Roundup: Media's Take
This is where we excerpt articles from the media that take a historical approach to events in the news.
"Even God realized he couldn't change the past. That's why he created historians." -- Anonymous
Michael Beschloss is a serious historian. He says no accurate assessment of Ronald Reagan's presidency can be made for another 30 years.
Beschloss' point is well taken. There will be a decade or so of hagiography -- we are already seeing it -- where Reagan is depicted as the winner of the Cold War, the force behind 18 years of economic prosperity and the champion of human freedom.
This rosy look will be followed by the" counter-revolution" where revisionist historians completely debunk the earlier assessments, painting Reagan as a bumbler, an intellectual lightweight, a warmonger, the instigator of class warfare, a racist, sexist and worse.
The debunking will be followed by an amalgam where everything blends together, resulting in an above-average president who had some notable accomplishments and made some serious mistakes. Put him in the second row of"near great" presidents.
I'm not a serious historian; I think Ronald Reagan was the most important president of the second half of the 20th century and arguably the most important person. I don't care whether this point is well taken or not.
I side with those who believe Reagan's economic policies -- but much more importantly his ability to communicate to an America mired in"malaise" that"America's best days are ahead of her" -- helped spur the sense of optimism that is always the foundation of risk-taking, entrepreneurialism and job creation.
From 1982, when Reagan supported Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker's successful attempt to squeeze inflation out of the economy, to 1988, when Reagan left office, economic growth was an astonishing 4.7 percent a year, while unemployment fell from nearly 11 percent to 5.3 percent.
I credit Reagan with bringing down the"Evil Empire," resulting in a bloodless revolution in Eastern Europe -- and within the Soviet Union -- that freed a half-dozen countries and hundreds of millions of people from that empire's grip. For proof, just look at the admission of high-ranking Soviet officers that this was so....
While Democrat John Kerry struggles to define himself to the public, President Bush is encountering image troubles as well. Trying to run on his record, Bush finds himself subject to frequent comparisons with other GOP luminaries: Ronald Reagan, the first President Bush, Sen. John McCain, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. The comparisons do not always benefit Bush, a polarizing political figure in a tough re-election battle.
The country's recent focus on Reagan made Bush-Reagan comparisons inevitable, and Bush clearly sees himself as in the Reagan mold. Borrowing from Reagan, Bush has started presenting himself as an optimist.
While both presidents governed from the right, Bush lacks Reagan's charm and fabled skills at communicating and building alliances. Such comparisons are sure to re-emerge when the party pays tribute to Reagan at the GOP convention in early September. Bush does not have much room to maneuver in terms of any midcourse image adjustment even if he wanted to.
``I think we pretty much know who Bush is,'' said Allan J. Lichtman, a presidential historian at American University.
``Bush is a hedge hog, he's the guy who bulls ahead with what he thinks is right and doesn't let anything deflect him,'' Lichtman said. ``Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton were foxes. They were continually reinventing themselves. Not George W. Bush. He is what he is, like it or not....''
Frank Rich, in the NYT (June 20, 2004):
...Experts kept saying how "surprised" everyone was about "the outpouring" for Reagan, but saying didn't make it so. The dirty little secret of the week: the outpouring didn't live up to its hype. "There was this kind of extraordinary outpouring not by the public but by reporters who should know better," as Morley Safer told Larry King after it was over.
A total of some 200,000 Americans passed by the coffin in California and Washington. The crowds watching the funeral procession in Washington numbered in the "tens of thousands," reported The Washington Post. By comparison, three million Americans greeted the cross-country journey of Warren Harding's funeral train from San Francisco to Washington when he died in office in the steamy August of 1923, according to Mark Sullivan's history, "Our Times." It took 3,500 soldiers to direct the crowd in his hometown of Marion, Ohio, alone. The grief for Harding was so pronounced in New York, a city that hardly knew him, that The Times reported how theaters canceled their shows to hold impromptu memorial gatherings for those citizens unable to jam into the packed services held in Trinity Church at Wall Street and Temple Emanu-El uptown and most houses of worship in between. Next to that, the Reagan outpouring, much of it carried out by bubbly TV-camera-seeking citizens in halter tops and shorts, was grief lite.
