Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Ike Eisenhower, Business, and War

Imagine if former President Dwight Eisenhower ("Ike") had been around to advise President George W. Bush during the 2001 crisis, instead of Dick Cheney.

General Eisenhower ran for President in 1952 and assumed office in early 1953. He was conservative, but he was a calm conservative who was willing to leave most of the New Deal intact. He was anti-communist, but unlike many Republicans of his era he did not believe that Democrats were communists, or that it was impossible to negotiate or even cooperate with communist governments. After President Franklin Delano Roosevelt appointed him Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in the European theater during World War II, Eisenhower had worked with communists, including Joe Stalin himself, to defeat Nazi Germany in battle.

Senator Joe McCarthy, Ike's own vice-president Richard Nixon, and other Republicans (and quite a few democrats, notably John F. Kennedy and Hubert H. Humphrey) had made anti-Communism the center of both domestic and foreign policy. The Korean War was basically in a stalemate, with North Korea and the U.S. facing off near the 38th parallel, roughly where they had been when the war began. Red Scare politicians wanted Ike to conquer the whole peninsula.

Although the U.S. refused to officially recognize the then-popular new regime in China because it was communist, Eisenhower opened secret lines of negotiation. After a couple of false starts, sabotaged by South Korea's fascist leader Syngman Rhee, on July 27, 1953 a truce was signed.

Meanwhile the French were unable to muster sufficient military force to crush the Vietnamese independence movement (which had been pro-U.S. until Harry Truman decided to allow the French to re-colonialize Vietnam after World War II). They wanted Eisenhower to bomb the Vietnamese, and almost all of Eisenhower's advisors thought that was a good idea. But Eisenhower, and General Matthew Ridgeway, thought Vietnam was lousy terrain to fight on.

Eisenhower was a big-picture guy who was willing to let subordinates handle details, unlike most recent U.S. presidents. He understood that Communism had an appeal to some people; it was not just something imposed by Joe Stalin. He did not want to bleed America to death fighting peasant rebellions. He also understood that, even at a time when the U.S. economy was riding high (the only major rival at that time being communist Russia, the U.S.S.R.), military spending had a dark side for any economy.

Even so, Eisenhower allowed the French $385 million in military aid specifically for Vietnam, and the continued use of 200 U.S. Air Force advisors authorized by President Truman.

When Joe Stalin had died, Ike had said:

"The jet plane that roars over your head costs three-quarters of a million dollars. That is more money than a man earning ten thousand dollars a year is going to make in his lifetime. What world can afford this sort of thing for long? We are in an armaments race. Where will it lead? ... to robbing every person and nation on earth of the fruits of their own toil."

So here is what Ike would have told Bush: send in the CIA. Back them up with Special Forces if necessary. But don't increase the military budget, and don't get involved in a ground war in Asia.

Instead Bush listened to Dick Cheney and crew, the spiritual and mental descendents of Joe McCarthy and Richard Nixon. He enlarged the military budget and invented the Homeland Security boondoggle. At the same time he cut taxes on the highest income Americans to the lowest level since 1933, resulting in the highest annual budget deficits ever. Combined with the Clinton-era banking "reforms," this set the stage for the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.

The thing was, because Americans saw General Eisenhower as one of the greatest military leaders of the era, he was able to resist pressure for military expenditures and unwinnable wars.

Now we are in the second term of the Barack Obama administration, and another weak President has neither the backbone nor the gravitas to do what is right for America. In 2006 U.S. citizens voted to end the war in Afghanistan. Obama bought peace with the Pentagon by staying at war with the Islamic world. He has extended the war to North Africa. He is even looking to evade his won 2014 deadline for Iraq.

Now "everyone" of importance in Washington, Democrat and Republican alike, believes that more economy-crippling military and homeland security spending is justified. Damn the free markets, what business people really want is guaranteed profit government contracts.

I like Barack Obama's speeches, mostly. When it comes to actually doing the job, I Like Ike.

Agree? Disagree? You can leave feedback below.

