We the Teachers

McGovern Criticizes the Carter Doctrine

800px-George_McGovern,_c_1972South Dakota Senator George McGovern, although spectacularly unsuccessful as a Democratic candidate for President in 1972, offered articulate critiques of American foreign policy even after his attempt at national leadership failed. An article McGovern wrote for The Atlantic Monthly in June 1980 shows his willingness to pick apart what he sees as the simplistic thinking of a president from his own party, Jimmy Carter.

By 1980, Carter’s earlier call for a foreign policy based in support of human rights rather than in regard for American interests had been thwarted by a variety of intransigent geopolitical conflicts, notably the rise of a religious nationalism in Iran that contested the rule of the American-backed Shah. After the Shah was deposed, Carter’s decision to admit him to the US for medical treatment provoked a violent reaction in Tehran, where the American embassy was seized and over 60 Americans taken hostage. When the Soviet Union seized this moment to invade Afghanistan, Carter reacted in the manner of earlier presidents presiding during the Cold War, issuing a new doctrine declaring American determination to protect its interests in the middle east: “An attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America, and such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force.”  McGovern criticized Carter for returning to a policy governed by Cold War calculations. He spelled out a number of concerns—“local, regional, and internal to the Soviet Union”—to which, he said, the Carter administration was now “indifferent, caught up as it was in the excitement of unveiling its new doctrine”:

It was almost as if, when the Soviets moved into Afghanistan, we were relieved to find ourselves freed from the complexities of Third World nationalism and the Islamic revival and back on the comfortably familiar turf of a bipolar Cold War world. Once they heard the call of the Carter Doctrine, the Iranians would naturally forget about the shah, the Arabs would forget their differences with Israel, our allies in Western Europe and Japan would gratefully follow our lead, and all would join with us in a grand alliance against Soviet aggression. Now the unwelcome “lesson of Vietnam”–as Daniel Yergin put it, “that ‘fundamental designs’ may be illusory and that global implications may be secondary to local issues”–could also be cast aside. Americans could be patriots again, without bothering to make the troublesome distinction between patriotism and jingoism.

FDR’s D-Day Prayer

At a crucial moment in theFDR-300x200_radio-mike struggle to defeat Nazi Germany, Franklin Roosevelt dispensed with more conventional wartime rhetorical forms and resorted to a public prayer. “My fellow Americans,” he began, “Last night, when I spoke with you about the fall of Rome, I knew at that moment that troops of the United States and our allies were crossing the Channel in another and greater operation. It has come to pass with success thus far. And so, in this poignant hour, I ask you to join with me in prayer.”

Roosevelt’s prayer movingly evokes the urgency and uncertainty of the moment we remember as D-Day. Of course, his prayer expressed all the themes that he would have put into a rousing wartime speech, but it couched them in a form that implicitly acknowledged the contingent hopes of men amid a large historical struggle. It bespoke a kind of humility in the face of enormous odds, and the insufficiency of mere human effort to achieve success in a struggle against worldly powers threatening decent human life. It prepared Americans to endure the long struggle ahead, as Allied forces would fight to take and hold each square foot of Nazi-occupied Europe. Asking the Creator to guide American soldiers, he said:

They will need Thy blessings. Their road will be long and hard. For the enemy is strong. He may hurl back our forces. Success may not come with rushing speed, but we shall return again and again; and we know that by Thy grace, and by the righteousness of our cause, our sons will triumph.

They will be sore tried, by night and by day, without rest-until the victory is won. The darkness will be rent by noise and flame. Men’s souls will be shaken with the violences of war.

For these men are lately drawn from the ways of peace. They fight not for the lust of conquest. They fight to end conquest. They fight to liberate. They fight to let justice arise, and tolerance and good will among all Thy people. They yearn but for the end of battle, for their return to the haven of home.

