What might have been

Posted on September 15th, 2016 in American Hegemony,Books,Capitalism,Climage Change,Economy,Education,War by Robert Miller
Children with gas masks 1941 in Great Britain

Fig 1  Children with gas masks 1941 in Great Britain

This is the story of what might have been, had FDR stayed alive to finish his fourth term as the President of the United States, he died just as his fourth term was beginning on April 12, 1945. This story begins in the more modern days of Global Climate Change and “Black Lives Matter.” Had FDR been around to finish his fourth term, things might have gone very differently: we might have avoided the Cold War. Let me say at the outset that I regard the Cold War as the most senseless, the most costly, the most wasteful thing that was ever perpetrated on the human soul. In addition to its cost [we are spending more than a trillion dollars every year] part of which is to support our nuclear capability. Now, Obama has recently announced that we will spend a trillion dollars to “modernize” our nuclear arsenal; creating in the process much smaller ‘bombs,’ the use for which has not yet been specified. Where is the logic in this? We should be putting all of our energy into getting rid of the Nukes, so at least some us can get some sleep. So far this news has not been contested by the American public, who will have to pay for this enhancement, while our roads and bridges continue to erode. We will miss the opportunity to invest in education and training to help advance our students and prepare them for better lives. We are still living with the dangerous aftermath of the nuclear arms race and no one knows if or when we will successfully mitigate the danger that these threats pose. World-wide I count the total number of lethal warheads at 15,493; the United States (7100), Russian Federation (formerly the Soviet Union, 7300), France (300), India (110), Great Britain (210), China (210), Israel (80), Pakistan (120), North Korea (8); [See Fig 2]

The number of Nukes still threatening the stability of our planet; based on national distribution

Fig 2. The number of Nukes still threatening the stability of our planet; based on national distribution

all of these nations have placed our civilization in a perilous future, one that has no guarantee that we will emerge from this nightmare with our bodies intact rather than be instantly  vaporized.   Should a single one of these be fired accidently or not, the whole array of these missiles might go off in some horrified, modified synchrony and in doing so eliminate all human life on this planet; perhaps we will go back to a state where only bacteria will survive and we will restart the life’s cycle all over again. Conceivably we might already have done this and we are currently enjoying life the second time around like Bill Murray’s rendition of Groundhog day.

The reader might ask, quite sensibly, why the author of this posting would wander back and revive interest in a President that has been dead for more than seventy years. But that is when the Cold War started and we have a special responsibility, because most of the blame for starting the Cold War falls on our shoulders:  we have to face the fact that We Started The Cold War.

Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning

These are the words Churchill used when the Battle of Britain was safely concluded in November 1942 at which time Pearl Harbor had already taken place, so the Americans were in the war, alongside Great Britain. Although it didn’t seem so at the time, it proved to be prophetic projection to the end of WW II; even though there would be many more years of bloodshed and the final blow of WW II would not be struck by the British, or the French, or the Americans, but it would be the Russians, who, against all odds defeated the vaunted sixth German army at the battle of Stalingrad; from that moment on it would be the Red Army, including the tank battle of Kursk that further destroyed the German army’s capacity to make war, and allowed the Russians to march right into Berlin, though they would pay an enormous price along the way: the final tally was 27 million Russians dead [mostly civilians, I recently heard a professor of Russian history proclaim that the death toll for the Russians in WW II could be as high as 40 million]. I mention this because far to few Americans are aware of the fact that Russia won WW II. Hitler send upwards of 200 divisions into the war against the Russians, but the most the allies faced was 10-15 divisions in the wars in Africa and Sicily; event in Sicily was a bloodbath for the Americans and British.

What I really want to talk about

I will come back to WW II later, but first I want to paint the full panoply of the collective threats we face today.

It seems to me and to many others I know, that the world is on fire, not just because of our many failures related to war on “terror,” and there are many of these, but also plaguing us is the incomplete recovery from the Great Recession, that has introduced all of us to the deficiencies of globalization, which concentrates too much wealth into the hands of those that don’t need it and don’t spend it appropriately. The most recent data, released very recently suggests that improvements in median income rose 5.2 % in 2015, but we will need to see a steady progress of these years, before we get too excited.