Note: The Eisenhower quote above is from page 807 of William Manchester's The Glory and the Dream, to which I am also indebted for many of the historic details used in this essay.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Pray for Freedom in the Vatican

The New York Time's Christmas day edition (Web edition) has a front page headline: Pope Prays for Freedom in China and Peace in Syria.

I always wonder: is this just another NYT contribution to corporate security state propaganda, or does someone there really think it is news? Do they believe the Pope's hypocrisy is so blatant they don't need to point it out to their readers?

In the accompanying picture Pope Benedict XVI looks like a horror story cutout from the 1930's, which the former Hitler Youth member pretty much is. He is flanked by two very fruity looking middle aged men I would not trust to leave alone with a child under any circumstance.

Focus on China. Religion is not illegal in China. The only real limits on religion are sensible: it can't be used for fraud or to foment rebellion or to conduct criminal activities. Pretty much every religion in the world has people living and worshipping in China, no problem. That is possible because the vast majority of people in China are reasonably Modern atheists or agnostics who don't mind some lost souls playing make believe, as long as they don't use it as an excuse for criminal behavior.

Contrast the Vatican City state. What religions are tolerated there? Only one.

The Vatican does not even tolerate dissent in its own ranks. For the past 30 years it has purged priests and bishops for crimes like sympathizing with the poor, pointing out there is little or no Biblical authority for much of Roman Catholic doctrine (including the dictatorship of the Pope), and suggesting that women and homosexuals should be treated as equals. At the same time it has protected priests and bishops who sexually assaulted children.

The same article notes the Benedict has excommunicated Chinese Catholic bishops who were elected by their fellow bishops, rather than appointed by dictator Benedict himself. Talk about tyranny and attacking freedom of religion.

The Pope tries to cover a lot of his global criminal activity by publicly praying for peace. Apparently either God does not listen to the Pope, or does not have the power of peace, or does not exist. Peace, like war, is a human endeavor, and the gods help those who help themselves.

The Pope and his archbishop henchmen should stop and read the New Testament before running down the more enlightened leaders of our world. Mathew 7:3, "And why beholdest thou the the mote that is in they brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?" I quote from the King James Version of the Bible, the possession of which in Catholic Spain during the reign of Francisco Franco resulted in imprisonment. And yet Benedict wants to make many of Franco's minions into new Catholic saints.

When the Pope opens his mouth, evil has a voice. A dictatorial voice.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Second Amendment Needs Amending

When the first ten amendments, or Bill of Rights, was added to the U.S. Constitution in 1791, there were more slaves in the United States of America than there were white male voters (most states required men to own a substantial amount of property to qualify for the franchise).

The Second (II) Amendment stated: "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of the State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed."

In 1791 arms were all muzzle-loaded. Pistols, rifles, and cannon required a lengthy procedure to reload and fire. Troops often fired by thirds, so that two-thirds could be reloading and preparing to fire at any one time. Massacres were a team effort: a single man could not reload fast enough to overcome a determined group of defenders.

Much has been made over the centuries of the combining of the phrase about militia with the strong phrase "the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed." Remembering the Revolutionary War, men who emphasized the importance of freedom and democracy worried that a central government controlling centrally-stored militia weapons might more easily establish a tyranny. If citizens held their own weapons, they would be better able to respond to an attempt to establish a monarchy or other dictatorship. A militia itself might be used to establish a dictatorship, as had happened with Cromwell in England only a bit over a century before our own revolution.

I believe "the right of the people to keep and bear Arms," was about personal protection and economic security, not just trying to ensure a republican form of government. A muzzle-loading firearm was a family treasure, especially in rural and frontier areas.

Times have changed. Every adult citizen has had the right to vote since the mid 1960s. We have 220 years of continuous operation of our democratic-republic. It has been 150 years since our only full-scale Civil War. The 4 million inhabitants of 1790 have become 330 million. Guns and rifles are mass produced in factories and even semi-automatic weapons can fire many rounds in a single minute. Automatic weapons can mow down crowds in less than a minute.

We need to ask ourselves, what do we really need out of the 2nd Amendment? And we need to write a new one.

