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tv   Call-in with Michael Beschloss Presidents of War  CSPAN  January 21, 2019 6:17am-6:52am EST

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us here, special for your times. >> have you ever gotten anyone complaining about being in the miami book fair? >> not when it's -- >> no, tremendous. >> in your talk there in texas you were talking about the fact that we have invested a lot of power in the president of the united states and that can affect war judgment? >> yeah, that's for sure and that's what our founders were terrified of because they were really worried that our
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presidents might become like kings of england which was what they were trying to get away from. what they specifically wanted was to make sure that no president could get us into a war single handily or almost overnight and over200 years that's sort of the story of my whole book, i tell the story of 8 or 9 guy who is took us into major wars and in the process grabbed more power for themselves and also possible in our own time for a president to take us into war with little input from congress. >> and you write in your book that they have seized for themselves the pow tore launch large conflicts, it is telling that the last time a president asked donning declare was 1942. >> 1942 and have we had any major in the united states since 1942? congress is supposed to be part of this. what i have found is that presidents have been tempt today get involved in sometimes unnecessary wars over 200 years
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and that's exactly what the founders at the time of the constitution we wanted to make sure to prevent, they failed. >> one of the things that we might not think about and you write about it in presidents of war, the role of james k. polk. >> right, james k. polk in 1840's was a liar, bully, other than that, wonderful. he did a terrible thing which was he -- he manufactured a counterfeit incident in the texas border to provoke mexicans to attack americans and then he went to congress and said we need a major war against méxico, all the way down to méxico city and turns out that we had an ulterior motive that he lied about the congress, lied about even to his own secretary of state which was to try to apply millions of territories so that we americans could for the first time in history become a
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continentallation from atlantic and pacific but what polk did was open the door to presidents essentially getting involved in wars on the basis of instances that really didn't happen, thinking of the names 892, mckinley said let's have a war, turned out that it was not by the spanish but by accident. 1964 tragically lyndon johnson says to congress, unprovoked attack, a couple of weeks later after they pass resolution, johnson realizes that there was no such incident yet based on this resolution, hold vietnam war for the next 9 years killing almost 60,000 americans is waged that the founders would cry. >> michael, have you written extensively about james k. polk? >> this is my first experience with james k. polk, if there are
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members of the polk antidefamation league watching on television i apologize but he basically allowed later presidents to do something that our founders would be absolutely horrified by. >> speaking of which what was the founders' original vision in your view? >> the vision, was, of course, the nation has to go to war but make sure that it's rare, if it happens congress supports it overwhelmingly and the american people do too and james madison, one of the founders, he was the guy who sort of broke the law and ruined all of this, war of 1812, madison got us involved in that, what was the first war we lost, i would say it's the war of 1812 not vietnam. what was the most unpopular war in american history, i would says 812 not vietnam, almost half of congress was against it, new england almost succeeded because they were so angry about this and, yes, this war was
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great victory, the spar spangled banner and andrew jackson in new orleans, don't give up the ship, the glorious victory so-called of 1812 which by the way was failure that james madison was almost hanged by the british, chased him out of washington which they burned, james polk in 1840'ss i want to be a war president too. >> michael, most recent book presidents of war 1807 to modern times, we've covered on several of his books, you can watch all of his past appearances at, let's begin with some calls, 202 is area, 748-800 if you live in east and central sometime zone, 748-8201 in mountain and pacific times zones and james is calling again from south bend, indiana, go ahead with your question or comment,
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james. >> yes, sir, i enjoy your show there, speaking of books and wars, i'd like to get michael's comments on what some call best book ever, bible, the cause of war is greed, the cause of war is sin, and isaiah, trillions -- >> host: where are we headed? james, where are we headed with this? could you -- >> caller: the question is -- yeah, the question is wars would man ever fight for shares of trillions of dollars of tax money and the bible is answer to that, maybe your guest can correlate the two the bible and war? >> host: correlation there?
