The Huffington Post
On Texan Presidents
Posted March 21, 2008
Simple truths are powerful. Here's one: the two presidents who mired us in unwinnable wars in modern times both hail from the same state of Texas . The Lone Star state has a lot to answer for.
Is it any accident that Lyndon B. Johnson and George W. Bush are countrymen --statesmen is too good a word -- who conducted wars in Vietnam and Iraq in utter defiance of popular opinion and military reality? To say nothing of thousands of lost lives and trillions of dollars in treasure.
The Santayana school of thought suggests that if the mistakes of history are remembered they will not be repeated. The lessons of history here seem to be that Texas presidents will repeat history's mistakes with a swagger and a vengeance.
Side by side, Johnson stands taller in his boots. Bush makes his predecessor seem more sympathetic, because back in 1968, Johnson experienced some personal anguish over the war's toll. The smug "architect" of the Iraq war, former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, makes his counterpart, Robert Strange McNamara, look like a study in humility in retrospect.
Five years is a long a time to wage a losing war. The polls reflect most Americans were on the same page yesterday as a weary nation hit the five-year mark of the Iraq invasion. In Washington , anti-war protests started at the Arlington National Cemetery and carried on outside the National Archives and the Internal Revenue Service building. In Baltimore , 40 miles north, a candlelight vigil was held in the rain at a busy intersection, where a chorus of car horns told dissenters they were with them.
The luckless Johnson became president in 1963 and inherited his conflict from the Cold War chessboard of John F. Kennedy's Administration. He made the fatal mistakes of enlarging and escalating the war in Vietnam , drafting the sons of the educated and middle classes, and refusing to call it a day when the jungle battle would never be won.
Johnson's Texas-sized ego refused to accept that a superpower's military adventure abroad could be defeated. Intervening in a civil war between North and South Vietnam then tore our country apart, leaving wounds still hard to heal at home. The cost has never really been counted, nor can it be, but a visit to see the names chiseled on the Vietnam War memorial is a place to start.
Yet we know Johnson agonized in late night telephone talks with members of Congress. He tried to use his formidable powers of persuasion to turn back the tide of public opinion, which was informed by a more vigilant media than today's. He took it as a body blow when Walter Cronkite declared the war in Vietnam a lost cause on the air. That was the moment Johnson at last gave up and knew he would not run for re-election in 1968. All seemed lost in his five years in the White House because, tragically, the war debacle overshadowed his fine achievements in the domestic policy sphere: ground-breaking civil rights legislation and the "Great Society" programs.
Bush has none of that to redeem or remember him. His scrawl on history's report card will show that we spent so much more than money on a war that he started single-handedly. Nearly 4,000 of our soldiers and marines are dead; many more are wounded and maimed. We have the blood of untold Iraqi civilians on our hands; we watched while some of civilization's precious antiquities got looted; we squandered the sympathy and respect of allies who thought we the people were better than that in the wake of the September 11th attacks.
Heck, we thought we were better than starting a war on the other side of the world (again.) Instead, we seem to be living in the 1960s without the charm, soul and rock'n'roll. The worst part is official lies about an unwinnable war; hadn't we heard those before? Yet yesterday Bush brazenly repeated sore phrases like "weapons of mass destruction" and seemed to suggest that Al Qaeda and Iraq were somehow linked somewhere other than his own head. He also declared the "surge is working" in the "war on terror" as if to comfort and cheer a beleaguered nation. He said these things at the Pentagon.
Unlike Johnson, another remarkably stubborn Texan, Bush sleeps well at night 40 years later. Unlike Johnson, Bush has never let public opposition over five years of war stress him out or change his course. That final cut is the unkindest one of all to his fellow Americans.
Judged next to Johnson, it's the feckless Bush who will leave a scar the size of Texas on our national memory.
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"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs
Friday, March 21, 2008
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