“Rugged Individuals”

“Rugged Individuals”


John M. Lane

                                        We are all “rugged individuals.” We make our way; we need little help from outsiders (especially from the evil government); we rise and fall on our own merits and abilities; if we fail, it’s our fault. It’s not the system’s fault or other people’s; we are responsible. We have the “liberty” and “freedom” to rise to the heights or sink to the depths. We are “rugged individuals.” When we do organize in groups, it is specifically designed to advance a cause, a profession, a group, or an industry. Rugged Individuals know regulations stifle growth and innovation, and doing what is best for them is best for society. 


                                      The above description of Rugged Individuals has been gospel in the United States since its founding. To understand the history of the United States and its culture, you must understand the previous paragraph. It is why Americans do not have universal healthcare, tolerate polluted air, and drinking water, tolerate not having reliable, safe, affordable mass transit and rail services, and accept unequal K-12 education systems based on which district or jurisdiction has access to the most funding. Because of Rugged Individualism, Americans accept going into sometimes crippling debt as the price of obtaining a university education. The same post-high school education system does not have the capacity to train the millions of young people who need to acquire the training to work in professions where a university degree is not required (which is most jobs). Corporations no longer hire intelligent, educated people (especially liberal arts majors) and train them. Rugged Individuals need to acquire their own training.

                                     Because of Rugged Individualism, Americans accept over 40,000 traffic fatalities a year as normal. Obeying and enforcing traffic laws and norms are seen as violations of personal liberty and freedom. Universal driver training has long since given way to privatization. It probably does not matter anyway since stopping and slowing down are now optional. Firearms: there are more guns in circulation in the United States than there are people. The myth of the “Frontier” is a permanent feature of American life. (Historian Frederick Jackson Turner said the “Frontier” closed in 1890.) Rugged Individuals must protect themselves from other Rugged Individuals. “Liberty and Freedom” must be maintained.

                                     In the land of “Rugged Individuals,” corporations are considered “people” under broad interpretations (to say the least) of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution. Money is also interpreted as being “speech.” Rugged Individuals with access to the most money have the most “speech.” Voting is an essential part of a functioning democracy.  In our society of “Rugged Individuals,” voting is seen as optional, only if one can find the time from your busy work schedule to appear at the polls personally on the first Tuesday of November. Rugged Individuals know that only direct appearance at the polls is real democracy in action! If you can’t make it to the polls, well, you can vote in the next election. Online voting, mail-in voting, and “drop boxes” only weaken “real democracy.”


                                   Whatever it is called: “Horatio Alger,” Pulling yourself up your bootstraps, or being a Rugged Individual, in the end, the effect is the same. The concept makes it difficult to rise above your origins and achieve the “American Dream.” Rising above one’s “station,” however, can be done. When it is done, it happens because a government system worked, and helping hands from friends, family, strangers, and the community were extended. It also helps to be lucky, being with the right person and in the right place at the right time. “Self-Made Men” are rare indeed. No one makes it alone. Rugged Individuals had better be tough. The mythology is so deeply embedded in American culture that millions of the poor and disadvantaged believe it to be true.

                               The mythology described above to used to maintain power and privilege. It is why the black and white working and middle classes have been effectively pitted against each other; it is why the United States Tax Code is written the way it is written. It is why mercy, empathy, selflessness, and compassion are portrayed as weaknesses to avoid. In the 21st century, it is the reason why Democracy itself is seen as a burden.

                               Time is running out.

The “Post-War,” 1945-2022, Part V.

The “Post-War,” 1945-2022

Part V


John M. Lane

The Thirty “Greed is Good” Years, 1978-2008

“I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country… corporations have been enthroned, and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed.”

Abraham Lincoln, before the U.S Civil War (1861-1865).

“Greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right. Greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all its forms, greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge, has marked the upward surge in mankind, and greed, you mark my words, will not only save Teldar Paper, but that other malfunctioning corporation called the USA. Thank you very much.”

The fictional character, “Gordon Gekko.”

In the film “Wall Street,” 1987

                                          Beginning in the late 1970s, the reaction against what was believed to be the excesses of the 1960s and early 1970s began in earnest. Many thought it was time to restore “traditional” American values. The revolution in “rights” had gone far enough. What about “personal responsibility” and ownership? After taking office in January 1981, Ronald Reagan began implementing his program to end liberal “activism” and restore American greatness.  It was the fulfillment of their career dreams for Laissez-faire/free-market economists from the “Chicago” and “Austrian” schools of economic philosophy. Both Milton Friedman and Alfred von Hayek had lived to see the ideas of their philosophical foe, John Maynard Keynes, overturned.   

Photo by Dom J on Pexels.com

                                    At every level of government, officials tried to balance budgets, cut costs and taxes, and “privatize” as much as possible. Taxes were cut, mainly for the wealthy, believing they would create more jobs and growth, trickling down to the rest of the population, thereby improving everyone’s well-being. “Reagan and other conservatives adopted what became known as “supply-side economics,” based on the erroneous belief that, by increasing the rewards to effort, tax cuts would generate more than enough through growth to compensate for the cuts.” (Lind 378). To confront the Soviets, the defense budget was increased to 1.7 trillion dollars over five years. The result: inflation remained high, the deficit grew (perversely, the deficits were used to show that spending on social programs could not be continued. The money was not there to spend.), and nothing trickled down. The wealthy kept the extra money and spent it on themselves.

                               To fight inflation, the Federal Reserve raised short-term interest rates by 7 percent over the rate of inflation to 19 percent. These moves resulted in two recessions in three years. (Lind 387). By 1984, inflation was under control; the way was paved for Reagan’s landslide reelection over Walter Mondale. He carried 49 of the 50 states. 

There were “two Nixons” and there were “two Reagans: President Ronald Reagan visiting the suburban Maryland home of an African American family in 1982 that had a cross burned on their yard in 1977.

                              The squeeze on the working and middle classes became tighter. Unemployment reached 10.7 percent in 1982. In the same year, there were 2,700 mass layoffs/plant shutdowns. The new policies devastated American manufacturing and its ability to compete globally. The manufacturing sector of the American economy has still not recovered. The labor movement was also crippled as the hollowing out of non-college-educated working, and middle-class workers accelerated. In 1987, the savings and loan industry collapsed after they began using “junk bonds” to invest in commercial real estate and businesses. It cost the American taxpayer 200 billion dollars to bail out the industry. By 1989, 31.5 million Americans were classified as poor. In the 1980s it was Japan that was the giant of growth and prosperity. The term “Japan Inc.” was accurate. “The deficits were easy to finance because of the inflow of foreign money, much of it from Japan…The United States was now the world’s largest debtor and Japan the world’s largest creditor. The Japanese central bank bought huge quantities of US government bonds to keep the yen artificially low, thereby subsidizing Japanese exports while hurting American exports. The same mercantilist technique would be adopted on a much larger scale by China a few decades later, with disastrous results for the economy of the United States and the world”. (Lind 389-390) History lesson, anyone?

                                  To help fund education in their states, states developed the “innovative” idea of starting state lotteries to fund public education and college scholarships. States began to rely on gambling by the people who could least afford it to fund education because they were no longer able (or willing) to. Local jurisdictions that could afford it raised property taxes to help support their schools.


                                   Technology, especially (by the late 1990s, the Internet), finance, and service, became growth industries while manufacturing jobs were sent “offshore.” Lavish lifestyles were praised and admired. Television shows, fictitious (“Dallas” and “Dynasty”) and “reality”- based (“Lifestyles of The Rich and Famous”), glorified the wealthy, promoting a lifestyle of “premium,” “deluxe,” “exclusive,” and “first-class.” Any product with those terms attached to it was seen as the best. Having an account at Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus, or Bloomingdales was a sign of status and success. Tax cuts for the wealthy began the most significant upward transfer of wealth since the late 19thcentury: (“the ratio of CEOs’ pay to their employees’ pay double(d) (before sextupling in the 1990s.), The top income tax rate on the richest is reduced from 70 percent to 28 percent.” (Andersen 120) This trend has continued unchecked as of 2022. Stocks and the stock market were seen by many as the leading indicators of economic growth, which every credible economist knows is false. 