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>> guest: i'm afraid i'm a political historian. one thing i would say and our caller is touching on this, in the course of history, you know, what do these 8 or 9 presidents have in common who took us in major wars which i write about madison from lbj, one thing is that every single one of them becomes more religious, abraham lincoln when he was a young man was atheist or agnostic or skeptic and he was visited in the white house by someone who knew him and earlier days found him reading the bible and lincoln says, i don't know how a president can get through the trauma of being a war president without finding spiritual comfort. lbj who was sort of a show protestant, no signs of deep spiritual involvement, by the late 60's he was distraught over vietnam war whose daughter lucy converted took him to
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catholic church usually in private and johnson got such comfort from this that lady bird johnson told me later on i wouldn't have been a bit surprised if lyndon had converted to catholicism. >> michael, how insightful was it to talk to lady byrd johnson about lbj? >> unbelievable. she gave her last tv interview to c-span, i think that was around 1999, she loved the interview but felt that she was not quite what she had been before and turned out to be definitive energy, but one thing all war presidents had in common they were all married to strong women and i wish that i could some day say if we ever have to have a war president again the president was married to a strong man, that's something in the future if you'll have me back i will expand the book but she made it possible for lbj to get through that war.
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i'm not psychiatric qualified but lbj tapes that you and i have talked about that are paranoid, angry, he had -- he was very prone to severe depression. she pulled him up and calmed him down and on these tapes johnson, i put these in the book, johnson is saying bobby kennedy and martin luther king are paying in chicago to embarrass me lbj and the reason why students on the campus are protesting the vietnam war is because the soviet and chinese communists are telling them to and the reason why senators like william fulbright are against my cars and stuffing cash into his pocket. that's what he said in private and that was not a president who was sort of operating with a full deck, she made it possible for him to get through that war, you know, in a way that was
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relatively stable, eleanor roosevelt, 1942, fdr was talking about sending japanese americans into camps and she basically said, this isn't necessary for national security, total violation of civil liberties, he did it anyway, the friends thought that was a moment in their marriage that never recovered from and you will note that for the rest of world war ii fdr kept on telling her i really would like to have you home, i'm lonely, i need the company and she went on all the trips, she kept her distance and i'm convinced that one reason for that was that by interning the japanese americans fdr was showing her maybe we don't have same political ideals after all. >> jonathan in milwaukee, wisconsin, you're on with michael beschloss. >> thank you very much for taking my call, i would like to ask about woodrow wilson, in 1916 famously vow today keep our
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country out of war. in the election -- >> which was a lie. >> yes, precisely and his election against charles evans hughes was so close that charles evans hughes went to bed thinking he was president and waking up -- woken up to find out no, california went a different way but i wondered if you -- >> can i -- it's a great point. >> i wondered what you're -- >> go ahead and finish. >> i wonder what your thoughts were if charles evans hughes if he had been elected president how the course of world war i would have been different. >> hard to speculate, he was close to theodore roosevelt who hated woodrow wilson but the one thing to be aware, i'm so glad that you brought up 1916 woodrow wilson whom i think is vastly overrated, he was a horrible
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racist, he was not a man of his time, his two predecessors were far more progressive on civil rights, this is someone who gave comfort to racist in this country, showed birth of nation celebrating celebrating the ku kluz klan in the white house. the other thing that wilson campaigned in 1916 like the caller is saying, you know, would have keptous out of war and he will do the same. he knew that we were going to get involved in that war early in the second term and he was telling a falsehood and what drives me crazy is in that very close election of 1916 the people who made the difference were voters in california specifically women in california who could vote in 1916 and they from everything we know hated the idea of war, loved the idea of peace, voted for wilson because they idealistically expected wilson to bring them
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peace and very soon the second term wilson brings them war and i just hate for our democracy to see a president elected under false pretenses and you can imagine what those women would have thought. >> had woodrow wilson prior to that election had been planning to enter the war? >> he knew we were close, one ship sinking or one incident in the north at lantic by the germans away of getting involved in war and the problem here is that wilson had been writing wonderful books and journal articles when he was academic for decades saying such things as presidents have to be honest and they have to communicate with the people and once he was in power he did almost the opposite, when the war began, he moved toward authoritarianism and passed the espionage act which still in force, allows president to harass journalists