Reagan Commemorates D-Day at Pointe du Hoc

President_Reagan_giving_speech_on_the_40th_Anniversary_of_D-Day_at_Pointe_du_Hoc,_Normandy,_France,_1984This year marks the 70th anniversary of D-Day—June 6, 1944—when Allied forces landed on the shores of Normandy and began fighting to retake northern continental Europe from Nazi occupation. Today only a few veterans of that battle remain; but on the fortieth anniversary of D-Day, many traveled back to Normand to commemorate this costly but remarkably successful operation, the largest seaborne invasion in history. Before a group of Army Ranger veterans gathered at Pointe du Hoc, the site where they had struggled through a hail of German gunfire to mount the cliffs and destroy a coastal gun battery, President Reagan delivered a moving speech. He praised the courage of the Rangers and of other Allies—British, French, Polish and Canadian—who assured the success of the invasion.

What is most notable about Reagan’s 1984 speech, however, was the public reminder he issued, that “not all that followed the end of the war was happy or planned. Some liberated countries were lost. The great sadness of this loss echoes down to our own time in the streets of Warsaw, Prague, and East Berlin. Soviet troops that came to the center of this continent did not leave when peace came. They’re still there, uninvited, unwanted, unyielding, almost 40 years after the war.”

In contrast to his predecessor Jimmy Carter, who blamed an “inordinate fear of communism” for American failure to consistently promote human rights and to work toward nuclear disarmament, Reagan implicitly announced that the restoration of independence to Soviet-occupied nations would have to precede arms reduction:

We in America have learned bitter lessons from two World Wars. It is better to be here ready to protect the peace, than to take blind shelter across the sea, rushing to respond only after freedom is lost. We’ve learned that isolationism never was and never will be an acceptable response to tyrannical governments with an expansionist intent.

But we try always to be prepared for peace; prepared to deter aggression; prepared to negotiate the reduction of arms; and, yes, prepared to reach out again in the spirit of reconciliation. In truth, there is no reconciliation we would welcome more that a reconciliation with the Soviet Union, so, together, we can lessen the risks of war, now and forever.

Carter Proposes a Foreign Policy in Pursuit of Human Rights

JimmyCarterPortrait2This week we feature another commencement address that signaled a new president’s intention to depart from previous policy. On May 22, 1977, at the graduation exercises of the University of Notre Dame, President Jimmy Carter spoke on “Human Rights and Foreign Policy.”

Carter announced an approach to foreign policy that would engage international issues with the same openness and sense of fair play that he intended to bring to domestic issues. Instead of defending American interests in a world presumed to be often hostile to those interests, he would pursue a human rights agenda in a world that, he suggested, was becoming open to American ideals:

I believe we can have a foreign policy that is democratic, that is based on fundamental values, and that uses power and influence, which we have, for humane purposes. We can also have a foreign policy that the American people both support and, for a change, know about and understand. . . .

We are confident that democracy’s example will be compelling, and so we seek to bring that example closer to those from whom in the past few years we have been separated and who are not yet convinced about the advantages of our kind of life.

We are confident that the democratic methods are the most effective, and so we are not tempted to employ improper tactics here at home or abroad.

We are confident of our own strength, so we can seek substantial mutual reductions in the nuclear arms race. . . .

Democracy’s great recent successes — in India, Portugal, Spain, Greece — show that our confidence in this system is not misplaced. Being confident of our own future, we are now free of that inordinate fear of communism which once led us to embrace any dictator who joined us in that fear. I’m glad that that’s being changed.

For too many years, we’ve been willing to adopt the flawed and erroneous principles and tactics of our adversaries, sometimes abandoning our own values for theirs. We’ve fought fire with fire, never thinking that fire is better quenched with water. This approach failed, with Vietnam the best example of its intellectual and moral poverty. But through failure we have now found our way back to our own principles and values, and we have regained our lost confidence.