Maybe you can have this!!!!!

                             Throughout the West, but especially in the United States and Britain, working and middle-class wages and salaries stagnated, and quality of life declined. In the United States- (“Consumer credit was deregulated excessively, causing consumer debt suddenly to increase by a third and interest payments to balloon, home mortgage foreclosures quadrupled. Federal spending on housing programs for low-income people was cut by 75 percent. The number of jobs requiring a college degree started increasing significantly. The cost of a four-year college (education) and the student debt to pay for it started increasing significantly.” (Andersen 121)

                        The working and middle classes had to take on more and more personal debt while working at more low-paying jobs to maintain what they had. (“Jobs in manufacturing rapidly disappeared- by 22 percent during the decades {the 1980s}).” (Andersen 120) Social mobility all but stopped. The idea that younger generations might not do better than their parents and grandparents was becoming a reality. During the 1981-82 recession, the departure from the Midwest to Texas and the West could have reminded people, although the scale was smaller, of families leaving for California in the 1930s. 

                      A new emphasis on “the war on drugs” would devastate African American communities. The 1980s drug of choice was cocaine and its synthetic partner, “crack.” Crack came into African American communities and crushed them. (“The large-scale movement out of poverty for black men from 1960 to 1980 stopped”, “Incarceration of “criminals” began its massive increase, doubling (before doubling again in the 1990s), and the first private profit-making prison companies were founded.” (Andersen 123) The use of cocaine would be just as pervasive as the use of crack. However, cocaine was the drug of the rich, the elite, and the white, and although law enforcement did attempt to enforce the law against cocaine users and dealers, it was never done with the single-mindedness of the effort against crack. Prosecuting crack offenses could bring 25 years to life sentences in prison; the punishment for cocaine offenses rarely reached that extent. 

A New phase in “The War on Drugs”

                            Combined with the de-industrialization of the country and the jobs that went with it, the cuts in funding for housing, education, medical care, and childcare, in addition to the “war on drugs” and the resulting mass incarceration to feed the rural, job-creating, prison-industrial complex (much of which would soon be in the hands of private companies); set back African American economic and social progress for at least thirty years. Maybe that was the point. In the 1980s, white Americans suffered from the cuts and elimination of the same programs, even more so because their numbers were more prominent. The question must be asked: Why would the great bulk of the majority population accept less than what they could realistically receive? 

                      In short, using resentment, particularly racial resentment, as a political strategy worked and continues to work in the 21st century.


                                George H.W. Bush succeeded Ronald Reagan as President in 1989. His foreign policy credentials to be President were beyond reproach (CIA director, Representative to China, UN Ambassador.) Bush would oversee the end of the Cold War, the reunification of Germany, and the end of the Soviet Union. Bush used the US military in 1989 to invade Panama to remove Manuel Noriega from power. However, He is remembered for the “Gulf War.” The 1991 Persian Gulf War was the last war of the second industrial revolution (1850- 1990, oil, steel, natural gas, and coal, the “commanding heights” of economic development dominated by the Americans, British, and Western Europeans). The Iraqi leader, Saddam Hussein, had decided to acquire the oil fields of neighboring Kuwait to rebuild his depleted financial resources resulting from the 1980-1988 Iraq-Iran War. Saddam calculated that the West and the United States would not intervene because they no longer had the stomach for combat that might involve heavy casualties. He calculated wrong. The West needed access to Persian Gulf oil to keep their economies going.

                      Britain, France, and the United States sent an overwhelming force to Saudi Arabia and significant contributions from Arab countries as well. The American force alone numbered close to 500,000. For whatever reason, Saddam had decided to engage the West in a decisive battle, and in turn, he was decisively defeated. The armies created by the United States, Britain, and France to fight a massive battle of “decision” on the plains of Central Europe against the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact were unleashed on Saddam. This war happened because the now decrepit Soviet Union could do nothing to stop it, and the Chinese looked the other way. (Lane)

The First Persian Gulf War, January-March 1991

                      The victory was spectacular in its swiftness but was not decisive. Many of the best Iraqi units escaped and were relatively untouched when a cease-fire was declared. The Americans decided not to march on to Baghdad and remove Saddam. (Lane) The Americans believed the Iraqi people would do that. They did not. An uprising in the Basra region was attempted, and ordinary Iraqis paid a terrible price for trying. Comparatively speaking, casualties for the Allies were light, as the public could watch incredible images of smart bombs hitting their targets. It almost looked like a video game. Maybe this was the future of war: “cool” images with little or no casualties.

                     Domestically, Bush discovered that his inherited federal budget deficits were becoming untenable. He reached a five-year budget agreement with the Democrats that included tax increases. He had to renounce his “no new taxes’ campaign pledge to reach an agreement.  The Budget deal, combined with slow economic growth in 1991 and early 1992, finished Bush politically. H.W. Bush lost to Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton (in a three-way race with Texas billionaire H. Ross Perot.) after having an 89 % approval rating at the end of the Persian Gulf War in 1991. His primary domestic achievement was the passage of the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) in 1990.

President George H.W. Bush signing the American with Disabilities Bill in to law, 1990

                     The Democrats, desperate to win back the White House and Congress, chose another southern governor, Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton, as their candidate in 1992. Clinton was a “new Democrat,” supported by the Democratic Leadership Council, which would showcase the Democrat’s new moderation. The new Democrats would be “tough on crime,” advocate welfare reform, be “fiscally responsible,” and “carry a big stick” on foreign policy issues. The election of Clinton validated the policies of Nixon, especially Reagan, and indicated to the Republicans that they had been right. The same thing happened in Britain in 1997, with the ascendancy of “New Labor” under Tony Blair as Prime Minister. The Tories knew there would be little effort to roll back Conservative policies. Like the American Democrats, Labor would show they were better managers than the Tories and the Republicans. Other than that, nothing of substance would change. As Clinton said, the days of “big government” were over.

President Bill Clinton and UK Prime Minister Tony Blair

                    Clinton got the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) through Congress in 1993 as the movement toward economic globalization continued. Congress also passed the “motor voter” registration act, making it easier to register to vote, the Brady gun-control act, and a family-leave law. For the first time since the Truman presidency, an attempt to expand and reform health care coverage was introduced. The forces that defeated Truman’s effort again mobilized quickly to crush the proposal. Clinton lowered his sights and policy ambitions for the rest of his presidency. This was especially true after the Republicans regained control of Congress in 1994. Virulence, anger, and hypocrisy characterized American politics for the next 25 years.

                         Clinton, and his wife, Hillary, would be under constant investigation and attack for the eight years of his presidency. (She would become a US Senator from New York, US Secretary of State, 2008 Presidential candidate, and the 2016 Democratic nominee for President.) They were accused of murdering a top aide to keep him quiet about alleged criminal activity in a land transaction: “Whitewater.” Clinton faced a special prosecutor in 1998 after easily being reelected in 1996 because of unspecified wrongdoings that eventually focused on an affair with a White House intern. That affair led to Clinton being impeached by the House and acquitted by the Senate after a televised trial. Clinton’s approval ratings remained high, even in the face of the attacks. This was due mainly to growing general prosperity, his effective use of the media, and his “baby-boomer” celebrity status.

                       Trade was a significant focus of the Clinton administration in foreign policy, especially attempts to strengthen the World Trade Organization (WTO). Clinton met several times with Russian Federation President Boris Yeltsin to shore up the fledgling Russian “democracy.” (Those efforts failed). Militarily, after the chaotic attempts of nation-building and peacekeeping in Somalia, Clinton would be hesitant to commit US ground forces anywhere. A 1994 invasion of Haiti was avoided at the last minute, as hectic negotiations allowed for the invasion to become a peacekeeping mission. In 1999, in the former Yugoslavia, in support of Kosovo’s independence, NATO mounted a bombing campaign over Serbia and Kosovo (including bombing Belgrade) that forced the Serbs to back down without sending in ground forces.

