On Monday, Chairman Dan McKnight of BringOurTroopsHome.US traveled to Pierre, South Dakota to testify in front of the House Military and Veterans Affairs Committee in favor of the “Defend the Guard” bill introduced by State Rep. Aaron Aylward (R-Harrisburg). This legislation would prohibit the deployment of the South Dakota National Guard without an official declaration of war by the U.S. Congress.
The day begins early in Chester, West Virginia, a town of a few thousand that hugs the southern bank of the Ohio River. It’s only 8:30am but John and Peggy are already bundled up in their coats, hats, and gloves as they take their three bird dogs outside for some crisp January air.
Eventually both man and animal tire of the winter, and they return inside for breakfast. Outside their kitchen window, half a dozen blue jays sit perched in a single tree; John complains that they’ve already eaten the seeds he set out when he woke up. As Peggy prepares drinks and warms up maple syrup, her husband begins laying strips of bacon on the griddle. They’re soon replaced by fresh pancake batter, filled with extra helpings of Georgia pecans (a staple ingredient in their household). Their playful banter from opposite ends of the kitchen is a testament to over forty years of marriage.
After breakfast, John is free to relax in one of the two leather recliners in the living room. There’s no football on TV that Saturday, so his schedule is open, beyond dinner plans with another couple that Peggy reminds him of before she leaves to run errands. He waves goodbye.
Their first impressions to a stranger may be only as a kind, affectionate couple enjoying an active retirement. But in this welcoming home, nestled in the northern most corner of West Virginia’s panhandle, lives one of the most decorated soldiers in U.S. military history. And he is ready to bring our troops home.
John Bahnsen began life in rural Georgia, and that Southern Pride—so emblematic of the region—remains as embedded in him as the day he was born. He still owns a home in the state, one that rests on four and a half acres of pecan orchard that keeps him well supplied. Growing up among bird dogs, cotton fields, and the strenuous life of an outdoorsmen, John decided early on he wanted to be a soldier. Both he and his brother Peter received appointments to the U.S. Military Academy.
It was at West Point that Bahnsen forged lifelong friendships. First among them was his classmate Norman Schwarzkopf, the future head of U.S. Central Command who led an international coalition to victory in the Gulf War. But before that, in his youth, Schwarzkopf was helping raise a little hell.
“Schwarzkopf came over with three other classmates,” Bahnsen recalls six decades later. “I had them sitting in the back of my Ford Convertible, sitting there with a shotgun, and riding down the dirt roads of south Georgia shooting doves off the powerline.” It was an eminent group of second lieutenants. Four of them—Schwarzkopf, his roommate Leroy Suddath, Bahnsen, and John W. Nicholson—went on to become general officers. “They had dinner over at my place there and my mother and father fixed food for them. But Schwarzkopf, we hunted quail, shot doves off the powerlines, had a great time. I think we went rabbit hunting at night, shooting things off the road. Which is illegal as hell.”
Schwarzkopf—who wrote the foreword to Bahnsen’s 2007 co-authored autobiography, American Warrior: A Combat Memoir of Vietnam—isn’t the only friend who achieved larger than life status. “I’ve known Colin Powell since he was a Captain,” Bahnsen brags about the former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and Secretary of State. Another is ret. Lieutenant General and former National Security Advisor H. R. McMaster (“one of my best friends”).
Beginning his own career in the infantry, Bahnsen attended Airborne School and Fixed Wing Flight School before transferring to the Armor branch while stationed in West Germany. In October 1965 he reported for duty at Bien Hoa Air Base in Vietnam, just south of Saigon. There he commanded the “Bandits,” a gunship platoon for the 118th Aviation Company.
Bahnsen’s second tour in Vietnam—following two unsatisfying years as a staff officer at the Pentagon—was under the command of then-Colonel George SmithPatton, son of the legendary World War II General and another West Point friend. Serving under Patton’s 11th Armored Cavalry “Blackhorse” Regiment, Bahnsen led an assortment of UH-1 and OH-6 helicopters, AH-1 gunships, and an infantry aero rifle platoon into the jungles and skies of Southeast Asia.
“My mission was initially to find the bastards so we could pile-on,” Bahnsen explains. “I was good at it…[Patton] said, ‘You find them, and we’ll pile-on.’ And I found them, and we’d get an engagement, and then by god we’d pile-on with armored troops. But only [after] we pounded them into the ground.”
“It’s the way Americans are supposed to fight a war; with whatever we have that gives us an advantage,” he continues. “Then by golly you save lives. The whole idea of going to war, if you’re a commander, is to save the lives of your soldiers and destroy the other force.”
Fighting from his UH-1 helicopter and leading operations on the ground, Bahnsen and his men saw over three hundred enemy engagements over twelve months. In his final Officer Efficiency Report, Colonel Patton described his subordinate’s innate leadership ability and skill at flushing out the Viet Cong:
“The rated officer is the best, most highly motivated and professionally competent combat leader I have served with in twenty-three years of service, to include the Korean War and two tours in Vietnam…He is one of those rare professionals who truly enjoys fighting, taking risks and sparring with a wily and slippery foe. He is utterly fearless and because of this, demands the same from his unit…I cannot praise Major Bahnsen too highly for his fantastic performance in battle.”
Entering Vietnam as a Captain, he left in September 1969 as a Major, the only one to command a “Blackhorse” squadron during the war. For his bravery, heroism, and quick thinking, Bahnsen was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, five Silver Stars, four Legion of Merits, three Distinguished Flying Cross’, four Bronze Star Medals, two Cross’ of Gallantry, two Purple Hearts, and fifty-one Air Medals, among others. He’s been recognized as a distinguished graduate of West Point, enshrined in both the Army Aviation Hall of Fame Fort Rucker, Alabama, and Georgia Hall of Fame in Warner Robins, invited to participate in the Gathering of Eagles program, and honored by a resolution of the West Virginia legislature. Today, his numerous medals, awards, and recognitions form the centerpiece of his living room coffee table.
After the intensity of the Vietnam War, the remainder of Bahnsen’s career was relatively quiet. With early promotions to Lieutenant Colonel and then Colonel, he served another tour in West Germany, along with South Korea and some time stateside. He retired in 1986 as a U.S. Army Brigadier General.
Bahnsen moved to West Virginia (his wife’s home state) in 1995. Peggy is also a veteran and retired with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel after becoming the first woman to serve as a regimental tactical officer. Their current residence has been in her family since it was constructed in the 1840s.
The couple became politically active in retirement, and both have served on the state’s Republican Committee. It’s not uncommon for prospective candidates to make sojourns to his home for invitation-only dove hunts and request an endorsement. “Everybody loves Reagan,” Bahnsen chuckles, explaining his politics. “I love Barry Goldwater.” The one issue he self-identifies as “a liberal” on is school lunches, which he believes every American child is entitled to free of charge.
The issue that has captured his attention, however, and spurred on the righteous anger of this old warfighter, are his country’s endless wars in the Middle East. He wants to do something about that.
“When Pat came up with this thing about not deploying the National Guard, I said right on. Exactly right. Why the hell are we sending those guys somewhere [when] we have no say for it?” Bahnsen asked.
Pat McGeehan, whom the general refers to affectionately as his “godson,” has represented the people of Hancock County in the West Virginia House of Delegates since 2014. McGeehan, a graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy who served as an Intelligence Officer in the Middle East, has become a kind of pupil to the elderly general. His signature piece of legislation, “Defend the Guard,” is a bill that would prohibit a state’s National Guard units from being deployed into active combat overseas without a formal declaration of war.
Article I, Section 8, Clause 11 of the U.S. Constitution stipulates that the power to declare war is invested in Congress, the people’s collective representatives, and not a singular executive figure. Despite this clearly defined obligation in its founding document, the U.S. government has not had a formal declaration of war since World War II. Since then American foreign policy has been conducted using either extralegal word games—such as referring to the Korean War as a “police action”—or Authorizations for the Use of Military Force (AUMFs) that, while passed by Congress, are open-ended deferments of action to the Executive Branch. Instead of making the decision themselves, AUMFs are Congress booting the question to the President.
Since the launch of the Global War on Terror in 2001, the National Guard has been instrumental in forming the backbone of military operations in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and elsewhere. If enough states were to enact “Defend the Guard” and deprive the federal government of this manpower, it would obligate the cessation of permanent overseas military occupations, nullify the government’s ability to begin new illegal wars, and force a reassessment of the United States’ national interests.
A reassessment is what John Bahnsen is demanding. A longtime critic of America’s twenty-first century foreign policy, he believes the War on Terror—with its trillions in spending, thousands of military dead, and politically destabilizing effects around the world—has severely damaged the national security of the United States.
“How we got mixed up in the Middle East I’ll never understand,” he says, although he has clear suspicions. “We really made a mistake in my mind. The Saudis talked us into coming over…They let the Americans fight that damn war [Gulf War].” Bahnsen recollects with noticeable disgust a Saudi prince and brigadier general in their army (“a flat coward who refused to fight”) who hid in the United States and refused to return to Saudi Arabia until war’s end.
In 2002—2003, while the Pentagon was busy hiring seventy-five retired officers to sell the invasion of Iraq in cable TV interviews, Bahnsen knew better. “We should have never gone to Iraq,” he says adamantly. “We did not have just cause to attack Iraq, we really didn’t…[George] Bush didn’t have anybody declare war on him. Bush declared war on Saddam Hussein, and he got away with it because of weapons of mass destruction. My good friend Colin Powell made the presentation and it was a phony presentation. They didn’t have the facts.”