This is one reason that Donald J. Trump has has staked out a claim to be the President of of the United States. With all the uncertainties in this race, and the fact that the polls seem to be narrowing, he just might win the election, even though right now he has a special talent for inducing people not to like him at all.

Economy

What the economy needs right now is lots spending from people that don’t have too much money to spend; in other words on our way to rebuilding the Middle class we have to spend a lot more time putting money in the hands of people who will spend it like there is no tomorrow. One important function of government is to insure full employment and at this we have failed miserably; this simple economic fact finds the Republican Party in complete denial, but the Democrats have participated in this as well. Why do you suppose that so many Democrats do not like labor unions, the very backbone of the New Deal? Until the Democrats learn to embrace labor unions and embrace them wholeheartedly they will always face close elections. If you read Thomas Frank’s new book Listen, Liberal: Or, What Ever Happened to the Party of the People?: you will understand why Democrats have abandoned labor unions, largely attributed to the Presidencies of Bill Clinton and Barack Obama; Thomas Frank’s new book is available on Amazon.com. Thomas Frank also wrote What’s the Matter with Kansas?: How Conservatives Won the Heart of America also available on Amazon.com; this latter book is the story the flip side of “Listen Liberal” about how conservatives won the hearts of America without doing much to earn their status, primarily through the culture wars of anti-abortion, anti-feminism and anti-whatever.  Two groups that should be at each other’s throats were at peace until the this year when all Hell broke lose. 

Climate Change

In addition to these issues there is the matter of climate change which keeps fires in the West, going all year long; this is new, there are no longer dry spells, no time off for wildland fire fighters (WFF). Many of these raging fires threaten the wildland fire fighters themselves, who are seriously threatened by smoke inhalation, heat stress, water shortage and other risks associated their dangerous profession. I hope the pay is good because we expect a lot more of these fires in the future.  In the period of 2000-2013 over 300 wildland fire fighters lost their lives pursuing their hazardous line of duty.  The climate change horror is not confined to fires in the West, but we have experienced record temperatures and we are now are acclimated to the idea that every year we break the record highs that were established the year before. This has gone on for several years now. The excess carbon dioxide we put in the air has made the oceans more acidic and coral reefs have started to disappear. We have no idea what else we doing to our oceans (latest is carbon dioxide reading is 403.99 ppm). Bill Gibbons, head of 350.org, pegs the appropriate target number at 350 ppm, hence the name.

Only about 10% of the ocean has been explored by humans. The oceans have emerged as a ‘new’ frontier of opportunity for green jobs and inclusive growth. An estimated 61 percent of the world’s total GNP comes from areas within 100 kilometers of the coastline, and the oceans as a whole provide 16 percent of the global population’s animal protein intake. Healthy, bio-diverse, and economically productive oceans are essential for food security, jobs, and the sustainable quality of

This graph shows rising levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere, rising CO2 levels in the ocean, and decreasing pH in the water off the coast of Hawaii. Credit: NOAA PMEL Carbon Program (Link)

Fig 3. This graph shows rising levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere, rising CO2 levels in the ocean, and decreasing pH in the water off the coast of Hawaii.
Credit: NOAA PMEL Carbon Program (Link)

life on earth. We need to develop strong international agreements about over-fishing and bring this matter under more strict international understanding. However given the over-fishing we have committed over the 20th  century I don’t have any real confidence in how we will scale back to intelligently manage our ocean environment. Many ocean species have been driven nearly to extinction, perhaps the prime example is the cod fisheries around Nova Scotia, where one observer commented that ‘you could walk across a sea of cod’ earlier in this century.  Once they began fishing with deep trawlers that went to the bottom, they were harvesting cod breeders and so, mysteriously, the cod started to disappear. I have written about cod in a previous missive here.

