The Disaster That Was World War I

by Burt on July 28, 2014

One hundred years ago today, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia–which soon engulfed Europe in World War I. A complex system of alliances among the countries of Europe meant that dozens of governments had declared war within a few days. Sadly, the Great War, as it was then called, is not much remembered today. But it has at least three lessons to teach us.

First, a strong executive can be very dangerous. The U.S. could have avoided the carnage and the expense of entering the war, but President Woodrow Wilson, despite his rhetoric of neutrality, strained to get the U.S. on the side of the Allies (Britain, France, and Italy), almost from the start.

In September 1915, Wilson confided to his chief adviser, Col. Edward House, that the U.S. needed to join the Allies. Since most Americans wanted to stay out of war, Wilson later said, “I could not move faster than the great mass of our people would permit.” To speed up America’s war fever, Wilson created a double standard: He didn’t criticize Britain’s naval blockade of Germany, but protested loudly when Germany blocked Britain with submarines.

Wilson’s long range goal was to be the power broker after the war, the man who brought the world everlasting peace through a league of nations. As Col. House encouragingly said to Wilson: “This [power broker] is the part I think you are destined to play in this world tragedy and it is the noblest part that has ever come to a son of man.” Wilson’s ego, fed by such statements and Wilson’s own poor judgment, knew no bounds, but Wilson’s legacy after the war was not lasting peace. Instead, World War II would kill 50 million people in the next generation.

Second, wars are expensive and damage the economy. World War I cost too many lives (about 124,000 Americans killed and many more seriously wounded) and cost the U.S. too much of its wealth. Before the war, America’s national debt was $1.2 billion. After the war, it was $24 billion. Just the annual interest on our new debt was almost greater than the entire national debt right before the war. That meant high tax rates, and the tax on top incomes was hiked to 77%, which stifled investment for years and led to double digit unemployment in the early 1920s.

Britain, who urged us into the war, also borrowed from us about $6 billion (one fourth of our national debt) but paid almost none of it back. No wonder the U.S. went into isolation in foreign policy after the war. This isolation caused us, and other nations, to turn the other way when Hitler rearmed Germany for revenge. One bad war led to another.

Third, wars stifle civil liberties. In the U.S., World War I shut down free speech and led those in power to trample on the civil liberties that Americans had enjoyed since adopting of the Constitution. President Wilson fought hard to remove any opposition to his wartime decisions. He promoted the Espionage Act of 1917, which made it a felony (up to 20 years in prison) for criticizing the president or U.S. foreign policy. Charles Schenck, among others, went to jail for handing out anti-war pamphlets; Robert Prager was hung in Collinsville, Illinois for displaying insufficient loyalty. One woman got a ten year sentence for writing in the local newspaper, “I am for the people and the government is for the profiteers.” A Hollywood filmmaker was arrested for producing The Spirit of ’76 on the war for Independence. That film, the courts declared, was “calculated . . . to make us a little bit slack in our loyalty to Great Britain in this great catastrophe.”

The FBI created files on two million Americans of questionable loyalty and Thomas Gregory, Wilson’s Attorney General, openly bragged that he had “several hundred thousand private citizens” working for him “keeping an eye on disloyal individuals and making reports of disloyal utterances.” Senator Hiram Johnson of California was aghast and said, “The war has set back the people for a generation. They have become slaves to the government.” After the war, President Wilson argued for a peacetime sedition act, and he refused to pardon socialist Eugene Debs, who ran for president in 1920 from jail.

Only by throwing Wilson and his friends out of office in the 1920 elections did the U.S. reestablish economic and civil liberties. The lesson: If a war can be avoided, avoid it. World War I, which we remember this week, was just such a war.

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Let’s Celebrate Liberty!

