• Smart Politicians, Stupid Decisions, and Civilians

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    On this
    day, 59 years ago, President Harry Truman did not countermand
    his previous order to drop an atomic bomb on the undefended, militarily
    insignificant city of Hiroshima. Three days later, after the Soviet
    Union had entered the war, another nuclear weapon was dropped
    on Nagasaki. Why, no one has ever made clear. Civilians in both
    cases were the targets.

    There was
    a time in Western history when the rules of war specified that
    civilians were not to be deliberate targets during wartime. These
    rules had sometimes been violated: in the Thirty Years’ War (1618—48),
    when Catholics and Protestants made war on each other in Germany,
    and in America’s wars against the Indians. But these had been
    considered exceptions. Then, in 1864, beginning with Sherman’s
    march to the sea and Sheridan’s burning of farms in the Shenandoah
    Valley of Virginia, the old standard was abandoned.

    We live
    in a world in which civilians are the primary targets: by car
    bombings, suicide bombings, and helicopter strikes against suspected
    residences of terrorists, who never seem to be in the buildings,
    at least not in Iraq. Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) is still
    operational with respect to the targeting of ICBMs on both sides
    in the now officially non-existent Cold War. Each side still
    holds the other side’s civilian populations as hostages.

    Heads of
    state during wartime rarely if ever organize assassination squads
    against each other. They understand the nature of military strategy:
    tit for tat. They have an unwritten truce with each other. I would
    call this highly self-interested. Instead, modern warfare is conducted
    against civilians. Heads of state try to bring down their rivals
    by means of terrorizing and bankrupting enemy civilians.

    World War
    II stands out as the most grotesque example of war on civilians
    in man’s history. It began in 1937 with Japan’s slaughter of over
    300,000 civilians in Nanking, China. It escalated in Europe with
    bombing raids against cities. Americans adopted the strategy with
    the napalm bombing of Tokyo in March, 1945, where 80,000 to 100,000
    civilians died — more than at Nagasaki. This took place on Franklin
    Roosevelt’s watch. We did the same to another 60 Japanese cities
    before the war ended. That was Gen. Curtis LeMay’s strategy.

    August 6
    and 9, 1945, set the record for “more bang for the buck” from
    the man who had this sign on his desk: “The buck stops here.”
    Truman never went to college, but he read widely in history. It
    may be accurate to say that he was more familiar with the written
    record of history than any other modern President, including Woodrow
    Wilson, Ph.D. (political science). Yet he ignored the advice of
    most of his senior military commanders when he made the decision
    to establish America’s unique historical precedent as the first
    nation ever to use atomic weapons, mainly against civilians. For
    this, he will be mentioned in history textbooks for centuries.

    There are
    lots of theories as to why Truman did it. One is that he wanted
    to show Stalin that he was serious. Another is that he wanted
    to end the war sooner, with fewer American casualties. Another
    — my preference — is the technological imperative: after having
    spent all that money on this technology, it seemed wasteful not
    to use it. If this really was the primary motivating factor, then
    this is the most horrendous misunderstanding in history of what
    economists call the doctrine of sunk costs. The doctrine of sunk
    costs teaches that once you have spent the money on anything,
    it’s gone. How much a thing cost you is irrelevant because you
    can’t get the money back. “There’s no use crying over spilt milk.”
    The only economically relevant question is this: What is the best
    use of the assets that you presently control?

    COST-BENEFIT
    ANALYSIS

    The war
    ended quickly after Nagasaki. In a cost-benefit analysis, it cost
    less money to bring the war to a close than would have been possible
    through any other military alternative. But this analysis leaves
    out the cost of all those civilian lives, as well as the cost
    of making America the first nuclear combatant — a cost that
    may eventually be repaid by some terrorist with a discount nuke.

    Truman made
    a political judgment call based on the cost to American taxpayers
    of extending the war by adopting a starve-them-into-surrender
    strategy. This is what war does. It places a national leader in
    a position to make cost-benefit analyses in the name of citizens
    who live on one side of a battlefield. The leader is expected
    by his voters to ignore the costs imposed on citizens on the other
    side. The defensive costs go up on both sides because only the
    offensive costs are counted. Civilians today bear the brunt of
    these costs. This is why citizens should do what they can, whenever
    they can, to pressure their politicians to avoid war. This is
    self-defense against the adoption of civilian-threatening, one-sided
    cost-benefit analyses on both sides. Churchill’s line is correct
    regarding the benefits of diplomacy: better jaw-jaw than war-war.

