Rate That President! : Part I

Time for my annual rant about Presidents’ Day.  I see no reason why great Presidents like Washington and Lincoln should share a date with miserable failures like James Buchanan and Jimmy Carter.  Technically the federal holiday is still George Washington’s birthday, although that makes absolutely no sense as the holiday has to fall between February 15-21, and thus can never occur on February 22, Washington’s birthday.  A popular sport for Americans has always been rating their Presidents.  All such ratings are of course subjective and mine is no exception.  I weigh the good and the ill that a particular president did and that determines his place in my ranking.  Feel free to note your disagreements in the comboxes.  Here is Part I of my list from best to worst:

1.  George Washington-The Father of our Country is the standard by which all presidents should measure themselves.  Victory in the American Revolution would have been impossible without his leadership.  At the Constitutional Convention, his quiet leadership was a steadying force for the often quarrelsome and contentious drafters.  His presence ensured that the constitution drafted would be taken seriously by the States.  As President he established endless precedents for his successors to follow, dealt successfully with the huge national debt left from the Revolution, and knit the Union together.  None of his successors come close to him except for Lincoln.

2.  Abraham Lincoln-In just a little over four years he fought and won our Civil War, ended slavery and preserved our Union.  His speeches are masterpieces of the English language.  The great tragedy for our nation is that he was slain before he could attempt to guide the nation through Reconstruction.  Washington and Lincoln are in a class by themselves.

3.  Franklin Delano Roosevelt-I believe that his policies during the New Deal were truly voodoo economics and that much of what he did was wrongheaded and retarded recovery and economic growth.  However, only a fool could deny that his raising of American morale through the New Deal was anything less than brilliant.  As a war president he was wise enough to let the generals and admirals fight the war, and, in general, he chose them wisely.  He is largely responsible for the creation of modern America, a fact that will earn him both boos and plaudits.

4.  Theodore Roosevelt-With the first Roosevelt to occupy the oval office, America strode onto the world stage.  From building the Panama Canal, resolving the Russo-Japanese War to the sailing of the Great White Fleet around the globe, Roosevelt set the framework for the American Century.

5.  James K. Polk-He settled the Oregon dispute with Great Britain and successfully waged the Mexican War which added vast territories to our country.  Few presidents have accomplished as much in two terms as Polk did in one.  He also had the good grace to die shortly after he left office, a policy some other former presidents would have been wise to emulate.

6.  Ronald Reagan-The successor to one of our worst presidents, Ronald Wilson Reagan restored American prosperity and morale.  His policies initiated an economic boom which, with minor lapses, endured for almost a quarter of a century.  He masterfully brought the Cold War to a successful conclusion with an American victory.  The best president of my lifetime.

7.  Thomas Jefferson-Easily the most over-rated president in American history.  I place him this high solely because of the Louisiana Purchase.  In many ways the Purchase ran counter to his political principles but he did not allow those principles to stand in the way of an action that enormously benefited the nation.  Jefferson also deserves praise for the first war with the Barbary Pirates where he demonstrated a willingness to defend America’s interests, which ran counter to his military policies which weakened the defenses of the nation.

8.  Grover Cleveland-The only Democrat to attain the presidency in the just over a half century between James Buchanan and Woodrow Wilson, and doing so twice in non-consecutive terms, Cleveland was a classical liberal and today would be considered a political conservative.  He was pro-business and pro the gold standard.  He was completely out of sympathy with the economic populism which was beginning to reshape his party.  An advocate of civil service reform, he was notable for keeping on Republicans, like Theodore Roosevelt at the Civil Service Commission, who he viewed as doing a good job.  A political reformer all of his career, he waged a steady fight against political corruption, and attracted a good deal of support from reform minded Republicans.  He vetoed many spending bills which he regarded as excessive or unconstitutional.  In one of his vetoes he included this message which deserves to be remembered by all Americans:

I can find no warrant for such an appropriation in the Constitution, and I do not believe that the power and duty of the general government ought to be extended to the relief of individual suffering which is in no manner properly related to the public service or benefit. A prevalent tendency to disregard the limited mission of this power and duty should, I think, be steadfastly resisted, to the end that the lesson should be constantly enforced that, though the people support the government, the government should not support the people. The friendliness and charity of our countrymen can always be relied upon to relieve their fellow-citizens in misfortune. This has been repeatedly and quite lately demonstrated. Federal aid in such cases encourages the expectation of paternal care on the part of the government and weakens the sturdiness of our national character, while it prevents the indulgence among our people of that kindly sentiment and conduct which strengthens the bonds of a common brotherhood.