I don't buy the hunting argument against gun control. While a tiny minority of Americans still hunt for food, most hunting is a sport. A game, in which any food production is secondary. I see no reason that hunters should not go back to muzzle-loading rifles and even bows and arrows. I don't see how blasting a squirrel, deer, or wolf with a semi-automatic weapon is much sport. Load your muzzle, tramp throught the wild, try aiming instead of pointing, and if you miss your shot, you have an opportunity to do more hiking.

The same for target practice. Shoot once and reload should be fine.

People have a right to self-defense, but even if you carry a concealed semi-automatic weapon someone can put a bullet in your head before you can pull it out. With semi-automatic weapons eliminated, each of us has a far better chance of surviving an attack. Carrying a one-shot pistol should be adequate for almost all self-defense needs. Having a well-trained, effective police force is a better idea.

That leaves the police, the National Guard, and the federal military forces. They will have modern weapons. That means they will be in a position to abuse their power. But the real power to oppose corrupt police has never been in shooting back. It has always been political. Corrupt police cannot exist without corrupt politicians.

When we say "the security of the State" we mean not just its physical security, but that the government functions in the interest of the people. Preserving the rights of minorities while promoting the general welfare no longer relies on winning a revolutionary war or a civil war. Citizen participation in government is the key to good governance in our modern world.

My candidate for a replacement for the Second Amendment is simple: "The right of the people to self-defense shall not be infringed. The right of the people to democratic control of police, militia, and other armed forces shall not be infringed."

Conservatives, who are more likely to be pro-gun than Moderns, in many other cases have argued for the Original Constitution. They argue that the powers of government should be limited to what was written in the Constitution in 1789. Moderns typically believe the phrases of the Constitution should flex to deal with the real situation on the ground. In this case watch the arguments go into reverse.

I believe it is fair to use the Original Constitution style argument to conclude that the Second Amendment only gives the people the right to keep and bear arms that were available when the amendment was passed in 1791. That should be the standard of the Supreme Court and state courts while we are in the amendment process.

Conservatives will argue the contrary, thereby undercutting their whole bundle of doctrines based on refusing to see that times have simply changed. Technology has changed, commerce has changed, knowledge has changed, culture has changed, and people themselves have changed. So too must government change and the Constitution interpreted in light of developments.

If we try to enact more gun control without amending the Second Amendment, we bring the very nature of the Constitution itself into question because the wording of the amendment is so clear. Amending the Constitution is difficult, but it is the right way to proceed in a nation that uses a Constitution as the basis of law.

Let's amend the Second Amendment. It should have been done long ago.

[This essay first appeared as a Mendoday editorial]

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Were the Hiroshima and Nagasaki Atomic Bombings War Crimes?

The United States of America exploded an atomic bomb over Hiroshima on August 6, 1945 and over Nagasaki on August 9th. While both cities in Japan hosted military bases, the vast majority of causalities were civilians. An estimated 150,000 died at Hiroshima including 20,000 soldiers and 20,000 Korean laborers. About 80,000 died at Nagasaki, and while military manufacturers were destroyed, relatively few soldiers died there.

One of the most basic ideas of war crimes law is that the purposeful killing of civilians is a war crime. Yet most Americans believe that the atomic bomb use was justified in this case (the only use of atomic bombs other than for testing, ever, in world history.)

The typical American defense against charges of war crime is that it saved the lives of large numbers, potentially millions, of American soldiers who would have died if Japan had been conquered by conventional means. Is it therefore not a war crime to kill civilians if that achieves military objectives like decreasing military casualties? Other, often better, defenses against the war crimes accusation will also be considered here.

Some background information will be useful in this discussion. The war between Japan and the United States began in 1854 when a U.S. fleet of warships under Commodore Perry seized Okinawa and then used the threat of further force to induce the rulers of Japan to end their long commitment to isolation and peace [See Okinawa, Commodore Perry, and the Lew Chew Raid]. Relations varied over the following decades, then disintegrated in the 1930s when the U.S. continued to support the right of itself and European nations to have colonies, economic spheres of influence, and puppet governments in Asia, while denying that Japan should be able to play by the same rules.

Before the war began President Roosevelt gave numerous speeches condemning nations that dropped bombs from warplanes into cities. He demanded that all nations refrain from targeting civilians.