by Anita on July 15, 2014

Posted by Anita Folsom

     The 4th of July has reminded us about the importance of our liberty in this wonderful country.  We have a long history of independence and personal initiative.  Our forebears didn’t look to government as the answer for all problems.  Instead, most individuals discovered solutions in the free market and prized limited interference from their government.
     One example of this initiative involves the Statue of Liberty in New York City.  After the American Civil War, a French jurist named Edouard Leboulaye wanted to celebrate the United States’ dedication to liberty.  Slavery had just been abolished in the U.S., and Leboulaye, a leader of the French anti-slavery movement, mentioned to friends that France and America should work together on a statue for New York Harbor that would celebrate the liberty of the New World.
     In 1875, Leboulaye felt that interest in the upcoming American centennial and Philadelphia Exposition had created a favorable atmosphere in the United States for his project.  He announced the formation of a Franco-American Union to finance the statue.  France would pay for and build the statue itself; the Americans would provide the base.
     In Paris, sculptors worked on the design and construction of a towering figure holding a flame high, symbolizing freedom’s triumph over tyranny.  Frederic Auguste Bartholdi, the head of the project, was a renown sculptor and a friend of Leboulaye.  Bartholdi designed the figure that we now call “Lady Liberty,” and which he named “Liberty Enlightening the World.”  He was aided by architect Gustave Eiffel, who designed an iron truss structure to support the statue from the inside, while on the outside the figure would be made of hammered copper. The statue would stand 151 feet, one inch tall, with a total height at the top of the torch of 305 feet.
     Americans had to raise more than $100,000 to finance the base and pedestal for Lady Liberty.  Bedloe Island in New York Harbor was available as a site.   There the foundation and base of the statue were aligned to face southeast, welcoming ships as they entered New York Harbor from the Atlantic Ocean.
     But fundraising in America made little progress.  The New York State Legislature passed a bill to appropriate $50,000 of the state’s money for the project, but then Governor Grover Cleveland vetoed the bill. Cleveland encouraged private citizens to donate the money rather than use state tax funds.
     When New York’s elites refused to donate generously, a newspaper publisher named Joseph Pulitzer had a brainstorm.  He was trying to bolster the circulation of his new acquisition, The World, which had lost money under its previous owner.  Pulitzer announced that he would publish the names of all donors to the project in The World, regardless of the amount.   He was sure that average Americans would respond and also be delighted to see their names in print, which would increase the sale of his papers:
“We must raise the money! The World is the people’s paper, and now it appeals to the people to come forward and raise the money. The $250,000 that the making of the Statue cost was paid in by the masses of the French people- by the working men, the tradesmen, the shop girls, the artisans- by all, irrespective of class or condition. Let us respond in like manner. Let us not wait for the millionaires to give us this money. It is not a gift from the millionaires of France to the millionaires of America, but a gift of the whole people of France to the whole people of America.”                                                                                                  
     Americans responded immediately.  Thousands donated small amounts.  Pulitzer was so moved by some of the notes accompanying the donations that he included many of those in the newspaper as well, such as  “60 cents – donated by single girl through thrift and self-denial.”  More than 125,000 people donated a total of more than $101,000 (about $2.2 million in today’s dollars).  America’s contribution to the Statue of Liberty would indeed make it the people’s Lady Liberty, funded not by government nor by millionaires, but by private citizens who worked each day and appreciated the liberty they enjoyed in this country. When they donated to the cost of the statue, they were indeed celebrating American liberty.

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From the Progressives. And in particular from President Woodrow Wilson, who was president one hundred years ago. Wilson was the first president who explicitly attacked the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution as well. Here’s the story.

Before he was president, Professor Woodrow Wilson taught history and politics at Princeton. He admired the idea of a strong U.S. president, who could cut through red tape and use the power of government to accomplish something really important. The problem was that Constitution divided power among the president, Congress, and the Supreme Court. The Founders had distrusted King George III, and human nature as well; divided power increased the chance that Americans would secure their right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” as described in the preface of the Declaration of Independence.

Professor Wilson therefore began writing articles and books saying that society had “progressed” since the days of the Founders and that now, in the early 1900s, mankind knew more, and college educated experts (and professors) should be given much power to accomplish great things for America. The divided powers put into the Constitution by the American Founders were no longer necessary because society had “progressed” so much.

“If you want to understand the real Declaration of Independence,” Wilson urged, “do not read the preface.” Instead, Wilson astonishingly said, the Declaration “expressly leaves to each generation of men the determination of what they will do with their lives. . . . In brief, political liberty is the right of those who are governed to adjust the government to their own needs and interests.” “We are not,” Wilson insisted, “bound to adhere to the doctrines held by the signers of the Declaration of Independence.”

As for the Constitution, Wilson concluded, “The only fruit of dividing power was to make it irresponsible.” Instead, Wilson advocated a “living Constitution”, flexible enough to give the elected president true power to transform society. The president, surrounded by advisors and experts in the science of government, would be “the embodiment of the character and purpose it wishes its government to have–a man who understood his own day and the needs of his country.”

Once elected president in 1912, politics often bored President Wilson. He considered himself the expert who should be running the country, but, as president, he found that Congress and the courts often didn’t go along with his plans to change the country. World War I would be Wilson’s “war to end wars,” and the League of Nations, which came later, would be his means to permanent world peace. When Congress refused to let the U.S. join the League of Nations, Wilson refused to accept the divided government written into the Constitution. After flailing at the Republican Congress in speech after speech, Wilson had a stroke and was bedridden during his last two years in office.