His opposition at the time was both public and communal, as he laid out the antiwar cause to local Rotary clubs. “I went and flew down to Georgia one time to give a talk down there about the fact that you’re going to regret us going to war because you’re going to have casualties in your hometown, not only wounded…but you’ll have people killed in action in a war we shouldn’t be involved in,” he says.
Bahnsen has particular ire for the men who carried out the post-invasion occupation, Coalition Provisional Authority head Paul Bremer (“a guy who couldn’t speak the language”) and Secretary of Defense Donald “Dumbsfeld” Rumsfeld (a man “with a very small head and a great big ego”).
His assessment is no less critical towards Afghanistan, which at nearly twenty years is the longest war in American history (even longer than his own Vietnam). “We went after Osama bin Laden but once we got him we didn’t decide to pull out,” he says.” “We’ve been there more than long enough. We’ve not got the job done, we’ll never get the job done, it’s not our job to do it. We’re not nation-builders.”
This is one Vietnam veteran who has no illusions about imposing Western, liberal democracy on Afghanistan, or defeating the Taliban and their local Pashtun supporters. “What has the Taliban done to us other than kill Americans because we’re in their country?” he asks. “I don’t like the idea of how they treat women or anything else, I don’t like a lot about them. But that’s their nation and that’s their argument, not ours.”
When discussing America’s endless wars in the Middle East, Bahnsen repeatedly emphasizes the importance of endgame and knowing the conditions of victory. “We didn’t have an endgame plan in Vietnam. We ended up just walking away, leaving our friends there to pay the price (most of them with their lives).”
He sees the same thing happening now. “In Afghanistan we need an end of mission. Nobody can define that. Iraq, end of mission. What is our end of mission? We had an end of mission in Kuwait because once we threw the Iraqis out it was over. Pull the troops out, come home, declare victory, be done with it. We went into Iraq and we’re still there and George Bush put us there.”
“The Powell Doctrine is still good. Go with overwhelming force and declare an endgame,” Bahnsen counsels. “We don’t know what end game means.”
The U.S. Congress, which for over seventy years has refused to debate a declaration of war, shoulders considerable blame for the current mess. They’ve been delinquent in their most important duty, sidelining themselves and refusing to hold the Executive Branch to account for its abuses.
According to Bahnsen, this is a side effect of members being increasingly distant from the military and the risks to life and limb that are inherent in war. “You look at the Congress right now, and just go down the list of congressmen you see there. Tell me how many have skin in the game…That means kinfolks in the game. Damn few. The people who pass laws to send people to combat or the danger of combat or losing their life, they ought to have some kinfolks involved in it. They ought to have some personal involvement, not an abstracted vote.”
“You know my feeling is, before we start committing people’s lives—not yours, theirs—you ought to decimate the Congress. When you have a war you put every tenth man in Congress [and] you designate him to go in a front-line unit. That’s the law you ought to have,” he suggests.
For members of Congress, most of whom haven’t served in uniform and who even fewer have children currently serving, foreign policy has become sterile. It is easy to say, as Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) has, that the United States should never leave Afghanistan—as long as you don’t have to witness the human consequences.
“One American life is worth a lot to me, personally. You just can’t wave away a dozen people getting killed a year and that’s the price we pay. Bullshit!” Bahnsen exclaims.
“I maintain that if people haven’t seen their people die, seen people bleed out, have their guts blown out or part of their head blown off in combat, or see them in a wheelchair like I’ve done… You don’t understand,” he explains. “And my feeling is now don’t commit people unless you have a damn reason to do it. And it should be voted on. And the country should go to war with one reason and one reason only: to win the war.”
“I can make a very good case as a decorated soldier, having people killed in combat under my command—volunteers in a war that’s not been declared by this country [but] that somebody decided we should go fight—that is wrong,” Bahnsen says, explicitly calling Vietnam an “illegal war.”
None of the United States’ current enemies constitute a national threat, and none of its wars of choice are to defend the liberty of Americans. “If I thought we were going to lose our basic freedoms of speech, religion to something like that, yeah I’d be willing to go to war then. Then I’d line up my neighbors and my friends and my kids and my family and go pay the price to try to retain it. But not until.”
With the colossal influence held in Washington DC by the military-industrial complex and foreign lobbies, and a Congress content to be missing in action, it is unlikely that constitutional war powers will be restored at the national level (at least in the short term). That is why the responsibility falls upon state legislatures and local representatives to restore sanity to U.S. foreign policy. General Bahnsen believes “Defend the Guard” is the best way to accomplish that.
“You’ve got the power in Charleston [West Virginia] to say, ‘We will not permit our national guard to be federalized unless there’s a declaration of war,’” he says. “They owe it to their citizens and their constituents to take care of them and protect them from things like that. And I would have their ass if they didn’t.”
“My feeling is, do good things for your constituents, whatever that is. And if you don’t, then by god be prepared to explain yourself,” warns Bahnsen.
State legislators who have introduced “Defend the Guard” bills have been browbeaten by their state adjutant generals and officials at the Pentagon who are more interested in system preservation than prioritizing the lives of American soldiers. Backroom threats by the federal government have included withdrawing National Guard units from their states and seizing their military equipment. What is General Bahnsen’s response to this intimidation? “I’d tell them to get fucked,” he says flatly. “I don’t think they have the power to do that.”
By the end of the 2021 legislative session, “Defend the Guard” will be introduced in over thirty states. This is a triumph for the supermajority of veterans—over 66% in multiple polls—who want to see a U.S. withdrawal from places like Iraq and Afghanistan and the start of a more restrained foreign policy.
It is no surprise why veterans, who have seen the horrors of war firsthand, support these polices at even higher rates than the average civilian. “I pass pictures of guys I have hanging up here. I look at one of my books there, I knew those guys. They’re dead! They didn’t get a chance to have a kid or a grandkid. Some of them were too damn young to get married. Good lord. I just think that’s atrocious to have people making that decision,” mourns Bahnsen.
Initially raised as a Baptist and married in an Episcopal Church, Bahnsen has since left organized religion. This is partially because many local churches in the area (including one founded by Peggy’s Presbyterian ancestors) have either folded or amalgamated, and partially because of personal conviction. “I’m not worried about my spirit,” he says. “I lived a good life, I treat people right, I believe in the golden rule, that’s fundamental religion. I don’t need the Bible to tell me that.”
“I appreciate life more the fact I’ve lived as long as I have. My father died at age 59. My mother died at age 65. They didn’t have a complete life in my mind,” he continues, reflecting that over half of his West Point class (including Schwarzkopf) have passed away. “I’m 86. Now 31 years ago I had triple bypass [and] I’m still around…I’ve got a good wife who treats me good, lets me sleep in the chair on a regular basis, feeds me every once in a while. I’ve had a good life.”
Brigadier General John Bahnsen is at peace with himself. Now he only wants to see peace for his country. And “Defend the Guard” is the way he’ll do it.
This article was originally featured at BringOurTroopsHome.US and is republished with permission of author.
“Austin All Agog Over Kennedy Visit Friday” read the headline of the Austin American Statesman. The Texas capital was sparing no expense in welcoming the President of the United States. City schools were set to close early so that children could see the motorcade, and the excitement could be felt building in the weeks before.
Preparations were in motion for a grand welcoming dinner at the city’s Municipal Auditorium. Hosted by the State Democratic Executive Committee, it would be the largest concentration of state and national leaders in the history of Texas.
Nearly 2,500 people were expected to attend the $100-a-plate banquet dinner, whose purpose was to simultaneously fundraise for President Kennedy’s 1964 reelection campaign and heal the ongoing conservative-liberal split in the Texas Democratic Party.
That morning, the auditorium was decorated to befit a presidential visit, thousands of chairs were arranged, and caterers prepared the dinner, including “Texas-size” sirloin steaks.
But President John F. Kennedy would never arrive in Austin that evening of November 22, 1963. He would never make it out of Dallas. At 7:30pm that evening, when he should have been arriving at the gala to enthusiastic cheers, doctors at Bethesda Naval Hospital were removing bullet fragments from his brain.
In a recent interview on The Scott Horton Show, ret. CIA officer Ray McGovern mentioned what opened his eyes about the seminal event of that autumn day:
There is an excellent book that I’ll recommend to you, written by James Douglass, an eminent historian. It’s called JFK and the Unspeakable. It was released about 15 years ago , completely suppressed in the press…It is, in my view, the Bible.
The book received similar praise from filmmaker Oliver Stone—whose promotion led to the book’s wide release despite a media blackout—and Robert F. Kennedy Jr., the president’s nephew who visited Dealey Plaza for the first time after reading. The book convinced Vietnam War whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg that a new federal investigation into the Kennedy assassination was urgently necessary.
Douglass’ tour de force is well-deserving of these commendations. Clocking in at 495 pages—including endnotes—it is a tome of information, the finest synthetization of primary and multi-decade secondary sources on the market.
Prior to researching the Kennedy assassination, author James Douglass spent his life as a Professor of Religion and a dedicated activist in the Catholic Worker Movement. This influence outlines the entire book, and even inspired the title. “The Unspeakable” was a term coined by the Catholic monk Thomas Merton, an adoptive son of Kentucky, and Douglass’ biggest theological influence. Merton sought to depict “an evil whose depth and deceit seemed to go beyond the capacity of words to describe,” including the carnage of the Vietnam War, the string of political assassinations in the 1960s, and the ever-looming threat of nuclear annihilation.
JFK and the Unspeakable serves as a masterpiece because of how Merton forms a narrative around the slain president. The reader is introduced to young Cold Warrior, who over a period of two years begins to have a redemptive shift towards peace—aroused by near cataclysmic events such as the Cuban Missile Crisis, and continual subversion by the National Security State.