Rather than capitulating to demands from the U.S. that Japan become a third-rate power again, and watching the rapid building of a vastly superior navy, air force, and army in the U.S. in 1940, the Japanese military and the government they controlled decided to gamble on a first strike, which took place at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii on December 7, 1941 [See Pearl Harbor, China, and The Cable].

There is no denying that, before the atomic bombs were dropped, Japan was losing the war. Yet President Harry Truman and most U.S. military leaders did not feel the war was going particularly well. While the U.S. had overwhelming sea and air power, the Japanese had adapted their ground defenses to minimize that advantage. At the Battle of Okinawa alone the U.S. had lost 49,151 soldiers. Estimates of U.S. deaths from conquering Japan started at around 1 million, and that was probably a very conservative number. While nothing compared to the 11 million Communist soldiers who had died fighting Adolf Hitler's army, it was a dismaying number to Americans who were tired of war.

Politically, President Truman's hands were tied. His predecessor, Democratic Party kingpin President Roosevelt had demanded unconditional surrender from Japan. When the a-bombs were ready Truman repeated that demand in the Potsdam Declaration. The Japanese had always been open to a negotiated peace, even before the war began, but had never been willing to surrender unconditionally. Up until then no nation in Japan's position (still holding its mainland, many Pacific islands the U.S. military had "hopped" over, most of China and all of Korea) had ever been expected to surrender unconditionally. It was against the basic understanding of the laws of nations and what it means to lose a war.

The well-documented Japanese military's position was they would surrender if they could disarm themselves, withdraw their troops from China, and try their own war criminals. The peace faction in Japan, including the Emperor and his civilian advisors and even a significant portion of the military, were willing to surrender with one condition, that the Emperor remain the official sovereign of Japan.

Truman and his advisors (all Democratic Party leaders) were aware that if the bombs worked there would be significant civilian casualties. Their reasoning was simple: they did not want to fight the Japanese in what had always been the honorable method. The war might go on until 1948, or the U.S. might suffer a reversal and never win. Or the citizens of the U.S. might have urged their congressmen to negotiate a peace. For the record, two Republican Party generals, Dwight Eisenhower, commander of U.S. forces in Europe, and Douglas MacArthur, commander of U.S. forces in the Pacific, were against using the atomic weapons on cities as they correctly believed it would be a dishonor to U.S. military forces.

The disposition of colonies was also a prime consideration. If the U.S. had fought a long war with Japan while the British Empire, French Empire, Russian Empire, and other European nations had a chance to rebuild their commerce, the U.S. might not have been able to dominate the world stage in the 1950s and 1960s.

There is no loophole in the official war crimes laws allowing the purposeful killing of civilians. Even collateral damage, the incidental killing of civilians when fighting enemy soldiers, is supposed to be minimized. If you argue that, for instance, it is okay to kill civilians in order to reduce the deaths of one's own soldiers, there is no line that can be reasonably drawn to protect the innocent. Civilians always provide the economic support for soldiers in war, willingly or unwillingly. Wipe out a work force, and no one is around to build tanks. To subscribe to the theory of total warfare is to say that there is no such thing as a war crime.

Is there a permissible level of killed civilians? Killing civilians accidentally is considered a hazard of war, but at some point should it be clear that accidental is really on purpose. If one civilian dies in an engagement where 100 soldiers are killed, that is not good, but unless the civilian was specifically targeted we tend to not see a war crimes. But where do we see a war crime? A ration of 10 to 100? 50 to 100? 200 to 100? At Hiroshima the ratio was closer to 750 to 100, at Nagasaki even higher. A reasonable person can only conclude that the point was to kill massive numbers of civilians, and the military targets at the city merely provided a pretext. U.S. records support that interpretation.

Truman and crew did not honestly subscribe to the theory that the war crimes laws are ridiculous. They prosecuted and executed a few Germans and a lot of Japanese for war crimes after the war. They turned the Rule of Law into the Gruel of Law: the war crimes of victors would not be war crimes, only losing nations had committed war crimes.