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which criticize him, if you are worried about authoritarian president that's the time they abuse power. presidents and war, they can declare marshal law, you know, you may have gotten as i did a presidential alert announcement so-called on iphones a couple of weeks ago perfectly benign but if a president is able to send you messages on iphone any hour of the day or night during a major war that is beginning that opens up the possibility for authoritarianism. >> and in your book presidents at war michael beschloss writes about liberal democracy, the moment wilson became war president, he grabbed for authority with some of the passion of autocrat claiming that unquestionable powers were absolutely necessary and stepped on civil liberty. tom is calling in from millford, kansas, go ahead, tom, we are listening. >> caller: thank you. two questions, number one, how
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the nuclear age kind of made the idea of full-blown all-out war unthinkable so that congress wouldn't really want to do it and give the president that kind of authority? and the second question is, when was the last time since 1945 that any nation anywhere actually went to a declaration of war against another country? >> guest: no declarations of war since 1942. and we've had a couple of nay juror wars since then so we have a problem, i think it's a violation of the constitution and i'm not suggesting that if god forbid tomorrow there's a cyber-attack or terrorist attack, may god forbid, russian missile comes over the north pole that a president should convene congress and debate it for 2 weeks, that's not what i'm talking about. what i'm talking is if there's a major war of the kind that we have seen in recent years, we are now involved in the war in afghanistan has been for 17 years, the longest war in our
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history about 4 times the length of our involvement in world war ii based on a resolution by congress to let the president use the armed forces and my point is that if there's something like that in the future, he should be required to go to congress and say, i want you to do what the constitution says, declare war, get me a war declaration, let's have a debate. i will tell you how many americans might have to give their lives, how long this might take, what other sacrifices americans might be required to make. if you don't have a war declaration, the problem is that members of congress can vote for it and then the second the war becomes unpopular and we have seen this happen so many times members of congress said i had no idea that this might lead to war, i was just voting for getting the president authority to use the armed forces, i'm saying that if you have a president of war make sure he's got congress in on the takeoff so when things get rough they
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can't run away and said the president did something we didn't ask for. >> host: how long did it take to write this book? >> guest: it took 10 years and you were so nice to have me today for a lot of reasons but particularly, you know, i take 10 years to write a book, how much time would i ask for going on for the next 6 hours, but the reason for that is that i found -- i expected this to take 4 or 5 and covers 200 years and in detail the 8 or 9 presidents and i couldn't read 3 or 4 books on each president and prearchive, i had to research every period as if i were writing a whole book on it and the part of it that i love is to be able to go in and, you know, read other people's mail, for instance, what i try to do is not only talk about the presidents but other key figures that they dealt with in these wars, for instance, spanish american war when the ship was
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sunk, captain called charles sigsby, a supreme narcissist, terribly involved, the ship sank and hundreds of americans died and sent message to his wife that something like, you know, the ship has sunk, so many of our crew have died, i'm going to have to replace my whole wardrobe, you begin to get a sense of who these people were, robertson, commander of federal soldiers when the confederacy fired on them and they had to surrender, lincoln turns -- he was a great politician but he had his if i think near the wind because would americans blame anderson for this or would he be a hero, anderson goes to new york, union scare, a couple thousand people, people think anderson is a hero although he surrendered, only then does lincoln get in touch with anderson and basically says i've
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been mean to go write, why not come and visit to the white house, he wanted some of anderson's and wonderful story, lincoln meets with andersons and says major anderson do you remember having seen me at war and anderson said no, i really don't remember, i'm sorry and lincoln says, i was only involved in a war before one that was the black hawk war in illinois 1832 and guess who muciónerred me into war service, it was you major anderson and anderson was bulled over, completely charmed, he was a lincoln man for the rest of his life. >> host: next call from michael beschloss comes from robert in california. >> thank you for taking my call. my thing is -- when i was a young teenager i remember the press, president johnson, you are familiar with the daisy commercial --
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>> fall of '64. >> that's where the little girl pulling up and -- they are saying he's crazy man, he will blow up the whole world and i'm scared, i'm believing and they are saying in goldwater, maybe one state in all of that and then later on, three of my friends were killed in vietnam and i was so mad at johnson, i never voted. i have not voted to this day, i was so mad at that and i was wondering how did we get pulled in by the media and johnson and goldwater wasn't really such a bad man and i want to see your comment on this? are goldwater was a much better than than he seemed at the time. there's a moment on the johnson tapes that i quote from in the book in early 1965 and lbj was talking to secretary of defense