    I am one
    of those Republican hold-outs who has little use for Harry Truman.
    The best that I can say for him is that he wasn’t Henry A. Wallace,
    whom he replaced as Vice President in 1945. Even here, I’m no
    longer confident. Wallace might not have dropped those bombs.
    But it has never occurred to me to dismiss Truman as stupid. He
    was not stupid. He lacked wisdom. He also wanted to extend the
    government’s power at home and abroad. That is to say, he was
    a politician.

    Why does
    politics make smart people do stupid things? In 1942, the year
    I was born, Harvard economist Joseph Schumpeter offered this insight:

    Thus
    the typical citizen drops down to a lower level of mental performance
    as soon as he enters the political field. He argues and analyzes
    in a way which he would readily recognize as infantile within
    the sphere of his real interests. He becomes a primitive again.

    If politics
    has this effect on citizens, think of its effect on politicians.

    IS
    BUSH A DOPE?

    The animated
    cartoon, This Land, has Kerry saying what Bush’s
    critics have long said: he is stupid. He lacks a brain. If the
    viewers didn’t suspect that this is true, the cartoon would not
    be funny.

    Laugh it
    up, viewers! By the way, viewers, did you get into Yale? Bush
    did. He graduated, too. Then he went to Harvard Business School,
    from which he also graduated. He drank his way through both institutions.
    He was not an academic grind. He did it in his spare time.

    Yet when
    we listen to Bush, he does not sound impressive. He mangles the
    English language.

    This may
    be genetic. His father went through Yale in three years and graduated
    Phi Beta Kappa. Yet whenever he spoke, it was like a man tripping
    over his tongue.

    Neither
    Bush possesses the rhetorical ability of a graduate of unheralded
    Eureka College, Ronald Reagan. I doubt that Reagan would have
    made Phi Beta Kappa at Yale.

    I wonder:
    What good is a high IQ in politics?

    Bush, Jr.
    has listened to some very high IQ advisors, some of whom have
    Ph.D.’s. These advisors have turned out to have been really, truly
    ill-informed about Iraq. They thought American troops would be
    greeted with open arms, not contraband arms. They dismissed estimates
    made by generals (without Ph.D.’s) that we would need twice as
    many troops in Iraq. They dismissed predictions of “quagmire”
    as the ravings of nervous nellies.

    Bush, with
    an IQ higher than most of the voters, listened to people with
    even higher IQ’s. The result is a military disaster that threatens
    to get much worse.

    CAN’T
    KERRY THINK STRAIGHT?

    Kerry went
    to Yale. He graduated from Yale. He, like Bush and Bush’s father
    and grandfather, was “tapped” to join Skull & Bones, the elite
    secret society that initiates 15 Yale juniors in the final weeks
    of each year. These are the people who the unnamed screening committee
    believes have the most promise to shape society — people like
    William Howard Taft, Henry Luce (the founder of “Time Magazine”),
    Robert A. Taft, William F. Buckley, and Garry Trudeau (whose “Doonesbury”
    cartoon strip made S&B appear to be nothing important in the 1980
    election, when Bush’s membership surfaced in the media).

    This
    Land
    pictures John Kerry as a waffler. It is funny because
    he really is a waffler. I used Google to search for “John Kerry”
    and “waffle.” The first hit was a “Slate” article. “Slate” is
    a leftist publication funded by Bill Gates. Even I had no idea
    of the extent of Kerry’s reversals. There is no need to list them
    here. A click will take you to them.

    Here is
    a man who has been rated as the most liberal Senator, even above
    even his mentor, Edward Kennedy, who saved his campaign by persuading
    him to hire Kennedy’s own staffer to run Kerry’s failing
    campaign
    . You would think that anyone with a voting record
    this consistent would be clear-cut on the issues dividing the
    Republicans from the Democrats. Instead, he is all over the landscape.
    He not only cannot articulate his views, he cannot seem to remember
    his votes on the floor of the Senate.

    This
    Land
    has him pegged: he is betting the farm on his three
    purple hearts. Voters can remember purple hearts. They may not
    recall that Kerry threw away his medals in an anti-war protest
    — or was it just their ribbons? I forget.

    He has to
    make it on image: who he is, as reflected by his courage under
    fire, not as reflected by his voting record.

    A book by
    ex-swift boat Vietnam veterans, Unfit
    for Command
    , is scheduled to be released by Regnery, a
    conservative publishing house, on September 25. Because of a pre-release
    plug by Matt Drudge, the book is already expected to become a
    best-seller. It will not change many Democrats’ minds, but it
    will surely harm the Kerry campaign’s attempt to shift the focus
    from his voting record to his war record.

    The issues?
    It is all a bit vague.