An alternative defense is that only aggressor nations should be subject to war crimes law. This position creates much trouble. It is a not always clear which nation is the aggressor. Often two nations or sets of nations are eager for war, and the incident that sets of the war is almost irrelevant, as in World War I or the War of 1812. But again, you need to ask: is it okay to kill women and children, even of an aggressor nation? And when nations have been at war at intervals for centuries, is the aggressor label awarded based on the latest round, or is there some more complex calculus that should be used?

If aggressor nations are the only ones that must obey the rules of war, the whole exercise in war crimes law is probably pointless. Starting a war is itself a violation of the rules of war (although as usual, there are economic acts of war, like blockading a nation, that might justify calling a war defensive, or a war of survival). Having violated that rule, why follow any of the rules, unless they offer some sort of advantage?

Finally, there are racial arguments. U.S. relations with Japan had a huge racist component from the very beginning. Official discrimination against Japanese was a constant of U.S. domestic policy until after World War II. Destroying (perceived) subhuman lives in order to spare (white) human lives was a significant factor in World War II, but it should be no excuse in a war crimes tribunal.

Conclusion. A fair and impartial person should be able to identify the atomic bombing attacks on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as war crimes. The excuses given for the war crimes should be rejected as based on racism, nationalism, cowardliness, and a criminal mindset. The war criminals responsible should have been tried and sentenced. The organizations the war criminals led should have been disbanded.

Further, the failure to fairly uphold the war crimes laws subsequently led to contempt for those laws by the political and military leaders of the United States of America and their allies.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Right to Yacht Goes Wild

Inspired by the recent expansion of the Right to Work movement, Right to Yacht groups have been springing up across the nation, especially in the Right to Work states where yacht clubs are common.

Florida has seen the most Right to Yacht actions so far, but there have been also been Right to Yacht actions in Texas and Virginia, and preliminary Internet organizing and discussion in several other states, including Michigan. [See Limits on Unions Pass in Michigan].

In one Florida incident a yacht owned by a Miami area hedge fund owner was illicitly used for a party. Right to Yachters simply snuck by yacht club guards and had a party in the boat, emptying its liquor cabinet and "generally making a mess of it." The party goers snuck out before police or security guards became aware of the situation.

Right to Yacht
An Anonymous Right to Yacht person explained. "If you don't have to pay union dues to work in a unionized work place, why should you have to pay dues to get any privilege? Why should I have to pay yacht club fees to enjoy a yacht? Next time I'm taking a crew out into the bay."

According to postings on Internet bulletin boards, there are already two trends in the Right To Yacht movement. Some believe that only politicians who vote Right to Work laws, and their financial backers, should have their yachts targeted. These yachting excursions would take on the air of political protests against a specific law.

But the Eat the Rich trend seems to be more popular, at least in rhetoric. This trend seems to have a total disregard for the private property rights of the rich in general. They believe the rich deserve nothing they have grabbed. They talk of not just having floating parties, but of the right to take whatever they need from any rich person any time, from mansions to limousines to wallets. One online diatribe called for crowds to swoop into fancy restaurants and eat the food off the plates of the diners, calling it the Right to Eat.

Others talk of refusing to pay all forms of dues, rather than just union dues. Dues are a form of payment for a service. They want services without payment, just like workers who take advantage of the Right to Work laws to live like parasites. They even talk of creating homes for people without paying for permits or following building codes.

But the real purpose of the Right to Work laws is to keep wages and benefits unfairly low. In turn, this keeps profits high, and enables the business class to keep their yachts, mansions, and club memberships. What the people of America really need a way to Share the Wealth, and not just with the welfare class. It is the ordinary workers who get up in the morning and staff the stores, build the yachts, mansions, and malls, and do all the sundry things that allow us all to live who deserve better. They need more than the right to unionize. They need to get their share from what is owed to them for past labor, one way or another.

Check out the Internet for a Right to Yacht party near you, or Occupy a Michigan politician's home and see how they like it.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Pearl Harbor, China, and The Cable

When I was a child (I was born in 1955) the Japanese attack on U.S. military facilities at Pearl Harbor loomed large in my limited view of history. In addition to being of international historic importance, it was of great personal interest to my family.

