D-Day and Other Military and Political Reflections
Yesterday the media was very busy covering the observation of D-Day, the 60 years anniversary, and the death of former president Ronald Reagan. The hours of coverage I watched were many and that is atypical for me. I found the D-Day activities a good opportunity to reflect on the meaning of various military involvements in our past. I was most curious to see the coverage of Ronald Reagan as he was one of our most popular presidents, and I wanted to see the level of adulation and the level of candor. Yes, one does expect the death of a president to be accompanied by much positive commentary and little negative comment.
Lets look first at D-Day. It was part of World War II. Though it was specifically aimed ultimately at conquering Germany, who had not directly attacked the USA mainland, the USA was at war due to Japan attacking Pearl Harbor and Japan and Germany being partners in war. I am willing to set aside any reservations about how the USA got into the war, simply because a Fascist dictator, Adolph Hitler, was conquering Europe and he would eventually directly attack the USA. There really wasnít a realistic choice regarding isolationism Ö we were going to be forced to fight Germany and Japan sooner or later.
D-Day veterans were shown as quite emotional yesterday in their remembrance of the horror of losing so many of their fellow soldiers in the first day of a hellish onslaught. I believe the number was 17,000. Even a confirmed pacifist must admit that failure to take action such as was done would have led to Germany conquering Great Britain and the Soviet Union and the USA ultimately being attacked directly by Germany. War was, in this very specific instance, ultimately unavoidable. Thus it is that we look at the veterans who survived D-Day with gratitude, and if we are honest, some humility, for what they risked individually was literally everything to protect the USA.
It was the reality of Adolph Hitlerís and Hirohitoís generals and their aggressive actions that forced our participation in WWII. That the conflict was extremely demanding on our resources and our citizens at home made the fight a true team effort to preserve democracy, both at home and abroad. From this type of massive and justified effort we found little difficulty understanding the association of honor with war. Indeed, such words as patriot, honor, duty, sacrifice and such ideas as wholesale destruction of the enemy and unilateral surrender were easy to understand and to accept. It truly was a battle for survival.
As I reflected during the media coverage I was troubled with one nagging thought Ö when an individual is asked, requested or forced to risk his life, and does so under extremely adverse circumstances, then the nation owes that individual something very special in return: Honorable future behavior to preserve the values used to justify calling the person to war. In short, I realized that a country that evolves to be far less respectable than the USA was in 1940 is a direct insult to those who risked everything to preserve our way of life.
Let me state this idea in a different way Ö if the political power of government is later used in ways that harm the population, in economic or legal or military ways as we proceed into the future, then all those who sacrificed in the past for our stated and realized ideals have been drastically insulted. Such it is that I developed my own values and usual pacifism regarding war a long time ago. Yes, I was known to state publicly that anyone who allowed himself to be drafted for a war that was not of the mandatory nature of WWII, in which we were directly attacked by Japan, was a total fool. The same applied to people already in the military who could decide, if they so chose, to refuse to do battle.
Yes, of course I am an idiot, as most soldiers are not thinkers. No, pacifists are not legally permitted to make value judgments as to what war would temporarily suspend their pacifism. There is a large collection of practical realities that make individual choice an uncommon luxury when a government decides to go to war for any reason. Perhaps the simplest idea is that you are governed, part of that process is protection provided for you, and your obligation is to provide that protection to others when called. Sounds good. Doesnít work. The flaw is that powerful people make decisions moment to moment throughout history, only some of which represent the principles on which we allow ourselves to be governed.
We have immoral and illegal wars that do not represent our foundation beliefs or principles or the wellbeing of our people. Korea was a mistake. Vietnam was utterly unconscionable. Grenada was a weak joke. Desert Storm (the first conflict with Iraq) was weakly justifiable. Our most recent war with Iraq once again falls into the category of unconscionable. Our nation, thanks to our poor leaders, has committed international crime on a massive scale.
Sometimes we see poor government apart from war. Years ago we conducted trade with our former communist archenemy, the Soviet Union, but would not do so with Cuba Ö because Cuba was communist! The idea is that government can evolve to become the enemy of the citizens, and cause them to engage in conflicts that have nothing to do with national wellbeing or international rights or privileges.
I conclude this part of the article with the summary thought that I am sad on behalf of those valiant people who fought for the American way of life on D-Day.
Now on to "The Gipper" or "Teflon Ronnie" or whatever names you might use for former president Ronald Reagan. First, it is reasonable that upon death the media commentary would extol the virtues of a man who was a very popular president. Regardless of his actual performance as a president, he was personable and liked at a personal level by friends and political opponents alike. No one has to my knowledge ever faulted him for not understanding the fundamental basis for all his decisions and actions. He knew himself and his beliefs and he was strong willed.
Many things were done within the time of Reaganís presidency. I cannot remember any other president who could compare to Reagan for breadth of action areas or success, possibly excepting Franklin Roosevelt. To be fair, Reagan is credited with a few accomplishments that were really not of his making. For example, the fall of the Soviet Union was in no way caused by Reagan, for it was rotting years before he took office, yet because that fall occurred during his presidency he was credited. All the Reagan rhetoric about the evil empire was logically equivalent to hitting a punch-drunk boxer, for the demise of the Soviet Union was inevitable on economic grounds alone. Communism simply doesnít work. It looks silly compared to capitalism in results.
Stealing a few words from Shakespeare, "The evil that men do lives long after them; the good is oft interred with their bones." That statement does apply to Reaganís presidency in many ways. I will now examine the highlights.