    NO
    MORE STEVENSONS

    Adlai Stevenson
    was articulate, droll, and a liberal by the standards of the 1950s.
    He lost to Eisenhower in 1952. He got a second chance to beat
    Eisenhower, a master of muddled speech, in 1956. He lost again.
    Yet he was fondly remembered in 1960. Eleanor Roosevelt gave an
    impassioned appeal at the convention to nominate him again. In
    those days, there was political loyalty to losers who upheld a
    party’s position. Tom Dewey lost in 1944, yet he got the nomination
    in 1948.

    I think
    Ike faked being a mumble-mouth. He commanded generals in wartime.
    He organized D-Day. I think a senior commanding wartime general
    can give clear commands. He can make himself understood. Ike was
    not Al Haig, a true mumble-mouth. Haig did not command in wartime.
    But, whenever Ike wanted cover, he used the ink of convoluted
    rhetoric. He accepted the price: contempt by the media.

    Then came
    Kennedy, who could speak very well. He was also an incredibly
    fast reader who could remember everything he read with one scan
    — an ability that Teddy Roosevelt also possessed. He was as good
    at a press conference as anyone except Reagan. But he had no common
    sense as President. The Bay of Pigs was a disaster. The escalation
    of the Vietnam war led to a disaster. We can find film clips of
    his views on the war that rival Kerry’s for reversal. His personal
    war record was equally questionable. As for his full-time addiction
    to assembly-line adultery, nothing like it had been seen before
    in the White House. Compared to Kennedy, Clinton was an amateur.

    After Kennedy
    came a President whose rhetorical skills matched the Bushes. “Mah
    fellow Muricans” became the stuff of stand-up comedy routines.
    Quagmire was his middle name. What the great Texas historian,
    J. Evetts Haley, wrote in the mass-selling paperback, A
    Texan Looks at Lyndon
    , was dismissed by the media as a
    pack of partisan lies in 1964, but it was all validated by Robert
    Caro and subsequent biographers after Johnson was dead. Johnson
    wielded power as few men ever had. Yet he was too embarrassed
    to run again in 1968.

    Then came
    Nixon. He had a mastery of the details of politics that rivaled
    Johnson’s. He had a law degree from Duke. He was a smart man.
    It did him no good.

    Ford was
    a fluke. Let’s skip him. The voters surely did.

    Carter was
    smart. Annapolis is a tough school. He was a businessman. He was
    also unable to deal with the problems he faced. He was a micro-manager
    and a macro-failure. Khomeini made him look bad. Reagan made him
    look bad in the televised debate. His brains did him no good.

    By the time
    he left office, political loyalty in both parties was long gone.
    Consider the post-defeat careers of this string of certifiable
    losers: Mondale, Dukakis, Dole, Gore. They ran, got crushed, and
    disappeared. There are no more second chances at the Presidency
    for non-incumbents.

    Whichever
    man loses in November, his party will abandon him like the plague.
    Nobody suggested that Bush, Sr. be given another chance to defeat
    Clinton. Nobody will suggest that the loser be given a second
    chance in 2008.

    Is Hillary
    praying for a Kerry victory?

    Maybe Edwards
    will get a shot in 2008 if Kerry loses. He can talk. Hillary can
    also talk. The two lawyers will go at it. As to who will surface
    for the Republicans, the talent barrel is scraped so clean that
    I have no clue.

    AT
    A TIME LIKE THIS

    We are entering
    a period of great anxiety. Terrorists are sensing that the United
    States cannot respond effectively in Iraq, just as the Vietcong
    sensed after their “failed” Tet offensive. In war between high-tech
    invaders and insurgency, the side that outlasts the other will
    win. Voters with no emotional stake in a victory that is paid
    for in blood and who also have a big stake in having to pay off
    a mushrooming national debt hold the trump card.

    It doesn’t
    matter who wins in November as far as our troops in Iraq are concerned.
    Both men will keep the troops there. Both men will be tempted
    to reinstate the draft. Neither man has a published solution for
    the $450 billion annual deficit. Meanwhile, the insurgents keep
    blowing up car bombs and pipelines.

    The big
    losers are civilians.

    The quality
    of our national leadership is visibly declining. Not-Bush and
    Not-Kerry do not inspire confidence. Bumper stickers are few.

    In a protracted
    war where our side has no identifiable military targets, the confidence
    of the voters is the crucial strategic resource. Any target will
    do for the insurgents. No target will do for us.

    This is
    the grim reality of 4th generation warfare. You and I will be
    paying taxes for the rest of our lives in order to finance our
    3rd generation forces, even after they depart from the battlefield.
    Debts must be repaid, one way or the other, or else there will
    be a default, one way or the other. The losers in either case
    will be civilians.

    This war
    is about oil. Everything we do in the Islamic Middle East is either
    about oil or defending the state of Israel. We are seeing threats
    to the West’s sources of oil supply.

