Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Cynical FDR

Cynical: 2) showing contempt for accepted standards of honesty or morality by one's actions, especially by actions that exploit the scruples of others.

Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace”, edited by H.E. Barnes.

Chapter 9: American Foreign Policy in the Light of National Interest at the Mid-Century, by George A. Lundberg

This is my third commentary on this single chapter.  I especially wanted this section to stand alone, as the issue raised here I found of significant importance. 

Lundberg quotes Dr. Charles Beard in this section.  Dr. Beard raises twelve points, each of which deserve careful consideration, and when taken in total shine a mirror on the reader – a mirror as to the reader’s view of state power and the transitions that occurred regarding proper Constitutional power especially under Roosevelt.  As does Lundberg, I will quote the twelve items in full:

The President of the United States in a campaign for reelection may publicly promise the people to keep the country out of war and, after victory at the polls, may set out secretly on a course designed or practically certain to bring war upon the country.

He may, to secure legislation in furtherance of his secret designs, misrepresent to Congress and the people both its purport and the policy he intends to pursue under its terms if and when such legislation is enacted.

He may, by employing legal casuists, secretly frame and, using the powers and patronage of his office, obtain from Congress a law conferring upon him in elusive language authority which Congress has no constitutional power to delegate to him.

He may, after securing such legislation, publicly announce that he will pursue, as previously professed, a policy contrary to war and yet at the same time secretly prepare plans for waging an undeclared "shooting war" that are in flat contradiction to his public professions.

He may hold secret conferences with the Premier of a foreign government and publicly declare that no new commitments have been made when, in fact, he has committed the United States to occupying, by the use of American armed forces, the territory of a third country and joining the Premier in parallel threats to another government.

He may make a secret agreement with a foreign power far more fateful in consequences to the United States than any alliance ever incorporated in a treaty to be submitted to the Senate for approval.

He may demand, and Congress may pliantly confer upon him, the power to designate at his discretion foreign governments as enemies of the United States and to commit hostile acts against them, at his pleasure, in violation of national statutes and the principles of international law hitherto accepted and insisted upon by the United States.

He may publicly represent to Congress and the people that acts of war have been committed against the United States, when in reality the said acts were secretly invited and even initiated by the armed forces of the United States under his secret direction.

He may, on the mere ground that Congress has made provisions for national defense, secretly determine any form of military and naval strategy and order the armed forces to engage in any acts of war which he deems appropriate to achieve the ends which he personally chooses.

He may, by employing his own subordinates as broadcasters and entering into secret relations with private agencies of propaganda, stir up a popular demand for some drastic action on his part which is not authorized by law, and then take that action, thus substituting the sanction of an unofficial plebiscite for the sanction of the Constitution and the laws enacted under it.

He may, after publicly announcing one foreign policy, secretly pursue the opposite and so conduct foreign and military affairs as to maneuver a designated foreign power into firing the first shot in an attack upon the United States and thus avoid the necessity of calling upon Congress in advance to exercise its constitutional power to deliberate upon a declaration of war.

He may, as a crowning act in the arrogation of authority to, himself, without the consent of the Senate, make a commitment to the head of a foreign government which binds the United States to ‘police the world,’ at least for a given time, that is, in the eyes of other governments and peoples policed, to dominate the world; and the American people are thereby in honor bound to provide the military, naval, and economic forces necessary to pursue with no assurance of success, this exacting business.

This is what passes for democracy.  To the extent democracy is a valid form of political organization it loses all credibility and authority if deceit is introduced.  There is nothing open about government if the politician is lying to the electorate, thus making democracy a sham.

There is no republican form of government if the powers of the individual branches are not respected.  Agreements made with foreign governments based solely on the word of the president make a mockery of the senate and therefore of the Constitution.  In this light, secretly committing acts of war prior to a declaration by congress further subverts Constitutional protections.

Placing Americans purposely in harm’s way in order to secure an overt act by the desired enemy subverts the first duty of any legitimate government, and that is to provide safety and security of its citizens and residents.

These are the legacies of Roosevelt and the U.S. entry into the Second World War.  In addition to the death and destruction, the cost, the establishment of a long term enemy in the communists, Roosevelt has left this: a cynical subversion of many key elements of a republican form of government.

This says nothing of his domestic and economic programs, which left an equally destructive legacy – still demanding payment today.

I cannot say that he was the first president to take such actions.  There were others before that crossed one or more of these lines.  However, Roosevelt, perhaps more than any other president since Lincoln, caused a significant shift in the trajectory of government in the United States.

For his efforts at properly assessing Roosevelt’s actions leading up to and through the war, Beard was destroyed professionally.  Lundberg offers a few lines from John Milton as praise to Beard, and as damnation to Beard’s critics:

I did but prompt the age to quit their clogs
By the known rules of ancient liberty,
When straight a barbarous noise environs me
Of owls and cuckoos, asses, apes, and dogs;
* *
But this is got by casting pearl to hogs,
That bawl for freedom in their senseless mood,
And still revolt when truth would set them free.

Beard attempted to set men free from the bondage of an authoritarian and deceptive president.  For this he was hounded by those he worked to liberate.

Fortunately, his work has found a growing audience.

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