LBJ Describes a “Great Society”

Lyndon_B._Johnson,_photo_portrait,_leaning_on_chair,_color_commonsIt is commencement season, and prominent leaders are appearing at colleges and universities across the country to offer words of encouragement and inspiration to new graduates. Few of their speeches will herald so important a shift in America’s public agenda as that made fifty years ago today, when President Lyndon Johnson described his vision of a “Great Society” in a commencement address at the University of Michigan. Nevertheless, Johnson’s speech, in outlining a view of the progressive movement of American history, bears comparison with Franklin Roosevelt’s “Commonwealth Club Address” in 1932. Johnson told young adults coming of age in 1964 that

For a century we labored to settle and to subdue a continent. For half a century we called upon unbounded invention and untiring industry to create an order of plenty for all of our people.

The challenge of the next half century is whether we have the wisdom to use that wealth to enrich and elevate our national life, and to advance the quality of our American civilization.

Your imagination, your initiative, and your indignation will determine whether we build a society where progress is the servant of our needs, or a society where old values and new visions are buried under unbridled growth. For in your time we have the opportunity to move not only toward the rich society and the powerful society, but upward to the Great Society.

The Great Society rests on abundance and liberty for all. It demands an end to poverty and racial injustice, to which we are totally committed in our time. But that is just the beginning. . . .

Leaving Office, Johnson Speaks of the Burdens of the Presidency

Lyndon_Johnson_wiki-commonsAs President Johnson prepared to leave office in January 1969, he delivered his last State of the Union Message to Congress. He used it to review the civil rights reforms and the new programs that had been established during his five years as president, a list that included the Voting Rights Act, the creation of the “Head Start” preschool education program, and the passage of Medicare benefits for senior citizens. But he also alluded wistfully to parts of his agenda he had not been able to accomplish. Largely due to public discontent–especially among those on college campuses–with his Vietnam War policy, Johnson had announced in March 1968 that he would not run for reelection. In retrospect, the most poignant, and arguably the most impressive, section of his speech is its gracious closing:

President-elect Nixon, in the days ahead, is going to need your understanding, just as I did. And he is entitled to have it. I hope every Member will remember that the burdens he will bear as our President, will be borne for all of us. Each of us should try not to increase these burdens for the sake of narrow personal or partisan advantage.

Now, it is time to leave. I hope it may be said, a hundred years from now, that by working together we helped to make our country more just, more just for all of its people, as well as to insure and guarantee the blessings of liberty for all of our posterity.

That is what I hope. But I believe that at least it will be said that we tried.

The 60th Anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education

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Thurgood Marshall argued for the plaintiffs in the case.

Tomorrow, May 17, is the 60th anniversary of a momentous Supreme Court decision: Brown v. Board of Education. The case reversed earlier Supreme Court rulings on the legality of segregation in public facilities—notably Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), a ruling in favor of a Louisiana state law requiring blacks to surrender to whites their seats on trains, and Cumming v. Richmond (Ga.) County Board of Education (1899), in which the Court upheld a school board’s decision to spend money on a high school for whites while closing a high school for blacks.

By 1954, a few judicial victories for desegregated education had been won. Between 1936 and 1950 the NAACP’s Legal Defense and Education fund successfully sued in four instances involving higher education (three involving applicants not admitted to law schools and the fourth involving a black student admitted to a doctoral program but forced to sit apart from white students.) But Brown was the first to successfully sue for desegregation of the public schools children attend, and since the Court consolidated five different cases from several states, the decision would have broad impact. However, the Court did not immediately specify the means by which the plaintiffs would be given relief. It invited the “Attorneys General of the states requiring or permitting segregation in public education” to submit new briefs on this question the following fall:

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Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote the opinion in Brown v. Board of Education.

“Because these are class actions, because of the wide applicability of this decision, and because of the great variety of local conditions, the formulation of decrees in these cases presents problems of considerable complexity. On reargument, the consideration of appropriate relief was necessarily subordinated to the primary question — the constitutionality of segregation in public education. We have now announced that such segregation is a denial of the equal protection of the laws. In order that we may have the full assistance of the parties in formulating decrees, the cases will be restored to the docket, and the parties are requested to present further argument . . . .”