President Obama is similar in his disdain for Congress and in his desire, through his pen and his phone, to make the laws that will, in his view, “fundamentally transform” this nation for the better. For example, Wilson fought to control the hours per day people could work; Obama fights to control what their minimum pay should be. Obama had a court case last week to restrict the freedom of Hobby Lobby; Wilson had court cases restricting the liberties of German Americans. Both presidents sought to impose conformity in the schools.

Presidents Wilson and Obama have both wanted to expand executive power and have eagerly taxed the rich to pay for this greater government. During Wilson’s presidency, he was able to raise the top income tax rate from 7% to 73%. Obama has not yet doubled the national debt but Wilson (with help from WWI) increased it almost twentyfold.

The numerous parallels between President Obama and Woodrow Wilson are easy to discover when we study the history of these two presidencies. Wilson couldn’t establish world peace; he helped to set up a system in Europe that eventually led to World War II. President Obama’s foreign policy is in shambles. And he is still trying to usurp the power in the Constitution that was originally given to other branches of government.

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Is Today ‘The Worst of Times?’

by Anita on June 26, 2014

Posted by Anita Folsom

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way….”  (excerpt from A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, written about the days of the French Revolution in 1789)

With all of the calamities facing Americans these days, some would say it is the worst of times.  What does history teach us about tough times?

In Atlanta, where my husband and I live, the most difficult days for this vibrant city occurred during the Civil War and its aftermath. By 1864, the war had become a struggle to free the slaves and break the South’s economy.

One hundred and fifty years ago this summer, two armies were locked in mortal combat in Georgia.  Union forces under General William T. Sherman had fought their way south from Chattanooga, Tennessee, threatening the commercial and transportation center of the state, Atlanta.  Confederate forces under General John B. Hood opposed them.  In the late summer, Sherman’s men entered Atlanta, after battles that cost the two sides more than 65,000 casualities (dead and wounded).  Most of the buildings in Atlanta were either burned or badly damaged.  That fall, Sherman ordered that all civilians be expelled from the city, and what remained of Atlanta was burned to the ground.

Seventy years ago, the United States was in the midst of World War II.  Americans rallied behind the cause of sending troops overseas to fight the twin evils of Nazi aggression and Japanese empire-building.  But what was happening here at home?

The U. S. Government had taken over the direction of the American economy.  Yes, such central management helped to produce the millions of guns, ships, tanks, and planes that helped the Allies win the war.  At the same time, intrusive government regulations affected every facet of American life.

In 1944, then President Franklin Roosevelt was facing re-election in the fall, and he wanted the support of the labor unions.  When FDR learned that Sewell Avery, president of the Montgomery Ward mail order company, was in a dispute with a union based in Chicago, Roosevelt intervened to win more support from unions.  First, FDR ordered his Secretary of Commerce to take over the operations of Montgomery Ward “for the successful prosecution of the war.”  (This ruse didn’t fool many people.  Montgomery Ward didn’t manufacture bullets or guns or ships.  The company provided household items and clothing.)

FDR’s Secretary of War Henry Stimson, a true patriot, told FDR that such actions had “a doubtful basis in law.”  Undeterred, Roosevelt ordered troops to intervene:  Soldiers with fixed bayonets marched into the Chicago headquarters of Montgomery Ward, and when Sewell Avery refused to leave his office, two soldiers carried him from the building.  Avery said that he was fighting “political slavery” and that his company was denied due process of law because the government didn’t want to risk having its labor policies struck down in court.  (FDR Goes to War, pp. 307-08)

Sewell Avery and the government fought over control of Montgomery Ward for months.  The American public overwhelmingly supported Avery’s position.  When the war ended in mid 1945, the government finally relinquished any claims on the business.

This year, as we approach Independence Day and all that it represents, let us remember that each generation has faced tremendous challenges.  Threats to liberty have appeared time after time, sometimes coming from the White House.  Yet most Americans have remained steadfast in their devotion to liberty and the first principles expressed in the United States Constitution.  That really is something to celebrate.

 

 

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Posted by Anita Folsom

Seventy years ago today–June 5, 1944–Dwight Eisenhower wrestled with the most important decision of his life.  He was Supreme Commander of the allied forces poised to invade Europe.  Hundreds of thousands of men were under his command, yet Eisenhower had to wait on a report from a weatherman before making a decision that would affect the lives of millions.

The date for the invasion had been set for months:  June 5, 1944.  But on June 4th, Eisenhower and his staff received word that terrible weather would cover the English Channel for the following twenty-four hours.  An invasion under such conditions would be foolhardy, so Eisenhower had ordered a twenty-four hour postponement.