                   In the year 2000, the world survived Y2K and was on the cusp of a new age. The Third “Industrial Revolution” was underway. The “World Wide Web” made the world even smaller, while incredible wealth was being made for the few at the expense of the many. In the United States, 2000 was an election year. Vice-President Al Gore was running as the Democratic candidate to succeed Bill Clinton. The Republican candidate was Texas Governor George W. Bush, son of President George H.W. Bush. For a modern Republican, Bush ran a surprisingly moderate campaign, as did Vice-President Gore. There were no major foreign policy issues to debate as both candidates explained how the United States would continue to manage affairs as the world’s remaining “superpower.” Domestically, they seemingly argued over how best to work Reagan’s legacy, with a few “tweaks” around the edges. Bush promised to lower taxes and return the government surplus to the people built during the Clinton “boom” years; he also encouraged homeownership and expanded local “faith-based” charitable activity as an adjunct for and replacement of government aid. Gore wanted to continue encouraging four-year college enrollment as a means of social mobility while supporting the continued growth of the “tech” sector and bringing attention to the signs of environmental damage. Again, it was a relatively moderate plan for a political party seen popularly as full of dangerous liberals, socialists, and radicals.

                  Bush won in one of the closest elections in American History. The election was not decided on election night, as ballot problems in Florida delayed counting ballots. The fight over ballot counts and recounts (“hanging chads”) went into December. Inevitably the fight ended up in the Courts.  In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court ended the Florida recount. Gore reluctantly and gracefully conceded defeat, even though he had won the popular vote by over 500,000. There were no calls of “fraud” and no storming of the Capitol building. George W. Bush was sworn in as President on January 20, 2001. 

               Gore lost in 2000 because the historic political alignment that began in 1964 was complete. Gore did not carry his home state of Tennessee or Clinton’s home state of Arkansas. During the campaign, Gore kept Clinton at a distance, a grave mistake. However, it probably would have made little difference. The non-stop, incessant echo chamber “dog-whistle” racism of the previous 36 years had taken its effect. It was time to end the “hand-outs,” the “preferential treatment,” the “special favors,” the “reverse discrimination,” and the “coddling of criminals.” These attitudes were (and are) nothing new. In an opinion in a Supreme Court ruling on cases involving Civil Rights Laws in 1883 written by Justice Joseph P. Bradley, the “court majority found the Civil Rights Act of 1875 (was) beyond Congress’s powers under the thirteenth and fourteenth amendments.” (Schmidt, Jr. 461: 1982) Congress could not regulate private discrimination. In a statement that echoes down to our own time, Bradley, near the end of his opinion, wrote:” When a man has emerged from slavery…. there must be some stage in the progress of his elevation when he takes the rank of a mere citizen and ceases to be the particular favorite of the laws.” (Schmidt, Jr. 462:1982- also from Lane) It is doubtful whether many African Americans considered themselves “particular favorites of the laws.”


                As President, George W. Bush pushed ahead with his tax cuts, which Congress passed in 2001. He advocated for more deregulation to “stimulate” economic growth and for more education reform and restructuring. His entire presidency changed on the morning of September 11, 2001. The country and world would never be the same. 


                            With the collapse of the Soviet Union and the “rollback” of Communism, the United States no longer had an enemy upon whom their entire foreign policy was based. In the 1990s, going into the 21st century, American foreign policy focused on spreading free trade, open markets, and “Jeffersonian” democracy. The Americans did eventually find a new enemy: “Global” Terrorism. Terrorist attacks steadily increased from the mid-80s, leading to the ultimate attack: September 11, 2001.   On September 11, 2001, four hijacked aircraft were used to attack the United States. Two crashed into the World Trade Center Towers in New York City.

Another crashed into the Pentagon in Northern Virginia. The fourth plane crashed in Pennsylvania after passengers resisted and fought the hijackers. The loss of life was the heaviest the United States had suffered since Pearl Harbor. The attack was planned and carried out by the Jihadist terrorist group, Al Qaeda, led by the Saudi Arabian terrorist Osama Bin Liden. The United States responded by allying with anti-Taliban forces in Afghanistan and intervening. The Taliban “government” in Afghanistan was overthrown, and Al Qaeda was crippled. Most of the Taliban leadership escaped to Pakistan; its military and intelligence service had helped create them. Bin Laden escaped and became virtually powerless to control Al Qaeda while hiding in Pakistan. 


                           The United States and Britain invaded Iraq in March 2003 (while the fighting in Afghanistan continued) to remove Saddam Hussein from power and destroy his “weapons of mass destruction” (which no longer existed). Crushing the depleted Iraqi Army took a matter of weeks. However, the invasion force was not big enough to secure the country, and no plans were made as to what to do with Iraq after it was conquered. As in Afghanistan, a government was created, and as in Afghanistan, guerrilla war and insurgency began, killing Allied troops in ambush after ambush. Surges went into an area, cleared it, left, and inevitably. Allied forces would have to return to repeat the process.

Marines crossing a bridge in Southern Iraq, under fire, March 2003

                          By 2008, the United States was in two unwinnable wars. The traditional, historical American definition of victory in war: total annihilation and defeat of the enemy could not be achieved. It is tough to defeat a “tactic.” Terrorism is a tactic; it is not a strategy. To paraphrase, Max Boot describes: Terror is the tactic the weak use against the strong (to carry out a strategy, in this case, to strike at the United States and the West). The overall campaign after 9/11 was called the “Global War on Terror.” American forces were deployed in direct combat or advisory roles in Asia, Africa, and South America, fighting or helping to fight groups identified as terrorists. The “terrorists” knew what a new generation of American “leaders” failed to learn from Vietnam. It is tough to convince free citizens in democracies/democratic republics to commit to an “open-ended” military campaign with vague goals, which entails the loss of blood and treasure indefinitely, no matter how good you think your” counter-insurgency strategy and tactics” are. In addition, the Americans did not draft soldiers. Consequently, only around one percent of the American population fought the “Global War on Terror”; the rest went on with their lives.

                                       2008 was an election year. Not only was the country reeling from the wars in the Middle East and Central Asia, with no end in sight, but the economy, especially the housing market, was in “freefall” as well. 


                                    In the first year of the FDR administration, Congress passed the Glass-Steagall Act (1933). The law divided the banking industry. Commercial banks would be for mortgages, other loans, checking and savings accounts, etc. In other words, everyday banking. Investment banks would be for investments, stocks, bonds, securities, etc.  The law was designed to separate investments, which were riskier, from regular banking. It made banking “boring,” which is a good thing for most people.  At least until 1999. In another case of a peculiarly American phenomenon called “history does not apply to us,” Glass-Steagall was overturned. The barrier between commercial and investment banking was removed. The result was a “wild west” of financing. Anyone with financial assets or access to “hedge-fund” cash rushed to acquire the “easy money.” Exciting “new products” were developed out of old concepts (derivatives) that most of the executives running the banks could not explain. Banks and investment houses that should have known better got involved. There was simply too much money to be made, especially in financing mortgages. Anybody could get a mortgage: no assets, no employment, no problem. An adjustable-rate mortgage will solve the problem. We are an “ownership society,” and you need to be an “owner.” The poor, especially in the inner cities, were pulled into situations that destroyed their lives. Were they forced to sign the papers: No. However, the documents should never have been offered in the first place. The process used to be called professionalism, honesty, and morality. What was the result? “…in August and September 2008, the Federal Reserve and the Treasury mounted the greatest economic rescue effort in world history. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the government-backed corporations that underwrote a majority of America’s home mortgages, were effectively nationalized. Most of the great investment bankson Wall Street, including Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers, and Merrill Lynch, victims of bad gambles on home-mortgage debt, either vanished or were absorbed by or converted into large commercial banks. In a desperate effort to stop the contagion of bad debt and avert a credit freeze that could cause a new depression, the US government promised a bailout of the financial sector of more than a trillion dollars.” (Lind 446) To repeat, the means to have prevented this was repealed in 1999, 8 years earlier.

Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, Federal Reserve Chair Ben Bernanke: Fall 2008: Barely averting disaster


                      As all this occurred, a first-term senator from Illinois with a funny-sounding name was considering a presidential run. Barack Obama, of mixed Black-White ancestry, would have to defeat doubters in his party, an opposition with a media apparatus that could destroy his candidacy, as well as history. Would he be able to convince the country to do what many still considered to be unthinkable? 