Harding's huge turnout didn't alter his hapless historical fate, but at least it was a genuine event. When every tragic news story, from Columbine to the Columbia shuttle to JonBenet Ramsey and Chandra Levy, is supersized in our national theater of TV, all of them are downsized. Incessant hyperbole becomes as numbing as Muzak. No matter how many TV recyclings, the close-ups of Nancy Reagan's three trips to her husband's coffin may never trump the single long shot of John John saluting his father. No matter how many pundits proclaim Reagan a great president, a realistic assessment remains on hold especially since, as The Los Angeles Times reported, 90 percent of the 55 million pages of his papers is still off-limits to scholars at the presidential library where he was entombed. (A 2001 George W. Bush executive order could restrict access to every modern president's historical record indefinitely.)
When that entombment finally arrived, national mourning was giving way to national boredom. Except at Fox News Channel, ratings did not spike on either network or cable. "It was not a massively watched event," one CNN producer said to The Times's Bill Carter. "It was a largely watched event." Translation: Is it too late to grab a piece of the new J. Lo nuptials? Eventually, even Fox was elbowing Reagan into the wings for its O. J. retrospectives. On the Friday morning of Reagan's National Cathedral funeral, Matt Lauer tried to hold the "Today" show audience by promising a medley of mediathon standards: "A lot of news coming out of Washington, Katie, but there's other news to talk about as well, including major developments in the Kobe Bryant, Martha Stewart and Scott Peterson cases."
Only three days later, Bill Clinton, the star of the longest-running news miniseries of them all, "Impeachment of the President," was back in the White House, as a preview of coming attractions for the televised book tour he kicks off tonight on "60 Minutes." Even President Bush was glad to see him. Once people line up to buy the book, there will be no shortage of talking heads remarking on "the surprise outpouring" for the man they declared dead just a few years ago. At least Ronald Reagan, who understood nothing if not the cruel and fickle vagaries of show business, might find it funny. You can almost hear him saying, "There you go again."
He is a scion of American aristocracy whose path through life has been strewn with privilege.
Born to a family with deep roots on the Eastern Seaboard and a powerful place in U.S. history, he was pushed out of the nest into a boarding school where he often felt out of place. But that school -- and his name -- would help pave the way into an Ivy League college.
At Yale, he was tapped for an exclusive secret society. The first-born son of a father who was a World War II pilot, he too learned to fly and served his country during wartime.
His first run at political office was a disaster. Accused of carpetbagging, he was badly thumped. But he dusted himself off and went to work. Years later, he would again try his hand at politics. This time he would succeed, and spectacularly.
Now he is running for president of the United States. And that's the curious thing: While this thumbnail biography describes President Bush to a T, it also describes his presumed Democratic rival, Sen. John F. Kerry of Massachusetts.
Indeed, the lives of both candidates, in broad strokes, paint a classic portrait of American privilege."These people are definitely in the American hereditary upper class," said Gary Boyd Roberts, a Boston genealogist who has traced Bush's and Kerry's lineages and discovered they are distantly related. (Branches of their family trees cross eight times, said Roberts; at the closest point, they are ninth cousins). They are also descended from medieval kings.
How has privilege played out in their lives? Very differently, as it turns out.
Bush, a true social and political aristocrat, has spent much of his life publicly distancing himself from his patrician roots, while quietly availing himself of family connections."Privilege completely and utterly defines George Bush," said his biographer, Texas journalist Bill Minutaglio."I don't think it's pejorative to point that out."
Kerry, whose family glory lies in an illustrious and historic past, has worked energetically to secure his place in the upper reaches of American society, and twice married heiresses."His parents came from modest wealth," said his biographer, historian Douglas Brinkley."He was always a little cash-poor for the milieu he was running around in. He's like the F. Scott Fitzgerald figure looking into that world with one foot in and one foot out."
