabric. The "Great Society" was born.  Advances war made at home but the war simply went on and on with no end in sight. Frustrated, LBJ ramped up our military forces in Viet Nam and the body bags coming home increased exponentially. The lack of progress with the war caused the disenchanted Lyndon Johnson to quit politics at the end of his Presidential term.

NIXON
Richard Nixon became the next President after Rockefeller and Goldwater destroyed each other during an unusually vicious primary season. At the time Nixon was thought to be smart, overly ambitious, and a hard hearted, vicious, and  nasty politician. He was elected anyway. Dr. Henry Kissinger appears to have advised and directed Nixon's foreign affairs including the ongoing war in Viet Nam. The first victim of the new management was the (illegal) orders to bomb Cambodia and Laos. Cambodia lapsed into a civil war and Laos found themselves coping with over a half million homeless refugees.

FORD
Gerald Ford was terrific before he became President, and then the Peter Principle took over. He was a good man, solid as a rock and loyal to a fault. He thought of himself as a regular, average, moderately smart person, yet his legacy will forever be that he pardoned Nixon.

CARTER
Jimmy Carter was arguably America's most ineffective micro-manager when he took office. He never changed. He was pious, pleasant, and all smiles in public - but devious, a control freak, vindictive and petty when dealing with his Administrative Staff. Tip O'Neal (Speaker of the House) thought Jimmy was the smartest public official he had  ever known. Tip also said that intelligence was not the issue; effective leadership and upright character was the issue. Carter failed.
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