Works Cited


Andersen, Kurt. Evil Geniuses: The Unmaking of America- A Recent History. New York: Random House, 2020.

Gellman, Barton, “January 6 Was Practice.” The Atlantic, January/February 2022.

Lane, John M. “Freedom Deferred: Frederick Douglass and The End of Reconstruction, 1865-1895”, 2022.  www.jmlww2.com.

Lane, John M. “Geography, Culture, Technology and Conflict Through the Ages, Part III.” 2021. www.jmlww2.com.

Lane, John M. “Geography, Culture, Technology and Conflict Through the Ages, Part IV.” 2021. www.jmlww2.com.

Lind, Michael. Land of Promise: An Economic History of the United States. New York: Harper Collins, 2012.

McGee, Heather. The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together. New York: One World, 2021.

Schmidt, Jr. Benno C, “Principle and Prejudice: The Supreme Court and Race in The Progressive Era. Part I: Heyday of Jim Crow” Columbia Law Review Vol. 82, No. 3 (April 1982), pp.444-524. JSTOR 18 September 2009. http://www.jstor.org/se

The “Post-War,” : 1945-2022 Part IV

The “Post-War,” 1945-2022

Part IV


John M. Lane

“The Triumph of The West” ?- The Cold War Ends

“First and foremost, it is worth acknowledging that the demise of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century.”

Vladimir Putin, 2005

                                           The last gasp of the Soviet empire was in the 1980s. From the beginning, Marxist-Leninist Communism was a patchwork of incompatible contradictions built on a foundation of bluff, bluster, and lies. The Soviets could never create the kind of society they promised, and millions died. Soviet investment went to building nuclear weapons and beating the Americans in the space race (they lost). By the late 1970s, going into the 80s, inadequate housing, the lack of consumer goods, and food shortages were the norm. Alcoholism was rampant; public health was almost nonexistent; the population declined: death rates exceeded birth rates. Environmental damage was widespread, dwarfing that even of the West. On April 26, 1986, the nuclear power plant at Chornobyl in Ukraine exploded. The immediate death toll was thirty-two. The fallout drifted into Europe, and the population in parts of Ukraine and Belarus had to be evacuated.

                             The three previous leaders of the USSR before Gorbachev had been born before 1917(the year of the revolution): Leonid Brezhnev (died 1981), Yuri Andropov (died 1984), and Konstantin Chernenko (died 1985). The fact that they were in leadership positions was a clear symptom of a decrepit regime. By 1985, the “wheels” were coming off the wagon, and the end would be presided over by Mikhail Gorbachev. Gorbachev introduced concepts like “Perestroika” (restructuring) and “Glasnost” (openness) to stop the decay. By 1988, he cut USSR defense spending and promised to withdraw large numbers of Soviet forces from Eastern Europe. A year later, the USSR withdrew from Afghanistan.

President George H.W. Bush and Mikhail Gorbachev

                             The efforts were too little, too late. Going into the 1990s, the Soviet economy collapsed. Prices increased, and cash flooded the marketplace. Organized crime proliferated into all aspects of Russian life. In foreign policy, both the USSR and China remained silent in the United Nations as the western allies defeated the Iraqi armed forces in the deserts of Kuwait and southern Iraq in the winter of 1991. In July 1991, the US and USSR signed a START treaty that committed each side to cut their nuclear arsenals by thirty percent. In August 1991, the Soviet republics began declaring their independence from the government in Moscow, as Boris Yeltsin was able to prevent a coup that would have overthrown Gorbachev. On August 29, the Supreme Soviet abolished the Communist Party.                           

                                     Even as the deterioration of the Soviet Union could be seen by anyone who cared to look closely, the West, especially the Americans, continued to portray the Soviets as 10 feet tall “supermen” out to rule the world. The Eastern Empire collapsed beginning with the “fall” of the Berlin Wall in 1989(which caught Western intelligence agencies entirely by surprise). On December 21, 1991, a Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) was formed (it would evolve into the current Russian Federation. Mikhail Gorbachev resigned as President of the Soviet Union on Christmas Day, 1991. The Soviet Union ceased to exist. Boris Yeltsin became President of the Russian Federation in June 1992. It was the first actual general election in Russian history. In St. Petersburg (it was no longer Leningrad), former KGB officer Vladimir Putin began a promising new career as a city official. He soon caught the attention of Yeltsin and other officials in Moscow. Russia was humiliated and watched as NATO expanded eastward into what they considered their “sphere of influence. The great Czarist/Soviet empire was gone, as Democracy never took hold in Russia.

Russian President Vladimir Putin takes part in a news conference at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow March 4, 2014. Putin said on Tuesday Russia reserved the right to use all options in Ukraine to protect compatriots living in “terror” but that Moscow would use force only as a last resort. REUTERS/Alexei Nikolskiy/RIA Novosti/Kremlin (RUSSIA – Tags: CIVIL UNREST MILITARY POLITICS) ATTENTION EDITORS – THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. THIS PICTURE WAS PROCESSED BY REUTERS TO ENHANCE QUALITY. AN UNPROCESSED VERSION WAS PROVIDED SEPARATELY


                                After the cease-fire on the Korean peninsula, The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) began efforts to industrialize and modernize China. Aid and technical support arrived from the USSR as five-year plans for development along the Soviet model (1957) were introduced. The “reform” of agriculture began in earnest in 1954 with the first steps toward collectivization. In 1958, the “Great Leap Forward” was started. The idea was to catch up to the West in industrial production. Communal life was “encouraged.” By the end of 1959, over 25,000 communes became home to most of the rural population of China. Small factories were established and staffed by people who used to be farmers. The results could have been predicted: family life was shattered, and even more importantly, between 15 and 20 million people died from starvation. The “Great Leap” was a complete disaster.

                               The government of Tibet, led by the Dalai Lama, was dissolved by the Chinese in 1959. The Dalai Lama fled to India as Beijing tightened its grip on the country. The myth of “monolithic world communism” was a myth. In August 1960, the Soviets withdrew all of their personnel from China.  China and India fought a month-long border war in 1962. The Chinese bitterly chastised the Soviets for having supplied weaponry to India, some of which had been used in the war. (Throughout most Cold War, the Chinese (and the Americans) would support and arm Pakistan, while the Soviets did the same for India.)

                            The next of Mao’s grand ideas took place between 1965 and 1968. The “Cultural Revolution” was designed to increase the revolutionary fervor of the Chinese people. Leaders and officials who were not seen as sufficiently fervent in their dedication to the revolution were identified and punished.  Purges of top leadership occurred; some were publicly humiliated, others were imprisoned and abused, and many “disappeared”; the lucky ones got out of China just in time. Chinese universities were almost destroyed because of the “Red Guards” desire to eliminate “bourgeois influences. The Soviet-Chinese dispute spilled over into open battle in 1969, as Red Army and PLA troops fought each other along the Ussuri River. During a brief meeting, Chou En-Lai and Soviet Premier Kosygin tried to smooth matters over.  Chou En-Lai died in January 1976; Mao died in September. China’s door was now open to change how it interacted with the world. 

                              China’s population went over one billion people in 1982. The one-child-per-family policy went into effect. The policy of communal living was ended.  Throughout the 1980s, tourism increased as well as foreign “investment” in China. They were “encouraged” to enter joint ventures with Chinese companies, which allowed them to build factories in China. In exchange for “cheap labor,” most western companies willingly turned over technological and procedural knowledge to their Chinese counterparts. It was during this time that the powerhouse that became known as “Japan Inc.” dominated the electronics industry and revolutionized auto manufacturing and other “durable (steel) goods manufacturing. (South Korean industry was just beginning its ascendancy).  

Deng Xiaoping at a rally celebrating the 50th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Liberation Army. 1977. (Photo by: Sovfoto/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

                           There was a gradual loosening of tight controls over freedom of expression during the 1980s in China. Was democracy possible? The answer was no. In April 1989, demonstrations began in Tiananmen Square in Beijing.  On May 4, over 100,000 students gathered for peaceful protests. A replica of the “Goddess of Liberty” appeared in the square by late May. Martial law had declared on May 20, and on the night of June 3-4, 1989, PLA troops and tanks moved into the square to drive the protestors out. The death toll will never be officially known; most experts believe it was in the thousands. The US government criticized the Chinese for their repressive tactics. That was as far as the Americans were prepared to go. In May 1989, President George H.W. Bush extended the “most favored nation” trade status to the Chinese for another year. “Human rights” was no longer a top American priority. This practice continued into the 90s when in 1993, Bill Clinton made the same extension. The Americans tried to fight back against the Chinese. However, it was already too late. Tariffs were placed on Chinese imports to stop the Chinese from making and selling counterfeit goods and stealing intellectual property.  With little effect. 

