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“Celebrating The Nation That Can’t Stay Still”: The Purpose Of The Past Is To Serve The Present And Future

It is the birthright of all Americans to be patriotic in their own way, something worth remembering at a moment of great political division. Instead of challenging each other’s love of country, we should accept that deep affection can take different forms.

There is, of course, the option of setting politics aside altogether on the Fourth of July. Anyone who loves baseball, hot dogs, barbecues, fireworks and beaches as much as I do has no problem with that. Still, I’m not a fan of papering over our disagreements. It is far better to face and discuss them with at least a degree of mutual respect.

When it comes to the varieties of patriotism, I’d make the case that some of us look more toward the past and others to the future. Some Americans speak of our nation’s manifest virtues as rooted in old values nurtured by a deposit of ideas that we must preserve against all challengers. Others focus on our country’s proven capacity for self-correction and change.

As a result, one stream of reverence for our founders flows from a belief that they have set down timeless truths. The alternative view lifts them up as political and intellectual adventurers willing to break with old systems and accepted ways of thinking.

These are broad categories, and many citizens are no doubt drawn simultaneously to aspects of being American that I have put on opposing sides of my past/future, continuity/change ledgers.

Nonetheless, most of us tilt in one direction or the other. Standing at either end of this continuum makes you no less of an American.

Eighty years ago, Franklin D. Roosevelt went to Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s home in Charlottesville, to offer an Independence Day address insisting that the inventors of our experiment created a nation that would never fear change. He spoke nearly seven years after the onset of the Great Depression in the election year that would end with his biggest landslide victory. FDR was in the midst of the boldest and most radical wave of reform that the New Deal would produce, and you can hear this in his speech. It still serves as a rallying cry for those of us who see our founders as champions of repair, renewal and reform.

What, he asked, had the founders done? “They had broken away from a system of peasantry, away from indentured servitude,” Roosevelt explained. “They could build for themselves a new economic independence. Theirs were not the gods of things as they were, but the gods of things as they ought to be. And so, as Monticello itself so well proves, they used new means and new models to build new structures.”

Not the gods of things as they were, but the gods of things as they ought to be: Thus the creed of the reformer.

As for Jefferson himself, Roosevelt said, he “applied the culture of the past to the needs and the life of the America of his day. His knowledge of history spurred him to inquire into the reason and justice of laws, habits and institutions. His passion for liberty led him to interpret and adapt them in order to better the lot of mankind.”

Here again, the purpose of the past is to serve the present and future. History is about testing institutions against standards and adapting them, as Roosevelt put it, to “enlarge the freedom of the human mind and to destroy the bondage imposed on it by ignorance, poverty and political and religious intolerance.”

There is a straight line between Roosevelt’s understanding of our tradition and President Obama’s as he expressed it in his 2015 speech on the 50th anniversary of the voting rights march in Selma.

“What greater expression of faith in the American experiment than this, what greater form of patriotism is there than the belief that America is not yet finished,” Obama declared, “that we are strong enough to be self-critical, that each successive generation can look upon our imperfections and decide that it is in our power to remake this nation to more closely align with our highest ideals?”

No doubt many Americans celebrate a narrative on our national holiday that has a more traditional ring than FDR’s or Obama’s. We can jointly honor our freedom to argue about this but perhaps agree on one proposition: If we had been unwilling in the past to embrace Lincoln’s call to “think anew and act anew” and to find FDR’s “new means” and “new models,” we might not have made it to our 240th birthday.


By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, July 3, 2016

July 4, 2016 Posted by | 4th of July, Independence Day, Patriotism | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Deed Is All, And Not The Glory”: Solving The Mystery Of The Unknown Flag Raiser Of Iwo Jima

On June 23rd, the Marine Corps publicly acknowledged that a previously unidentified Marine named Harold H. Schultz was one of the six men pictured in what is arguably the best-known image of the last century: Joe Rosenthal’s Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph of the 1945 flag-raising on Iwo Jima.

In making the announcement, Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. Robert B. Neller noted that while the “image is iconic and significant, to Marines it’s not about the individuals and never has been.”