From January 1961 to November 1963, Douglass tracks Kennedy’s growing disillusionment with the hawkish and militant perspective of his military command and intelligence agencies. Upon entering office, he’s introduced to a plan by CIA Director Allen Dulles for a preemptive nuclear strike on the Soviet Union scheduled for late 1963. Kennedy walked out on the meeting, telling Secretary of State Dean Dusk, “And we call ourselves the human race.”
After being cornered into the failed invasion of Cuba at the Bay of Pigs and firing Dulles, Kennedy declared his intention “to splinter the CIA in a thousand pieces and scatter it to the winds.” The president began continually curtailing the preferred policies of the National Security State, including by pursuing the creation of a neutral and independent Laos, sending military advisors into Vietnam instead of the requested combat units, and most importantly by rejecting the demands of his Joint Chiefs of Staff for a preemptive strike on Cuba during the missile crisis.
“If the situation continues much longer, the President is not sure that the military will not overthrow him and seize power,” Attorney General Robert Kennedy informed Soviet Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin (as recollected by Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev in his memoirs).
Kennedy was met by constant disruption and sabotage by the National Security State he was meant to command. In Spring 1962, he orders Defense Secretary Robert McNamara to formalize a plan for a partial exit from Vietnam by the end of 1963; this order was backlogged by the bureaucracy for a year and was presented as a multi-year exit. The president was similarly ill-served by his last-minute appointment to the South Vietnam ambassadorship, Henry Cabot Lodge Jr.
Lodge declined to carry out continued negotiations with the Diem government to avoid a coup and delayed the transmission of information back to Washington. When South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem and his brother Nhu were assassinated on November 2, 1963, Kennedy was left “somber and shaken,” said Arthur Schlesinger, who “had not seen him so depressed since the Bay of Pigs.”
“I’ve got to do something about those bastards,” the President told Florida Senator George Smathers in the aftermath. “They should be stripped of their exorbitant power.”
You won’t find talk of ballistics or “magic bullets” in Douglass’ book. The events of November 22 take a backseat altogether; while he includes voluminous eyewitness accounts and a thorough walk through Oswald’s physical whereabouts, the author is less interested in the mechanics of the assassination than its context.
JFK and the Unspeakable is meant to help you understand why John F. Kennedy began a turn against the Cold War, and how the National Security State developed the motivation and determination to murder their Commander in Chief—not to calculate the mathematical trajectory of the Grassy Knoll.
More than a decade after its publication, James Douglass’ work stands as the pinnacle of Kennedy assassination texts, a required and laudable text for both laymen and enthusiasts alike.
President-elect Joe Biden will soon finish selecting the men and women who will staff his incoming administration. The first announcements comprise the core of his foreign policy team, including the nomination of his longtime confidant Antony Blinken to be the next Secretary of State.
Blinken, as both a former deputy national security adviser and deputy secretary of state under Barack Obama, is highly qualified for the position. But as The American Conservative’s Daniel Larison explained on this website, experience does not equal judgement. For over two decades Blinken has been a proponent of escalating U.S. involvement overseas, both in flexing soft power and using military force.
Antony Blinken is more likely to recommend sending the U.S. Army to Damascus than he is to have his own “Road to Damascus” moment from which he emerges as an apostle of realism and restraint. But he should be aware that there is an alternative, one that befits an older, more traditionally American ethos.
Looking back to the nineteenth century, we find a secretary of state whom the writer Bill Kauffman labeled “quite possibly the most anti-imperialist diplomat in the history of the republic.” No, not the oft-quoted John Quincy Adams—but the unappreciated Walter Q. Gresham.
Spending most of his career as a judge in his native Indiana, Gresham also served briefly in the cabinet of President Chester Arthur, first as postmaster general and then secretary of the treasury. Despite being a lifelong Republican, by the 1890s he felt increasingly out of step with the party’s devotion to prohibitively high protective tariffs. A lifelong free-trader, Gresham broke ranks and endorsed Democrat Grover Cleveland in his successful return to the White House.
Cleveland rewarded this pivotal endorsement by offering Gresham the cabinet’s most preeminent office: secretary of state.
Reactions were hostile, with Democrats displeased at seeing the job given to a party newcomer, while Republicans forever resented the turncoat. “Possibly no other cabinet appointment ever caused so much comment and criticism as that of Judge Gresham to the office of Secretary of State,” wrote historian Martha Alice Tyner.
And then there was the question of experience; unlike Blinken, Gresham had no background in foreign affairs. Woodrow Wilson, then a Professor at Princeton, had low expectations and surmised that Gresham would be “a novice in adjusting the foreign relations of the country.” Dismissing the judge’s skillset as befitting a lower office, Wilson jabbed that it was a pity “to lose so fine a Secretary of the Interior.”
Gresham’s ability would be tested early. In January 1893, a group of American businessmen organized a coup d’état in Hawaii, overthrowing the indigenous monarchy. The plotters’ efforts were buttressed by a company of U.S. Marines under orders from John W. Foster’s State Department. It was in effect the first regime change operation performed under the auspices of the U.S. government—and it would be Foster’s grandsons, John and Allen Dulles, who would organize more coups in Iran and Guatemala in the 1950s.
Hawaii’s new provisional government—headed by a “Committee of Safety” composed mostly of U.S. citizens—immediately sent a proposal of annexation to Washington. With less than a month left in his term, President Benjamin Harrison signed the proposal and delivered it to the Senate, which did not act before Cleveland’s inauguration.
The first act of Cleveland’s presidency was to rescind the treaty, and for Gresham to repair the international damage caused by Foster. “Can the United States consistently insist that other nations shall respect the independence of Hawaii while not respecting it themselves?” asked Gresham. “Our government was the first to recognize the independence of the islands, it should be the last to acquire sovereignty over them, by force and fraud.”
Adhering to the traditional American opinion that “a free government cannot pursue an imperial policy,” Gresham believed that if acquired, Washington could only govern Hawaii as “Rome governed her provinces, by despotic rule.”
To “satisfy the demands of justice,” Gresham attempted to negotiate the restoration of the Hawaiian monarchy, but arbitration broke down when Queen Liliuokalani—then under house arrest—refused to grant amnesty to the American plotters. The provisional government remained in place until Hawaii’s annexation in 1898 under President William McKinley.
Gresham rejected the idea that Hawaii—an archipelago located 2,000 miles from the Californian coastline and closer in distance to Tokyo than Washington, DC—could be of any material interest to a continental power like the United States. Instead, he discerned his own explanation for the attempted annexation. In a private letter to a senator, the secretary of state wrote that “the armed power of this country [had been used] to destroy an innocent and helpless people in order that New England corporations (forty of them) might get possession of their property, own their sugar plantations, and wring out of the pockets of the American people a bounty…”
While Gresham understood pernicious corporate influence, Blinken is a byproduct of corporate power. In 2018 he cofounded the consulting firm WestExec Advisors, whose purpose was to advance the interests and profit margins of defense contractors. Is that preferential treatment expected to end when Blinken arrives at Foggy Bottom?
The Indianapolis Journal described Gresham as “blunt [and] aggressive,” and his counsel to men like Antony Blinken, who would exploit American strength to perform gratuitous meddling overseas, is pertinent. He said, “Every nation, and especially every strong nation, must sometimes be conscious of an impulse to rush into difficulties that do not concern it, except in a highly imaginary way. To restrain the indulgence of such a propensity is not only the part of wisdom, but a duty we owe to the world as an example of the strength, the moderation, and the beneficence of popular government.”
Gresham believed that “the only safeguard against all the evils of interference in affairs that do not specially concern us is to abstain from such interference altogether.” If Americans did not “stay home and attend to their own business,” then “they would go to hell as fast as possible.”
And can’t our foreign policy be described as a kind of hell? That’s what it must feel like for the Yemeni, Iranian, and Venezuelan families who suffer from hunger and sickness as an effect from U.S. sanctions. Or for the people of Iraq, who have endured almost continual American bombardment for 30 years.
Walter Q. Gresham died from pneumonia halfway through his term at the age of 63. Judging his record, The Nation magazine wrote, “Mr. Gresham has been a great success and has made American honor, capacity, and courtesy mean more in the eyes of the world than they had meant for many a day.”
Honor, capacity, and courtesy. Are those not qualities American foreign policy is in desperate need of? Honoring the sovereignty of other nations and their right to construct their own political and social systems. Understanding the capacity of American power, and not overextending our commitments beyond our capability. And replacing belligerence and poison pill preconditions with diplomatic courtesy and outreach.
When Antony Blinken fails at enacting a foreign policy that places the needs of the republic before those of the empire, it will not be for lack of precedent.
On Monday [two weeks ago], on the 19th anniversary of U.S. soldiers hitting the ground in Afghanistan, dozens of people gathered in West Chester, Pennsylvania, with the goal of ensuring that our men and women in uniform won’t be in Afghanistan for another anniversary.
The event was organized by the conservative veteran’s organization Bring Our Troops Home, founded in January 2019 by former Sgt. Dan McKnight, who served 10 years in the Idaho National Guard with an 18-month tour in Afghanistan, the organization advocates a military withdrawal from “endless wars” in the Middle East and a requirement that all future wars be declared by Congress, as mandated by the Constitution.
The borough of West Chester, the county seat of suburban Philadelphia’s Chester County, was selected for the event because it was the home and final resting place of Marine Major General Smedley Butler, who, at the time of his death in 1940, was the most decorated Marine in U.S. history. Following a distinguished career – where he saw action in World War I and Central America and served a brief stint as Philadelphia’s chief of police – the two-time Medal of Honor recipient spent the last decade of his life as an antiwar advocate and lecturer. Butler is best-remembered today as the author of the 1935 book War is a Racket.