    Kerry is
    not about to give a stump speech on ending our dependence on imported
    oil by means of opening up the Caribou grazing area in Alaska.
    When it’s a question of caribou vs. SUVs, he will side with the
    Caribou, until such time as soccer moms look at the caribou, look
    at the price of gasoline, and synchronize their voices by means
    of Mrs. Kerry’s recent remark. Then he will re-think the whole
    issue. But this has not happened yet.

    How can
    we disengage from Iraq without putting up a neon sign over the
    House of Saud, “Come and Get Us”?

    How can
    we disengage from Iraq without putting up a neon sign over the
    State of Israel, “Come and Get Us”?

    We are already
    pulling troops out of South Korea to send to Iraq.

    The problem
    with occupying a nation is that we can’t just take down the neon
    sign, “We’re Here for the Duration” without putting “Come and
    Get Us” above the folks we leave behind. Ask the South Vietnamese.
    Ask the Cambodians who survived Pol Pot.

    We should
    stop putting up “We’re Here for the Duration” signs.

    Defeat has
    political repercussions at home. Gerald Ford was in charge when
    the last helicopter left Saigon — an unelected President who
    remained unelected. It was not Ford’s policy that got us into
    Vietnam and kept us there. He took the heat for leaving.

    Yet once
    we pulled out, there were few regrets at home, few politicians
    telling the voters that we should have stayed. Voters did their
    best to forget about the whole thing. What had been a national
    cause in 1967 and even 1972 had become a lost cause in 1976. Americans
    don’t dwell on lost causes.

    This is
    why a Presidential candidate who loses is abandoned by the voters.
    He is seen as a lost cause.

    This raises
    a question for the war in Iraq. Why will American voters be willing
    to commit whatever it takes to win a distant war, when they are
    ready to dump and forget the existing Commander-in-Chief if he
    loses the next election? Not for the sake of the flow of oil,
    when oil is never admitted to be the reason for the war.

    Win, and
    the party wins with you. Lose, and you lose alone.

    Political
    loyalty to individuals is gone. So is loyalty to long-term policies.
    If all those anti-war Democrats at the Convention could cheer
    for Kerry’s “stay the course in Iraq” speech, then their only
    commitment is to defeating Bush, not to principle. Principle has
    no permanent constituency these days.

    HILLARY
    IN 2008

    If Kerry
    loses, we know what is in store for us. The Republicans will run
    a candidate who dares not repudiate Bush’s Iraq policy. Hillary
    will run on a peace-and-prosperity platform. The politics of envy
    will once again be front and center.

    Bush is
    running on a guns-and-butter platform. Johnson decided not to
    run in 1968, but that would have been his platform. He had promised
    that he could give America both, but he failed.

    If Kerry
    loses, the ex-First Lady will move into front-runner status before
    November is over. The Kennedy dynasty will have been finally vanquished.
    The Bush dynasty will get four more years. The Clinton dynasty
    will be waiting in the wings.

    Isn’t democracy
    grand?

    CONCLUSION

    Kerry and
    Bush have higher IQ’s than most of their critics. Yet both of
    them are trapped by their own inability to articulate their vision.
    “The vision thing” eluded Bush, Sr., too.

    These are
    smart men who consistently do stupid things. They give the impression
    of being adrift without consistent principles in an era when the
    voting public is equally devoid of agreed-upon first principles.
    The red counties and the blue counties remain divided. They are
    committed to “not them.” How do we sustain a civilization on “not
    them”?

    The political
    system keeps throwing up — I use the phrase advisedly — candidates
    from the best colleges and private prep schools. There are no
    more Harry Trumans: a Presidential hopeful without a college degree.
    Truman was a fluke: a Vice President out of nowhere. Eureka College
    also will send no more Presidents to Washington. The system screens
    for the best and the brightest.

    Then it
    turns their brains into silly putty.

    Leadership
    is a difficult thing to define. It is difficult to exercise. As
    the national debt grows larger, and the insurgents in Iraq grow
    more bold, and the public’s patience wears thin, leadership becomes
    a precious commodity. But the coin of the political realm is votes
    — an unbacked, fiat currency — so political leadership is also
    ersatz. We get what we pay for, and we are buying on credit. The
    tab keeps getting larger.

    I don’t
    miss Harry Truman. I do miss a good stump speech. We knew what
    Truman hated: “The idiot Congress” — a play on words of 80th.

    Anyone who
    labels Congress as idiotic and gets elected for saying it can’t
    be all bad.

    August
    6, 2004

    Gary
    North [send him mail]
    is the author of Mises
    on Money
    . Visit http://www.freebooks.com.
    For a free subscription to Gary North’s newsletter on gold, click
    here
    .

    Gary
    North Archives

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