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Tuesday, August 19, 2014

"Democrat Presidents Start Wars"

Back in 1964 I was a junior (third-year student) at Amherst College in Massachusetts.  There was a campaign for President that year between Lyndon B. Johnson, a Democrat, and Barry Goldwater of Arizona, a Republican.  I remember being appalled to learn that my mother Carol Brueggeman McDougall (1914-1968) was supporting Goldwater.  "Why in the world would you do that," I asked.  "He is talking about nuking people back to the Stone Age," I said.*
Carol Brueggeman McDougall, 1914-1968
Carol (who preferred we call her "Carol," rather than "Mother") answered that she had four sons, three of whom had reached draft age (18), or soon would, "And Democrat Presidents start wars."

In her lifetime, it had been all too true.

President Woodrow Wilson had run for re-election in 1916 on the slogan, "He kept us out of war," but in 1917 committed huge American forces to the bloody battlefields of World War I.  Some 116,500 (Wikipedia) Americans had died "over there."

President Franklin D. Roosevelt, a Democrat, waited for the attack on Pearl Harbor, in order to ensure national unity in taking us into war in 1941. There is evidence that thanks to our code-breakers, he and Secretary of War Stimson knew the attack was imminent, but did not warn Admiral Kimmel in Hawaii on the night of December 6th, preferring the resulting surprise attack on an unsuspecting Sunday morning Navy base to increase the national outrage. (Tolland, Infamy: Pearl Harbor and its Aftermath) In World War II, America lost over 405,000, with over 670,000 more wounded.

President Harry S. Truman, a Democrat, took us into the Korean Conflict. We lost 36,500 killed.

After that set of observations, my mother's opinion was understandable.  But, to my satisfaction, the country repudiated Goldwater as an apparent war-monger, and re-elected Johnson.

But, it had been President John F. Kennedy, a Democrat, who took us into Vietnam, and it was his successor Lyndon B. Johnson, also a Democrat, who used the discredited excuse of an attack on a U.S. Navy ship in the Gulf of Tonkin to justify the sending of a force of over 500,000 into the Vietnam War.  The names of those lost there number 58,209, most carved into a tragic black-marble monument on the Mall in Washington.

So, what?  Wasn't it the Bushes, Republicans, who have taken America into wars most recently?  Yes.

President George H. W. Bush, a Republican, took us into "The Gulf War," to free Kuwait from occupation by Saddam Hussein's Iraq. A total of 294 Americans died in that action (including the Navy fighter pilot son of my HBS friend and section-mate, Major Gerald (Nail 55) Dwyer. who had been a forward air controller (FAC) in Vietnam.  That Gulf War lasted only about ten days.

George W. Bush, also a Republican, took us into Afghanistan following the al-Qaida terrorist attacks on the U.S. Mainland of September 11th, 2001.  We are still fighting there, and have lost a total of fewer than 3000 American lives there.

Then, on highly questionable evidence of Iraq having "weapons of mass destruction," "W." chose to invade Iraq to depose Saddam Hussein.  The war was over quickly, though to my mind, America grossly mishandled the aftermath. Had we the industries of post-WWII to call on, Bush could have sent in Westinghouse and GE and had the electricity on for the vast majority of Iraqis within six months.  Rebuilding would have gone swiftly, and the country might have seen the benefits of modernity. But as it was, the process dragged on for years, and ancient ethnic hostilities regained the population's mind.  Hence, the present nightmare of ISIS invasion, and ongoing Sunni-Shia-Kurdish strife.  Still, in all, over ten or more years, American deaths in Iraq total only about 4,500.

This chart from the Wikipedia link is a telling one:

Wars ranked by total number of U.S. military deaths

RankWarYearsDeathsDeaths per DayUS Population in First Year of WarDeaths per Population
1American Civil War1861–1865625,00042031,443,0001.988% (1860)
2World War II1941–1945405,399297133,402,0000.307% (1940)
3World War I1917–1918116,516279103,268,0000.110% (1920)
4Vietnam War1961–197558,20911179,323,175 (1960)0.030% (1970)
5Korean War1950–195336,51645151,325,0000.020% (1950)
6American Revolutionary War1775–178325,000112,500,0000.899% (1780)
7War of 18121812–181515,000158,000,0000.207% (1810)
8Mexican–American War1846–184813,2832921,406,0000.057% (1850)
9War on Terror2001–present6,7171.57294,043,0000.002% (2010)
10Philippine–American War1899–19024,1963.872,129,0010.006% (1900)

In sum, over the past 100 years, wars entered by the U.S.A. under Democrat Presidents have cost some 616,000 American lives, while those started under Republican Presidents have cost under 8,000 American lives.  Carol seems to have had a point.