The oceans cover 71% of the surface of the earth. We are only beginning our study of the oceans and we have no time to think about these matters before addressing global climate change. What we need is a hundred or more years to study the ocean, but we have run out of time. Is that the final destiny of man…..running out of time before we get things right? Are we in a competition between rational and irrational people? Are we going to fail because of good old fashioned greed? At least one-quarter of the carbon dioxide (CO2), released by burning coal, oil and gas doesn’t stay in the air, but instead dissolves into the ocean. Since the beginning of the industrial era, the ocean has absorbed some 525 billion tons of CO2 from the atmosphere, presently around 22 million tons per day. Already, ocean acidification has lowered the pH of the ocean by about 0.11 units. Moving the ocean’s pH from 8.179 to a current pH of 8.069, which means the ocean is about 30% more acidic now than it was in 1751. If nothing is done to reduce carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere, ocean acidification will increase and more corals will be damaged or destroyed.  The term ‘ocean acidification’ was first coined in 2003, which gives you some idea about how recently our attention has shifted on this matter. Before 2003, we thought ocean acidification was a good thing, because it buffered the atmospheric CO2. The acidification of the ocean has proceeded faster than any known change in ocean chemistry in the last 50 million years. What effect this will have on the ocean’s biota we have no clue. It took millions of years to establish the present ocean flora and fauna and we are in the process of destroying the nature’s balance in less than a century. Many chemical reactions, including those that are essential for human life, are sensitive to small changes in pH. In humans, for example, normal blood pH ranges between 7.35 and 7.45, and changes based on whether you are measuring venous or arterial blood. A drop in blood pH of 0.2-0.3 can cause seizures, comas, and even death. Similarly, a small change in the pH of seawater can have harmful effects on marine life, impacting chemical communication, reproduction, and growth. Ocean acidification is sometimes called “climate change’s equally evil twin.” Although some have claimed that there are more jellyfish in the ocean, I haven’t been able to find a study that clearly establishes whether this is due to ocean acidification. It may take a long time for such a study to emerge: studies of this nature are almost impossible to carry out.

Economy and Politics

Had we been  investing more rationally by putting more resources  into the Poor and Middle Class, who spend most of what they earn, we wouldn’t be fooling around with Donald Trump as a viable threat to our political  future. Indeed, the failure of our economy to make a robust recovery from the Great Recession can be attributed to a single fact: too much wealth into the hands of people who spend too little. Let me provide you with an example of what can be achieved in other countries: [from Joel Rogers  The Progressive July/August 2016, Joel Rogers is a professor of sociology at the University of Wisconsin, Madison; he recently won a MacArthur ‘Genius Grant’] A hotel house cleaner in Denmark “after taxes she’s not making much more than a house keeper in the United States. The difference is she doesn’t need a zillion cars to get to work. She can use a high-quality state-of-the-art-transit. Her young kid is in a beautiful day-care system full of love and laughter. The kid’s education is assured.  If she gets sick she can stay home without fear of losing her job. And if she wants a better job, she can easily get the training and the employment services to land it”

The goal for all cities should, Roger’s says should be to lower the cost of living and have great public services. If we build all that infrastructure, individually we don’t need much money to live on. So which model should we follow? Denmark or that of the USA? Until Bernie Sanders came along we might have thought this was pie-in-the-sky thinking. But then Bernie Sanders did come  and voilà the revolution started with the millennials and I don’t think it can be stopped, despite what Chris Hedges says.

Donald Trump is the fascist that arrived on our doorstep when we were distracted by the economy and didn’t see the encroaching destruction of the Republican party. If ever there was a party in need of destruction, it’s the Republican party as it’s presently comprised. If we can get through the Trump scare, the Republican party might just be forced to get real. As the election proceeds, it seems that Trump himself does not understand the fascism that he will bring to the table if elected. He wants us to treat him like the savior that he isn’t. If you want to see an assessment of Trump by his Co-author, Tony Schwartz who single-handedly wrote the The Art of The Deal, which became a huge bestseller then go to his article in the New Yorker. Tony Schwartz refers to Donald J. Trump as a sociopath. Trump now claims he wrote the book all by himself [apparently, lying comes naturally to him, it seems to be part of his psychological makeup]. Lately there has been concern that if Trump is elected, he just might be the unreliable as a person who could pull the nuclear trigger and make the planet go away. At his first interview on national security briefing, he kept asking “why [do] we have nuclear weapons if we don’t use them.”