Reagan inherited a country with an absurd inflation rate and a recession. Just about all the economic indicators were a disaster that reflected Jimmy Carterís incompetence and a variety of harsh events in the 1970ís that guaranteed bad economic times. We had the Arab oil embargo in 1974 followed by absurd price increases for oil that led to inflation across the economy measured in double digits through the late 1970ís. We had entitlement programs like Medicare and Medicaid that quickly got out of control as medical "entrepreneurs" raped the system. We had just put Watergate and Vietnam behind us as extreme national embarrassments.
To be blunt, I would never have wanted to inherit or attain the presidency in the environment just described. We were a disaster. The big three automobile companies were in big trouble from years of declining quality high priced products and Chrysler would have gone bankrupt except for federal government loan guarantees and a lot of belt-tightening in the early 1980ís. The Japanese showed the USA how to make a high quality car right and still make a good profit. The cost of capital was so high in 1980 (14%) that expanding or starting a business was unrealistic. This is the world that Reagan inherited, and it is quite a story how he dealt with our problems.
Unrealistically high wages were a reality due to powerful unions like the United Autoworkers. When the federally controlled air traffic controllers threatened to shut down air travel for higher pay Reagan took the first of many steps to end destructive union behaviors. In short, he threatened to fire all of them and he prevailed. Not long after, deregulation of the airline industry occurred, which resulted in cheaper fares and vastly increased the number of travelers. Alas, deregulation has proven to be ugly for airline survival and rotten for travelers. I suppose we lost our understanding of the Utility approach to public services. An airline Public Service Commission would have achieved in the airline industry what was needed to control costs and guarantee sensible profits. Instead, everyone now scrambles for a crummy role in lousy travel services.
I used to blame Democrats for wasting our tax money on entitlement programs. The typical democratic congress from the 1940ís through the 1960ís spent well beyond its means for social programs I did not value. The national debt became an embarrassment. Then, along comes Ronnie, a Republican, and look at what happened. He slashed both the good and the bad in the social programs. But he created the largest federal deficit in history with his military buildup and Star Wars programs. Alas, bad Republicans have the same net effect as bad Democrats! The difference is that the Republicans are nuts about the military and preservation of the wealth of the wealthy, while the Democrats have no common sense whatever about the efficacy of their programs and related expenditures. Talk about a no-win scenario!
Outsourcing and loss of jobs overseas were born in Reaganís administration. So were Savings and Loan failures and stock market speculation that was, for the time, ridiculous. We had a bit of comeuppance in the fall of 1987 for that extravagance. Unions got neutered, which on one hand they richly deserved, but on the other hand we were left with nothing to counter the greed of the corporations going forward in time. That fundamental error, followed after Reaganís time with free trade agreements (NAFTA in Clintonís administration), underpinned the serious job losses that are occurring today in blue and white-collar areas.
Was Ronnie a good president? It depends on who you were at the time. If virtually uncontrolled mergers and acquisitions are good, and they arenít, then you would have liked the open opportunities to coalesce corporate power and develop near monopolies. Ah, but what about the reduction of personal income tax? Well, as usual the wealthy got the lions share of the reduction. Ordinary folks did somewhat better but not enough to realize a better lifestyle. Trickle down? What a pile of garbage!
The 1980ís were very special with regard to massive expansion in the number of homeless people. For the first time in our history the homeless became very evident in public places, and I donít mean the old "skid row" environment. That was and is a disgrace.
Letís also look at the downsizing of corporate America. Companies fired anyone they could identify as non-critical to the bottom line profit. Those who remained employed saw their work hours jump from eight to ten or more, and required work output go up at least fifty percent, without any increase in income. We were told that we were overpaid and underworked! The unvarnished truth was that our larger corporations had been squandering money for years in new ventures that didnít yield positive results, while they ignored their cash cow businesses and eventually lost large segments to foreign competition. Revenue and profit suffered accordingly. In short, the leaders were the ones who were overpaid and underworked, and especially stupid given their level of responsibility. But in the end, shit flows downhill, so the little guys got squashed for the mistakes of their leaders. That is what downsizing was all about.
The confluence of union destruction and downsizing permanently changed the nature of the employment contract, with all the power going to corporate management. Thanks for the protection, Ronnie. The job destructive outsourcing and offshoring of today finds its roots in the 1980ís pro-wealth government environment created and led by none other than Ronnie.
No, Ronald Reagan was not a good president. The evil that he did has indeed lived after him, and will continue to do so. I suppose what irks me most is that his variety of economic polarization creates enough problems downstream that eventually the little people vote in an equally ridiculous socialist for president, and do similarly filling the Congress. Then we enter yet one more idiotic cycle of overdone socialism, which then causes the reverse effect. This cycling between opposite regimes is wasteful. It is not respectable. It slows national progress to a snails pace.
Add in the political power of the religious right and suddenly we have all the pieces in place to fall behind the rest of the civilized world in technology, excepting, perhaps, military technology. Wow, am I proud to be an American ÖNOT!
Okay, so much for the look at the lovely reign of Ronnie and beyond. Today we have "W" who tries to model his presidency after that of Ronnie. He is doing one hell of a good job in mimicking all the bad things Ronnie did, and better, he has given us a really expensive and worthless war. We are so fortunate.
As is typical, I try to get my readers hooked on the necessity of eliminating the problems our federal government and larger businesses have inflicted on us, due to their stupidity, not ours. I hope you can find someone decent to capture your votes for President and members of the Congress. Good luck.