My father was already in the Marine Corps on December 7, 1941. He had enlisted in Chicago in 1940 and was serving state side at the 2nd Marine Division headquarters. He would later serve in the Signal Corps at Guadalcanal and other Pacific Island battles, where he contracted both malaria and amoebic dysentery. Recovered he met my mother at Pearl Harbor. She had escaped tenant farming by first working in a factory manufacturing military uniforms and then joining the Women Marines. They did not get married until after Mother left the Corps at the end of he war and my father was stationed in California.

Of course I loved the Marine Corps when I was five years old. My father was a Captain, which seemed a grand thing. He had been stationed in Japan when I was younger and had made his own peace with the Japanese. We had a few Japanese art objects in the house, and my prized possessions were the postcards he had sent from Japan. 1960 was a slow year for the Marine Corps. My father had no college education, he did not qualify to move up in the ranks, so they forced him to retire.

How dare the Japanese attack us at Pearl Harbor? Well we showed them, didn't we? That was my childish attitude. To the extent that anyone in America cares about World War II anymore, that is the common attitude. Yet in exploring the history leading up to the Battle of Pearl Harbor, I found that in fact, it's complicated.

The Hawaiian islands had been a bone of contention among the Great Powers since not long after they were discovered by a British Empire naval officer. When the United States finally overthrew the sovereign, native-led government of Hawaii in a complex series of events in the 1890's, it violated a set of treaties solemnly sworn with other great powers, including Japan. The Japanese had been thrown on the world stage by U.S. military aggression in the 1850's, and had quickly emerged as a Pacific, if not global power.

The largest ethnic group in Hawaii when the U.S. grabbed it were the Japanese, with Chinese second, Hawaiian natives third, and American-Hawaiians a distant fourth. By treaty [Treaty of Amity and Commerce of 1871 between the Kingdom of Hawaii and Japan] right the Japanese (or France, Germany, or Great Britain) could have fought to throw out the Americans and restore the native Hawaiian government. The Japanese did send one of their modern military vessels there in the hope that the U.S. would honor its treaty obligations. When the U.S. made it clear Japan would have to fight a war to keep Hawaii free, the Japanese backed off. As a result a relatively large number of ethnic Japanese became U.S. subjects. Because of race laws, they were not allowed to travel to California or elsewhere in the U.S. Which is a crime against humanity and another pretext for just war.

U.S.-Japanese relations were not always bad. Both nations joined together to destroy Chinese independence during the Boxer Rebellion. The U.S. allowed Japan to grab Korea in return for not helping the Philippines in their fight for independence against U.S. aggression.

By the 1930s the rivalry was outpacing occasional attempts at friendship. The Japanese realized that after America, France and the British Empire finished digesting China they would come at Japan. They decided if China was to be ruled by warlords and puppet governments, they might as well be Japanese-owned warlords and puppet governments. The U.S. devised a plan for the conquest of China, Korea and Japan called War Plan Orange. The Japanese made their own plans. They studied the successful aggressions of the United States and the British Empire with keen, inquiring minds.

In 1932 the U.S. Navy held war games off Hawaii, simulating a Japanese attack. In the Japanese role "an American aircraft carrier, slipping past picket destroyers northeast of Oahu, attacked Pearl Harbor in a dawn raid and 'sank' the warships anchored there." [William Manchester, The Glory and the Dream, page 81]. The Japanese learned the lesson, the U.S. Navy forgot it.

By 1940 the U.S. and other colonial European powers were crippling the Japanese economy with an embargo. Both the U.S. (or at least President Roosevelt) and Japan wanted a triumphant peace and threatened war if they did not get their way.

In 1941 the U.S. was at war with Japan. The fighting took place in China, where U.S. airmen volunteered to fly in an all-American air force nominally under the control of Chiang Kai-shek, whose coalition of war lords was kept loyal with U.S. aid.

Cordell Hull, who was Secretary of State to Franklin Delano Roosevelt, throughout the year warned that State Department sources in Japan confirmed an attack on Pearl Harbor was planned if peace talks failed. Roosevelt and Hull were as determined on war as were the war faction in the Japanese government.