9.  James Madison-The Father of the Constitution’s presidency was dominated by the War of 1812.  As a war president Madison was something of a dud, the War of 1812 being rather poorly conducted, at least on land.  However, it is at least arguable that the country came through the War more united and stronger than when it went in.  Madison did lead the country to swift victory in the Second Barbary War in 1815. During his presidency he championed internal improvements and the national Bank, and helped lay the framework to a post war wave of prosperity and development.

10.   Harry Truman-A machine politician from Missouri, little was expected from Truman when he assumed office following the death of Roosevelt.  He brought the Pacific War to a swift end with the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, a decision which he never regretted and which he took full responsibility for.   His Marshal Plan helped stabilize post war Europe and fend off the advent of Communist governments in Italy and France.  The creation of NATO was a key element in the process which ultimately led to American victory in the Cold War.  Despite it meaning the ending of his political career, he refused to purchase a truce from the Communists to end the Korean War by forcibly repatriating Chinese and North Korean POWs who wanted to remain in the West.

11.  Chester A. Arthur-Arthur had been something of a crusader for civil rights in his youth for blacks, working on two notable civil rights cases that you may read about here and here.  After his early years he became a fairly typical Republican machine politician in New York.  After the assassination of President Garfield, he surprised everyone by fighting for Civil Service reform as president.  He revitalized and modernized the Navy.  He was a budget hawk and vetoed bills that he considered excessive.  He attempted to stand for civil rights for blacks in the South, although after the Supreme Court overturned the Civil Rights Act of 1873, he was left with few tools to intervene on behalf of blacks.  Universally regarded with suspicion when he took office, he left the office of the Presidency deeply respected by almost all his initial critics.

12.  Calvin Coolidge-America had the greatest jump in domestic prosperity under Coolidge.  A throwback in many ways to a simpler time in American history, Silent Cal was actually quite eloquent in his opposition to the growth of the federal government and the advent of the welfare state under Hoover and FDR.  Our most underrated president.

13.  John Adams-A miracle that man ever became president.  He lacked every political instinct and seemed to go out of his way to pick quarrels and alienate people.  As president he skillfully brought the Quasi-War with France to a conclusion, knowing that while doing so he was signing his own political death warrant and that of his Federalist party.  He demonstrated, in the midst of ferocious partisan political battles that make our current political divisions seem tame in comparison, statesmanship that few of his successors have equaled.

14.  Andrew Jackson-The father of our two political parties:  The Democrat party which he created, and the anti-Democrats created in opposition to him, going under the name initially of the Whigs and  most Northern Whigs eventually creating the Republican party in the 1850s.  Our modern party system derives from his career.  As President his shining moment was the Nullification Crisis where he successfully withstood South Carolina’s first attempt to start a civil war.  His worst moments were the trail of tears and his war on the national bank.  The most consequential president, for good and ill, between Washington and Lincoln.

15.  Dwight David Eisenhower-Ike successfully concluded the Korean War, maintained the balance of terror with the Soviet Union in nuclear weapons, and left the US a more prosperous nation than he found it.  Our most successful post war President next to Reagan.

16.  James Monroe-America made rapid progress in its Westward expansion under Monroe, especially with the construction of the Cumberland trail.  Partisanship was at its lowest ebb in American political history during his “Era of Good Feelings”, with the old Jeffersonian Republicans morphing into a broad enough party to encompass all but the most die-hard Federalists.  The negotiated purchase of Spanish Florida completed American expansion in the East.  The Monroe Doctrine signaled to the rest of the world American dominance in this half of the globe, although it took the tacit support of Great Britain and the Royal Navy to ironically make it a reality.  A good ending to the Virginia Dynasty.