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who is one of the villains of the vietnam war, had been urging johnson to get in a big way and the same month february of '65 johnson is sending huge numbers of young americans off to vietnam and telling them he expects to win, in private he's talking and he says, i can't think of anything worse than losing the war in vietnam and i don't see any way to win and he goes onto tell lady byrd that year in private about war in vietnam, i feel as if i'm in a plane that's crashing and i do not have a parachute. so the point i'm making is that johnson had enormous heart, he was going against his instinct. he allowed himself to be convinced that vietnam war was essential for us to win the cold war, of course, we know with 2020 hindsight that was not true but i'm so sorry to hear what you told me because even at the beginning of this war in private lbj was skeptical that could
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ever be won and i wish i could have gone through time or some other historian and just told him, listen to yourself, you're saying saying the war cannot be won, if that's what you think in private, a, you should say so and also in public and b, if that's what you think, get out of the war, we shouldn't be there. thank you so much, thank you so much for family sacrifice. >> two follow-ups to robert's question, what did you think of apology tour? >> i thought it was dreadful and because one of the sub texts of that book is that he was not that much to blame for vietnam and quoted directly that we were all to blame. we were not all to blame. it's certainly not equally. he was the one that told lbj if president kennedy were alive he would have escalated, big deal, if you do it you'll be subject to criticism for that
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nonfulfilling treaty obligations. he did not know that lbj had made tapes of private conversation which max had not heard before he published the book in mid-1990 and bad luck for him because you listen to those tapes and they show that some of what he has written in the book did not turn out to be true and lbj was -- had sort of last word. >> host: second follow-up, robert suggested that presidents used war as political tool, was this a common theme among the presidents that you covered and presidents at war? >> presidents are tempted, james polk used war not to run for reelection basically because he pledged to serve only one term, but this was one way that he could get something that he felt he couldn't get any other way which was actually trying to get more land for the united states to help make out a nation that
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spanned the continent, the problem in modern times, i'm worried that a modern president would look at george h.w. bush who wage it is persian gulf war about 6 weeks, his numbers go up to 90% and it horrifies me to talk in these terms but after national tragedy after 9/11 people unit behind the president and even president trump in 2011 tweeted saying, watch out because barack obama, i predict will get us involved in a war to get reelected. i think that's always a dangerous thing in the mind of a president to link the possibility of our being involved in major war and i'm not predicting that and president trump's case or anyone else, i never want to see a modern president even word march toward war if politics are being discussed. if you go to founders that's specifically they designed the system to avoid and i think they
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would say we didn't do our job. >> kenneth, richmond, kentucky, please go ahead for michael beschloss. >> yes, sir, thank you. sir, i'm a retired marine officer and retired a couple of times but there's been some books in my history that really impacted me and -- and two of them are walk's books winds of war and also john jay books of northern and south trilogy. now there are three books out today that are affecting me and affect society just as much, your book, george's book in leadership and john beachum's book soul of american, sir, this is more or less an opinion question, it seems that coincidental that books are published in times that we need them the most and yet you worked on this 10 years ago and other officers didn't sit down and type them up and get then
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published, what do you think causes people to -- to not -- not causes but the gift of these books at this times that we need in our national -- in our national politics right now? i'd like to listen to what your -- >> host: that's a really interesting question. tieing three books together. >> guest: thank you, yes, good company. i think that we are in a time that as troubled and sometimes confusing as the time that we are living through politically sometimes you look to and an earlier period for context and the same thing to presidents, if i had to ask for qualities i want to see in a president, one is i'd want a president who knows about history. harry truman probably read about in presidential history than anyone else. when he was a kid he had thick glasses, parents said we can't afford to replace them and
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truman said i read every book in public library which i thought it was an exaggeration, it was a small library, he probably did. when i was having to make tough decisions like firing mcarthur and whether or not to use atomic bomb, i looked to presidents but enough similarity that i would have inside that would help me make the decision, perhaps andrew jacksons, abraham lincoln did, one thing that truman said not all readers would be leaders but every leader has to be a reader because this is my language not his but why would you if you were president or all of us as citizens and voters why ever would you want to deny yourself the collective wisdom of billions of people who walked the earth and found out what mistakes they made and what successes they had particularly previous presidents and generations of americans.