A reasonable interpretation of The Cable, given the situation, was that MacArthur was being encouraged to attack the Japanese Navy and possibly even its air bases in Formosa (now called Taiwan). In other words, no declaration of war needed if the U.S. started the fighting. MacArthur decided that since Roosevelt and Hull were his political enemies, and he hoped to become President of the United States, this might be a trap and he would wait for a direct order to attack.

He also thought the Japanese were military incompetents who he could easily beat once the war began. He had already been reinforced by the 4th Marines who had retreated from Shanghai. A earlier in December a huge invasion fleet had set out on its way across the Pacific to reinforce MacArthur and join the attack force from Pearl Harbor. With that force the conquest of Formosa, China and even Japan would have been much easier, but the fleet turned back mid-ocean. Roosevelt decided to use it against the German Navy first.

And so brave little Japan took on an industrial giant ten times her size. From a purely military perspective the attack on Pearl Harbor was brilliant. It should also be noted that the attack was purely military, with no bombing of civilian areas. To claim that it was a war crime because a glitch prevented the U.S. from being officially informed in advance would make all kinds of U.S. military attacks on other nations into war crimes, because we have bothered to declare war in only a few instances.

Were the Japanese militarists and capitalists a nasty lot? Certainly, they learned from the best, our American militarists and capitalists. Still, given the desire of U.S. capitalists to take over Asia, I don't see any real choice for the Japanese. They were slated to become part of the U.S. empire, and would have capitulated earlier if they had not adopted a strong warlike stance.

In the end, the blood of the Japanese was spilled so that the Chinese could be free of U.S. and British dominion. The Japanese committed war crimes in China, but they were mainly at the expense of Chiang Kai-shek. When World War II ended it was the Communist regime that finally liberated China from foreign interference. U.S. aid to Chiang just poured into a black hole of corruption, like U.S. aid to Afghanistan today.

It was foreseen. In arguing that Japan should be allowed to "restore order" in China, the Japanese had invoked the threat of a Communist takeover if they failed.

Pearl Harbor galvanized the American people, but only because they had not been paying attention and FDR had no interest in helping them to understand what had happened. Did FDR know about the attack on Pearl Harbor in advance? His own Secretary of State said he did. What FDR did not know was how successful the attack would be.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

President Hoover, Depression, and the Fiscal Cliff

According to William Manchester, writing in The Glory and the Dream, our typical beliefs about Herbert Hoover need some expansion. After nearly a decade of post World War I prosperity in the 1920s, which the Republican Party was happy to take credit for, Herbert Hoover won the Republican Party nomination for President in 1928. He was considered to be liberal best known for his role in supervising food relief efforts to Europe during the war; he was berated by Republican business leaders and right-wing politicians.

In 1929 the stock market crashed, and in 1930 the U.S. economy went down hill. Hoover, who was in many ways a very smart guy, simply did not understand what was happening. He thought American commerce would bounce back, and he had a lot of economists to back that view. He thought the problem was mainly one of psychology: "He himself had chosen the word "Depression" because it sounded less frightening than "panic" or "crisis.""

Despite President Hoover's hard work, happy talk, and genuine efforts to revive the economy, things got worse each year, and in particular in the election year of 1932. Later, from the 1940s to the end of the century, economists mostly agreed about what caused the Great Depression. Since the turn of the century much of economic "science" has become mere politics again. The Fiscal Cliff talks in particular are long on rhetoric and short on genuine understanding of our current predicament. I've written about aspects in earlier blog posts, and have seen some fairly good explanations from the like of Robert Reich and others. But Manchester's description is both short and telling, so I am going to reproduce it at length here, from pages 36 and 37 [I added some paragraph breaks to make it easier to read]:

"The real blame lay in the false underpinnings of the Coolidge-Hoover "New Era" prosperity. Seen in perspective, the Depression appears to have been the last convulsion of the industrial revolution, creating a hiatus before the technological revolution. In the aftermath of the World War, the techniques of mass production combined to increase the efficiency per man-hour by over 40 percent. This enormous output of goods clearly required a corresponding increase of consumer buying power—that is, higher wages. But the worker's income in the 1920s did not rise with his productivity. In the golden year of 1929, Brookings economists calculated that to supply the barest necessities a family would need an income of $2000 a year—more than 60% of American families were earning.