The novelist Christopher Buckley, an acerbic social observer who wrote speeches for Bush's father when he was vice president, said of the two political rivals:"Bush set out to distance himself from the world of Eastern establishmentarian privilege.... The funny thing is that Kerry sort of looks more like the guy who was born with the silver spoon, but economically, his circumstances were far less golden. That's the paradox...."
Stephen Kinzer, in the Wash Post (June 11, 2004):
Not everyone was shocked by the revelations of the ways American soldiers have abused Iraqi prisoners. Those who have studied techniques that American interrogators taught and used in Vietnam, Latin America, and elsewhere during past decades felt only a grim sense of recognition.
"We are living an illusion if we think these practices are unique," said Robert White, a former U.S. ambassador to Paraguay and El Salvador. "What is unique is the graphic pictorial evidence that drives it home. But that the United States has been complicit with torture in Vietnam and Latin America, there can be no doubt. It may be sinking into the public consciousness for the first time, but expressions of shock from people whose business is foreign policy are quite hypocritical."
In Vietnam, some American intelligence officers were taught techniques of torture developed by France and other countries that had waged counterinsurgency wars. The best-known of the programs in which the techniques were used, called Operation Phoenix, was aimed at eliminating enemy spies and informers and resulted in the deaths of thousands of Vietnamese, some of whom died during torture.
Many of the most prominent officers accused of promoting torture in Latin
America during the 1970s and '80s were graduates of the U.S. Army School of
the Americas, where U.S. trainers instruct officers from Latin American countries.
Since the school's founding in 1946, more than 60,000 Latin American officers
have attended its courses, among them General Leopoldo Galtieri, who headed
Argentina's military junta in the early 1980s; Colonel Roberto D'Aubuisson,
leader of a death squad in El Salvador during the same period; and former Guatemalan
President Efrain Rios Montt, during whose presidency thousands of Guatemalan
civilians were tortured and murdered. ...
Michael Barone, in the LAT (June 18, 2004):
On Jan. 5, 1762, the Czarina Elizabeth died. Russia was in the midst of the Seven Years' War, fighting alongside Austria and France and against the Prussia of Frederick the Great. Prussia was on the verge of defeat: Before he learned of the czarina's death, Frederick wrote to an aide,"We ought now to think of preserving for my nephew, by way of negotiation, whatever fragments of my territory we can save from the avidity of my enemies." But Elizabeth's death changed everything. Her successor, the Czar Peter III, was an admirer of Frederick, and Russia withdrew from the war. Frederick prevailed on the battlefield and emerged the winner in the treaties signed in 1763.
A change in leadership in wartime can change the outcome of the war. It's not always true: Adolf Hitler took heart when Franklin Roosevelt died April 12, 1945. He thought Roosevelt's death would rescue him as Elizabeth's death had rescued Frederick. But Harry Truman carried on the war, and before the end of the month Hitler was dead in his bunker. Still, leadership change in a war is risky business.
Consider the presidential election of 1864. The defeat of the incumbent, Abraham Lincoln, would have made an enormous difference. Union casualties were heavy throughout the year. It was widely expected that Gen. George McClellan, ousted from heading the Union army by Lincoln in 1862, would be the Democratic nominee and that he would win. Lincoln was renominated by the Republican National Convention in June, but through September many prominent Republicans were plotting to choose another nominee. Lincoln clearly stood for continued prosecution of the war, and the Republican platform came out strongly for the abolition of slavery. The Democrats were united around McClellan at their August convention but divided on policy. The Copperhead wing of the party wanted immediate peace, and it managed to write the party platform. ...
Bill Clinton was on a roll, telling a rapt audience at New York University this week about his battles against impeachment and life in the White House. But then he abruptly stopped, and left listeners with a big tease:
"If you like what I talked about," he said,"wait until you read the book."
With Clinton's memoir,"My Life," set to hit stores next week, the stories behind its publication are bursting with superlatives: The former president got a $10-million advance from publisher Alfred A. Knopf, which is thought to be the largest amount ever paid for a nonfiction political book. And the company announced a first printing of 1.5 million copies, the largest ever for a presidential autobiography.