17.  Zachary Taylor-Old Rough and Ready had zero political experience when he became President as a result of his national hero status from the Mexican War.  A slaveholder, he had served in the Army for almost four decades and had developed a deep love of the Union.  During his term as President, cut short by his sudden death, he was outspoken in his opposition to secession, and threatened that if secession occurred he would raise an army and hang every secessionist he could get his hands on.  One of the more interesting what ifs in American history is if Taylor had lived, a Southern President during the 1850s and a declared opponent of secession.  Instead, the presidents in the decade prior to the Civil War would all be northerner politicians intent on appeasing the slave holders of the South.

18.  William Howard Taft-A competent president, Taft was no politician, as he amply demonstrated by alienating many factions of the Republican Party during his term in office, and setting up the Bull Moose run for president in 1912 by Theodore Roosevelt which ended in Taft coming in third in that race.  Taft championed lower tariffs, civil rights for blacks and a general reform agenda, most of which he got through Congress.   A successful president largely ignored by history.

19.  George Herbert Walker Bush-Elected largely because the country wanted to give Reagan a third term, but couldn’t, Bush presided over a prosperous economy.  In foreign affairs he fought two quick and victorious wars in Panama and the Gulf.  His fatal flaw was that he always had been lacklustre as a politician, as he demonstrated by breaking his “read my lips”, no new taxes pledge which cost him his presidency.

20.  William McKinley-One of the more enigmatic figures to occupy the White House, McKinley kept his political associates at arm’s length, with few men really certain what McKinley truly thought on any of the great issues of the day, until McKinley, ever cautious, decided on his course.  McKinley ushered in a period of Republican presidential dominance that might well have lasted until 1932, without the schism in the Republican party in 1912.  McKinley led the country out of the Depression of 1893, the most severe depression in the country’s history.  He advocated civil rights for blacks at a time when racism, and not just in the South, was rapidly rising.  A combat veteran of the Union army who deeply abhorred war, McKinley was reluctantly convinced to declare war on Spain after the destruction of the Maine.  Like Taft, his historical reputation suffers from being outshined by Theodore Roosevelt.

21.  John Quincy Adams-A dead man walking politically throughout his term as president due to the fiery denunciations of Jackson of the “corrupt bargain” which led to Adams winning the presidency in 1824 courtesy of the support of Henry Clay, who Adams named as his Secretary of State,  Adams materially helped the development of the nation through his policy of internal improvements, an issue which would be the chief issue dividing Democrats and Whigs for the next generation.  Adams pursued a policy of conciliation with the Indians, as opposed to the removal policy championed by Jackson.  Like his father, Adams was defeated for re-election and won precisely the same states his father had won in his failed re-election attempt in 1800.

22.  Woodrow Wilson-Wilson has become a devil figure on the right, thank you Glen Beck, but I think that is overblown.  He was a competent war president, and certainly attempted to avoid going to war as long as he could.  After the Zimmerman telegram, in which the German ambassador promised to return several states to Mexico if Mexico would ally with Germany if the US declared war on Germany, I think it was impossible for Wilson to avoid entering the war.  His 14 point peace plan mirrored in many respects that proposed by Pope Benedict.  He set up the Federal Reserve, something that was long overdue in my opinion.  My main criticisms of Wilson are his segregation of the Federal civil service, reflecting the fact that Wilson was an unapologetic segregationist and made no effort to enforce the civil rights of blacks;  his growth of the size and scope of the Federal government;  and the curtailment of civil liberties during World War I.  His presidency went out on a bizarre note with his wife Edith basically serving as president sub rosa for the last 16 months of his term after Wilson was incapacitated by a stroke.