The event took place at Oaklands Cemetery, next to Butler’s gravesite, and featured speakers included McKnight, fellow veteran, and former West Point professor Danny Sjursen, and Scott Horton, author of Fool’s Errand: Time to End the War in Afghanistan.
They were joined at the podium by the Republican nominee for Pennsylvania’s 6th congressional district, John Emmons. “In order to commit troops someplace, the Congress needs to declare war. So that’s one thing we’re here to reinforce today,” Emmons said in an interview. “Here we are, nineteen years later, and we’re still trying to extract our troops from Afghanistan. I’m certainly in support of that, and what’s curious is that there’s people in Washington who have been fighting President Trump to bring the troops home, including my opponent [Democratic Rep. Chrissy Houlahan].”
Mark Griego, a Villanova University student who served five years in the Marine Corps, was unfamiliar with Bring Our Troops Home before the event. “I think that what they’re fighting for, considering that they’re focusing on the whole bipartisan aspect is really important, it’s more about America, and keeping America whole and one. I think it’s really good what they’re doing with that,” he said.
Also in attendance was Rich Schwartzman, a Philadelphia native who served in the Air Force from 1968 to 1972 and was deployed to Thailand. His message to Washington was clear. “Follow the Constitution,” he said. “I can’t even name all the places we have troops right now, fighting. None of it is constitutional. And that is wrong.”
While most voters are motivated by domestic issues, such as health care and the economy, there remains a smaller, decisive number of Americans who will cast their ballot in November based on their opposition to continued U.S. intervention in the Middle East.
That was the conclusion of Professors Douglas Kriner of Boston University and Francis Shen of the University of Minnesota, whose 2017 study determined a positive and statistically significant correlation between a community’s casualty rate in the War on Terror and its support for Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, in which the candidate promised to draw down the American military presence in Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan. Recent polling has reinforced this judgment, including a 2019 Pew Research survey that found 58% of veterans believe the war in Afghanistan was not worth fighting, while 64% believe the same about the war in Iraq.
These numbers are particularly relevant for Pennsylvania, which, since 2001, has endured the third-highest casualty count among the states. That includes 301 U.S. military casualties, 47 members of the Pennsylvania National Guard killed overseas, and over 3,000 native sons of the Keystone State wounded in action.
“Our statistical model suggests that if three states key to Trump’s victory – Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin – had suffered even a modestly lower casualty rate, all three could have flipped from red to blue and sent Hillary Clinton to the White House,” wrote Kriner and Shen.
Once again, Pennsylvania is a political battleground for Trump. Under his administration, while thousands of U.S. troops remain engaged in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan, military casualties are down significantly when with the tenures of his predecessors – 63 Americans dead in Afghanistan, compared to 630 under George W. Bush and 1,758 under Barack Obama.
Bring Our Troops Home, and the majority of veterans they represent will continue to speak out, organize, and lobby until those casualty rates are down to zero. Meantime, on November 3, we will find out if Trump has done enough to reap the political rewards of peace.
This article was originally featured at RealClearDefense and is republished with permission of author.
Last week, in the 2020 campaign’s sole vice presidential debate, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) presented herself as part of a growing wing of “national security Democrats” who are quickly populating Congress and—depending on next month’s election results—the White House.
Harris’s positioning is no sudden revelation. As previously reported in The Washington Post, “Those close to Harris describe her as a ‘Truman Democrat,’ a nod to her willingness to use American power to promote American values and interests.”
The comparison to the 33rd commander-in-chief is appropriate. As America’s first post-World War II president, Harry Truman oversaw the expansion and entrenchment of the permanent national security state—including the creation of the Central Intelligence Agency and the rebranding of the War Department to the Department of Defense.
That is the calling card of the natsec Dems: a thorough adherence to maintaining the status quo machinations of the Pentagon, an unshakable faith in any pronouncement of a U.S. intelligence agency (no matter how flawed the methodology or tainted by institutional bias or politics), and a muscular flexing of American military strength overseas.
In the vice presidential debate’s brief exchange on foreign policy, Harris was sure to check every box on the NatSec Dem list. “I serve on the Intelligence Committee of the United States Senate. America’s intelligence community told us Russia interfered in the election of the president of the United States in 2016 and is playing in 2020,” said Harris.
The investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election by former Obama officials James Clapper and John Brennen has been the source of such partisan acrimony that there is very little either side would agree on today, including whether the probe was fundamentally skewed, and how much of a threat Russia is to the United States at this very moment. However, Harris went on to cite “public reporting” that the Russian government had put bounties on American soldiers in Afghanistan, and admonished Donald Trump for not addressing the claim in conversations with Vladimir Putin.
As previously explained at Responsible Statecraft, the Russia bounty allegation has its origins in a single CIA report sourced from Taliban prisoners, and in over three months no other agency has been able to validate it. But this has not prevented other NatSec Dems like Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) from regularly promoting the story as authentic. She is even introducing legislation to sanction anyone tied to the so-far unconfirmed bounties.
The more attention Harris and company give to the Russian bounty story, however, the less she gives to the ongoing, 19-year presence of U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan. During her brief presidential campaign, Harris refused to commit to leaving Afghanistan in her first term. A refusal to depart the Central Asian sinkhole is a characteristic shared by every NatSec Dem, particularly Rep. Jason Crow of Colorado, who in July partnered with Republican warhawk Elizabeth Cheney (Wyo.) to block any congressional funding for a potential withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Compared to the neoconservative ideologues of the Republican Party, NatSec Dems are more selective about where they drop bombs. Previously, Harris co-sponsored legislation to end the U.S. participation in the Saudi-led genocide in Yemen and opposes boots-on-the-ground in Venezuela (while still supporting efforts to oust Nicholas Maduro through other means).
These marginal differences don’t preclude political alliances, however. “Of course we have the support of Democrats, but…in fact, seven members of President George W. Bush’s cabinet are supporting our ticket,” said Harris, bragging about seeing eye-to-eye with the old guard of the most bellicose presidential administration of the past 50 years.
Only a month ago Rep. Seth Moulton (D-Mass)—a particularly hawkish NatSec Dem—made a similar comment that he “never once questioned the loyalty of George W. Bush…to our Constitution,” implying that Moulton believes in the legality of the Iraq War, mass warrantless surveillance, and the torture program.
Harris continued, adding that “over 500 generals, retired generals, and former national security experts, and advisors are supporting our campaign.” This demonstrates the crossover of support between the national security state and their NatSec Dem patrons like Harris (and Duckworth), who earlier this year voted against a progressive amendment to transfer 10 percent of the $740.5 billion Pentagon budget into domestic welfare programs.
Many NatSec Dems learned where their bread was buttered in their careers as either soldiers or intelligence operatives, prior to their election to Congress. Duckworth, Crow, and Moulton are all veterans, while other NatSec Dems like Reps. Elissa Slotkin of Michigan, and Abigail Spanberger of Virginia cut their teeth at the CIA. They represent “the absurd gulf between hawkish Hill-dwelling veterans and their brethren back on Main Street,” writes Danny Sjursen, referring to polls that indicate 73 percent of veterans support a full withdrawal from Afghanistan and other less interventionist policies. So do the American people.
But that seems to matter little. In Senator Harris these NatSec Dems have a former prosecutor and a Trumanesque partner on the ticket who would give them an oversized voice in a prospective Joe Biden presidency and a chance to flex their muscular foreign policy vision, their way.
Friends of liberty inside and outside the Libertarian Party are waiting patiently—some passively—for three more weeks until the conclusion of the November presidential election. Not to find out whether Donald Trump or Joe Biden will come in first, but how many votes their own candidate will receive on the margin.
Jo Jorgensen, a businesswoman, university lecturer, and longtime party activist received the presidential nomination in May, with the (virtual) convention selecting activist and podcaster Spike Cohen as her running mate. Not long afterwards, the Jorgensen/Cohen ticket became the focal point of a bitter dispute within the liberty movement about messaging, with particular rancor towards their social media team.
While ascribing to nearly identical ideas, the rhetorical divide between libertarians seems almost insurmountable. Differences of opinion include what issues libertarians should prioritize, which demographics their message should be aimed at, what a unifying movement leader would look like, and whether political activism is even worth investment.
It would be instructive for libertarians to have a sense of how past candidates have portrayed themselves and sold their policies to voters. In its nearly fifty-year history, the Libertarian party has run presidential tickets from different factions and backgrounds, with different personalities, all while collecting different results. Finding what works, what’s unappealing, and what can be improved is necessary for future endeavors.
This article will focus on four of the Libertarian Party’s most prominent presidential campaigns—1976, 1980, 1988, 1996—comparing and contrasting the pamphlets that were meant introduce libertarianism to the voting public.
First, a special aside should be made for the Libertarian Party’s first nominees, philosophy professor John Hospers and radio producer Tonie Nathan. Founded in Colorado in 1971, Murray Rothbard described the organization’s inauspicious beginnings: “There’s no ﬁnances, there’s no people, there’s nothing.” Professionally made literature was out of reach for the upstart campaign, but they did make one pin that asked voters, in Nineteen Eighty-Four fashion, to “Break Free From Big Brother.” On the ballot in only two states (Colorado and Washington), the Hospers/Nathan ticket won only 3,600 votes, less than one tenth of one percent. And yet this newborn third party shot to notoriety when a faithless elector in Virginia gave them a lone tally in the Electoral College.
