Monday, December 12, 2005

History In Context


Morton Keller wrote an interesting piece in the Wall Street Journal, entitled “None Dare Call It Conspiracy”. What I found particularly interesting, is that while he and I agree in the general theme that Presidents are often blamed for making the hard calls in military decisions, in at least one major case he and I differ on the evidence and what it meant.

Historian John Toland, whom Keller dismisses as “eccentric”, wrote a book in 1982 entitled "Infamy", which detailed the evidence concerning whether President Roosevelt knew about Japan’s plans to attack Pearl Harbor in advance of the raid, and whether he meant to use the attack as the flashpoint to bring the United States into the Second World War. Keller dismissed, unfairly I think, a great deal of testimony and evidence which indicated there was intelligence indicating that Japan was on its way to attack Pearl Harbor, especially the “Winds” intercept as testified by Laurence Safford, a naval officer of quite literally unimpeachable character and veracity. The reason I find this rejection unreasonable, is not because I believe that FDR or his Administration did indeed comprehend that an attack by Japan was imminent, but that the nature of the command structure, the political discussions between the United States and Japan, the communication process of the day, and other salient factors which influenced the decisions and statements made by the Roosevelt Administration in late 1941. People who are familiar with the documents and testimony were therefore left even further convinced of FDR’s complicity, because historians like Keller rejected them without proper inspection, and historians like Toland applied them without considering the appropriate context. As an example, Toland also noted the creation and demise of the “modus vivendi” which could have completely prevented a Japan-America war, or at least delayed its inception by a year or more, which demonstrates that the Roosevelt Administration, while hopeful of finding a reason for the United States to enter the war against Germany, was not inclined to seek a reason to also fight Japan. Indeed, the allocation of resources and planning is sufficient to indicate that Rosoevelt did not seriously anticipate war with Japan, and so could not fairly be accused of trying to bring it about.

The relevance between Toland’s contentions and evidence, Keller’s article, and my opinion as regards the Iraq War, is that same crucial need to understand context. As of 2002, It was well-known that Saddam Hussein had not only developed Weapons of Mass Destruction, but had used them, both in war and against his own citizens. The discovery in 1991 of further-than-anticipated progress in WMD research further alarmed Coalition nations, and the Cease-Fire included specific mandatory requirements as a condition to prevent resumption of hostilities. The fact that Hussein’s Baath government had, by 1998, fired on Coalition aircraft, attempted to assassinate George H.W. Bush, and had not only obstructed but physically threatened them, all constituted violations of the Cease-Fire, which led to the 1998 Act of Congress declaring Regime Change in Iraq the official policy of the United States government, which President Bill Clinton signed into law. The 2002 votes in Congress gave clear authorization for the war, based on information which both the President and leaders in both major political parties saw and evaluated. These are the facts which formed the context and consensus of the 2002 decision to go to war.

The reason Conservatives find the Democrats’ wailing on Iraq hypocritical, is because the Democrats saw the same information, in the same context, as the Administration, and their own statements bear out that they reached the same conclusions as to the threat posed by Saddam and the Baath regime in Iraq. But now that they perceive a possible political benefit to lying, the leadership of the Democratic Party sees no problem in putting a trick ahead of the national interest. If the Mainstream Media were not complicit, this could not work for the Democrats, but the sort of people willing to try to sway a Presidential election with forged documents are hardly going to object on moral grounds to lying about the facts of a major military decision. Fortunately, in the age of Information the facts are retrievable, and prove the matter in both point and context. The decision to invade Iraq was the most legitimate and fully-informed decision made by the Congress and President in cooperation in the last 60 years, and nothing the Democrats claim now can change that.

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