23.  Benjamin Harrison-The Republican caught between Grover Cleveland’s two terms, Harrison is largely forgotten by history and that is unjust.  He fought manfully for the civil rights of blacks in his term, constantly speaking out against deprivation of the right to vote in the South of blacks and the simple murder that was dignified by the term lynching.  He sponsored civil rights legislation in Congress, although the Federal Elections Bill failed in the Senate due to unified Democrat opposition.  He appointed Theodore Roosevelt to the Civil Service Commission and stood by him, even when his attacks on corruption in Republican federal appointments caused Harrison no end of political problems.  In regard to Indians Harrison adopted a reform policy by which individual Indians would be given land rather than having the land given to the tribe.  Although the policy ultimately failed and much of the land was eventually bought up by white speculators, at the time it was thought to be a much-needed reform of the atrocious reservation system.

Tomorrow we will deal with the bottom 20 chief executives.

24 Responses to Rate That President! : Part I

  • 1. George Washington – “First in war; first in peace; first in the hearts of his countrymen.”
    2. Abraham Lincoln – Made the GOP. Caused the Civil War. Won the Civil War.
    3. James Madison – The Constitution, the War of 1812, The Star Spangled Banner.
    4. Ronald Reagan – Destroyed the evil empire; put 25 year speed bump on the road to serfdom.
    5. James Polk – Mexican War and expansion. Mexico can have CA and NM back. We were on the wrong side in 1917.
    […]
    43. Carter. His stupidity led to the deaths of millions of Iranians and Iraqis and around others around the World.
    44. Barack Hussein Obama. I was going to put 689 because I cannot imagine a worse villain in the Oval Office; but there may be nothing left of America.

  • Very, very happy to see Arthur so high on your list; people always overlook him, but I’ve always considered him one of the great successes, who did what a president should do: kept things organized, pushed for reforms that really did improve things, tried to do what was right, and respected the limits of the office. It’s not as flashy a form of greatness as that of the obvious candidates, but it’s the kind of greatness we should all be rooting for. (Much the same can be said for Cleveland, too, of course.)

  • Happy President’s Day!

    Q: Who are your favorite 43 US presidents?
    A: Anyone but Obama.

  • i looked through your list in vain for Warren Harding. I think he was better than he is generally thought to be. Plus his mother has the foresight to give him the second name of Gamaliel which you know is a reference to a very wise rabbi! Also, he advocated a “return to normalcy” rather than a lot of government intervention.

  • He will be in part II tomorrow Anzlyne.

  • I know I’m jumping the gun here, but I still think that James Buchanan belongs at the bottom of the list, though Obama is closing the gap more quickly than I thought he would.

  • Although my respect as a two-time, non-consecutive Executive rates him very highly, I hadn’t thought of putting Grover Cleveland so high as you did. I’ll need to do some close reading about him.

    I like Zachary Taylor, as he’s Louisiana’s lone presidential office holder.

    And, a request: Thomas Sowell (whom I respect) has recently written a series of opinion pieces that lump T.R. and Wilson together as one, under the category of “Progressives Who’ve Ruined This Country”. I was wondering if you’d consider writing a series teasing out their similarities and differences.

  • “He also had the good grace to die shortly after he left office…

    I can’t wait to see how you rate those who’ve had the poor form to die shortly after taking office. (Harrison, Garfield)

    Will they “Not Rated”? Will they be rated higher than Carter or Obama for at least doing no harm?

  • I am not sure it is the best system to rate on one scale men who presided when the functions and expectations of the central government were so different.

  • “I know I’m jumping the gun here, but I still think that James Buchanan belongs at the bottom of the list, though Obama is closing the gap more quickly than I thought he would.”

    You read my mind Ellen!

  • “I can’t wait to see how you rate those who’ve had the poor form to die shortly after taking office. (Harrison, Garfield)”

    I had fun rating both of them Nicholas.

  • “I am not sure it is the best system to rate on one scale men who presided when the functions and expectations of the central government were so different.”

    Their are numerous criteria that could be used Art, but I think an overall rating still has some utility. Of course the order chosen for the presidents says just as much about the person making the ratings as it does about the about the presidents being rated.

  • Since I think FDR’s policies actually served to extend and worsen the Depression. I would rank him lower than you do. He was a great war president however. I’m not sure exactly where I’d place him, but I’d give Reagan the 3 slot.