As a Marine, I most certainly agree. Marines always put the mission first, fighting to win, and Rosenthal’s famous photo symbolizes everything that we believe to be right and good about our Corps. But as one of the filmmakers behind the documentary that unravels the confusion and misidentification of the flag-raisers, I also feel strongly that acknowledging Schultz—even 20 years after his death—is immensely important for America.

When the photo first appeared in newspapers across the country on Feb. 25, 1945, Marine Corps leadership must certainly have recognized the value of the image, particularly in terms of recruiting men for the planned invasion of Japan. But the idea that the figures in the photo should be identified came first from the Treasury Department, not the Marines. Rosenthal’s photo had been received as a gift by the ad men responsible for promoting “The Mighty Seventh” war loan, and they seized upon the image as precisely what was needed to sell more than $14 billion in bonds.

While the photo made Rosenthal an instant celebrity in the U.S., no one back on Iwo had given the flag-raising a second thought. In the words of retired Marine Col. Dave Severance, then a captain in command of the company that had taken Mt. Suribachi, “I don’t remember thinking of flags during the battle, because my hands were full. Until President Roosevelt sent word that he wanted to bring back the survivors of the flag-raising—for a bond tour—the business of the flags held no priority at all.”

In fact, the Marine Corps took no action to identify the men in the photo until nearly a month after the event, and only ordered the survivors home in response to what one public information officer described as “a personal request by President Roosevelt, who considered their return and public appearance a public morale factor.”

Several times over the past decade, as I pored over the images shot by the seven different photographers who were on Suribachi that day, I’ve wondered if our national leaders—particularly those closest to the president—ever paused to ask, “Is it necessary to identify these men?” It’s no secret that, in the eyes of many, the image’s power lies in the fact that the men are virtually faceless, symbolizing the sacrifices of every American who fought there. Would it not perhaps be best if they remained unknown?

But the Nation called them home anyway, putting a name to each of the figures in the photo, and ultimately casting their faces in bronze.

Despite the fact that the president had answered the question more than 70 years ago, our production team found ourselves regularly challenged with, “Does it really matter who these men were?” And in Schultz’s case, I can say with confidence it absolutely matters—though not for the same reasons cited by the president in 1945.

Schultz helped raise a flag on the fifth day of a month-long battle. It was a small thing. Yet he was captured in an image that symbolized much more, and despite what the photo would come to mean, he never said a word about it to anyone beyond his own dinner table.

Some have suggested Schultz would not be pleased to now be named. He never sought attention in life, so perhaps we should let him remain unknown? But it is precisely this reluctance to be recognized that makes him so worthy of our respect.

At one point in Goethe’s Faust, the hero argues, “The deed is all, and not the glory.” I know it only because it’s the kind of heady sentiment that resonates with warriors, and because those very words hang over the entrance of a select few U.S. military units as a reminder that those most worthy of honor are the ones who do not seek it.

Harold H. Schultz personifies this ideal: He was a Marine who answered his country’s call, served honorably in the bloodiest battle in the Corps’s 240-year history, and was immortalized in 1/400th of a second on a tiny bit of rock in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, seven thousand miles from his Detroit home.

Despite this, Schultz never sought glory for himself, and in so doing became worthy of our honor. That is why his name matters, and why we must remember.


By: Matthew W. Morgan, Lt. Col., USMC (Ret.); The Daily Beast, July 3, 2016

July 4, 2016 Posted by | Harold H. Schultz, Iwo Jima, World War II | , , , , | Leave a comment

“Ted Cruz’s Plan For ISIS Is Disastrously Inhumane”: The Scary Thing Is That Cruz Might Actually Believe His Campaign Rhetoric

Ted Cruz never says anything good just once — when he finds a line or a joke that gets applause, he repeats it over and over. And one of his big crowd-pleasers at the moment is this little ditty about the Islamic State: “We will carpet-bomb them into oblivion. I don’t know if sand can glow in the dark, but we’re going to find out!”

In front of audiences that want to know who’s going to be most ruthless in fighting those terrible terrorists that are terrifying us, it never fails. And it reflects prevailing Republican sentiment, which says that ISIS hasn’t been defeated only because Barack Obama is weak, and with the application of enough force, this problem can be solved.