That faithless elector went on to be the party’s 1976 presidential nominee. Roger MacBride had formerly worked as a lawyer and, as the inheritor of the Laura Ingalls Wilder literary estate, co-created the NBC television series Little House on the Prairie. MacBride built his campaign around the phrase “a new dawn,” in which the Libertarian Party would break the country’s political duopoly and present Americans with a fresh direction. The brochure reads:
Who could deny that the politics of contemporary America should fade into the sunset and disappear forever? Most Americans, if we are to believe the public opinion polls, do desire a new dawn—a fresh approach to politics and a reappraisal of the appropriate role of government in a free society. The problem is, the candidates of the Republican and Democratic parties are from the old school of political wheeling and dealing. They sense that the public is ready for a new direction but they don’t know or care what that direction should be
MacBride’s brochure is heavy on rhetoric, candidate biography, and even includes a retelling of the party’s founding. What it lacks is policy proscriptions, with only a single page of bullet points quotes meant to inform the reader of where libertarians stand on the issues. With such limited space, it’s both curious but predictable that television producer MacBride would save special ire for the Federal Communications Commission, which he calls “one of the most dangerous agencies of government” for its censorship and intimidation of broadcasters. The FCC is one of the executive agencies MacBride promised to abolish, along with the FTC, ICC, and CAB, saying they “employ a virtual army of bureaucrats who are leeches on the productive sector of society.”
Despite the brevity, MacBride’s statement on U.S. foreign policy is worth quoting at length because of its foresight:
If I were elected President I’d retire Henry Kissinger as one of my first orders of business. The United States government has no right running around the world using tax dollars—the money you and I earn—to make ‘deals’ with foreign governments. The U.S. should stop intervening in other peoples’ affairs. I’m particularly concerned that the current Administration’s policy of involvement in the Middle East is going to lead to another Vietnam.
In November 1976, Roger MacBride won 172,000 votes, or one-fifth of one percent.
Where the MacBride brochure lacked on substance, Ed Clark’s indulges. A corporate lawyer, Clark gained appeal as a candidate after his 1978 campaign for California governor overperformed (he won almost five and a half percent). Riding high, he sailed to the presidential nomination in 1980.
While including photos of the candidate and a standard introduction, Clark’s brochure opens to reveal six pages of policy summations, making it by far the most detailed of the bunch. Clark elucidates his opinions on issues including, but not limited to, energy, unemployment, inflation, and crime, while even including separate subheads for civil liberties and the draft, along with foreign affairs and defense spending.
The Ed Clark campaign and its handlers earned the eternal enmity of Murray Rothbard when during a television interview, Clark used the phrase “low-tax liberalism” to explain libertarian ideology. This blunder has permanently attached the label of moderate or shallow to Clark’s run for office in the minds of many libertarians who proudly wear the moniker “radical.”
On that scale, Clark’s stated positions are a mixed bag; he goes all the way on some issues, but only partway on others. On one hand, Clark promised to abolish the newly formed Department of Energy, repeal all price controls, and eliminate the minimum wage. But on the other, while calling public education “a disgrace,” he goes no further than favoring tax credits for charter schools. Wonderfully, Clark refers to the draft as nothing more than “short-term slavery.” But while he favors reducing military expenditures, he gives no indication of how much.
One of the stances Clark was hit hardest on by other libertarians was taxes. In in the brochure’s introduction, taxes are the first issue mentioned, with Clark promising “the largest tax cut in American history.” It’s a phrase used repeatedly on other pages. To Rothbard and others, this fell too far short of calling for a full repeal of the income tax or destroying the IRS. In the same campaign, Ronald Reagan was making a similar promise, once again making Clark’s brand appeared watered down.
Like MacBride, the strength of Clark’s foreign policy stance and his recognition of blowback is worth quoting at length:
The United States supplies arms and aid to the world’s worst military despots. Indeed, in this century, we have supplied arms to both sides in seventeen different wars…The consequences and costs of this bankrupt foreign policy are becoming increasingly apparent, both at home and abroad. Our years of support for the despotic shah of Iran against the will of the Iranian people caused the Iranians to react violently against the United States. It is just one of many examples, from Vietnam to Nicaragua, of the failure of foreign adventurism. We must resolve now to avoid foreign crises in the future by staying out of the affairs of other countries.
On top of paper, the Clark campaign ran a litany of professionally produced, five-minute television ads. This surely benefited when come November, Ed Clark won 921,000 votes, or just over one percent. His 1980 campaign would hold the record on raw vote total and percentage until the Gary Johnson presidential runs of 2012 and 2016, respectively.
In 1988, Dr. Ron Paul was the most experienced presidential nominee in the Libertarian Party’s less than two-decade history. After a career in medicine, Paul had been elected to the U.S. House as a Republican four times, serving from 1976 to 1977 and 1979 to 1985. Despite having the most prominent career (both before and after his nomination), Paul has far and away the simplest brochure.
Only three pages of policy positions and biography, Paul’s brochure is precise, albeit brief. The prospective voter is greeted by a cartoon drawing of Alice in Wonderland characters Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum, with an “R” and “D” painted on their chests. It tells the reader that, “Ron Paul’s message of liberty is the same one that inspired the Founding Fathers to fight for our independence, that galvanized mass movements in the 19th century for hard money and personal liberty, and that mobilized millions in the 20th century.”
This appeal to the past is one of the hallmarks of the Paul brochure. While MacBride’s mentions the American Revolution twice, and Clark’s not at all, Paul references the Founding Fathers five times in a much shorter print.
Much of the substance in Paul’s brochure will discussed further on, but for now his skewering of U.S. foreign policy is once again worth quoting from:
The job of the U.S. government is to defend the people, property, and liberty of the United States. Period. It is not to run the world. It is not to fund wealthy clients like Germany and Japan. It is not to install and overthrow dictators in Central America. It is not to intervene on the side of totalitarian socialist Iraq and Big Oil in the Persian Gulf.
In November 1988 Ron Paul received 431,000 votes, or just under half a percent.
In his 1996 brochure, Harry Browne sells himself as much as the libertarian message. Taking an aside from explaining the budget to tell voters where they can buy his new book, the best-selling author and investment advisor was a natural marketer. In this instance, he does so by directly comparing himself to his Democrat and Republican opponents. In punchy bullet points, Browne presents what the major parties believe on spending, taxes, and social security, and follows with how he’s different.
The language is purposely dramatized to draw attention; balance the entire budget now (emphasis in original). And the issues are all geared towards matters that affect the daily lives of Americans. That specialization, while smart for voter targeting, leaves much to be desired in delivering the libertarian message. For instance, there is no mention of foreign policy, the only brochure to ignore the subject. The language, however, is the most accessible to the average person, using clear, simple direction to inform voter’s about Browne’s policies.
Harry Browne won 485,000 votes in 1996, or exactly half a percent. His performance was strong enough—the highest vote count since Ed Clark in 1980—and his personal appeal so universal that he was re-nominated by the Libertarian Party four years later.
Bringing all four brochures together, the first impression is their diverse color aesthetic. Each campaign appears to have chosen to lean on a single-color pallet; MacBride on a deep blue, almost purple; Clark on Green; Paul on light blue, and Browne on red. And like most political paper, a picture of the candidate included on the front, bar MacBride’s, which allotted for the “new dawn” imagery.
Both MacBride and Clark include a page of media mentions and favorable quotes from publications. They both even go so far as to recycle a quote from Nicholas von Hoffman in the Washington Post that he wrote in 1974. Paul has no media quotations but does include a list of organizations that had presented him with awards, including the Mises Institute. And Browne’s biography includes a list of the national television networks he had spoken on.
One of the pillars that unites all libertarians is opposition to the state’s monopoly on money production, and the devaluation of the U.S. dollar caused by the Federal Reserve. Both MacBride and Clark refer to the Fed’s monetary expansionism as “legalized counterfeiting,” and Clark provides a short explanation of how inflation benefits incumbent politicians and hurts workers. MacBride gives no further elaboration on a solution, and Clark calls for a return to “sound money,” but neither explicitly call for ending the Federal Reserve System.
Ron Paul does not mince words in his condemnation of the central bank. He promised to “protect the value of your money by restoring the gold standard and abolishing the Federal Reserve.” Whereas Harry Browne declines to mention monetary policy and sticks strictly to fiscal policy.
Something all four candidates do mention is the War on Drugs, although not necessarily in the same language. Roger MacBride takes a firm, but general stand against all victimless crime:
If there is no victim there can be no crime. This business of passing a law to prevent people from doing something simply because we think it’s morally wrong is nonsense. How we conduct ourselves is a moral question that can be answered by our own conscience.
Ed Clark likewise makes a broader, but more detailed statement about crime, and how it’s ill-handled by the police. He argues that drugs ought to be decriminalized, because “narcotics prohibition actually creates crime, just as alcohol prohibition created the gangster problem.” Both he and MacBride further argue that police should be made to focus on violent crimes “like rape, robbery and murder” (MacBride) instead of “wasting time and money on vice squads, drug busts and political spying” (Clark).
Ron Paul’s brochure, like Clark’s, uses the Prohibition era as a parallel, writing “In the 1920s, the unbelievable violation of our liberties called Prohibition strengthened public and private criminals at the people’s expense. The same is true of the War on Drugs.” This is included in a longer list of civil liberties violations, in which Paul mentions the invasion of the doctor-patient relationship, parental rights over children, and the state spying apparatus.
Like other issues, Harry Browne compares the Republican and Democratic Party’s insistence on “more federal powers, more police, more prosecutions, more prisons.” Whereas Browne would end the “insane” War on Drugs immediately:
This will take away the obscene criminal profits of drug pushers, break up street gangs, and make our cities safe again. Pardon non-violent drug offenders to make room in prisons for rapists and murderers who terrorize our citizens.