                       In April 1997, for the first time since 1842, Chinese troops took up positions in Hong Kong. The British turned over control of Hong Kong to the Chinese government on July 1, 1997. As the 21st century dawned, China’s power and influence grew. The return of the “Middle Kingdom” was at hand.   

China’s first domestically built Aircraft Carrier

“The Middle East is just a blip. The American military contest with China in the Pacific will define the 21st century. And China will be a more formidable adversary than Russia ever was.” 

Robert D. Kaplan, The Atlantic, June 2005

Works Cited


Andersen, Kurt. Evil Geniuses: The Unmaking of America- A Recent History. New York: Random House, 2020.

Gellman, Barton, “January 6 Was Practice.” The Atlantic, January/February 2022.

Kaplan, Robert D. “How We Would Fight China.” The Atlantic, June 2005.

Lane, John M. “Freedom Deferred: Frederick Douglass and The End of Reconstruction, 1865-1895”, 2022.  www.jmlww2.com.

Lane, John M. “Geography, Culture, Technology and Conflict Through the Ages, Part III.” 2021. www.jmlww2.com.

Lane, John M. “Geography, Culture, Technology and Conflict Through the Ages, Part IV.” 2021. www.jmlww2.com.

McGee, Heather. The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together. New York: One World, 2021.

Schmidt, Jr. Benno C, “Principle and Prejudice: The Supreme Court and Race in The Progressive Era. Part I: Heyday of Jim Crow” Columbia Law Review Vol. 82, No. 3 (April 1982), pp.444-524. JSTOR 18 September 2009. http://www.jstor.org/searcf.

Next: Part V: The United States, 1981-2021 “The Forty Greed is Good” Years

The “Post-War,” 1945-2022 : Part III

The “Post-War,” 1945-2022

Part III


John M.Lane

The “Twilight Struggle”: Cold War, 1947-1991

“Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty.”

John F. Kennedy, Inauguration Address, January 20, 1961                                               

                               In the winter and spring of 1945, the unspoken question considered in Moscow, London, and Paris, among other capitals, was: Once the war was over, would the Americans leave Europe as they had after the first war?  Stalin and the Soviets wanted the Americans out of Europe for obvious reasons. De Gaulle also wanted the Americans out. Even Churchill was doubtful about how much of an American presence in Europe there should be, as he outlined his thoughts about the possibility of European cooperation and integration. (A process many in Britain opposed). It appeared the Americans would leave through the end of 1945 and going into 1946. “Rank-and-file” American soldiers participated in “we-want-to-go home” rallies in Paris. There was a call to draw down American forces and “bring the boys home.” The situation changed in 1947 and 1948. Britain no longer had the means to support its security policies, especially in Greece. The Americans, under Truman, stepped in to provide aid to Greece. It was an unprecedented move that some isolationist Republicans even supported. Next, in 1948, Stalin decided it was time for the Western Allies to leave their Berlin occupation zones. The Soviets blocked Western Allied rail and road access to West Berlin. Rather than pull out of Berlin, the Americans and British launched a massive airlift to supply West Berlin with food, fuel, and other essential supplies. After eighteen months, the Soviets gave in and lifted the blockade. The Cold War was “officially” underway.

“We Wanna Go Home” : Risking court-martial for Insubordination hundreds of Americans troops march down the Champs Elysees in Paris, 1946. In US History these demonstrations have kept in the background.

                                  As the war ended in 1945, with the use of the atomic bomb, American officials believed that the Soviets would not be able to develop a bomb of their own until at least 1965. They were off by seventeen years. The Soviets got their atomic bomb in 1949 through scientific development and espionage (they were able to steal critical bomb development information through a sophisticated intelligence operation against the Manhattan Project).  That same year, the Communists won the civil war in China and took power, and it appeared that the world was going to choose Marxism-Leninism as the path for government and economic development.     

                            In 1949, at a conference in Washington D.C., twelve European and North American countries created the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO. It was a defensive alliance to deter or stop Soviet expansion into Western Europe. The original members of NATO were the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, France, Norway, Portugal, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark, Iceland, and Luxembourg. NATO was initially headquartered in Paris (after 1966, the headquarters moved to Brussels). An American military officer has always been the military Supreme Commander of NATO, and a European official has always been the civilian head. 


                                In June 1950, North Korea, a Soviet/Chinese client state, invaded South Korea to unite the country under communist rule. As the Second World War ended in 1945, Red Army forces had occupied the Korean peninsula north of the 38th Parallel, and American troops did the same in the south. Elections to unify the peninsula never happened. The Americans and the Soviets blamed each other for that outcome. However, it was evident that the Soviets had no intention of allowing Korea to unite under what could become a pro-western democracy on their border. Stalin’s choice for the leader of Korea was Kim Il-Sung, who trained and educated in the finer points of Stalinist communism in the Soviet Union. Kim began putting pressure on Stalin to allow him to invade the south and unify the country. In 1948 the occupational split on the Korean peninsula became a complete political separation. In the North, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) was created, led by Kim-Il Sung, with its capital in Pyongyang. The Republic of Korea (ROK) was founded in the South, led by Syngman Rhee, Seoul’s capital city. The Soviets trained and equipped the North Korean Army, including supplying them with T-34 tanks, the best overall battle tank used by any army in the Second World War.

                            The South Korean military was trained and equipped by an American Advisory command in Seoul. From the end of 1948 into 1949 and early 1950, both sides carried out border raids and strikes against each other along the 38th Parallel. In 1949, the communists, under Mao Zedong, defeated Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalists and won the Chinese Civil War. The most populous country in the world was now under Communist control. The shock waves in the United States from Chiang’s defeat increased the “Red Scare” intensity as the hunt for domestic “Red” sympathizers reached into more and more areas of American life. The debate over who “lost China” would color American politics into the 1970s. The victory of Mao changed Stalin’s thinking about Korea. If the Americans did not intervene in China to save their great ally, Chiang, there was a high probability that they would not intervene to stop a North Korean invasion of the South. Stalin finally relented to Kim Il-Sung and gave his approval for a North Korean attack on the South. Kim assured Stalin that a lightning attack would overwhelm the South before the Americans could intervene, which appeared highly unlikely. In a January 1950 speech, Secretary of State Dean Acheson indicated that Korea was outside American defense priorities in Asia. (That was not the purpose of the address; however, that is how it has been interpreted until recently).

                               On June 25, 1950, North Korean infantry and armor surged across the 38th Parallel behind a massive Soviet-style artillery barrage. They crushed spirited but overmatched South Korean resistance, taking Seoul days after the initial attack. The United States went before the Security Council of the United Nations to present the case that the invasion violated the UN Charter and that the international body needed to intervene to stop North Korean aggression. The Soviet Union was boycotting the Security Council; consequently, it did not exercise what would have been a veto of the measure. The five-year-old United Nations, led by the United States, was about to launch a multi-national military operation to stop an illegal invasion of a sovereign, independent nation. Since 1953, the United Nations has never been able to mount a similar military operation.

                           President Truman had already authorized American air and naval forces to attack North Korean formation as they advanced southwards. There would be no need for a congressional declaration of war. American military activities would be a “police action.” In his seventies, General Douglas MacArthur was still on active duty as commander of American forces in occupied Japan and was named United Nations commander.  MacArthur flew to South Korea and watched the South Korean retreat across the Han River. He later said that he got the idea for what would be the most significant operation (the Inchon landing) of his long career while observing the Han River retreat. Upon his return to Japan, MacArthur notified the US Joint Chiefs of Staff that American ground forces would be needed to stop the North Korean advance. American command authorities granted permission to send ground forces to Korea. The United States was now in a ground war on the Asian mainland.              