Just last week, I praised Cruz for being nearly alone among the Republican candidates (Rand Paul joins him in this) in realizing the pitfalls of nation-building. He has said repeatedly that it’s a bad idea for us to go in and occupy a place like Syria in the hopes that we can create a thriving and peaceful democracy there, and that if we were to depose Bashar al-Assad, the vacuum created by his departure would likely be filled by a theocratic regime. But Cruz’s apparent willingness to entertain the idea of unintended consequences obviously has its limits.

Does Cruz actually want to drop nuclear weapons on places where ISIS is operating? That’s what’s implied by the bit about sand glowing in the dark, but he’d never cop to that. How about carpet-bombing? After all, part of the difficulty with fighting ISIS from the air is that they control cities full of civilians. The American military doesn’t lack for ordnance; we could level those cities if we wanted. But doing so would mean thousands and thousands of civilian casualties, killing the very people we’d be claiming to want to save. That’s not only morally abhorrent, it would be extremely likely to produce the kind of hatred towards America that helped Al Qaeda thrive, helped ISIS replace Al Qaeda, and would help the next terrorist group take ISIS’s place.

In an interview Wednesday with NPR, Cruz got asked about this problem, and put his finely honed evasion skills to work. Asked by host Steve Inskeep whether he wanted to “flatten” cities where ISIS is located, Cruz said, “I think we need to use every military tool at our disposal to defeat ISIS.” Inskeep pressed him: “You can flatten a city. Do you want to do that?” Cruz responded, “The problem with what President Obama is doing” is that he’s too soft, noting that in World War II we didn’t worry about the welfare of the German people, we just fought. “FDR carpet-bombed cities,” Inskeep noted. “Is that what you want to do?” Cruz answered, “I want to carpet-bomb ISIS.”

Now perhaps President Cruz’s powers of persuasion would be so extraordinary that he could convince ISIS to leave the cities it controls, where its members sit amongst the innocent civilians it’s oppressing, and march out to the desert so we could more efficiently carpet-bomb them. But I doubt it.

Of course, Cruz is hardly the only presidential candidate offering absurdly simplistic ideas about how to solve this problem. But one might think that the destruction we could wreak upon civilian populations in the Middle East would be a matter of particular concern given our recent history. Estimates of the civilian casualties in the Iraq War range somewhere between 165,000 and 500,000, but conservatives seem convinced that all that suffering and death had nothing to do with the rise of ISIS, and repeating it would be regrettable but not produce any blowback. It appears to be gospel on the right that the people in countries we’ve invaded or bombed are so understanding and forgiving that none of that matters to them; those who become radicalized only “hate us for our freedoms.” Which doesn’t explain why ISIS doesn’t hate Japan or Costa Rica or Switzerland just as much, since in those countries they also have freedoms.

Perhaps we have trouble understanding what it’s like to have a foreign army bombing or occupying your country because it’s been so long. We haven’t had such an army on our soil since the War of 1812, and though we were attacked at Pearl Harbor and then 60 years later on 9/11, those were events confined to a single day. So we can’t seem to grasp the kind of resentment and even hatred that an extended military campaign can foster, no matter how noble the ideals of the country that sent the army carrying it out. When the Bush administration assumed we’d be “greeted as liberators” in Iraq (as Dick Cheney put it), they simply couldn’t contemplate that Iraqis might not be excited to see us rain down bombs, destroy their infrastructure, and then occupy their country, even if they didn’t like the dictator they were living under.

Grasping that requires empathy and a little imagination, neither of which is in good supply in the GOP these days, let alone among its presidential candidates. It’s the luxury of running for office that you can make all problems sound simple, pretend that you can carpet-bomb a city and kill only the bad guys and not the people living there, and act as though strength and resolve are all you need to solve problems. The scary thing to contemplate is that someone like Ted Cruz might actually believe his campaign rhetoric, and put it into action if he became president.