  • If I had gone with my heart Donna, Reagan would have been number three! It is difficult rating near contemporary presidents since we lack the historical perspective that time gives. I would not be surprised to see Reagan rise on Presidential rating lists as the years roll by.

  • “I like Zachary Taylor, as he’s Louisiana’s lone presidential office holder.”

    And he may not be the last, if Bobby Jindal should ever run for POTUS :-)

  • Elaine,

    As it just so happens, I think he’s planning for a 2016 run, should Obama win. He’s built up a pretty good war chest for the last gubernatorial election; but, he didn’t have to spend, as the Democrats didn’t really put up a fight.

    Plus, he’s pushing an agenda to burnish his “get tough” conservative credentials. (I’m not very happy with all of them.)

    I even think that he’d be willing to sign on as a VP candidate on a losing ticket to gain some national recognition.

    But, of course, this is all off-topic. Maybe Donald (or Paul) can start a post on the 2016 race sometime soon. :)

  • OT, but since you’re around, Nicholas – a few years back, I read an interesting article about how Mardi Gras is celebrated in the small towns in Cajun Country. According to the article, Cajun country Mardi Gras is more of a family affair and does not have much resemblance to the licentious goings on on Bourbon St. I recall the article said that in some communities there are songs and foods and traditions which can be traced back to medieval France. I found the article quite interesting and since I take it (judging from your last name) that you’re a “real” Cajun, I’m curious if you can let us know about a festival which is, after all, rooted in Catholicism, although you would never guess that looking at the zoo in New Orleans!

  • Some complaints:

    1. FDR was a failure as a war President. Winning the war was never in doubt – American military might was sufficient, un-aided, to beat both Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. That we had the USSR and Britain as allies just hastened the inevitable. It is, indeed, true that FDR left the fighting to the generals and admirals – which is always complete folly on the part of a political leader, war being far too serious a business to be left in the hands of generals. While FDR awoke, a bit late, to Stalin’s pretensions, he never fully grasped that his whole view of the post-war world (a world which was supposed to be dominated by the US, Stalin’s Russia, Great Britain and Chiang’s China) was cockeyed from the start. The lack of a rational vision for where we were going in the war led to the nearly sterile results of the war – and the resultant half-century of Cold War and on-again/off-again hot wars in various places.

    2. Wilson was also a failure as a war leader. For crying out loud, he mid-wifed the breakup of the Hapsburg Empire on the basis of some Czechs who managed to gain his ear! All he did with that policy was ensure a weak, divided central Europe ripe first for Hitlerian and then Stalinist conquest. Additionally, his insistence at the end that the Kaiser’s regime be overthrown (rather than, say, merely calling for his abdication in favor of one of his younger sons) ensured that Germany would be unstable and ripe for dictatorship. His whole policy demonstrates what happens when a man who thinks he knows gets to be in charge.

    3. Truman does get some credit for having the courage to go ahead with the atomic bomb, but overall his foreign and defense policies were all wrong. He let Stalin get away with it in the Berlin Airlift; he demonstrated to Stalin that even under extreme provocation, we wouldn’t go to war with the USSR. The result was the Korean War – which he then blew completely by the mere expedient of assuring Mao that we wouldn’t allow Chiang to raid or invade the Chinese mainland…thus freeing up a million Chinese soldiers to attack us in Korea.

    4. Ike – entirely blew it over the Suez crisis. Here was a breach of international law by a gangster regime and instead of backing those who were rising in defense of international law, we backed the gangsters! This was just one of our earliest efforts to get some foreign son-of-a-bitch to be “our son-of-a-bitch”. How has that worked out for us over the decades? Never, never, never allow someone to get away with doing something he shouldn’t – you do that, and you’re besmirched and also morally weakened when ever you try, at later times, to uphold international law.

    The rest of the analysis I pretty much agree with.

  • ” While FDR awoke, a bit late, to Stalin’s pretensions, he never fully grasped that his whole view of the post-war world (a world which was supposed to be dominated by the US, Stalin’s Russia, Great Britain and Chiang’s China) was cockeyed from the start. The lack of a rational vision for where we were going in the war led to the nearly sterile results of the war – and the resultant half-century of Cold War and on-again/off-again hot wars in various places.”