Republican Party

The Republican party is literally imperiling the chances of human survival on this small planet; for every decade the we waste with inaction, we get closer to the point of irreversibly, in which no matter what we do to mitigate the effects of climate change, we will have reached a  state in which changes will proceed, as if scheduled  by an independent doomsday clock. At that point there will be nothing we can do about it. The accord reached in Paris last year is a start, but we have to realize that scientists who deal with these issues tell us that the Paris accords do not come close to meeting the requirements that will be necessary to hold climate change to 1 degree Celsius. In fact the Paris accord is more like 2 0r 3 degree Celsius, meaning we have a ways to go. Already countries like the Republic of Maldives, which consists of a region of 26 atolls in the Indian ocean, are threatened by rising oceans that could spell their doom and we can safely assume there is no emergency plan to take their citizens to regions that don’t face the same threats. How will we deal with these people in the future? Sink or swim? Latest temp increase is 0.87 (global)°C, or about 1.56 degrees F; so far the increased volume of the ocean can be attributed to thermal expansion by the increase in temperature, but if the Greenland ice sheets melt, and so far they are way ahead of schedule, it will mean an increase level of sea rise by about 6 ft. Your favorite city may be underwater.

In a recent interview with Noam Chomsky on Democracy Now, he stated that Republican Party is the most dangerous party in history. He has very good reasons for being so emphatic; it is due to their complete denial of global climate change, as well as the Republican emphasis on the threat of Iran developing an atomic bomb, or worse, a thermonuclear (hydrogen bomb) device.  All of the Republicans promise to wipe out the new diplomatic agreement with Iran the moment they come to office. It is worth emphasizing that Iran does not have a single nuclear bomb. But the motivation for developing a nuclear device is for the purpose of parity with the U.S and Israel; with that achievement under their belt they will be guaranteed to be left alone and perhaps become a threat to their neighbors.  Republicans need to get over the fact that when we deposed their democratically elected Mossadegh (1953 Iranian coup d’état), the citizens of Iran got pissed off and, though it took more than two decades of citizens exposed to torture by the Shah’s SAVAK to throw off the shackles of our American version of colonialism to control Iranian oil, they finally revolted in 1979 and overthrew the Shah.  The Republicans are upset because Iran violated the conditions of American hegemony. It’s as simple as that. [Most politicians inside the Republican party have indicated they would not live up to the accords reached in the Paris last year, on reducing CO2 levels in the atmosphere]. What more can President Obama do?

Children with gas masks WW II Great Britain

Fig 4. Children with gas masks in WW II Great Britain

Roosevelt and Stalin

And with the British government, having voted to in favor of Brexit, coupled with the rise of Donald Trump as the Republican nominee, things appear Topsy-Turvy in Mudville tonight. Yet, things might have been very different if FDR had lived long enough to complete his fourth term as President. A refreshing book by Susan Butler, entitled “Roosevelt and Stalin: Portrait of a Partnership, published by Alfred Knop (2015). This is a fascinating read. In that book, based on the author’s own scholarly search through the archives of Stalin’s notes to FDR, coupled with a thorough review of messages sent from FDR to Stalin, a picture emerges of two strong leaders, with Roosevelt having modified Stalin’s world view to such an extent that he was in the process of transforming Stalin into something more representative of a great leader, in charge of a great country.  At that time in his life after just returning from Yalta, Roosevelt was also focused on how he would set up the United Nations, his pet project that he hoped could be a force for settling  international conflicts peacefully. But when Roosevelt died Truman took over and promptly started the Cold War and the world would never be the same again. All of us have suffered because of the actions Truman took as Roosevelt died too early before the United Nations could get off the ground. When the United Nations finally got underway a few months (October 1945) after Roosevelt died there was an atmosphere of suspicion and antagonism between Stalin and the rest of the world who now viewed him with suspicion and regarded him as the antitheses of a great leader and a peacemaker. As a result the United Nations never had a chance of becoming the institution that Roosevelt had intended it to be;  when Truman chewed out foreign secretary Molotov, just weeks after FDR died, the Cold War began in earnest and it would dominate the Soviet-American relationship until the Soviet Union collapsed under the leadership of Gorbachev; right off the bat the UN did not prevent wars, but instead participated in them in support of US policy initiatives. Their first war was the Korean War, and, let’s face it, we have been on a war-like footing ever since. It certainly didn’t stop the Americans from invading whatever country was next on our smorgasbord of nations to invade and the invasion madness continues to this day, though we do finally have a president that hates wars, although he has been incapable of stopping the wars that he inherited from the previous Bush administration.