                        The only ground forces that could quickly deploy to Korea were the four understrength American occupation-duty divisions stationed in Japan. American training had become deficient, as their duty responsibilities took on the look and actuality of a nine-to-five job. The weapons and equipment they took to Korea were of Second World War vintage. Production of new aircraft, equipment, weapons, and uniforms, already on the drawing boards and in development, would have to begin immediately. Upon arriving in Korea and facing the North Koreans, the Americans fought bravely, although they were, for the moment, outgunned and “out-tanked” (this situation would soon change). The Americans and South Korea conducted a fighting withdrawal to a perimeter around the southeast port city of Pusan. The North Koreans tried to break through with determined attacks in July and August 1950, especially along the Naktong River. As the Allies slowly established air superiority, supplies and reinforcements arrived in Pusan. A multi-national army was developing inside the perimeter. Eventually, over 19,000 UN troops would fight in Korea. Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Britain, and Turkey were significant contributors to UN ground, sea, and air forces, fifty-three United Nations members had promised to make some contribution to the war effort. Make no mistake; however, the Korean War was fought mainly by the South Koreans and Americans, and the Americans did most of the “heavy lifting” for the rest of the war. 

                               In September 1950, the 1st Marine Division sailed from California, bound for Korea. They were to conduct an amphibious landing near the Korean port city of Inchon. The Inchon landing was highly problematic. The tides in the landing area were some of the highest in the world. The landing caught the North Koreans by surprise, and the Americans quickly overwhelmed their small, heavily outnumbered garrison. The re-taking of Seoul would not be that easy. The fighting in the city was brutal and costly. Like the battle for Manila in 1945, civilians were caught in the middle as the Marines fought street-by-street and house-by-house. North Korean resistance in Seoul ended on September 28. By early October, the Marines held lines south of the 38th Parallel. In the south, the Eighth Army broke out of the Pusan Perimeter as the North Koreans began to retreat to the North.

                              In Washington, the President made a fateful decision. The President’s National Security Council advised that UN forces not cross the 38th Parallel to pursue and finish the North Korean Army. The Council believed that UN forces had achieved their objectives: North Korean troops had been ejected, and South Korea was now secure. The uniformed military command, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, disagreed. In keeping with American tradition, they believed that UN forces must destroy the North Korean Army to ensure North Korea could no longer threaten South Korea. President Truman sided with the uniformed military. The UN mission would now be to unify the peninsula under the rule of South Korea. In early October 1950, the UN approved the movement of UN forces into North Korea. Eighth Army troops (US 25th Infantry Division, 24th Infantry Division, 1st Cavalry Division, 27 and 29th British Brigades, and ROK 6, 7, and 8th Infantry Divisions) crossed the 38th Parallel. With little resistance, they began advancing toward the North Korean capital, Pyongyang. They took the city on October 19.

                                       As a fighting force, the North Korean Army was becoming irrelevant. On the east coast of North Korea (Wonsan), X Corps (the 1st Marine Division, US 7th Infantry Division, and the 3rd Infantry Division) landed and began moving North along with a South Korean corps. Army General Edward Almond commanded X Corps. As the brutally cold Korean winter approached, the two undermanned forces pushed north along the coasts, separated by mountainous terrain. They would soon face an even deadlier opponent.

                              Under the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), the new Chinese government began planning what to do if UN forces (especially Americans) crossed the 38th parallel into North Korea. This planning started in August 1950, a month before the Inchon landings. The Chinese then issued warnings, through intermediaries, that the advance of Western-led forces toward their border was unacceptable. Mao and Zhou Enlai saw the advance as a direct threat to China, especially the industrial areas of Manchuria. In October (the 19th), Chinese combat forces (250,000) began quietly entering North Korea (completely undetected by UN Intelligence, including the newly created (1947) Central Intelligence Agency), as Mao informed Stalin that China was going to intervene in the Korean War. The warnings reached American command authorities; however, they considered them to be empty rhetoric. 

                             On October 15th, as Chinese forces were about to cross the Yalu River and move into positions in the mountainous North Korean terrain, President Truman met face-to-face with his “subordinate,” General MacArthur, on Wake Island. The President flew over halfway across the Pacific to meet with MacArthur. The General could not afford to be too far away from his command. MacArthur barely tried to conceal his contempt for the President, especially a Democratic president, (In 1948, MacArthur’s supporters had tried to secure the Republican presidential nomination for him. It was an effort he again, as in 1944, made little effort to stop). There was no agenda for the meeting between Truman and MacArthur. The talks were almost negotiations between two hostile camps seeking agreement. Truman wanted to answer the central question: whether the Chinese would intervene in the war. MacArthur was confident that no Chinese intervention would occur: “I believe that the formal resistance will end throughout North and South Korea by Thanksgiving. There is little resistance left in South Korea- only about 15,000 men- and those we do not destroy; the winter will… The North Koreans are making the same mistake they have made before. They have not deployed in depth. When the gap is closed, the same thing will happen in the north as happened in the south. It is my hope to be able to withdraw the Eighth Army to Japan by Christmas…We longer stand hat in hand. The Chinese have 300,000 men in Manchuria. Of these, probably not more than 100/125,000 are distributed along the Yalu River. Only 50/60,000 could be gotten across the Yalu River. They have no Air Force. Now that we have bases for our Air Force in Korea, there would be the greatest slaughter if the Chinese tried to get down to Pyongyang”. (Quoted in Horne 296)

President Truman and General MacArthur, Wake Island, 1950

                                In late November, the Chinese attacked lead elements of UN forces along the Chinese-Soviet frontier. The first battles between Chinese and American troops took place in early December, as the units of the First Cavalry Division barely escaped encirclement and destruction. The Chinese offensive hit UN forces in three areas along the frontline as of November 24, 1950: In the west, against Eighth Army near Kunu-RI, Anju, and Sinaju; in the east, against X Corps near Hagaru-RI, Yudam-ni, and the Chosin Reservoir, and a massive attack out of the hills and mountains of central North Korea designed to envelop and trap the two separate UN forces. Along the thinly- manned line across the Peninsula, UN forces were massively outnumbered and had to retreat. At the Chosin Reservoir, only 1stMarine Division commander General O.P. Smith’s foresight saved a bad situation from becoming a catastrophe. Smith had refused to rush headlong into what he correctly perceived to be a Chinese ambush at the urging of the corps commander, General Almond. While advancing northwards, Smith had established strong points and built airstrips, just in case a retreat was necessary. After recovering from the initial Chinese attacks, the Marines began a coordinated withdrawal to the south. The plan was to reach the coast for evacuation.

                            The Marines’ fighting withdrawal began with the remnants of the Army units that the Chinese had nearly destroyed on the reservoir’s west side. With strong air support, the Americans fought to Hungnam, where they were evacuated by ship on Christmas Eve, 1950, and taken to Pusan. In one of the great epics in US Marine Corps history, the column fought off and survived attacks by at least twelve Chinese divisions. They had brought out as many of their dead and wounded (thanks to the plans of General Smith, many wounded were evacuated by air) as they could and most of their equipment. 