    No, that is wrong. The Soviets, and aid to the Soviets, were essential to the defeat of Nazi Germany. The Red Army as a result seized Eastern Europe. There was absolutely nothing that FDR could have done to alter this, except by planning for an immediate start to World War III after World War II, which only Patton advocated after the conclusion of the War. The Cold War was inevitable given the nature of Stalin’s regime, and the presence of native Communist parties in Third World countries.

    “. Wilson was also a failure as a war leader. For crying out loud, he mid-wifed the breakup of the Hapsburg Empire on the basis of some Czechs who managed to gain his ear! All he did with that policy was ensure a weak, divided central Europe ripe first for Hitlerian and then Stalinist conquest. Additionally, his insistence at the end that the Kaiser’s regime be overthrown (rather than, say, merely calling for his abdication in favor of one of his younger sons) ensured that Germany would be unstable and ripe for dictatorship. His whole policy demonstrates what happens when a man who thinks he knows gets to be in charge.”

    There was no way that “The Prison of Nations” was going to survive the War, as German officers indicated when they noted throughout the War that Germany was “shackled to a corpse!” If the Allied powers had wished to preserve Austria-Hungary they would have had to provide armies to put down the national regimes that were already in power in that dead empire. The Allies were not going to expend any blood to attempt to revive that coprse.

    By the time the Kaiser abdicated, Germany was in the first throes of a socialist revolution. His own High Command told him that the Army would no longer fight to preserve the throne. The Hohenzollern monarchy was gone, and there was no bringing it back, with or without Wilson.

    “but overall his foreign and defense policies were all wrong. He let Stalin get away with it in the Berlin Airlift; he demonstrated to Stalin that even under extreme provocation, we wouldn’t go to war with the USSR. The result was the Korean War – which he then blew completely by the mere expedient of assuring Mao that we wouldn’t allow Chiang to raid or invade the Chinese mainland…thus freeing up a million Chinese soldiers to attack us in Korea”

    If Truman had decided to fight World War III with Stalin, our forces would, in all likelihood, have been chased out of continental Europe by a much stronger Red Army. After 1948 we no longer had a monopoly on nuclear weapons. If one’s goal was to stop Soviet Expansion and to avoid World War III, Truman got it just right.

    ” Ike – entirely blew it over the Suez crisis. Here was a breach of international law by a gangster regime and instead of backing those who were rising in defense of international law, we backed the gangsters! ”

    No, Ike realized that neither the Brits nor the French long term had the will to hold the Suez Canal, and he was correct on that score. The Israelis had the will to be sure, but they would have been unwilling to do so by themselves. Ike decided, quite rationally, that if the Suez Canal was to be held long term it would require US troops to do so and the Canal simply wasn’t worth it to the US in exchange for antagonizing the entire Arab world.

  • Donna V,

    I’ll quickly say that as recently as 20 years ago there was still an easy way to find a family-friendly “country” Mardi Gras. But, even back then the culture had already turned to the prevailing vulgarity throughout the general culture.

    Today, there are some family-friendly celebrations around, but one will have to travel to get there. Mardi Gras celebrations are, today, mostly bacchanalia, separated from any consideration of the upcoming Lenten season. (Such was the theme of the homily this weekend.)

    If an etranger wants to celebrate the real, local, country Mardi Gras, stay away from New Orleans; and contact a local Knights of Columbus chapter to ask where a good one is.

  • Now – instead of listing “favorite” presidents in order of personal historical perspective, I wonder what a list would look like if the criterion was “Presdients who embodied Scriptural values and best heeded Christ’s words.”

    Obama would still be 689th, but the rest could be interesting.