FDR

Fig 5. FDR

FDR encouraged Stalin to drop the Comintern (the revolutionary arm of the USSR government that stimulated revolution in every country) and Roosevelt was able to convince Stalin that he needed to give his people freedom of religion so his citizens could attend any church without fear of reprisal from Moscow. In his 1941 State of the Union address, he emphasized four freedoms, including

  1. Freedom of speech
  2. Freedom of worship
  3. Freedom from want
  4. Freedom from fear

The first two freedoms are guaranteed by the First Amendment in the Constitution of the United States.  A famous quote from the speech prefaces those values: “As men do not live by bread alone, they do not fight by armaments alone.” In the second half of the speech, he lists the benefits of democracy, which include economic opportunity, employment, social security, and the promise of “adequate health care” [interruption by the war did not allow FDR to finish off his plans for establishing a Federal Healthcare System. He would leave that for Truman, but when Truman assumed the mantle of the presidency he was shocked to learn that congress rejected the concept of universal heath insurance for all Americans]. Roosevelt’s inclusion of the latter two freedoms went beyond the traditional Constitutional values protected by the U.S. Bill of Rights. Roosevelt endorsed a broader human right to economic security and anticipated what would become known decades later as the “human security” paradigm in social science and economic development.  He also included the “Freedom from Fear” against national aggression and took it to the new United Nations he was setting up. Few people remember that the idea behind the United Nations was Roosevelt’s plan and the reason that it has become so hated by the Republican Party is the same reason that the U.S. failed to join the League of Nations, right after WW I, when Woodrow Wilson tried to push it through the US Senate. Roosevelt managed to secure passage by the U.S. Senate, but that was in the early years before the deluge of the left, brought about by Henry Wallace’s defeat in the 1948 election, which was one of the sorriest outcomes in the history of our democracy. The Red-baiting that took place in that election was between two democratic parties, Truman vs Wallace, the forces behind Truman assured that the public would not accept support by Wallace and “his communist party colleagues.” The impact of that election guaranteed that the Progressives vs the Trumanites, would unleash the forces that would soon be underway, led by Senator Joseph McCarthy. The election of 1948 prevented any rational discussion of Communism, socialism or any other form of government. It left the way open for our toxic form of capitalism that we have today. TINA: There Is No Alternative

Roosevelt Appreciated in Russia 

One year after Roosevelt’s death, (Roosevelt died on April 12, 1945), an enormous crowd gathered around the US Embassy in Moscow to honor FDR and all he meant to the people of Russia. For the Russians, they were understandably shocked when they realized that FDR had been one of their few friends they had in U.S. Government; the others you could count on the fingers of one hand, but it included men like Henry Wallace, Henry Stimson and George Marshall, all big hitters at the time, but not all for the same reason.  The crowd stayed for many hours before going home in the dark. Roosevelt died too early before he had an opportunity to see the beginning of the United Nations, which was a plan that he had nurtured, along with his management of the war. But now that the war was winding down and Truman was suddenly thrust into a position of leadership, for which he was totally unprepared. Another book from which I borrowed for this article is House of War: the Pentagon and the Disastrous Rise of American Power by James Carroll, winner of the National Book Award, published in 2006. James Carroll is in a unique position because his father was a general in the early beginnings of the Pentagon. He witnessed how the budget of the pentagon grew out of competition between the Air Force and the Navy as they battled back and forth to wrestle over who would control the newly developed atomic bomb. But like it or not, no small part of our history has been determined by who would gain upper hand in the battle over “the bomb.”

When FDR demanded that the size of the Pentagon be reduced to half of the original plans. The man in charge of building the Pentagon was General Leslie Groves, who would later oversee the Manhattan project. He took it upon himself to ignore FDR’s insistence that the building be reduced by half and permitted the construction to proceed despite FDR’s insistence.