It is no secret that there are aspects of the liberty philosophy that are more difficult to pitch to non-libertarians than others. For instance, it is obligatory for a libertarian to believe in the right of association, that a person and property owner can associate or discriminate for any reason. Many libertarians prefer to ignore this philosophical cornerstone in ‘polite company,’ or other issues like state-mandated racial quotas and affirmative action. The closest any brochure comes to acknowledging this is MacBride’s, which obliquely references liberals “forcing an unending stream of ‘social engineering’ programs on us.” In all others, it is left unsaid.
Another dicey topic can be the welfare state, where even most conservative Republicans are happy to continue the social safety net instituted by Lyndon Johnson. Both MacBride and Clark chose to ignore the issue of welfare, while addressing nearly every other government program. In contrast, Ron Paul is very matter of fact, promising to eliminate “$500 billion in corporate welfare, social welfare, and foreign military welfare.” Instead, “churches and other private charities should be freed to care for the needy in a humane, non-governmental manner.”
The subject of welfare is where Harry Browne excels the most. In his brochure, Browne says the government’s “welfare system promotes dependency, irresponsibility, and poverty.” He further acknowledges without fanfare that gutting the federal budget and returning the government to its constitutional parameters “means ending all federal social programs.”
Social Security, the original bedrock of the modern welfare state and one of the third rails of American politics, is addressed specifically. Instead of inane reforms like adjusting the Consumer Price Index, Harry Browne would:
Sell off federal assets and use the proceeds to buy private retirement annuities for senior citizens who are dependent on Social Security—annuities from companies who keep their promises and never change the rules. Browne will end the 15% Social Security tax and leave Americans free to choose their own retirement.
The reason welfare can be a difficult topic for libertarians is because too often market alternatives can come across as unempathetic, or unrealistic, if not phrased right. Browne is able to perfectly encapsulate why abolishing the welfare state is not only financially necessary, but ethically the only possible solution:
You—not some bureaucrat—will decide who’s actually doing some good, who’s helping the needy become self-supporting, who’s earning your charity dollar—and how many charity dollars you’ll give them. So will your co-workers, neighbors, and other members of your community.
Charity, not welfare. Private compassion will succeed where government compulsion has failed.
On the other hand, taxes can be a libertarian’s favorite issue to discuss with the general public, and all the candidates jump at the opportunity. MacBride complains that “feudal serfs in the Middle Ages kept a higher percentage of their income than we Americans do today.” His simple fix is to “persistently seek to lower all taxes” because “they’re far too high—all of them.”
As previously mentioned, the key platform plank of Ed Clark’s campaign was the largest tax cut in American history. His brochure says he’ll explain the details of his tax program later on in the campaign, leaving the reader with the “economic fact of life” that allowing people to keep money they earn and “to save and to spend as they choose” leads to prosperity.
Ron Paul’s position is to not only lower taxes but abolish the income tax altogether. He has certain venom for the IRS collection agency in particular:
10,000 ravening, machine-gun-toting IRS agents oppress the people and eat out their substance. They have the license to confiscate your wealth, seize your bank accounts, and force you to incriminate yourself without due process of law.
Harry Browne shares that stance, and sought to it home in how uncompromising it was:
What will Harry Browne ‘replace’ the Income Tax with? A flat tax? No. A sales tax? No. A Value Added Tax? No. He’ll replace it with nothing.
Once again, Browne takes the time to explain the implications of this policy in a way to emotionally connect with voters and make them feel more comfortable about such a dramatic shift in government revenue:
Look at last year’s 1040 tax form. What would you do with the money the government took from you—money you earned—if it were yours to spend? Would you put your children in a private school that offers a better education and teaches your values? Would you put your money into savings or investments or perhaps use it to start that business you’ve always dreamed of? Would you move to a better home? Give more to your favorite charity or cause or church? Leaving all your earnings in your hands lets you make these choices for yourself, your family, and your community.
Lastly, its curious which candidates choose to acknowledge that they’re on a ticket, campaigning alongside a vice presidential nominee. MacBride was gracious enough to give his running mate, lawyer David Bergland, nearly equal biographical space in the brochure; Bergland went on to be the Libertarian Party’s 1984 presidential nominee. Ed Clark includes zero mention of his running mate, New York business executive David Koch, despite the latter providing millions in funding to the campaign. David, along with his brother Charles Koch, became infamous later in life as some of the Republican Party’s wealthiest financiers. Likewise, Ron Paul’s brochure is devoid of his running mate Andre Marrou, who as one of the Libertarian Party’s few elected officials had served a term in the Alaska House of Representatives. Marrou was the party’s 1992 presential nominee, in a campaign marked by scandal and possible criminality. Finally, Harry Browne includes a short, paragraph biography and picture of his running mate, and current Libertarian Party presidential nominee, Jo Jorgensen, bringing everything full circle.
MacBride, Clark, Paul, and Browne possessed few ideological differences between each other. But in their presidential campaigns and voter outreach, they were very different in their choice of strategies. Analyzing their successes—and mistakes—is an important component of forming the best libertarian pitch going into 2021 and beyond.
Once again, the whispers of phantoms masquerading as administration officials have attempted to put Donald Trump on the defensive only two months before the fall election. And in typical fashion, the roused president has gone on an immediate rhetorical offensive.
Trump has doubled down on his affirmations towards the U.S. military and the American soldier, while simultaneously confronting the class of generals who command them. “I’m not saying the military’s in love with me—the soldiers are,” Trump said at a Labor Day press conference. “The top people in the Pentagon probably aren’t because they want to do nothing but fight wars so that all of those wonderful companies that make the bombs and make the planes and make everything else stay happy.”
This is a dramatic shift in perspective from the man who spent the first two years of his presidency surrounding himself with top brass like Michael Flynn, John Kelly, H.R. McMaster, and James Mattis (along with almost being beguiled into nominating David Petraeus as Secretary of State). Perhaps Trump learned the hard way that the generals of the forever wars don’t measure up to the twentieth-century soldiers he adulated growing up.
For instance, when George Marshall oversaw the deployment of 8.3 million GIs across four continents in World War II, he did so with the assistance of only three other four-star generals. In retirement, Marshall refused to sit on any corporate boards, and passed on multiple lucrative book deals, lest he give the impression that he was profiting from his military record. As he told one publisher, “he had not spent his life serving the government in order to sell his life story to the Saturday Evening Post.”
Contrast that to the bloated, top-heavy military establishment of today, where an unprecedented forty-one four-star generals oversee only 1.3 million men and women-at-arms. These men, selected and groomed because of their safe habits, spend years patting themselves on the back for managing wars-not-won, awaiting the day they can cash in. According to an analysis by The Boston Globe, in the mid-1990s nearly 50% of three- and four-star generals went on to work as consultants or executives for the arms industry. In 2006, at the height of the Iraq War, that number swelled to over 80% of retirees.
The examples are as endless as America’s foreign occupations: former Director of Naval Intelligence Jack Dorsett joined the board of Northrop-Grumman; he was later followed by former Air Force Chief of Staff Mark Welsh; meanwhile, former Vice Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff James Cartwright went to Raytheon; former Chairs of the Joint Chiefs—the highest ranking position in the military—William J. Crowe, John Shalikashvili,, Richard Myers, and Joseph Dunford went on to work for General Dynamics, Boeing, Northrop-Grumman, and Lockheed-Martin, respectively.
General James “Mad Dog” Mattis, in between his forced retirement from the Marine Corps and appointment as Secretary of Defense, joined the board of General Dynamics where he was paid over a million dollars in salary and benefits. Returning to public life, Mattis then spent two years cajoling President Trump into keeping the U.S. military engaged in places as disparate as Afghanistan, Syria, and Africa. “Sir, we’re doing it to prevent a bomb from going off in Times Square,” Mattis told his commander-in-chief. Left unsaid was that a strategic withdrawal would also lead to a precipitous decline in Mattis’ future stock options, which he regained after he rejoined General Dynamics following his December 2018 resignation.
That resignation might have been premature, however. It was only a matter of weeks before Trump’s announced withdrawal from Syria, the impetus for Mattis’ departure, was reversed. Hundreds of U.S. soldiers continue to illegally occupy the north-east of the country. That’s in addition to the thousands of Americans still kicking dust in Iraq and Afghanistan, contrary to the president’s “America First” pledge.
And Trump is as guilty as any of his subordinates when it comes to coddling the military-industrial complex, gushing over billion dollar arms deals and their manufactured jobs numbers. It remains to be seen whether his latest announcement of a partial withdrawal from Iraq by the end of the month will turn out as phony as the others.
Whether meaningful or empty, Donald Trump’s words remain a significant departure from the norm. He is one of the first prominent figures in living memory—and certainly the first president, ever—to connect the controlling influence of the military-industrial complex to the actions and advice of U.S. generals. For this he has been compared to the man who first coined the term, President Dwight D. Eisenhower, although even Ike never impugned the motivations of his fellow four-stars.
Trump’s language more closely resembles that of Major General Smedley Butler, who at the time of his death was the most decorated marine in U.S. history. “The professional soldiers and sailors don’t want to disarm. No admiral wants to be without a ship. No general wants to be without a command. Both mean men without jobs. They are not for disarmament. They cannot be for limitations of arms,” Butler wrote in his 1935 book War is a Racket.
To eliminate this corrupting influence, Butler advocated an egalitarian price control to prevent the arms industry—and their pet generals—from profiting off the blood of American boys. “Let the officers and the directors and the high-powered executives of our armament factories and our steel companies and our munitions makers and our shipbuilders and our airplane builders and the manufacturers of all the other things that provide profit in war time as well as the bankers and the speculators, be conscripted—to get $30 a month, the same wage as the lads in the trenches get.”