On May 31, 1955, the Court announced a plan by which desegregation was to proceed.

 

The Beginnings of Our Constitution

christyToday and tomorrow, May 14 and 15, are the anniversaries of two linked events in our Founding. On May 15, 1776, the Continental Congress issued a “resolve” to the thirteen colonies: that each “Adopt such a government as shall, in the opinion of the representatives of the people, best conduce to the safety and happiness of their constituents in particular and America in general.” This instruction initiated the effort that all the colonies—soon to be states—would undertake by 1780: the creation of state constitutions. Gordon Lloyd, in his website on the Constitutional Convention, notes that:  “Between 1776 and 1780 each of the thirteen colonies adopted a republican form of government. What emerged was the most extensive documentation of the powers of government and the rights of the people that the world had ever witnessed.” He goes on to say that “These state constitutions displayed a remarkable uniformity. Seven attached a prefatory Declaration of Rights, and all contained the same civil and criminal rights. Four states decided not to “prefix” a Bill of Rights to their constitutions, but, instead, incorporated the very same natural and traditional rights found in the prefatory declarations. New York incorporated the entire Declaration of Independence into its constitution.”

The resulting state governments were “robust and healthy,” Lloyd notes. After the Continental Congress created a government linking all the new states—the Articles of Confederation—a conflict arose, becoming particularly noticeable after independence was secured. The state governments were more powerful than the “late arriving, weak and divisive continental arrangement.” Statesmen such as Washington and Hamilton were frustrated that the Articles could not easily compel states to comply with the articles of peace with Great Britain or easily regulate interstate commerce. Madison worried that overbearing majorities in the state legislatures “were passing laws detrimental to the rights of individual conscience and the right to private property. And there was nothing that the union government could do about it because the Articles left matters of religion and commerce to the states,” Lloyd writes. So an initiative began to convene representatives of the states in Philadelphia to discuss ways of improving the Articles of Confederation.

Gordon Lloyd

Professor Gordon Lloyd

The date appointed for the opening of the convention in Philadelphia was May 14, 1787.

Gordon Lloyd’s website on the Constitutional Convention amasses a wealth of information and resources useful for student research. A comprehensive online collection of information on the Convention, it presents the facts of the Founding in multiple ways, adaptable to different learning styles.

 

 

Jefferson Explains the Purpose of the Declaration

20120115025846!Thomas_Jefferson_by_Rembrandt_Peale,_1800On this day in 1825, Thomas Jefferson wrote a letter in response to a query from Henry Lee on the purpose of the Declaration of Independence. Jefferson was known as the primary author of that document. His account of what the Declaration intended emphasizes that the principles it expressed were shared by all those supporting the Revolutionary cause. It was “an expression of the American mind,” he said, one that synthesized ideas drawn not only from political philosophers read by Americans but also from the colonists’ own experience. The Declaration was to express “the common sense of the subject.” Having been allowed during much of the colonial period to govern their own affairs semi-autonomously, Americans had arrived at an understanding of their own rights. These rights, and America’s assertion of independence, rested on principles that the Declaration made clear.

Lyndon Johnson Fights Two Wars: One on Poverty, the Other on Communist Expansion

LBJ_NARAviaWikiCommonsWhen Lyndon Johnson appeared before a joint session of the House and Senate to deliver his third State of the Union Address, he pressed the need for two different policy priorities: one domestic, and the other military. Two years before, he had announced his determination to fight a war on poverty. Later in the same year he had requested Congressional authorization to increase the US military engagement in Vietnam. By now, Johnson’s critics were pointing out a conflict between the two agendas; the nation did not have the resources to fight a war on poverty and a war in Vietnam at the same time, they said. In his speech on January 12, 1966, Johnson acknowledged the difficulty: “Because of Vietnam we cannot do all that we should, or all that we would like to do.” He promised that his administration would “attack waste and inefficiency” in an effort to stretch the federal dollar. But he insisted on pressing forward on both the domestic and defensive fronts. He argued that the war in Vietnam was necessary to defend American freedom, while the war on poverty, he implied, preserved the justice of the American experiment:

There are men who cry out: We must sacrifice. Well, let us rather ask them: Who will they sacrifice? Are they going to sacrifice the children who seek the learning, or the sick who need medical care, or the families who dwell in squalor now brightened by the hope of home? Will they sacrifice opportunity for the distressed, the beauty of our land, the hope of our poor?