By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Week, December 10, 2015

December 13, 2015 Posted by | Bush-Cheney Administration, ISIS, Terrorists | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Far Nastier Than Anything Revealed By Gates”: Cabinet Officials Going Rogue, A Brief History

Washington is predictably hyperventilating about the swipes against the Obama White House delivered by his former secretary of defense in a new memoir, but the fact that a cabinet official had differences of opinion with a president is hardly a shocking development. Pick any history book about a presidential administration, and you will find loads of palace intrigue, bruised egos, grudge matches, and sharp words from those who lost internal arguments.

Furthermore, battles between presidents and cabinet members have been known to be far nastier than anything revealed by Gates.

You may recall that President George W. Bush was wounded when Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill unloaded to reporter Ron Suskind. O’Neill accused the White House of systematically putting politics ahead of policy, revealed the blind obsession of some officials with invading Iraq, and quoted Vice President Dick Cheney defending tax cuts for the rich by saying “deficits don’t matter.” O’Neill’s revelations became the centerpiece of Suskind’s 2004 book The Price of Loyalty, which helped shape the narrative of the Bush presidency, even though it failed to derail his re-election.

Ronald Reagan’s second term was famously hit with a double blast of vengeful books from former cabinet members. People Magazine observed at the time that “Ronald Reagan is the first president in the nation’s history to suffer — while still in office — such opportunistic vivisection by former associates.”

His first budget director David Stockman published The Triumph of Politics: Why The Reagan Revolution Failed in 1986, which popularized the terms “rosy scenario” and “magic asterisk” to explain how budget gimmicks were deployed to mask the failure to cut spending. Later, former Treasury Secretary and Chief of Staff Donald Regan slammed the White House in For the Record, which revealed how Nancy Reagan sought to control the White House with the help of astrology.

Indeed, fierce scraps between presidents and key cabinet officials are par for the course, if not always well known or remembered.

President Harry Truman’s secretary of state, the wildly popular war hero George Marshall, told him to his face that if he recognized the new state of Israel he would vote against him for re-election, an implicit threat to sandbag his campaign. Truman was stunned, but he held firm and Marshall backed down, kept his opposition to himself, and rebuffed suggestions he should resign in protest.

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt had an ugly tangle with his first budget director Lewis Douglas. In 1933, Douglas, horrified by Roosevelt’s plans to take American currency off the gold standard (he privately deemed it “the end of western civilization”) began leaking to the press that some administration officials considered the monetary strategy to be unconstitutional. But Roosevelt thought Dean Acheson, then undersecretary of the Treasury, was the leak and fired him instead.

The following year, Douglas resigned in protest of Roosevelt’s decision to increase public works spending to fight the Depression instead of ending all “emergency expenditures.” Once out of the White House, Douglas publicly lashed out at the New Deal as having a “deadly parallel” to Soviet communism, and campaigned for the Republican presidential nominees in 1936 and 1940.

President Woodrow Wilson perhaps dealt with the harshest rebuke from a cabinet member when his Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan, a huge political force in the Democratic Party, resigned in protest of Wilson’s handling of Germany during the run-up to World War I. Bryan proceeded to travel the countryside, rallying support against any moves toward entering the war and threatening a fatal split in the party. Yet Wilson’s own barnstorming in favor of military preparedness kept the Democrats unified, allowing him to win re-election and steer Democratic Party foreign policy away from isolationism for the next 100 years.

Compared to the above, the Gates memoir — with its reported mix of praise and criticism — seems like a gentle ribbing.

More importantly, the history of cabinet tensions reminds us that the view from one cabinet member can’t give a full picture of a president and an administration. It is only one account, and needs to be reconciled with several others, and assessed alongside the final outcomes of presidential policies, before it can be properly analyzed. The Gates memoir is sure to be an important artifact of the Obama historic record, but it’s unlikely to be the Rosetta Stone.


By: Bill Scher, The Week, January 9, 2014

January 10, 2014 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Deja vu On Obamacare”: In The Crossfire Tonight, Americans Begin Signing Up For FDR’s New “Social Security” Program

Voiceover: It’s December 1, 1936 — in the Crossfire tonight — Americans begin signing up for FDR’s new “Social Security” program — but can the post office handle the volume? And is it essential protection for seniors — or the slippery slope to socialism? In the Crossfire — Frances Perkins, secretary of labor, who supports the program — and congressman Daniel Reed, Republican of New York, who opposes it.