As I mentioned earlier, the reader might regard the author of this piece as a bit of his Rocker, by going back over territory involving a president that has been dead for more than seventy years! But hear me out—-things would have been very different for certain, because Roosevelt would have successfully steered us away from the Cold War.  Butler’s book makes that point emphatically: FDR intended to share our nuclear technology with Stalin and for that simple reason, Stalin would have been brought into the family of nations as a reliable partner for peace. Just after Roosevelt died, Stalin sent his foreign secretary Molotov to Washington with the idea that the Russians were going to participate in the formation of Roosevelt’s plan to start the United Nations. That visit is the same visit that Truman chewed out Stalin’s emissary for his transgressions in Poland, meaning that he didn’t understand the agreement reached by FDR at Yalta, where he forged out an agreement with Stalin about the Russian understanding for the Government of Poland. Twice in the 20th century Germany had invaded Russia through the Polish corridor: Stalin had every right to insist that a friendly government be installed to prevent Germany or any other country from invading Russia through Poland.  Churchill also seizing on Roosevelt’s sudden demise also backed the idea that Stalin had violated the Polish agreement, which gave additional credence to the story. For those of you suffering from the traditional view of Stalin as a ruthless dictator, he was all that and more: he had people assassinated at the drop of a hat. A famous story about Stalin goes like this: he ordered the assassination of a close associate, but his aides said he had already been shot and Stalin replied “shoot him again posthumously.” But as long as Roosevelt was alive, Stalin, time and again deferred to Roosevelt and strongly supported him as WW II was winding down. The main problem was Poland; Churchill had promised leadership of Poland to those living in England during the war: but Stalin referred to them as ‘terrorists’ and pointed out the they had been supporting the white Russians during the Bolshevik revolution. Stalin forcefully bulldozed through an agreement that allowed partial government representation to the ‘terrorists.’ This was a concession to Roosevelt because Stalin already occupied Poland. He did so because Churchill foolishly forced the US and British soldiers to fight first in Africa the then in Italy, which turned out to be a bloodbath for American and British soldiers. It was nothing like the soft underbelly the Churchill had promised. George Marshall (of the famous Marshall plan) referred to Churchill’s strategy and “periphery pecking.”  Instead of running into Italian soldiers, American soldiers ran into Germany’s finest when they invaded Italy.  Marshall wanted to get to the invasion of France as quickly as possible. But Roosevelt, concerned about making sure that there was strong public support for fighting the war on two fronts, continued to support Churchill while countermanding Marshall. This may have been a mistake on Roosevelt’s part. The American public was finally well aware of Hitler’s faults and probably would have strongly supported an earlier D-Day invasion than Roosevelt anticipated. So it was Truman’s misunderstanding the agreement at Yalta and not the other way around. When Stalin became aware of Truman’s treatment of Molotov he made a slashing move across his throat to indicate that the game was over. Another reason that Stalin was willing to go along with Roosevelt was the promise of a long-term loan to help Russia recover from the war; the initial discussion was for a $20 billion dollar loan. Truman made such a long-term loan to Great Britain to also recover from the war, but in the end Russia was not only cut-off from a US loan, but shortly thereafter reparation payments from Germany would be cutoff as well.

More on WW II

Few people remember that, in order to assist the American effort in the still unresolved war with Japan,  Stalin invaded Manchuria, and promptly destroyed the Kwantung army there  [at the end of the World War II the Russian Army was probably the strongest army in the world, as Stalin seemed to be indifferent to the mounting death toll of Russian soldiers].  Latest efforts of calculating Russian losses from WW II: 27 million, and I recently listened to a professor of Russian history say that Russian losses could be as great as 40 million dead!  The famous victory at Stalingrad, where the vaunted 6th German army had surrendered, marked the beginning of the end for Hitler’s invasion into Russia. The famous Tank battle at Kursk further emphasized the  emergence of superiority of the Red Army celebrated in part by the emergence of the Russian T-34 tank which was a good match for the German Panzers. From Stalingrad forward Hitler’s forces would be in a state of continuous withdrawal, but along the way they torched their way home, destroying and burning everything in sight.