No previous White House memoir has generated comparable interest. And the reason, many observers contend, does not rest in the Monica S. Lewinsky sex scandal alone. It is the fact that the long-awaited life story of Clinton -- loved by some, hated by others -- is hitting the American book market at a moment when it is primed to sell more copies of such a work than ever before.
Media attention also has been stoked by the possibility that Clinton's book, appearing in the midst of a presidential campaign, could affect the outcome. Opinions are mixed on whether the fortunes of presumed Democratic candidate John F. Kerry's fortunes will be helped or hindered by news stories and publicity focusing on Clinton.
"This is a unique event in publishing history," said John Baker, editorial director of Publishers Weekly."It is by far the biggest, most ambitious marketing campaign for a presidential memoir that I have ever seen."
When most presidents leave office, there is a sense that Americans know the important details about them, and that their stories have largely been told.
But Clinton remains a fascinating character to many people, someone whose persona is evolving. And there is an expectation that his book will reveal key details about his life.
At the NYU event, for example, he regaled the crowd with tidbits about his battle with Whitewater prosecutor Kenneth W. Starr and others he considered political enemies.
As a presidential author, some observers say, Clinton is in a category by himself -- with more public interest in his celebrity than his governing.
"Do you really think readers will be spending money to get his 50-page take on the Middle East?" asked one publishing executive who has had experience with presidential memoirs."They're going to turn immediately to the stuff on [White House intern] Monica Lewinsky...."
Neil MacGregor, in the Guardian (June 14, 2004):
The collapse of the Tower of Babel is perhaps the central urban myth. It is certainly the most disquieting. In Babylon, the great city that fascinated and horrified the Biblical writers, people of different races and languages, drawn together in pursuit of wealth, tried for the first time to live together - and failed. The result was bleak incomprehension. Ambitious technology defying the natural order was punished as the tower that tried to reach the skies collapsed. Irreligion and promiscuity inevitably conjured the apocalypse.
Unlike Egypt, which in popular imagining continued serene through the centuries, Babylon is seen to have flourished and fallen again and again, the reading of each episode informed and deformed by those that went before. Mythical or historical, they go on and on: the Tower of Babel; the conquests of Nebuchednezzar and the invasion of Babylon by Cyrus and then Alexander; the glorious court of Haroun-Al-Rashid; the devastation of Baghdad by the Mongols in 1258, where the Tigris ran black with the ink of the manuscripts from the ransacked libraries. Is there any other culture for which the distant past, real or imagined, still wields such power?
If you want to understand day by day the turmoil of Iraq now, you can of course gorge on newspapers and television bulletins. But if you have any energy left, you should go to the British Museum and see a different kind of reportage.
The antiquities of Mesopotamia reveal the constants of Middle Eastern politics. Endlessly fluctuating frontiers and proliferating religions mean endless wars. Here, in the sculptured reliefs, are the cities bombarded, the hostages taken, the aggressive displays of military power, the puppet rulers installed, the brutality of militaristic regimes.
Baghdad fell last year, but Babylon falls every day in the National Gallery. In Rembrandt's Balshazzar's Feast, painted in Amsterdam in the 1630s, a corrupt and doomed ruler is about to be deposed by foreign armies, all apparently in the name of a God that he has disparaged. The writing on the wall announces (for those with eyes to see) that Balshazzar has been found wanting and that his kingdom will be divided among foreign occupiers. In a few hours divine retribution will strike. It is the biblical story as shaped by the Dutch 17th century....
Brian Whitaker, in the Guardian (June 16, 2004):
The undecided fate of Saddam Hussein's surviving monuments in Iraq sparked controversy last night at a public forum in the British Museum as debate focused on whether to demolish them or preserve them as a reminder of his rule.
"What counts is to have a fresh start," said Ghaith Abdul Ahad, a 28-year-old Iraqi architect-turned-journalist. "These monuments are just symbols of oppression."
However, Kanan Makiya, the author of The Monument, a book about Saddam's use of historical images to legitimise his regime, said the monuments should be kept to provide "thoughtful reflection".
Mr Makiya, who spent 35 years in exile, is founder of the Iraq Memory Foundation, which seeks to document the atrocities of Ba'athist rule and turn the area around Baghdad's Hands of Victory arches into a place for "education on life under tyranny".