  • Donald,

    Nasser has unilaterally violated the various and long-standing international agreements regarding the Suez Canal – if treaties are to be of any use, at all, then it cannot be permitted that one contracting party can unilaterally alter the agreement. Nasser’s duty – supposing he wasn’t the gangster he was – would have required him to enter in to negotiations with all interested parties…and he probably would have got control of the Canal in such open and equal negotiations. He did wrong and he was justly being hammered for it – and then Ike stepped in and saved his bacon, thus ensuring the ’67 and ’73 Arab-Israeli wars; Nasser (and all those like him) was taught that he can do whatever he wanted.

    The USSR did not obtain an atomic weapon until 1949 and did not obtain the ability to seriously threaten the United States with nuclear attack until at least a decade after that. In 1948 the USSR was still a burned-over wasteland; Russia had lost about 8.5 military-aged males 1941-45 and, at most, they had a military manpower reserve in 1941 of 15 million…at best, if they mobilized everyone they could in 1945, they still would have been outnumbered 2 to 1 by a fully mobilized United States. Stalin knew this – it is why he didn’t attack West Berlin but blockaded it…he wanted to see if Truman would fight. He found out – as long as America is not directly attacked, you can do what you like; including using proxies to attack American allies. The Korean War was born in Berlin in 1948. And then Truman doubled down on dumb by essentially giving permission to Mao to move his best troops from the Taiwan Straights to Korea.

    There was no reason for the Hapsburg Empire to break up – do you really think that the Slovenes and Croats were hankering to switch from Hapsburg to Serbian rule? That the Slovaks really wanted to be ruled over by Czechs? That Ruthenians wanted to be ruled by Poles? They might not have entirely loved the Hapsburg monarchy, but it at least protected them from predatory neighbors. The reason the Hapsburg Empire dissolved is because it lost a war to people who hated dynasties. The pat answer of today is that the Hapsburg Empire was breaking up, anyways – I ask, on what evidence? Where was the internal subversion? Where were the armed, internal opponents of the Hapsburg regime? Why until the very end did the Hapsburg army remain true to its oath? Most of it wasn’t German, after all…and yet it stood and fought in the most titanic struggle to that point in history and only dissolved when it became clear that the price of peace with the Allies was the dissolution of the Hapsburg Empire…only then did it break up in to its component nationalities as they sought to at least defend their own people as best they could. It was a terrible catastrophe that the Hapsburgs were swept in to the ash heap of history…it first just allowed petty tyrants to run rampant (the reason the Croats went for Hitler and fought against the Serbs was because they had had two decades of Serb oppression between the wars, for instance) and then one after another of major tyrants to take over. If Wilson had had the least knowledge of history, he would have know that the duty of a statesman was to preserve the Hapsburg empire…liberalize it, to be sure; make it more of a federal system, of course…but keep it in being even if it meant assisting the Hapsburg authorities in doing so.

    I maintain that Germany and Japan could be beaten single-handed by the United States. For instance, the United States produced 88,000 tanks and self-propelled guns; the Germans 67,000, Japan 2,500. Artillery USA 257,000, Germany 159,000, Japan 13,000. Trucks, USA 2.4 million, Germany 346,000, Japan 166,000. Aircraft, USA 325,000, Germany 119,000, Japan 76,000. On and on it goes, and the United States, alone, had more military-aged manpower than Germany and Japan combined. I’m not saying it wouldn’t have been a long, hard fight…but at the end of the day it was sheer impertinence on the part of Germany and Japan to go to war with the United States. Furthermore, those in the know in the US government also knew, for certain, that the war could not be lost by the United States – the Japanese were actually a bit shocked to learn after the war that we never for a moment entertained the thought of a negotiated peace. We knew we’d win; there was never the least doubt of it. Given this – and given that the addition of the USSR and Britain on our side just made our power more overwhelming – the whole purpose of the war was to set up a post-war system which ensured against renewed war and ensured American predominance as the one nation which could be counted on to not seek self aggrandizement. So, what did we do? Insist upon a too-early dissolution of the British Empire and partner up with Stalin’s hideous regime and Chiang’s failing regime. Brilliant.

  • “He did wrong and he was justly being hammered for it – and then Ike stepped in and saved his bacon, thus ensuring the ’67 and ’73 Arab-Israeli wars; Nasser (and all those like him) was taught that he can do whatever he wanted”

    I have absolutely no doubt that if Ike had intervened the US troops would have quickly found themselves in a futile guerilla war that would have accomplished nothing. The Brits and the French were not in it for the long term and it served no interest for the US to fight a useless war for them on this point.