The principal reason why Japan surrendered to end the war in the Pacific, was because they feared the Japanese Empire would be overrun by the Russians and they were already devastated by their war with America and felt that their country could be disintegrated if the war lasted long enough to unravel the entire Japanese Empire. So it was not the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki that ended the war, which is what most Americans believe today, but it was the threat of the impressive victory by the Stalin’s Red Army in Manchuria that convinced Japan to quickly end the war. Yet the mythology that it was the dropping of the atomic bomb persists in the American lore about how WW II ended. If you want to be further informed on this topic watch or read The Untold History of the United States, by Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznik (historian).

Truman and the Cold War

Just to repeat myself for further emphasis: Immediately after FDR’s death Truman accepted the presidency  for which he was totally unprepared.  At the close of the war (WW II), there were two opposing views of what the United States should do? Reading the previously cited book, Roosevelt and Stalin, in which it was made clear that Roosevelt had decided to bring Stalin and the Russian scientists in on the development of the Manhattan project and created a “partner for peace” in the process. He was debating whether he should do so then (just weeks before his death) or wait until we had proof that the bomb would actually work (that would have delayed things until August 1945). Things would have been very different, particularly if Henry A Wallace had been allowed to remain in his post as vice-president, a position which he had from 1940-1944.  FDR allowed Truman to come on board as his vice-president, because he was terrified, remembering what happened with President Wilson at the close of WW I and the failure of the senate to endorse membership in the League of Nations. Roosevelt felt that he would live long enough to make sure we had peace and it was his idea to form the United Nations. Perhaps he would resign his presidency and become the first leader of the United Nations. However, we can blame FDR himself for not preparing Truman adequately for the job, but Truman had already revealed himself to be unfit for the office and woefully unprepared  to fill FDR’s shoes. Truman came out of the Senate; he was elected by the Missouri political machine run by Tom Pendergast, who once remarked when Truman was elected, “I wanted to make sure that a well-oiled machine could send an office boy to the Senate.” Truman was often referred to as the Senator from Pendergast. Perhaps no one could have adequately filled FDR’s shoes, but Truman was a particularly bad choice. Once elected to the senate, he said on the senate floor he said “if we see that Germany is winning we ought to help Russia and if Russia is winning we ought to help Germany and that way let them kill as many as possible” Stalin got wind of that remark and never forgot it.

More War Stories

FDR was a towering figure and skillfully had managed the alliance between Churchill and Stalin as only Roosevelt could do. Yet there was one man who was prepared for this: his name was Henry A. Wallace. Wallace has first served as FDR’s Secretary of Agriculture (1933-1940), where he has been given credit as the best Secretary of Agriculture in history. He started lunch programs to feed poor and encouraged farmers to hold back production so crop prices would stabilize. He is given credit for starting food stamps. Wallace had served as Roosevelt’s vice president, from 1940-1944, and FDR appointed him to head Board of Economic Warfare (BEW) and of the Supply Priorities and Allocation Board (SPAB) in 1941. Both positions became increasingly important once WW II began. Unfortunately Wallace was removed as vice president in 1944 and replaced by Harry Truman, because Roosevelt refused to properly endorse him, by staying away from the 1944 Democratic nominating convention. He was surely conflicted about his decision. In the 1940 nomination process, he refused to consider the Presidency unless Henry Wallace was his vice presidential nominee. It was Eleanor Roosevelt that saved the day when she appeared at the Democratic convention in support of her husband and FDR got what he wanted with Henry Wallace as his running mate. But as a result the Democratic party bosses, who did not like Wallace at all (in those days the Democratic party was tilted towards Southerners who took a dislike to people like Wallace whom they labelled, an apostate Republican and as a doe-eyed mystic who symbolized all that they found objectionable about [what they saw as] the hopelessly utopian, market-manipulating, bureaucracy-breeding New Dealer). However after the election, Wallace was very popular with the public. In 1944 FDR allowed the nomination process to allow Harry Truman to replace Wallace, even though at the first day of the convention, if it had come to a vote, Henry Wallace would have become the vice president—-he was very popular with the labor; he was ideally positioned to replace FDR and his policies would have been a continuation of FDR’s.  At that time labor was the strongest force in the Democratic party: it was a bad choice—-Wallace was much better prepared to assume the mantle of FDR’s leadership—-he was much better prepared to assume that roll than Truman would ever be: it would take Truman more than a lifetime to realize he had blundered during the first part of his presidency by asking Jimmy Byrnes, a known racist and bigoted Senator from South Carolina, to become his Secretary of State. When that happened, the dye was cast for the rest of the century and beyond. When Byrnes attended the meeting of the Council of Foreign Ministers in London he and Foreign Minister Molotov from Russia were continually at loggerheads. At that meeting Byrnes insisted the the American sphere of influence was taken for granted, and it now extended from the Americas, to Western Europe to Japan. But Byrnes denounced the claim of the Soviets for influence in Eastern Europe as ideologically driven and unacceptable. Byrnes was in over his head and his insecurity led to a failure of that meeting. In private, Byrnes equated Stalin with Hitler, an analogy that would soon define American conventional wisdom on that subject.