So today, as I see American advisors going back into Iraq, and American air power in use there, with a Democrat President with poor job approval ratings especially in terms of his foreign policies, and with a midterm election approaching wherein the Democrats are in danger of losing their majority in the Senate, I have to wonder. Might the President be prone to escalating our role in the Middle East for domestic political purposes?

The longer I live, the more I come to respect the wisdom of my beautiful and loving mother. May God rest her soul.
*President Johnson, formerly the Vice President under John F. Kennedy, was a Texan who had held the Presidency since 22 November 1963, when President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas.  Johnson won re-election in a landslide after his campaign ran ads such as this one:


  1. too many deaths ---too many young lives lost in their prime of life, the world is/has been nuts too many times. Steve Finkel

    1. Steve:
      I cannot dispute your conclusion, though I would be the last to say that all those lives were lost in vain.

      Without arguing every conflict, I feel safe in saying that World War II was necessary to halt great evils afoot in the world. The War on Terror may also be necessary. But I fear that the lives lost in that war, including the 3,000 who died in America on 9-11, may be in vain, most especially those 4,500 lost in Iraq, if ISIS is not defeated soon. Only today I have learned of the video ISIS have posted of the beheading of a young American journalist, James Foley.

      Foley was from Rochester, New Hampshire. As a member of the N.H. Patriot Guard Riders, I rode through Rochester two days ago, on my way to stand a flag line at the funeral of a WWII U.S. Navy veteran. ISIS have hit close to home.

      My concern is that we in the West need a firm, shared strategy for facing up to such radical aggressors, whenever and wherever they initiate wars and/or commit atrocities. If it is necessary to use military force, then that force is best used in such a manner that the problem is ended quickly. Goldwater would have said that the only thing to do in war is to apply overwhelming force, and thus to end it quickly and victoriously, thus minimizing the loss of life for your military. If Obama finally decides to face up to the evil of Islamic radicalism, then I hope he does so with Goldwater's words in mind.

      As I said to myself as I rode gently through Alaska two summers back, "Only a fool rushes through Paradise." The corollary concept is also true: Only a fool hangs around in Hell longer than he must. And, "War is Hell."

  2. Two of my brothers have contributed comments by e-mail, which I share here:

    Re: Maternal Wisdom
    Robert S. McDougall Today at 11:36 PM
    George McDougall Duncan McDougall Wally EM McDougall 10 More...
    Fascinating, but not surprising. When I lived in Vermont, I remember a (I believe) gubernatorial candidate proclaiming he was an “enlightened pragmatist”. As I remember (in my then-VERY-young mind), Mom’s political philosophy would have nicely fit that label.

    I don’t recall if it was at Mom’s nudging, or that I was somehow inspired by her support of Goldwater, but I remember “starring in" our own neighborhood campaign parade for the fellow.

    Nine-years-old yours-truly in a dark suit with plastic black-framed eyeglasses (I believe I used “Groucho glasses” with the nose and mustache removed)…standing on a red wagon, towed by a neighbor’s kid’s bicycle…circling our Wilmette neighborhood on the sidewalk with me holding a “Goldwater/Miller” sign and shouting, “Vote for me on November third!!!”.

    That’s what my feeble memory remembers...although, for all I know, the election may have been another November date.

    Apparently, my efforts were not enough to “tip the scales” (lol).

    Love to All,

    On Aug 22, 2014, at 9:02 AM, George McDougall wrote:

    Thank you, Duncan! You are absolutely right about Carol. Indeed, in
    the 1952 campaign, we (along with the majority in the North Shore's
    then-13th Illinois Congressional District) were Primary backers of Ohio
    Senator Robert Taft, because "Ike" was an ideological question mark
    -- having been actively recruited by the "Damocrats" to succeed HST.
    While in California during the GOP's Chicago convention that year,
    we went into temporary "mourning" when Ike emerged triumphant on
    what I seem to recall (have NOT Googled it) was the third ballot. (If
    I'm not mistaken, NO presidential nomination rollcall has gone further
    than a single ballot since then!)

    ----- Original Message -----
    From: Duncan C McDougall
    To: George McDougall ; Walter McDougall ; Robert McDougall ; Jamie McDougall ; Jesse McDougall ; Piper McDougall ;Alexander McDougall ; Christal McDougall ; Brian McDougall
    Cc: Shirley McDougall
    Sent: Wednesday, August 20, 2014 11:20 AM
    Subject: Maternal Wisdom

    Please see the following blog post, and the comments thereto. (Feel free to add yours, but if you must do so as "Anonymous," please include your name as part of the comment. As a policy, I do not publish anonymous comments in my blog. Thank you.)



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