The 140-ft twin arches are shaped like crossed swords and held by fists modelled on Saddam's own hands. Some of the metal came from the guns of Iraqi soldiers killed during the bloody eight-year conflict with Iran, and the ground below is scattered with the helmets of dead Iranian troops.
Mr Abdul Ahad said the idea of preserving the structures reminded him of foreigners coming back from Iraq with Saddam Hussein watches. "Why don't you get a couple of bones from a mass grave?" he told the audience at the event which was jointly organised by the Guardian and the museum.
He was less concerned about Babylon, which Saddam rebuilt using bricks inscribed with his name alongside those bearing the name of the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar.
"Nebuchadnezzar was a tyrant and Saddam was a tyrant. Together, they spanned "a continuous line of despotism," Mr Abdul Ahad said.
The British Museum's director, Neil MacGregor, noted that one of the first acts of new regimes is to obliterate the face of the previous ruler from monuments. He added: "The Iraqis need to decide what should happen to them."
... what is at stake each time we erase the news is not just the nation's security but, more important, our history.
And that's why it's helpful to turn to history for an object lesson, a case of wartime censorship where the issue was much less murky and the results—at first glance, at least—unambiguous. You've likely heard nothing about it. And that, of course, is the problem.
The censored story was one of World War II's oddest, and it involved a fleet of handmade balloons sent east by the empire of Japan. Improbable though it may sound, from late 1944 through the spring of 1945, the Japanese launched more than 9,000 balloons from their nation's eastern shores. Filled not with mild-mannered hot air but extremely flammable hydrogen and armed with incendiary and antipersonnel bombs, the balloons rode the jet stream across the Pacific Ocean for several days before landing throughout North America.
No, really. Throughout North America. From Alaska to Mexico and as far east as suburban Detroit. Perhaps even more incredible, the balloons themselves were not made of any high-tech, weather-hardened fabric but simple paper panels held together with potato glue.
An extraordinary story, right? Irresistible to any reporter and not just because of the balloons themselves, but because of their potential: If a balloon could carry incendiary bombs across the Pacific, without detection or advance warning, what else might travel aboard? Saboteurs? Biotoxins?
Sure enough, stories began to appear. The day after New Year's, 1945, for example, the New York Herald-Tribune carried a brief story about one of the first balloons to arrive. After that, however, even as the balloons were crash-landing at the rate of two or three per day, the nation's media remained largely mum. That's because on Jan. 4, two days after the Herald-Tribune ran its story, the Office of Censorship asked the nation's print and broadcast journalists to report absolutely nothing more about the balloon bombs. And no one did.
The way the rest of the story plays out proves problematic for foes and supporters alike of wartime censorship. For those who oppose censorship, it's hard to argue against the outcome: Throughout the spring of 1945, the Japanese carefully monitored the American press for mention of their balloons. They found none. And since supply routes and launch sites were getting hammered by an ever-closer American military, Japanese authorities finally decided they could not keep up their unusual campaign absent any evidence of success.
Yet, unbeknownst to them, or virtually anyone outside the U.S. government, the balloons were proving successful. One balloon, for example, managed to cut through power lines leading from the Bonneville Dam on the Columbia River. A resulting power outage that was quickly restored may sound insignificant; however, that particular dam provided power to a factory in Hanford, Wash., which was secretly manufacturing plutonium for use in the atomic bombs destined for Japan. When the power went out, the plant's emergency safeguards—which had never been tested—were suddenly called upon to prevent the reactor from melting down. Plant officials held their breath; everything worked as it was supposed to (though it took three days to resume full operations).
In the end, America's best defense may have been the weather. Designed to start fires—which would deplete natural resources and divert human ones—the balloons plummeted into the Pacific Northwest during its wettest months.
On May 22, 1945, the government suddenly changed its mind about the ban on press coverage. The War and Navy departments issued a joint statement announcing, in part,"It is the view of the departments that the possible saving of even one American life through precautionary measures would more than offset any military gain accruing to the enemy from the mere knowledge that some of his balloons actually have arrived on this side of the Pacific."