"In short, the ability to buy did not keep abreast of the volume of goods being turned out. It was part of the foolishness of the time to argue that the surge in production was no problem, that "a good salesman can sell anything." In practice this meant that while the rich (and many who weren't rich) were speculating in stocks, zealous salesmen were encouraging a kind of mass speculation. Customers of limited means were being persuaded to take products anyhow, the exchange being accomplished by an overextension of credit.

"The stock market, honeycombed with credit in the form of broker's loans, crashed of its own weight, calling into account the million so little deals consummated by commercial travelers who had sold anything and everything to people lacking the means to pay for it. The panic followed, and the country couldn't cope with it. The last extended economic crisis had been in 1893; since then America had become so industrialized that a massive return to the farm was impossible.

"There was a certain rough justice in Herbert Hoover's ascent to the Presidency on the eve of the catastrophe, for as Secretary of Commerce he had been fascinated with productivity and indifferent to the dangerous lack of buying power. Long after he left the White House, he realized what had happened and wrote: "A margin of some thousands ... got too much of the productive pie for the services they performed ... Another margin of some 20% got too little."

So old Hoover, when he had time to sit back and calmly analyze what had happened, came to an understanding diametrically opposed to most Republican businessmen and politicians today. The Rich took more than their share of pie, the workers got less than their share, and the economy came tumbling down.

What goes around comes around, but today there are some significant differences from 1932. There was almost no national debt in 1929, and despite some depression-driven annual deficits, not much in 1932 either. But computer technology has put all kinds of people out of work, while the monetary benefits of it have accumulated in the hands of a tiny number of people.

Last year's Republican rhetoric was that serious national deficit reduction would be good for the economy. When they saw that the only way to achieve that was to raise taxes and cut the military deficit, they changed their tune to singing "the fiscal cliff is bad for you."

What is needed to save the economy is redistribution of wealth. You don't actually need a socialist government to achieve that. If profitable companies would just pay their workers more, the free market system would probably work out, and a better economy would produce more tax dollars. But Steve Jobs (now a capitalist deity) hoarded his money and paid his workers in American stores (and Chinese factories) starvation wages, the same as they would have gotten working the hamburger machines at any fast food joint. Multiply the same behavior by perhaps 2000 large corporations, and a bunch of "small" greedy business guys, and ice that cake with Wall Street shenanigans, and you have our current serious problems.

Barack Obama, meanwhile, is taking a "let them eat cake" position. He wants to keep the "middle class" tax cuts, while restoring the pre-Bush tax rates for the rich. Thus angering a minimal number of voters with tax rises. But those who have jobs now, and especially those who kept jobs during the Great Recession, have benefited from low tax rates while millions lost their homes, or have been mostly unemployed, or are still hoping for any kind of job.

The employed middle class can pay more taxes, and should not gripe about it. Some of that money might be used for deficit reduction, but some should go to hiring the people that are needed to make society and the economy work in the long run. I'd like to see the IRS expanded to make sure there is less tax dodging. I'd like to see the Department of Labor actually help working people get unionized and bargain for higher wages and benefits. And I'd like the Republicans to read the section of the Constitution that says "Congress shall have power to ... establish Post Offices and post Roads;" in other words, the Post Office should get direct federal subsidies with priority over the many expenditures now made for items that are not even mentioned in the Constitution.

There is no cliff. The economy would get better right away if Republican business people would stop praying to Jesus for tax cuts, sold their government bonds, and invested in their work forces. [See Where Have All the Capitalists Gone?]

To the extent a fiscal cliff needs to be avoided, all we need to do is limit spending cuts to the military budget. Watch the "compromise" in which Democrats agree to not cutting the defense budget, and instead create more misery for the people who made the mistake of voting for them.

One last Herbert Hoover note: the U.S. had done well by lending a lot of money to European belligerents during World War I. Hoover allowed for repayment to be suspended, which helped keep world commerce running.

And which nation's economy did best from 1929 to the beginning of World War II? Russia's, then part of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. American historians and economists have a way of forgetting that fact, and everything we learned from the Great Depression.