Good evening, I’m Upton Sinclair, on the left.

And I’m Freddy Hayek, on the right.

Sinclair: After 18 months of planning, President Roosevelt’s breakthrough Social Security program to ease poverty among senior citizens recently began its rollout, with application forms sent to post offices across the country — and with employers forced to register as well. Freddy, I think it’s a milestone for a civilized nation. After all, two dozen countries already have systems of social insurance on the books. And the whole idea was invented by a conservative, Otto von Bismarck, back in the ’80s as a shrewd way to assure social peace. Can’t you concede that morality, not to mention the survival instincts of the ruling class, requires a decent society to offer something like Bismarckcare to protect against destitution in old age?

Hayek: Spoken like a communist out to weigh the economy down, Up. Don’t you lefties see that your taxing and spending will put us on the road to serfdom?

Sinclair: Catchy phrase, Fred — might want to hold onto that for a book at some point. Let’s bring in our guests. Congressman Reed, here’s what you said about Social Security during the House debate over the legislation: “The lash of the dictator will be felt, and 25 million free American citizens will for the first time submit themselves to a fingerprint test.” One of your Senate colleagues said the new program would “end the progress of a great country and bring its people to the level of the average European.”

Not that there’s anything wrong with the average European. But isn’t this rhetoric a bit over the top?

Reed: Not at all, Upton. This is simply the reality. As another Republican in our caucus says, “Never in the history of the world has a measure been . . . so insidiously designed as to prevent business recovery, to enslave workers, and to prevent any possibility of the employers providing work for the people.”

Hayek: Secretary Perkins, you don’t look convinced.

Perkins: It’s always the same sob story from the party of wealth. The sky is falling, the lights of freedom are being extinguished, blah blah blah blah blah.

Reed: Plus, the darn thing doesn’t cover enough people.

Perkins and Upton: What?

Reed: It’s only slated to reach a couple hundred thousand Americans in 1940. And with very modest benefits.

Perkins: So your beef with a program you want to kill is that it doesn’t do enough for enough people in need?

Reed: Well, that, plus it’s very complicated and hard to sign up for. Have you seen the lines at the post office? People have no idea what to do. The wait can take hours.

Sinclair: You can’t blast a program for existing and also for being inadequate.

Perkins: Sure you can, Upton, if you’re a Republican. But my real problem with the GOP is different. More than 50 percent of our seniors live in poverty. You see them in the street every day. Charities are overwhelmed. These poor souls have nowhere to turn. They can’t afford food or medicine. And Republicans say there’s nothing the government of a great nation can do.

Hayek: Congressman, what say you?

Reed: Isn’t this socialism, Frances?

Perkins: Absolutely not.

Reed: Come, Secretary Perkins. Isn’t this a teeny-weeny bit of socialism?

Perkins: It’s a load of common sense and decency, is what it is.

Reed: It will discourage people from saving for their own retirement. And it creates incentives for employers to drop any pension coverage they offer now. They’ll assume everyone can just be dumped into the government system.

Perkins: No, congressman, it’ll save companies money by letting them tailor any pensions they offer to work atop the national minimum that Social Security provides. Some basic level of government-funded retirement security is good for business.

Reed: Then why does every thinking businessman in America oppose it?

Perkins: Don’t throw oxymorons at me, Dan. Mark my words: Social Security will end up bigger than anyone today can imagine, even as America grows much, much richer — proving that social insurance and capitalism are mutually reinforcing, not mutually exclusive.

Hayek: Such poetry, Frances — such misguided but lovely-sounding poetry!

Upton: After the break — some Democrats are urging FDR to go big on basic health coverage for every American, too — but the president says we can come back and address that question in a few years. Who’s right? Answers just ahead — when Crossfire returns . . .


By: Matt Miller, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, October 30, 2013

October 31, 2013 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Obamacare, Republicans | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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