This sounds reasonable and prudent, if a bit tardy. But there's a reason the departments suddenly came around to this way of thinking, and this is where the balloon campaign becomes a troubling case study for censorship's supporters.
Seventeen days earlier, on May 5, the Rev. Archie Mitchell and his pregnant wife, Elsie, took a group of children from his church on an outing to Oregon's Gearhart Mountain. Mitchell let the kids out of the car before he went off to park. His wife got out, too, to supervise. Mitchell found a spot up the road and pulled over. As he was getting out, he saw his charges clustered around a large white object on the forest floor. One of the kids tugged at it.
The bomb exploded, killing all the children and Mrs. Mitchell. They were the only fatalities on the U.S. mainland due to enemy action during World War II, and though a marker remembers them on Gearhart Mountain today, they're mostly overlooked, as they were by the War and Navy departments in that May 22 statement, which made no mention of the fatalities, only that"Japanese free balloons are known to have landed or dropped explosives in isolated localities. No property damage has resulted."
That was technically true: Mitchell had parked his car well clear of the blast.
Should we censor the news in wartime? No question: There are times when discretion trumps dissemination. But people need to be told more than just,"Be wary." Be wary of what? A particular methodology or place, or a suspicious object, like a briefcase—or a balloon?
Case in point: It's estimated that 1,000 of those World War II balloons reached North America. To this day, only 286 have been found. Here's hoping the next hiker who finds one has heard the news.
What does the battle of the balloons have to do with today's war on terrorism (other than the bizarre coincidence that the Mitchell tragedy occurred near tiny Bly, Ore., the same spot where recently arrested Muslim cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri is accused of trying to set up a terrorist training camp)?
Actually, the balloon battle may have less to do with us today than it does with citizens, soldiers, reverends, and children 60 years from now. Because as compelling a case as the balloon story may be for the virtues of wartime censorship, what's troubling is not that Americans in 1945 didn't know about these balloons; it's that most Americans today don't. The balloon bombs were erased not only from our national awareness, but from our collective history. We believe it never happened, just as our children might have been led to believe Abu Ghraib never happened....
John S.D. Eisenhower, in the International Herald Tribune (June 6, 2004):
The 60th anniversary of the Allied landings in Normandy, on the day known in common parlance as D-Day, was once again an occasion to pause and contemplate its significance. Like all Americans, I am proud of the achievements of my fellow soldiers but aware of the ordeal they underwent. To this day, I view those men with respect bordering on awe.
To me, as the son of Dwight D. Eisenhower, the general who commanded that invasion, it carries an added dimension. I find it difficult to believe, even after all these years, that my own father was such a historic figure. Sixty years of repetitive observances of D-Day have not dimmed my wonder....
I am asked time and again, "What would your father think if he were alive today?"
At this point, I must emphasize that I cannot with any confidence give an opinion
regarding what my father would make of today's scene. He was unpredictable when
examining any new problem because he always viewed it in its entirety, totally
free of thumb rules and largely independent of tradition. More obviously, the
world has changed drastically during the 43 years since my father left the presidency
The most fundamental conviction that the period of Ike's command in Europe and the Mediterranean imprinted on his mind was the cruelty, wastefulness and stupidity of war. He saw at firsthand how war destroyed cities, killed innocent people (in which I include most of the participating soldiers), wiped out national economies and tore up the structure of civilizations. Its wastefulness cut him to the bone, and its specter never left him. As a result, as president he kept the military budget as small as was consistent with the safety of the nation. He expressed his convictions eloquently in April 1953, about three months after his inauguration as the 34th president of the United States:
"Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed .
"The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities.
"It is two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000 population.
"It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals .
"We pay for a single fighter plane with a half million bushels of wheat. We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed 8,000 people."
Not surprisingly, the war that included D-Day had made a pacifist of the man who bore the responsibility, its supreme commander.
As I consider the effect that D-Day and the war in Europe had on my father,
I am struck by the degree to which it convinced him of the value of allies.