Time may require further sacrifices. And if it does, then we will make them.

But we will not heed those who wring it from the hopes of the unfortunate here in a land of plenty.

I believe that we can continue the Great Society while we fight in Vietnam. But if there are some who do not believe this, then, in the name of justice, let them call for the contribution of those who live in the fullness of our blessing, rather than try to strip it from the hands of those that are most in need. . . . .

King Explains the Strategy of Nonviolence

Martin_Luther_King,_Jr._NobelFoundationIn recalling the leadership of Dr. Martin Luther King, we most often call to mind the moving rhetoric of his sermons and public speeches. But King was also adept at clear and dispassionate analysis, as is seen in this essay published in Ebony magazine in May 1966. Here he reviewed what had been accomplished by the non-violent civil rights movement centered in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference he led, describing its philosophy and methods. He also looked ahead to the work he thought the group now needed to undertake:  alleviating poverty, particularly in America’s center cities, where the majority population was generally African American. In King’s view, poverty in the Northern inner city was an injustice equal to the denial of civil rights in the South, and he saw a role for African Americans in changing the conscience of America with regard to this poverty.

For high school classroom analysis, a particularly interesting portion of the essay begins under the heading “Strategy for Change.” This section explains the reasons King insisted on a nonviolent strategy in his movement. It then goes on to outline the new challenges presented by the effort to fight poverty. Here are excerpts:

The American racial revolution has been a revolution to “get in” rather than to overthrow. . . . If one is in search of a better job, it does not help to burn down the factory. If one needs more adequate education, shooting the principal will not help, or if housing is the goal, only building and construction will produce that end. . . . The nonviolent strategy has been to dramatize the evils of our society in such a way that pressure is brought to bear against those evils by the forces of good will in the community and change is produced. . . .

So far, we have had the Constitution backing most of the demands for change, and this has made our work easier . . . . Now we are approaching areas where the voice of the Constitution is not clear. . . . The Constitution assured the right to vote, but there is no such assurance of the right to adequate housing, or the right to an adequate income. And yet, in a nation which has a gross national product of 750 billion dollars a year, it is morally right to insist that every person has a decent house, an adequate education and enough money to provide basic necessities for one’s family. Achievement of these goals will be a lot more difficult and require much more discipline, understanding, organization and sacrifice.

 

Malcolm X Rejects Nonviolent Strategy

Malcolm_X_NYWTS_4As President Johnson’s proposed civil rights legislation slowly moved through Congress during the spring of 1964, Malcolm X expressed cynicism about its prospects in speeches to his followers (see, for example, “The Ballot or the Bullet.”) Once a leading spokesman of the Nation of Islam, a religious-political movement claiming adherence to Islamic principles but actually a hybrid mixing Islamic ideas with a Black Nationalist political agenda, Malcolm X had recently broken with the group after becoming disillusioned with its charismatic leader Elijah Muhammad. But Malcolm continued to espouse the group’s goal of Black separatism, which he envisioned taking place through return to the African homeland. Until this could be achieved, Malcolm X counseled his followers to cooperate with the civil rights movement’s goal of asserting Constitutionally guaranteed rights for African Americans, but not its nonviolent strategy.

In a press conference speech directed at a wider national audience, Malcolm X explained his split with the Nation of Islam, his plan to found a new mosque in New York City, and his position on the civil rights movement. Below is an excerpt showing a key difference between his views and those of Martin Luther King. (In our next blog post, we will highlight King’s argument for a nonviolent strategy.)