    “at best, if they mobilized everyone they could in 1945, they still would have been outnumbered 2 to 1 by a fully mobilized United States.”

    Untrue Mark. In World War II when we were as fully mobilized as we have ever been in our modern history, the ground forces of the Red Army always vastly outnumbered ours. Of course the forces we had in Europe in 1948 were vastly outnumbered by the Red Army historically and would have been routed quite quickly. This discussion has an air of political unreality. The American people simply were not willing to fight World War II if it could be avoided, which, thank God, it was.

    “There was no reason for the Hapsburg Empire to break up –”

    Nationalist tensions bedeviled the dual monarchy from 1848 forward. By the end of the World War I the subject minorities were in open revolt and the Allies were simply not going to use military force so that the Emperor in Austria could keep his job.

    “Why until the very end did the Hapsburg army remain true to its oath?”

    Acutally it remained true to its oath by routinely being beaten by the Russians. Outside of certain elite units the peformance of most of the Austro-Hungarian Army was truly pathetic, except when they were fighting the Italians who were even more pathetic. The Germans had to continually strengthen fronts held by Austrian forces with their own troops, which aroused a great deal of resentment among the German office corp.

    “So, what did we do? Insist upon a too-early dissolution of the British Empire and partner up with Stalin’s hideous regime and Chiang’s failing regime. Brilliant.”

    The Soviets held down two-thirds of the Wehrmacht Mark and ultimately defeated that two-thirds. I can imagine how many several hundred thousand more Americans, if not millions, would have died, but for the war waged by the Soviets. Of course we gave lend lease to the Soviets so they could defeat the Wehrmacht. We would have been fools not to. In regard to Chiang and the Nationalists, they held down about two million Japanese troops. Our aid to the Chinese was peanuts to accomplish this, especially since until we had the bomb we assumed that we would have to invade the Home Islands and take them in an immensely bloody invasion. In regard to the British Empire dissolving that was the decision of the Brits. They were bankrupt after World War II they were bankrupt and had no more money for imperial games. After Labor came to power in 1945 it was obvious that the days of the Empire were numbered. Churchill and the Tories came back into office in 1951 and the dissolution of the Empire continued under them. It was not the US that dissolved the British Empire, but rather economic reality.

  • Donald,

    Air of unreality? Perhaps; but I have pondered over these issues for quite a long time. Perhaps getting it wrong – but there is still no answer to the fact that in World War Two we, alone, massively out-produced Germany and Japan combined. Material isn’t all there is to war, of course, but it stands to reason that the side with the larger population and the greater productive capacity will eventually defeat the side with the smaller population and productive capacity. I’m not saying that the aid provided by the USSR and Britain was unimportant, just that it wasn’t necessary to ultimate victory, and this could clearly be seen (and was, indeed, seen – by no less a person than Winston Churchill) right from the moment the first bomb dropped on Pearl Harbor. Given this indisputable fact (that victory was inevitable), the shape of the post-war world should have governed all actions…including as to whether or not we should have gone in for a close alliance with the Stalinist regime (which did, in the event, attempt to betray us by making a separate peace with Hitler in 1943…only to be thwarted in this attempt by the unwillingness of Hitler to surrender any conquered territory).

    There has always been a great lack of foresight in American foreign and military policy. Lincoln had it; Reagan, too. Most American Presidents have not had it; neither have most American military leaders (only MacArthur really had it). There has been bravery and competence, but only in narrowly limited ways. No grand vision – no attempt to devise a strategic plan for the long term security of American interests. Of course, such a thing may not be possible given the nature of American government and politics…but that doesn’t excuse, in my view, those who volunteer to become our leaders. If someone seeks the office of the Presidency, it is his job to know precisely where we need to go and how to get there…Wilson, FDR and Truman failed in this regard. And the blood price for their lack of vision was high – and looks to go higher, still.

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