With his detestation of war as a means of settling international disputes, Ike applauded the formation of the United Nations in 1945, even though he had no hand in its formation. Leaving the army in 1948 for private life, he was recalled to active duty in early 1951 to organize the military forces of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization when the military threat from the east seemed to become imminent. In his stay in Paris, Ike developed a strong belief in NATO that he never lost.
It so happens that I was witness to one example of Ike's concern for the opinions and attitudes of his allies during his presidency. In September 1959, Premier Nikita Khrushchev of the Soviet Union served up an ultimatum to the Western allies to get out of West Berlin or else. Ike chose to negotiate while rejecting the ultimatum. In the course of the ensuing talks, a mix-up in signals in the State Department resulted in an unintended invitation for Khrushchev to visit the United States alone, not in the company of all the nations involved in the current crisis.
That unilateral invitation may or may not have turned out to be a good thing, but the incident illustrated Ike's concern that his allies - now Britain, France and the newly emerging West Germany - be assured that he had no intention of representing their interests in his forthcoming conferences with Khrushchev. So Ike took some of his personal staff and boarded a new Boeing 707 on its maiden voyage as Air Force One to visit Konrad Adenauer in Bonn, Harold Macmillan in Britain and de Gaulle in Paris. With all of them he conducted frank talks, and Ike's allies were reassured. He would have it no other way....
Ike totally disapproved of "preventive war," and that conviction was put to the test early in his presidency. Some time in the early 1950s the Soviet development of the hydrogen bomb and the means to deliver it caused many Americans, some of Ike's advisers among them, to advocate launching a preemptive strike against the Soviet Union while the United States still enjoyed a preponderance of atomic power and the means of delivering atomic weapons. It would be preferable, these people argued, to remove the Soviet weapons of mass destruction. No legal or moral justification was required. A few million Americans would be killed, of course, but a far fewer number than if we waited and allowed the "Evil Empire" (not Ike's term) to strike first.
Ike would have none of it. Throughout his presidency he combined a policy of maintaining a military deterrent to war while at the same time extending the hand of friendship. The uneasy peace between the United States and the Soviet Union - the cold war - continued for nearly 50 years. It was expensive and it was dangerous, but civilization survived....
Many of Ike's policies were different from those we see being followed today. But he was the first to admit that situations change, and the policies followed in one generation might be used as guides to future action but never rules. How he would view today's world scene, I repeat that I do not know.
But I wonder.
George Melloan, in the WSJ (June 15, 2004):
... some of the same people who were attacking Ronald Reagan in the 1980s are still around doing the same thing to President Bush. Teddy Kennedy was calling Ronald Reagan a warmonger in 1984, thus feeding useful nuggets to KGB propagandists; he today chortles that Iraq is President Bush's"Vietnam." Senator John Kerry, now on the campaign trail accusing the president of irresponsibility, was similarly scornful of President Reagan's moves to resist Soviet and Cuban efforts to grab Central America. He called the president's well-founded fears of an invasion of Honduras by the Nicaraguan Sandinistas"ridiculous."
In a recent newspaper article lauding Senator Kerry, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.— that well-known chronicler of Democratic Party triumphs and Republican failures— wanted to make sure that George W. gets the blame if things go wrong in Iraq. He wrote that the war"was a matter of presidential choice, not of national necessity."
In 1982, Mr. Schlesinger came back from a trip to Moscow to report that there was fat chance that Ronald Reagan could push the Soviet Union into a social and economic collapse. Things were looking bright there, he said, admiringly. But of course that is exactly what Reagan did by touching off an arms race that overtaxed the sluggish, muscle-bound communist system.
I'm indebted for these recollections to Peter Schweizer's excellent book, published in 2002 by Doubleday, titled"Reagan's War." As he points out, Democrats were not the only Reagan doubters. A majority of the president's own cabinet was against the massive $32 billion military-budget increase he launched two weeks after entering the Oval Office. He replied that his primary responsibility was for the security of the U.S. and that the arms buildup would go ahead.