In the wee hours of the morning of June 5, Eisenhower and his staff met once again.  The weatherman predicted a break in the weather the following day.  Not great weather, but much improved, with conditions that would make an invasion possible.  The final decision, however, was Eisenhower’s.

The time was now about 4:30 am, June 5th. Eisenhower knew that ships were already leaving ports in southern England, moving toward France.  Now was the time for the decision.  He thought for a moment and quietly said, “Okay, let’s go!”

Estimates by military planners before the battle told a grim tale:  They expected as many as 10,000 dead Allied soldiers by the end of the first day, with tens of thousands of wounded. As the top Allied commander, U.S. General Dwight Eisenhower knew that if D-Day proved to be a disaster for the Allies, he would be blamed. On the afternoon before the landings, he sat in an Army tent in southern England, and composed the message he would send if the worst happened on June 6th:

Our landings. . . have failed. . . and I have withdrawn the troops. My decision to attack at this time and place was based upon the best information available. The troops, the air and the Navy did all that bravery and devotion to duty could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt it is mine alone.

Eisenhower put the note in his wallet, where he could find it quickly if necessary.

The Allies of World War II landed on the beaches of Normandy on June 6. Their goal was to land over 160,000 men in one day, on five beaches and in strategic areas behind the German fortifications. Counting the Navy and the Army Air Corps, almost 200,000 men from many different nationalities were involved.Early the next morning, Americans attacked the German defenses at Omaha and Utah beaches, and British forces landed on Sword and Gold beaches. Canadian regiments on Juno Beach came under heavy fire, suffering 50 percent casualties in the first wave ashore. The Americans on Omaha Beach also had heavy casualties.

Paratroop regiments and gliders carrying commandos had landed several miles inland from the beaches before daylight; their goal was to capture bridges and vital transportation hubs, and hold those points until relieved by troops from the beaches. Fighting in many of these areas was intense.

By the middle of the afternoon, despite poor weather and high waves, despite smoke from the Navy bombardment that was so heavy the landing craft couldn’t find the right beaches, and despite heavy crossfire from German forces, all five beach heads were secure. Allied soldiers began moving inland as part of a strategy that would ultimately liberate France and much of western Europe and end with Germany’s surrender eleven months later.

At the end of that first day, the United States had 2,499 dead, with over 6,000 wounded. Casualties (dead, wounded, and missing) for all Allied forces totaled about 10,000.

General Eisenhower didn’t have to read the announcement he carried in his wallet. The D-Day landings proved to be successful, but Eisenhower’s example of a leader who was ready to shoulder responsibility still inspires us today.  He didn’t intend to blame his subordinates, bad weather, or lack of information.  He prepared on June 5th for what might occur.  He knew that real leaders can’t hide behind flimsy excuses when problems arise.  Instead, they admit mistakes and work to correct errors, and that pattern of leadership gives their subordinates the confidence to follow.

 

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James Madison vs. Barack Obama

by Burt June 3, 2014

The scandal at the Veterans’ Administration highlights the differences between constitutionalists and progressives. Constitutionalists often see history as the story of how and why power is abused and people are oppressed. Constitutionalists believe in limited government because kings have almost always abused power. Liberty is best preserved when power is fragmented among different branches of [...]

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Do Crony Handouts Have a Stranglehold on the GOP?

by Burt June 2, 2014

By Burton Folsom & Blaine McCormick (Written for RealClearMarkets.com) Guess which American president said this: “We must continue changing the way America generates electric power by even greater use of clean-coal technology; solar and wind energy; and clean, safe nuclear power. We need to press on with battery research for plug-in and hybrid vehicles and [...]

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A Fresh Look at the Veterans’ Scandal

by admin May 26, 2014

Let’s set the stage for discussing the scandal at the Department of Veterans Affairs: A new president, promising hope and change, campaigns to help veterans and improve their medical care. He appoints a decorated war hero to head the Veterans Bureau. But soon thousands of veterans complain about wait times and lack of treatment. On [...]

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Individual Rights or Community Rights?

by Burt May 12, 2014

The Founders of our nation argued strongly for individual rights. By that, they meant the right of each person to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. They believed that the sum of many people having such personal liberty would ultimately create strong communities. In other words, strong individual rights translated into vibrant communities and [...]

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In a Free Market, Racism Is No Winner

by Burt May 6, 2014

As almost everyone in America knows, Donald Sterling, owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, recently made some offensive racist comments. He is being punished severely by the NBA, and many blacks who worked for him have expressed shock and dismay about his statements. Most had no idea he was a racist, although some suspected it. [...]

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