The Marine withdrawal from The Chosen Reservoir, 1950

                               The Chinese pushed the UN out of North Korea. The retreat was a humiliating rout. It did not stop until UN forces finally dug in south of Seoul (the Communists regained control of the city) in January 1951. There would be no unification of Korea under the supervision of a friendly government based in Seoul.  UN and Allied leaders needed a new strategy to end the war and bring about a new status quo. The war needed to end because of the Soviet threat in Europe. Very few people wanted an expanded war that would involve attacking China or the use of atomic weapons. Not everyone, however, was against expanding the war.  In the United States, the bi-partisan political situation deteriorated as support for the war plummeted. Truman’s popularity “tanked” as he and the Democrats came under withering attack for not pursuing victory in Korea as American tradition saw it. MacArthur, still in overall command, joined the attack. According to Thomas E. Ricks: “MacArthur responded to his military setback by launching blistering public attacks on the Truman administration. Most notably, he told US News & World Report that he had been handicapped by Washington’s limits on him, “without precedent in military history,” and accused Western leaders of being “somewhat selfish” and “short-sighted.” (Ricks 174)

                                MacArthur’s final act of insubordination occurred in the spring of 1951. “On April 5, Representative Joseph William Martin Jr., the Republican leader of the House of Representatives, read aloud on the floor of the House a letter from MacArthur critical of Truman’s Europe-First policy and limited-war strategy in the Far East. The letter concluded with the clarion call: We must win. There is no substitute for victory.” (Horne 304) With the concurrence of the uniformed military leaders of the nation, the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Truman, on April 11, 1951, relieved Douglas MacArthur from his duties in the Far East:

“I deeply regret that it becomes my duty as President and Commander-in-Chief of the United States military forces to replace you as Supreme Commander, Allied Powers; Commander-in-Chief, United Nations Command; and Commanding General. US Army, Far East. You will turn over your commands, effective at once, to Lt. General Matthew B. Ridgway. You are authorized to have issued such orders as are necessary to complete desired travel to such place as you select. My reasons for your replacement will be made public concurrently with the delivery to you of the foregoing order and are contained in the next following message…” (As quoted in Horne 305-306)

                                Matthew Ridgway had taken over command of the Eighth Army upon the death of General Walton Walker in January. Ridgway immediately began to change the atmosphere and fighting spirit of the Eighth Army. Re-equipped, reinforced, and resupplied the UN, under Ridgway, pushed the Chinese back, and recaptured the rubble of what was left of Seoul.


                                MacArthur returned to the United States as a conquering hero. He had left the country in 1937 and was now returning fourteen years later. The “America” MacArthur envisioned no longer existed. However, he received rapturous welcomes and “ticker-tape parades across the country. Truman’s approval poll ratings dipped into the “30s” and “20s”. MacArthur’s “farewell” speech before a joint meeting of Congress brought tears to the eyes of those who heard it and to those who read it today, it still does. He had a remarkable, illustrious, and controversial career. It was time to “fade away.”  


                               Between the summers of 1951 and 1953, the battle lines in Korea began, in many ways, to resemble the trench battles of the First World War. The front moved very little in either direction, becoming a war of attrition. The war became increasingly unpopular in the United States and the other Western combatants. President Truman decided not to seek a second term as President. The Republicans chose Dwight Eisenhower as their nominee to run against Adlai Stevenson. Peace talks began and continued through the 1952 election campaign. Eisenhower promised that if elected, he would go to Korea. He was elected in a landslide and went to Korea as President-Elect. The idea that Eisenhower threatened to use nuclear weapons to end the war has never been substantiated. Churchill, way past his prime, was returned to power in 1951. He was absolutely against any expansion of the conflict and sought assurance from Truman and Eisenhower. Stalin died in 1953; it has also never been proven that he pressured the North Koreans and Chinese into a settlement.

President-Elect Eisenhower in Korea, 1952

                                   The Chinese needed to end the war to consolidate their “revolution” at home, and the North Koreans were happy that they still had a country to rule and rebuild. On July 27, 1953, the fighting stopped when a truce/ceasefire went into effect. The border had changed very little from the original 38th Parallel line. There has never been a legally recognized peace treaty between the combatants (the United States/South Korea. and China/North Korea.) In the 21st century, a “state of war” remains along the most heavily fortified border in the world. 

                              Today, most Americans have no idea that the United States and China have already fought a brutal land war on the Asian continent. 

Korean War (1950-1953) Casualties

United States:

Military Killed and Missing                                           36,568

Military Deaths Outside War zone                                 17,678  

Total                                                                                54, 246 

Military Wounded                                                          103,284  

South Korea:

Civilian Dead and Missing                                             1,000,000

Military Killed and Missing                                           217,000

Military Wounded                                                          429,000  

Other United Nations Forces:

Military Killed and Missing                                     3,063

Military Wounded                                                    11,817

North Korea:

Civilian Dead and Missing                                       600,000

Military Killed and Missing                                     406,000

Military Wounded                                                    1,500,000


Military Killed and Missing                                    600,000

Military Wounded                                                   716,000


                               By 1960, the United States military stood like a colossus astride the globe. American bases were in Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Caribbean. The US Navy controlled every sea lane and vital chokepoint in the world. American airpower was beyond challenge. Technology had allowed the Americans to build a high-altitude spy plane, the U-2, that regularly flew over the USSR, between Norway and Pakistan, and photographed their military installations. The Soviets were able to shoot one down in 1960, to the great embarrassment of the US government. (It was a U-2 that spotted the Soviet missiles in Cuba in 1962.)  From 1953 to 1963, the nuclear arsenals of the United States and the Soviet Union continued to grow, with Britain, France, and China acquiring their independent arsenals. 

                         The 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis brought the world closer to destruction than any other time during the Cold War struggle. The Soviets were determined to gain a strategic advantage like the Americans (the US had placed medium-range “Jupiter missiles in Turkey) and placed medium-range missiles of their own in Cuba. This move was meant to neutralize the huge American advantage in ICBM (Inter-Continental Ballistic Missiles, contrary to the 1960 presidential campaign, there was no missile gap. The problem for the Americans was that their missiles were designed to carry satellites and, eventually, people into space. Many of their missiles continued to blow up shortly after launch.) For “Thirteen Days,” the world stood on the brink of destruction before both sides compromised. The Soviets agreed to withdraw their missiles from Cuba, as the Americans (secretly) agreed to withdraw theirs from Turkey. In addition to Cuba, the Kennedy Administration dealt with a major crisis in Berlin in 1961 (the year the Soviets constructed the “Wall”) and continuing instability in South Vietnam. 2,000 American advisers were in South Vietnam by the end of 1961 (the first American combat death occurred in the same year). 

President John F. Kennedy meets with Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko, center, in the White House, Oct. 18, 1962. At left is Soviet Ambassador to the U.S. Anatoly Dobrynin. (AP Photo/Harvey Georges)

                           The United States and the Soviet Union were making massive expenditures on defense spending.  That cost was seen in the economies of the western countries, especially the United States. “By the 1980s, 30 percent of the engineers in the United States worked in defense-related industries, while civilian firms suffered from shortages of such personnel. It is not coincidental that those industrialized states with the lowest per capita expenditure on defense between 1970 and 1990, like Japan, Germany, and Canada, had higher rates of economic growth than those with the highest rates of defense expenditures- the United States and Britain.” (Archer et al. 567)  

                              The Cold War arms race was detrimental to both sides; in the short term, the Americans could afford it, but the Soviets could not. “America’s economic superiority allowed it and its allies to prevail in the Cold War, as in the world wars. The United States was able to bankrupt the Soviet Union, which spent between a third and a half of its smaller economy on the military while spending no more than an average of 7.5 percent of GDP on defense between 1948 and 1989.” (Lind 333)


                                  Two world wars had permanently weakened Britain and France, and their empires would collapse sooner rather than later. Winston Churchill had vowed that he would not preside over the dissolution of the British Empire. The compromises, however, he had to make with the Americans during the war guaranteed that the dissolution would happen. Both FDR and Truman were not disposed to assist in saving the Empire. Again, the “special relationship” was not going to help Britain. India became independent in 1947. The incompetently handled partition creating two countries, India and Pakistan, caused millions of deaths and displaced millions. At the same, fighting intensified in Palestine as the British were in the middle of a struggle of their own making; the earlier promises they had made to the Jews and Arabs were incompatible and unworkable. The British left in 1948, and Israel became an independent state. The wars, attacks, killing, and misery continue into the 21st century.

                               Other than the bitter fighting in Kenya and Malaya, the British had learned their lesson and quietly gave independence to the rest of their empire that wanted it. France chose to fight, with disastrous results, to maintain their imperial holdings in Indochina and Algeria. American support for the French efforts in Indochina… (In September 1951, the US shipped to French forces in Indochina “130,000 tons of equipment, including fifty-three million rounds of ammunition, eight thousand trucks, and jeeps, 650 fighting vehicles, two hundred aircraft, fourteen thousand automatic weapons, and 3,500 radios…by the end of 1953 the new Eisenhower Republican administration was paying 80 percent of the cost of the war, a billion dollars a year.”) (Hastings 35) … and would lead to a second Indochina war, resulting in a military and foreign policy catastrophe for the United States.