Today that would be the equivalent of $1,733 a month, the same as a first year private in the army. It’s a far cry from the $96 million the CEOs of the Pentagon’s top five contractors—all listed above—were collectively paid in 2016.
How many times can something be divided before it permanently breaks? In a matter of months, the edifice of a United States has become more and more cracked, after repeated blows from a pandemic virus, state-imposed lockdowns, mass unemployment, police shootings, and subsequent riots. The national mood is one of exhaustion and frustration, if not outright anger.
On August 25, Americans were given another thing to divide themselves over. In response to yet another contested police shooting, riots erupted in the city of Kenosha, Wisconsin. During the ensuing chaos, video was taken of an individual in possession of an AR-15 rifle being chased by a group of people, falling to the ground, and then shooting three of his pursuers (one of whom was armed with a handgun). The shooter, 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse, was permitted by police to leave the scene, while two of the other men lay on the ground, dead.
Twitter threads, Facebook feeds, and newsrooms are at vitriol capacity as they argue the merits of the shooting. In conditions marked by social upheaval, and as burning buildings lick the background of city streets, the contentious issues of vigilantism and self-defense are being relitigated. The discussions happening right now are downright déjà vu.
Kyle Rittenhouse and the Kenosha shooting could prove to be a contemporary version of the 1984 New York City subway shooting, but with much more deleterious social consequences.
City dwellers still recount horror stories about the New York City of the 1970s and 1980s, when “Fear City” became synonymous with the dangers of urban living. At the start of the period rapes and burglaries tripled, while by the end of the 70s the percentage of fires started through arson had septupled. The homicide rate fluctuated between 21 and 25 murders per 100,000 residents, and by 1980 the New York City subway had become the most dangerous transportation system in the world.
It was in these circumstances that millions of New Yorkers struggled to go through their daily lives, including a mild-mannered electrician named Bernhard “Bernie” Goetz. After an attempted mugging left him injured and his assailants unpunished, Goetz resolved that he would not again be the victim of such routine criminality. When the city rejected his request for a concealed carry permit, due to “insufficient need,” Goetz purchased a 5-shot .38 caliber revolver out-of-state and smuggled it back home.
On December 22, 1984, three days before Christmas, Bernie Goetz sat in a New York City subway car when four black teenagers—three 19-years old and one 18—approached. Surrounding him, one of them demanded, “Give me five dollars.” Goetz pulled out his revolver and proceeded to shoot all four teens, two of them in the back. He fled the train, and then the state.
Three of the teenagers had previously been convicted of crimes (the other only arrested), and all four were already scheduled to appear at either a trial or criminal hearing. Sharpened screwdrivers were found on their persons, although Goetz was unaware of this. Months after the incident one of the boys confirmed to a reporter that they had intended to rob Goetz. Mistaking him for “easy bait,” the confrontation left all four wounded and one paraplegic.
Stories about “the Subway vigilante” swept both the New York City media and the public’s imagination. Comparisons were instantly made to the 1974 film Death Wish, where after the rape and murder of his family, Charles Bronson’s Paul Kersey goes on a one-man killing spree to clean up his city—including shooting attempted muggers on the subway.
Instead of tips to help catch the at-large shooter, police hotlines were inundated with hundreds of calls of support for the still unidentified Goetz. New York Governor Mario Cuomo condemned this “vigilante spirit” among the public. “In the long run, that’s what produces the slaughter of innocent people,” he said. On December 31, Bernie Goetz surrendered himself to authorities. He was charged with several offenses, including attempted murder.
Sympathy for Goetz’s actions was widespread among the contemporary public. Working class New Yorkers, both black and white, knew what it was like to walk in fear on the streets of their own city. In the perception of citygoers, Goetz became a figure of cathartic retribution, and the four teenagers became cutouts for the petty harassment and crime that had enveloped New York.
Others could not overlook the racial aspect of the incident. ”I’m not surprised that you can round up a lynch mob,” said Benjamin Ward, the first black Police Commissioner of New York City, regarding Goetz’s supporters. ”We were always able to do that in this country. I think that the same kind of person that comes out and applauds the lynching is the first that comes out and applauds someone that shoots four kids.”
“In this country, we no longer employ firing squads,” said future Mayor David Dinkins, who believed that Goetz’ actions went far beyond anything appropriate in the criminal justice system.
Bleeding hearts had difficulty comprehending the public enthusiasm. “Don’t they know the danger that’s unleashed when someone starts shooting in a crowded place, when someone takes the law into his own hands?” asked a rhetorical New York Timeseditorial, diagnosing a fed-up public. “Of course they do, but they also know something else, bitterly. Government has failed them in its most basic responsibility: public safety. To take the law into your own hands implies taking it out of official hands. But the law, on that subway car on Dec. 22, was in no one’s hands.”
It is difficult not to come to a similar conclusion today. Police forces nationwide seem incapable of performing at an expected standard. On one hand, police are satisfied to lord over citizens who easily submit, as they regularly bully, harass, and brutalize legions of law-abiding and respectful Americans. But on the other hand, when their authority is challenged, police are quick to drop their “protect and serve” mantra and abandon whole neighborhoods to the mob’s torch. When the state fails, we should not be surprised when individuals act to fill the void.
“This was an occasion when one citizen, acting in self-defense, did what the courts have failed to accomplish time and again,” wrote New York Senator Al D’Amato. “The issue is not Bernhard Hugo Goetz. The issue is the four men who tried to harass him. They, not Mr. Goetz, should be on trial.”
In February 1985, a grand jury declined to prosecute Bernie Goetz for attempted murder. Outside the courthouse, some people protested the leniency, chanting “Bernhard Goetz, you can’t hide; we charge you with genocide.” In fact, the only charge brought against him, which he was later convicted of, was carrying an unlicensed firearm. He was sentenced to one year in prison, of which he served eight months.
Thirty years after the subway shooting, I was attending a major libertarian social event in the Big Apple. During a break between scheduled speakers, the MC took to the stage to spontaneously announce that Bernie Goetz, “the Batman of New York City,” was in attendance. I was unaware of who Goetz was at the time and could only identify him as the man on the other side of the room who was suddenly being rushed by people wanting to shake his hand.
We don’t know how Kyle Rittenhouse will be received thirty years hence. After crossing the state line (like Goetz) to his native Illinois, Rittenhouse was arrested on Wednesday and charged with first-degree (premeditated) murder. More details about what preceded the video tape and ignited the confrontation can be expected to come to light in the coming days.
The helplessness that New Yorkers felt decades ago has, due to the untampered riots, exploded in every part of the country. Except now, the political left and right fear each other more than they do an anonymous specter of crime. The broad public sympathy that Goetz received will not be given to Rittenhouse, who is already being labeled either a rightwing terrorist or a man rightfully defending himself.
And now, on Saturday night, a Trump supporter in Portland was shot and killed for unknown reasons. Was the vigilantism in Kenosha just the beginning?
Memorials are intrinsically meant to be a community fixture. There is a reason they are placed in the public square, made the focal points of parks and included alongside bustling streets instead of being kept away for private eyes or individual observance. Memorials are a collective means of commemorating and honoring past events, leaders, and sacrifices.
This utility of unity has been contradicted in the past decade as monuments from the previous century have aroused a maelstrom of controversy and sometimes vandalism. The primary examples are monuments to the Italian explorer Christopher Columbus and memorials to Confederate soldiers and leaders, although recent months have seen street action against statues of the American founding fathers.
This necessitates taking a perspective on new and yet to be constructed memorials: how will images and symbols chosen today be interpreted in fifty years, or even a century? Is it the responsibility of those of us in the present to select the most non-offensive, universal designs? Or rather should we construct concepts that strike particular (and accurate) emotions, the sensibilities of some hypothetical future be damned?
Perhaps the best example of public attitudes changing about a memorial is for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on the National Mall. Officially established in 1982, more than a thousand proposals were submitted by design firms, sculptors, and architects. Judging blindly, a committee selected a winner, whose identity would contribute to the acrimonious reception.
“The designer was a young, Yale architectural student named Maya Lin who was Asian, and a woman, and young. There were certainly these people who didn’t respond well to just these cues,” explained Professor Christopher Hamner of George Mason University, who specializes in war and American society.
The memorial, a long black wall inscribed with the names of American dead, was an expressive break from traditional memorials which carry more positive connotations. “There was a very vocal group of Vietnam veterans who were opposed to it on that basis,” said Hamner. “That it, rather than celebrating the courage and sacrifice of people who bravely went forth at their country’s behest and almost 60,000 of them didn’t come home, it prompted this invitation to think deeply about what the war meant to the country.”
“One of the spokesmen of the Vietnam veterans in opposition wrote a famous editorial where he referred to the proposal as ‘a black gash of shame.’ It became a kind of famous way to describe the memorial among those who thought that it sent exactly the wrong messages,” he said.
But from this contentious opening, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial has become one of the most cherished sites in Washington D.C. Veterans, and the families of veterans, have formed an almost mystic connection to the wall; it has become an interactive, with people regularly leaving flowers, or six-packs, or personal mementos near their loved one’s name. Its initial boldness has created a significance that separates it from other memorials on the National Mall.
Despite this reversal of fortunes, the designers of the World War II memorial in the early 2000s were very conscious to avoid being embroiled in the same quarrels of their predecessors. It’s a grand, very traditional memorial that latches onto the mythos of “the Greatest Generation” fighting “the Good War.” Its use of foundations and columns are purposefully meant to deflect criticism by not asking its audience to think hard about World War II.