Concerning nonviolence: it is criminal to teach a man not to defend himself when he is the constant victim of brutal attacks. It is legal and lawful to own a shotgun or a rifle. We believe in obeying the law.

In areas where our people are the constant victims of brutality, and the government seems unable or unwilling to protect them, we should form rifle clubs that can be used to defend our lives and our property in times of emergency, such as happened last year in Birmingham; Plaquemine, Louisiana; Cambridge, Maryland; and Danville, Virginia. When our people are being bitten by dogs, they are within their rights to kill those dogs.

We should be peaceful, law-abiding—but the time has come for the American Negro to fight back in self-defense whenever and wherever he is being unjustly and unlawfully attacked.

If the government thinks I am wrong for saying this, then let the government start doing its job.

George Ball Counsels Against Build-up in Vietnam

GeorgeWildmanBall

Under Secretary of State George Ball

After the Gulf of Tonkin resolution (August 1964) gave Congressional sanction for greater US military involvement in Vietnam, President Johnson authorized a bombing campaign against North Vietnam. The North was sending personnel and supplies through Laos into South Vietnam to support guerilla forces called “Viet Cong” who sought to overthrow the government in the South and unite the country under a communist regime. Johnson hoped the bombing campaign would persuade the North to withdraw its troops. But when a year of bombing failed to change the North’s resolve, Johnson prepared to send large numbers of American troops to South Vietnam.

In the policy discussion surrounding the decision to escalate the war effort, a lone dissent was raised by Under Secretary of State George Ball. Between May 1964 and May 1966, Ball wrote more than 20 memoranda challenging the increasing American involvement in Vietnam. A good short sample of his hard-edged analysis is this paper, titled “Cutting our Losses in South Vietnam,” submitted to Secretary of State Dean Rusk and Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara on June 28, 1965. Arguing that South Vietnam was peripheral to American interests, that the South Vietnamese government we were supporting lacked popular support, and that the US military was ill-prepared to wage war in jungle terrain against a determined guerilla opponent, Ball recommended a slowly staged American withdrawal:

Admittedly, such a withdrawal would create short-term problems . . . but by taking prompt and effective defensive and affirmative measures we should be able to avoid any serious long-term consequences. By and large, the world knows that the government in Saigon is a joke, and if our withdrawal resulted from an effort to face this problem squarely, friendly nations would not interpret it as a US failure to keep its commitments. More likely most nations would consider that we had more than kept our commitments to Vietnam—and that our decision to force the issue of stability was a mark of prudence and maturity.

The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution

Lyndon_B._Johnson_-_Official_White_House_PortraitDuring the Kennedy administration, the US became minimally involved in a civil war in Vietnam, sending military advisors to assist the South Vietnamese in countering efforts, supported by North Vietnam, to unify Vietnam under a communist government.

Unlike the event that triggered large-scale military involvement in Korea—the invasion of the south from the northern part of a divided country—the episode that triggered a gradually escalating US military involvement in Viet Nam could be described as an isolated attack. North Vietnamese torpedo boats attacked the US Destroyer Maddox, on August 2, 1964 in the Gulf of Tonkin off North Vietnam.  Attacks reported to have taken place on the Maddox and another Destroyer, the Turner Joy, on August 4 appear not to have taken place, although this was not known for certain at the time.

President Johnson announced the attacks in a television address to the American people on the night of August 4. The next day he sent Congress a request for “a resolution expressing the unity and determination of the United States in supporting freedom and in protecting peace in Southeast Asia.”

Congress passed a resolution on August 10, now known as the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, stating that the United States was prepared to use “all necessary steps, including the use of armed force,” as the President determined, to defend states in southeast Asia asking for assistance.

In the light of more recent history of US military intervention overseas, the last paragraph of this message makes interesting reading:

The events of this week would in any event have made the passage of a congressional resolution essential. But there is an additional reason for doing so at a time when we are entering on 3 months of political campaigning. Hostile nations must understand that in such a period the United States will continue to protect its national interests, and that in these matters there is no division among us.

 

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