Former Republican presidents Gerald Ford and Richard Nixon also thought Mr. Reagan was spending too much on defense. Republican Senator Charles Percy of Illinois, a former corporate boy wonder (Bell & Howell), took it upon himself to counsel Soviet Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin not to"play into Reagan's hands" by taking a hard-line position.
The stakes were high in those Cold War years. As Mr. Schweizer recounts, President-elect Reagan just before his 1981 inauguration was briefed on the procedures to be followed if the Soviets launched a nuclear attack. Because Soviet missile submarines, called"boomers," were cruising in the Atlantic not far off the American coast, the president would have to decide how to respond to an attack within a space of six to eight minutes. An officer carrying the"football," a briefcase with the codes for launching a U.S. counterstrike, was standing nearby as Mr. Reagan took his oath of office.
In harking back to those years, it seems clear that Ronald Reagan was no more free of political adversaries than George W. Bush today. The idea that he got along better than Mr. Bush with Europe doesn't hold up to close scrutiny either. His support for a NATO plan to deploy Pershing II rockets and cruise missiles in Germany to counter Soviet SS-20 intermediate missiles trained on Europe provoked protest riots in Rome, Bonn and Berlin. Charges that he was a wild-eyed Western" cowboy" were similar to those leveled against President Bush today.
Elisabeth Bumiller, in the NYT (June 14, 2004):
...This past weekend, the White House Web site prominently featured a collection of Reagan remembrances and a photo essay of Mr. Bush at the funeral for the former president. The Bush campaign Web site went one better, offering a video of Mr. Reagan uttering his most famous lines -"These are the boys of Pointe du Hoc" - interspersed with Mr. Bush's own words -"He had the confidence that comes with conviction, the strength that comes with character."
It was difficult to tell where the 40th president ended and the 43rd began, a blurring further promoted by Ken Mehlman, the president's campaign manager, who told an Iowa Republican Party convention on Saturday that Mr. Reagan's spirit lived on."Every time an American soldier, sailor, airman or marine risks his or her life to ensure our security and peace, Ronald Reagan will be there," Mr. Mehlman said.
Of course, Mr. Bush's effort to wrap himself in the Reagan legacy drew plenty of skeptics, including a number of top Reagan officials, who said, all anonymously, that the presidencies could not have been more different. Mr. Reagan was pragmatic, they said, but Mr. Bush is ideological. Mr. Reagan was a unifier, they argued, while Mr. Bush has polarized.
"Bush wants to defeat his opponents, Reagan wanted his to join him," one former official of the Reagan White House said.
Leaving aside what many historians call a nostalgic rewriting of the Reagan era - plenty of Democrats despised and derided Ronald Reagan in a highly partisan time -there are still striking and significant contrasts in the politics, artifice and style of the two presidencies.
The first that leaps out is Mr. Reagan's ease with the camera and the way it captured his personality and seemed to enhance who he was. Americans felt they knew Mr. Reagan, who was little different off television than on.
"He had so much experience - he knew the expressions, the posture, the lighting, the angles," said Michael Evans, Mr. Reagan's White House photographer, who recalled that Mr. Reagan, so used to Hollywood sets, had no problems letting him into the Oval Office on historic occasions to shoot through the day.
"I'd say hello in the morning, and then he'd just totally ignore me," Mr. Evans said.
Mr. Bush, in contrast, is stiffer and often more tongue-tied on television than in person. He finds the camera so distracting that his staff quickly shoos photographers away."He just likes to get it over with," said David Hume Kennerly, who has photographed every president since he was Gerald R. Ford's White House photographer."If he had his choice, he wouldn't do it."
The second difference is in the business of politics. Mr. Bush, who is his own de facto campaign manager, loves the combat and gossip. His advisers say he knows his exact standing in recent polls, the names of his chairmen in the battleground states and probably the names of important county chairmen.
Mr. Reagan, in contrast, did not."Are you kidding me?" said Kenneth M. Duberstein, who was Mr. Reagan's last White House chief of staff."He didn't want to hear about the political ups and downs." Mr. Reagan's detachment meant that his operatives handled the dirty work, while Mr. Bush's immersion has helped drive one of the most politically aggressive White Houses in decades....