In a recent article at The American Conservative, I spoke to relevant voices about the efforts to create a memorial for the veterans of the Global War on Terror on the National Mall. In these conversations, inevitably the question of what such a memorial would look like was asked. And one particular likeness evoked incredibly thoughtful responses: the battlefield cross.
A battlefield cross is a symbolic marker erected by soldiers to honor a brother-in-arms who has been killed. Although earlier examples date to the nineteenth century, the practice became more common in the Korean War and after, and through heavy use in media has become primarily associated with the War on Terror. In the modern conception, a battlefield cross is a pair of boots, a rifle with its barrel jammed into the ground, with sometimes a pair of the fallen soldier’s dog tags hanging around the stock of the rifle, and a helmet placed on top.
“[I]t’s…just iconic. That was a picture in 2003, in 2004, in 2005 that was everywhere. It was hundreds of these, this was the tribute people would pay,” recalled Hamner. “And it made for a great shot; if you picked up Time magazine or the Wall Street Journal you were likely to see something like that.”
Examples of memorials utilizing the battlefield cross, typically constructed at the county level, can be located throughout the U.S. “That seems to be what we’ve seen pop up throughout the country in regards to Global War on Terrorism memorials that have been built locally,” said Marina Jackman, Director of Operations at the Global War on Terror Memorial Foundation. The foundation has been designated by Congress as the organization to coordinate and fundraise the construction of the memorial on the Mall.
“Obviously those [battlefield crosses] have a lot of meaning due to the dog tags, obviously we’ve seen that image everywhere,” continued Jackman. “I don’t really know how to incorporate that into the design at this point, but obviously the feelings that those portray and reflect are pretty significant and a good depiction of this war for sure.” The foundation is still a minimum of two years away from considering design proposals.
Major Danny Sjursen, who served tours in both Iraq and Afghanistan before becoming a vociferous pen in the antiwar movement, believes that the battlefield cross carries an alternative message. “I’ve often looked at that over the years as almost a mercenary memorial,” he said.
As a former soldier who participated in erecting battlefield crosses, Sjursen finds the image both “appealing” and “appropriate,” but emphasizes that it robs the public consciousness of the bigger picture. “[It] is completely depoliticized, decontextualized. It doesn’t matter where they died, what they fought for. It’s all about the brotherhood,” he explained.
“In some ways that’s also the quintessential story of the War on Terror, where you have a professional, non-draftee army—really the first volunteer force to fight this kind of extended war—that’s become more and more like a Praetorian Guard. Loyalty to unit and regiment, almost like the British Army, has become more important than any notion of victory or what the hell we’re doing,” Sjursen said, pointing out that a battlefield cross doesn’t even include the American flag, or a representation of whatever cause the soldiers are meant to have died for.
“Most soldiers at this point aren’t even talking about victory anymore, they’re not talking about the cause anymore. It’s just become a job. A very dangerous job,” Sjursen added. “And there’s something there that’s disturbing about the volunteer force and the total ditching of the citizen soldier.”
While Sjursen supports the memorial, former Sgt. Dan McKnight is adamant that no construction take place until the official conclusion of the wars in the Middle East. McKnight served for ten years in the Idaho National Guard, including an eighteen-month deployment to Afghanistan, and is the founder of the veterans organization Bring Our Troops Home. He also has strong opinions about the battlefield cross.
“That image itself is such an internal, emotional image for the men who have served,” McKnight said. “[It brings] up a sense of reverence and respect for the sacrifice that was made.”
“If that’s what [had been] done if the war would have ended in a timely manner, with proper oversight, proper supervision, and proper strategy from our military leaders, I think that type of memorial would have been very tactful and powerful,” McKnight commented. “But now that we’ve gone into a multi-generational war, I think a more powerful image would be something of multi-generational imagery. A son, a father, a daughter, a mother fighting the same war would be more applicable, more appropriate because we have people now fighting a war that started before they were born.”
This imagery is reminiscent of a new bronze relief that is scheduled to debut in Washington DC’s Pershing Park in 2024. Titled “The Weight of Sacrifice,” it will be a visual representation of the hero’s journey narrative: we see a soldier saying goodbye to his family before marching to war, encountering both the fighting and damage incumbent in conflict, and returning home, presumably changed. If a memorial can show the passage of time in the life on one soldier, then it could do the same for generations of soldiers, as McKnight suggests.
Whatever form an eventual Global War on Terror veteran’s memorial takes, it will carry a message, either subtle or explicit. Taking a page from the successful memorials of the past, the message ought to be indelibly human, bonding an otherwise disparate public. If it can do that, it’ll be conscious of its own legacy in the American mind.
Hunter DeRensis is Assistant Editor at the Libertarian Institute. You can follow him on Twitter @HunterDeRensis.
There is a sickness in the United States Navy, and it goes beyond the coronavirus pandemic. It’s a disorder of irresponsible political leadership, and a high command more focused on expediency than maintaining the confidence of the sailors in their care.
The latest symptom of this disease was the abrupt dismissal of Captain Brett Crozier, formerly of the USS Theodore Roosevelt. When members of his crew became infected with COVID-19, Crozier sent a four-page memo explaining his disagreements with current containment strategy and recommending a more aggressive plan of action. The memo, which was sent using an unclassified email, was published by the press immediately. Two days later he was relieved of command by Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly, whose subsequent nastiness and incongruous standards of behavior resulted in his own resignation.
Opinion has become divided over whether Captain Crozier should have been relieved for impulsively breaking chain-of-command (among other accusations) or whether the punishment was unjustified due to his selfless motivation on behalf of his crew. No matter which side is correct, there is only one appropriate answer: it was wrong to relieve Crozer of command without a proper inquiry.
Crozier possessed the awesome power of commanding a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, one of the mightiest weapons in the world. And with that privilege comes responsibility. “On the sea there is a tradition older even than the traditions of the country itself and wiser in its age than this new custom. It is the tradition that with responsibility goes authority and with them goes accountability,” wrote Vermont Royster in a 1952 Wall Street Journaleditorial that has become a dogma among career seamen. Every error, purposeful or not, falls on a captain’s shoulders. “No matter what, he cannot escape.”
But while Royster wrote of reviews, debates, inquiries, probes, and committees, Crozier received none of them. He was given no fair hearing, nor the benefit of the doubt that the situation mandated. Only an official inquiry can determine if Crozier should have been removed for cause.
To give perspective on the events of the past two weeks, a retired U.S. admiral spoke to the Libertarian Institute in an exclusive interview. “Should he have been removed for [breaking chain-of-command] before the inquiry? No,” said the three-star, who preferred to remain anonymous. “I think that if he decided that he had tried to get across that time was of essence, it [the virus] was spreading…and there was no change in that strategy that he said was ineffective, then I would have to say he did what was accountable—outside of war—to the welfare of his men and women, knowing (and he should have known this) that his career would be harmed by it.”
The admiral compared Crozier’s situation to being under incoming fire, a situation that necessitates decisive action. “I think if this man did speak up, and they weren’t listening, then he felt he did the right thing and that’s what a commanding officer is called to do: step outside the chain of command if he has to, at times, to save his crew.”
An inquiry prior to any kind of reprimand is typical Navy procedure, and was the route favored by both Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley and Chief of Naval Operations Michael Gilday. But both men relented and chose to publicly support the acting navy secretary’s decision to dismiss Crozier immediately.
And how did Acting Secretary Modly arrive at this conclusion? He told The Washington Post that President Donald Trump’s opinion weighed heavily in his thought process, explicitly because his secretarial predecessor, Richard Spencer, had been dismissed because he found himself at odds with Trump over the Eddie Gallagher case.
“I thought it was terrible what he did. To write a letter. This isn’t a class on literature. This is a captain of a massive ship that’s nuclear powered,” Trump chided after the fact. While the president said he had not made the determination to dismiss Crozier, his displeasure with the captain’s negative appraisal being made public was obvious to Modly.
“I think the immediacy with which he was removed had to do with the public disclosure and embarrassment,” speculated the retired admiral. “And that’s a shame.”
Modly’s resentment of the embarrassment didn’t stop there. The Acting Secretary proceeded to fly 8,000 miles so he could board the USS Theodore Roosevelt and address the five thousand sailors who had cheered their former commanding officer as he departed. Modly excoriated the crew for voicing support for Crozier and described their former captain as either “too naïve or too stupid to be commanding officer of a ship like this.” His excursion, where he was onboard the ship for thirty minutes, cost the taxpayer $243,000.
Crozier emailed his memo to twenty people—including members of his staff, but excluding his immediate superior, Rear Admiral Stuart Baker, and Acting Secretary Modly—and it was subsequently leaked to the press within twenty-four hours. Modly gave a “private,” adversarial address to thousands of men, audio portions of which were uploaded to the internet within thirty minutes. He must have realized his behavior was at least as reckless as Crozier’s (if not more so) and for a lesser cause, because he resigned within a day—but not before doubling down on his comments, and then retracting them.
“It was beyond the pale,” the retired admiral said, regarding Modly’s stunt. “His resignation was correct. You must have respect down the chain of command if you expect it up the chain of command.”
Chief of Naval Operations Gilday has said he’s begun an official investigation into the circumstances of the memo and the dismissal, with a conclusion to be made public as early as this week. The possibility of returning Crozier to command has not been taken off the table.
As the grandson of two Navy veterans, and the nephew of two more, it is imperative that the high command move forward with transparency and make accountable any wrongs that were committed. That is the only cure for regaining the lost trust of their sailors and their loved ones.
Hunter DeRensis is senior reporter for The National Interest and a regular contributor tothe Libertarian Institute. You can follow him on Twitter @HunterDeRensis.
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