FDR Death

FDR’s sudden death shocked the nation and the world and left Truman as his replacement totally unprepared to face the dual tasks of keeping the allies going with the war and starting the United Nations. Although you seldom see it mentioned in the history of WW II, one of FDR’s signature achievements during the war was the establishment of the United Nations. But before Roosevelt died on April, 1945, he was engaged in trying to figure out what to do with the atomic bomb and when he would reveal to Stalin the nature of the weapon that would consume much of the world. There is no question that he would reveal the atom bomb secrets to Stalin, it was just a matter of time. Should he wait until the test of the device was successful? It was scheduled to be tested some time in August, 1945, just around the corner. Or should he reveal it now. In hindsight Stalin already knew about the Manhattan Project, because Klaus Fuchs was feeding Stalin details about the program. Klaus was present in the Los Alamos National Laboratory, the epicenter of the Manhattan project and the place where the first atomic explosion took place. In addition, there was another person involved in providing Russians with atomic secrets that was a young Theodore Hall, about whom I have previously written a post 

The alliance between Roosevelt, Stalin and Churchill was never an easy one. Roosevelt insisted that Churchill had to give up his claims against India and the other countries that Churchill and British Empire occupied. But Churchill insisted on keeping the British Empire intact. Churchill was an admitted racist, and was a formidable obstacle to Roosevelt, especially in the details that surrounded the formation of the United Nations. Churchill expressed his racism in many different ways; he road very roughshod over the Indian citizens during the Second World War.    For one thing he forced the Bengali citizens to give up their rice and interred the rice for use to feed others. One of the outcomes of this “Denial Policy” as it was referred to then, was that young able-bodied men signed up for the army as a way to guarantee to maintain their individual  caloric demands. Everyone nowadays understands how brutal the British occupation was of all the countries that waved the British flag.

Black Lives Matter

Added to all onto that, we have the Black Lives Matter problem which, on a weekly basis if not more often, reveals the slaughter of black males and females by what seems to be racist police officers, or, are they just afraid of blacks possessing firearms?  As the first black president, Obama finds himself in a very difficult position: if he talks too negatively about aggressive police actions he is criticized by law enforcement. If he talks more openly in support of his black brothers and sisters and endorses ‘black lives matter,’ he is also draws the ire of the police. Right now police seem to hate him because he doesn’t genuflect in their direction of ‘Law and Order’ or ‘zero tolerance.’ There are other reasons why the police are selectively attacking black Americans—-because, with a black man as president, they take out their rage against the poor blacks who are stopped daily by the police. If we have any chance of stopping this behavior, we must professionalize the police. That will take training and an increase in their salaries.

The End

The forces of nature will soon meet in a head-on crash with our global political system. Will we survive or be thrown into a system of cave-dwellers much like what existed in the earliest days of human existence, when Cro-Magnon was still around. I hope that no one has an illusion that meeting the threat of global climate change will be a piece of cake. Had Roosevelt stayed alive a bit longer, I’m sure we would have avoided the Cold War, and in doing so we could have formed a global network in which all of our efforts would be pointing in the same direction. As it is now, we wasted so many years disinvesting with science [at the start of the Cold War, though Vannevar Bush had tried to establish the National Science Foundation as an umbrella for all science in America, Truman objected to having an unelected person in charge of the NSF, and as a result, American science did not really come into prominence until Sputnik was launched in 1957. I have written numerous posts on Sputnik. If you would like to read one of many goto my search entry and type “sputnik” and you will have a choice of many articles to read, some only tangentially related to Sputnik.

 

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