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what the founders wanted was a country to be very different from england and in one way particularly. in england there wasn't much history because documents weren't released and what was written basically said the king was perfect and everything was wonderful. they wanted us to do the opposite. they wanted us to absolutely scrutinize what earlier presidents and earlier generations of citizens had done and learn the lessons as quickly as possible and that's one reason why the founders felt very strongly that we should keep very exact records of what our presidents do and release them to the public as soon as possible so that we can learn the lessons quickly. >> host: marie, el paso, good afternoon. >> yes, my question is and perhaps you already touched a little bit on it. is it possible to curve the presidential power of they being able to send troops without ever declaring war or just sending troops anywhere he wants for
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example, here along the border where i live sending troops to keep the caravan that is crossing méxico from coming into the united states. >> host: thank you, ma'am. >> caller: it's a really great point and in history the times that we do best are when we have congressional leaders especially of a president's own party to tell him that's he's doing wrong, that's what the founders wanted. they wanted pushback, they wanted criticism, if you have a president that behaves like a king and doesn't take criticism and basically says if you're criticizing me, you're criticizing the soldiers, basically shut up, that's what they did, lyndon johnson weighs vietnam war but senate majority leader hated the war, told him all of the time, this is what you can do better, same thing with other senate leaders. there was an effort in the early 1970's that you probably know
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about, the war powers act to limit president's ability to just send troops for all sorts of reasons and limit it to a number of weeks after which they have to get congress to approve it or withdraw, hasn't worked very well, most presidents have said that they think it's unconstitutional but i love what our el paso caller has said and we have a real problem which i try to write about. >> host: president trump sending troops to the border, let's go back to founding fathers, is there a clear line of authority from them to what he wants to do? >> guest: they were worried about presidents using armed forces for blatant domestic political reasons so if a historian like me 40 years from now is confirmed looking at this in history and says if this is true that donald trump sent these armed forces to the border to help his party's prospect in the midterms, you know, if it looks that way in 40 years and
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then barely talked about this kavanaugh -- talked about brett kavanaugh but didn't barely talk about the caravan after the election were in, i think that historian would say that the founders would look very much at the use of troops for political reasons, but one of the differences in looking at this as historian which i do first someone looking at it in realtime i think that it take about 30 or 40 years to finally have a judgment and you always have to keep your mind open to the possibility of different scenarios and that' why it's exciting to do this kind of work because i look at james polk differently, james madison, woodrow wilson i'm really mean and friends of wilson scholars, i'm sure i drive them crazy, i don't -- even harry truman 1950, he took us into korea without asking for a war declaration from congress and that opened the war, that opened the door
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for later presidents to do the same thing which was not a great thing for the united states in my opinion. >> host: let's hear from one more caller and this is paula in washington, d.c., paula, you're on with historian michael beschloss. >> honored to be the last caller. michael -- [laughter] >> caller: i really ready to get this book and read it, my question to you is in doing extensive research which i know start with this book, do you feel that most wars are predicated on a lie? >> guest: predicated on a lie? i must tell you with huge regret having written the book and i write this all the way through there has been much too much lying and presidents have taken us into many, many unnecessary wars and i think one of the ways
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to stop that is read history and see what people want to say, look at the presidents who lied to congress, polk to some extent, mckinley, certainly woodrow wilson, lbj whom i love for civil rights and voting rights and medicare but in the vietnam he went the wrong way. could i and in happier note with caller, peter, one thing that johnson did that was a good thing, i found the last pieces of the puzzle, 1968 we had been stalemated in vietnam, johnson commander in vietnam william westmoreland. this is a good side of lbj who was telling the truth here didn't do enough during vietnam and johnson private i will says, absolutely not, this could go nuclear, we could wind up
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killing 100 million people, you know, all of vietnam and as a result he shut down that quick and locked up the documents, if you ask me, is it important to have a president who tells the truth or has wisdom and judgment and experience, in johnson's case if you had had a person who did not have that kind of life experience or understanding of what this could mean, we could have killed hundreds, at least tens of billions of people in 1968 just in the effort to try to once and for all win the vietnam war, that's how important it is who we elect president and as a result the founders were worried that we would elect presidents who who maybe quick on the trigger, we often times hear people say leave war to generals, had war been left to william westmoreland this could have been nuclear. thank you so much for raising


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