                            In the de-colonizing “Third World,” the West told the populations that if their new governments joined the anti-communist bloc, they would reap the rewards of “Liberty” and “Freedom.” Instead, they usually got coups, bloodshed, and economic misery, as kleptocratic gangs fought over who would control the commodity, resource, or crop formerly owned by a Western colonial government or corporation (or both). Whatever gang won the most recent revolution (especially if they overthrew a government that attempted to implement some measure of economic equality) would declare themselves to be fervently anti-communist, guaranteeing a continuous flow of arms, military training, and financial assistance. This pattern continued unabated throughout the Cold War in Latin America, Asia, and Africa. After the Cold War, Western “neoliberal globalization” economic development efforts only worsened living and financial situations for most of the population. In the 21st century, the cynical “soft diplomacy” (it’s really about control of oil resources and strategic minerals) efforts of the Chinese, as they seek to show the “Third World” how excellent their system is, will also fail. The poverty imposed over the last seventy-plus years (plus climate change) drives the “global south” population to the North. No wall will stop them. The colonizers are becoming the colonized.


                       As the European empires collapsed, those newly independent nations had to choose sides in the ideological struggle. The French gave up in Indochina in 1954 after a humiliating defeat at Dien Bien Phu.  Free elections never happened in Vietnam. The country was divided North and South at the 17th parallel: North, Communist, South, Free. The National Liberation (NLF), also known as the “Viet Cong,” was founded in the 1950s by South Vietnamese communists who wanted to overthrow the hated corrupt regime of the Diem (who were Christians, ruling an overwhelmingly Buddhist country).  The North wanted to unite Vietnam under their rule and supported the efforts of the NLF. From 1961 to 1964, American advisors’ role in guerrilla actions in the South steadily increased. In 1962, the US created MACV (Military Assistance Command Vietnam) to coordinate their advisory effort, which was now up to 9,000 personnel. In 1962 and 1963, the NLF out-fought the better-equipped South Vietnamese army (ARVN). Throughout 1963, Buddhist protests against the Diem regime continued, including the self-burning suicide of a Buddhist monk in downtown Saigon. American officials looked the other way as ARVN generals plotted against and overthrew the Diem regime on November 1, 1963. The plotters killed Diem and his brother. President Kennedy was dead three weeks later, assassinated in Dallas, Texas.

                                 Four days after being sworn in as President, Lyndon Johnson affirmed that the US would continue to support South Vietnam against what the administration believed was an international communist conspiracy. Going into 1964, North Vietnam increased its support of the NLF and began moving troops and supplies, through Laos, into South Vietnam. The NLF now controlled most of the South Vietnamese countryside. In early August 1964, US ships on an intelligence-gathering mission in the Gulf of Tonkin, off the coast of North Vietnam, came under attack by North Vietnamese patrol boats. One attack took place; however, it remains highly doubtful whether the second attack occurred. The Americans retaliated and bombed targets near the North Vietnamese city of Vinh. On August 7, 1964, President Johnson went before Congress for authorization (not a declaration of war) for action in Vietnam. The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, passed in the House (414-0) and the Senate 88-2), would be used by Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon as permission for all future military deployments in Southeast Asia.

                                 1964 was an election year, and Johnson (LBJ) wanted to focus on his ambitious domestic plan, the “Great Society.” LBJ, however, was the consummate politician. He feared that he could meet the same fate as Truman and the Democrats in the late 40s and early 50s over, who “lost China” and did not fight for “victory” in Korea if he appeared to be “weak,” therefore he simply could not walk away from the Vietnam situation. Sadly, the situation became the dilemma that would be his political undoing. Johnson’s advisers believed that a bombing campaign could deter North Vietnamese aggression. The Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) wanted to begin a “Second World War” type bombing attack on the North. The civilian advisers wanted to gradually increase the intensity of the bombing to bring pressure on Ho Chi Minh to negotiate a settlement. The gradual pressure idea won the day. LBJ won the election in a landslide. He felt he had two years to get his ambitious domestic agenda through Congress; however, Vietnam always lurked in the background.

                              In February 1965, the Americans launched the bombing campaign, “Operation Rolling Thunder,” as Air Force and Navy aircraft bombed selected military targets in North Vietnam and infiltration targets in Laos. Fearing a communist takeover, the Americans launched a full-scale intervention in March 1965; US ground forces arrived in Vietnam. General Westmoreland, the new MACV commander, requested 150,000 troops. Marines guarded the Da Nang airbase and soon began conducting “search and destroy” operations in the provinces around the airbase.  In the Central Highlands area of South Vietnam, the Army started using the concept of airmobile (helicopter) combat operations. The 1st “Air” Cavalry Division fought a major engagement against the NVA. One American battalion was nearly wiped out, and another almost met the same fate; it would be called the Battle of Ia Drang Valley. By December 1965, 184,300 American military personnel were in South Vietnam.

                         The United States was in another land war on the Asian continent. Out of fear of intervention from China and the Soviet Union, there would be no invasion of North Vietnam. The American government believed that the bombing campaign in the North and the continued arrival of American forces in the South could convince North Vietnam to negotiate. So, the entirety of South Vietnam became a battlefield as the Americans began bombing the North. The South Vietnamese population had little, if any confidence, in their governments. The coups and turnovers of power were a constant feature faced by the Americans. The corruption was rampant, as the battle to skim from massive American financial, material, and military aid became a practice at all South Vietnamese “government” and service levels.

22 Dec 1964, LBJ Ranch, Texas, USA — While hosting Defense Secretary Robert McNamara at the LBJ Ranch, President Lyndon B. Johnson reacts to news of new problems in Vietnam. 1964. — Image by © CORBIS

                         In the United States, leadership decided to keep American life as “normal” as possible. There would be “guns and butter.” Americans are paying the decision’s long-term economic and cultural costs to the United States in the 21st century. Against the wishes of the JCS and the Defense Department, the reserves and the National Guard would not mobilize. Instead, the size of the “Draft” would increase. At the end of 1966, there were 385,000 Americans in South Vietnam. Since territory was not occupied, the war became a war of “attrition.” Victory in Vietnam was measured by “body counts.” Body count numbers could make or break an officer’s career. The enemy was engaged through “search and destroy” missions designed to find the enemy and kill him. Undermanned American units took heavy casualties in more than a few of these missions because of well-planned NVA ambushes. Areas of South Vietnam became “free-fire zones” where everything moving in that area was considered fair game for attack and bombing, including villages and the civilians in them.

                                 1967 saw the continuation of “search and destroy” missions; however, they were on an even larger scale. The data (today, we call it “analytics”)  accumulated (enemy dead, bombing sorties, etc.) at MACV headquarters seemed to indicate that the Americans were winning, and the end was in sight. When General Westmoreland returned to the United States at the end of 1967 and addressed Congress, it seemed that the war was nearly over. In 1968 it would become painfully evident that the war was far from over. The NVA besieged the Marine firebase at Khe Shan in January; the drama there captivated the American public as the Marines fought a daily battle not to be overrun. LBJ was so concerned about the battle that a scale model of the firebase was placed in the White House for his examination. (During the battle, North Korea seized an American spy vessel and took the crew prisoner. Because of Vietnam, there was no possibility that the Americans would respond militarily.) 

The image of the Vietnam War: Helicopters and Infantry on a “search and destroy operation ” The Elephant chasing the Ant”

                              On January 30, 1968, during the Tet holiday, the NLF launched a nationwide offensive in South Vietnam. Urban areas were attacked, as well as areas in the countryside. NLF fighters were attacked and entered the compound of the US embassy in Saigon. In the north, the ancient imperial capital of Hue was overrun by NVA forces, who then proceeded to find previously identified civilians by the hundreds, who were considered traitors to the Vietnamese nation. In the only urban battle of the Vietnam War, US Marines had to engage in a savage fight to regain control of the city. The American public was stunned as the Tet offensive unfolded on television every evening. CBS News “anchor” Walter Cronkite went to Vietnam to see for himself. He reported from Hue as the battle continued. Upon his return, Cronkite, often referred to as the “most trusted man in America,” declared that the war could not be won militarily, and negotiations had to begin. As in Korea, there would not be a “victory” in Vietnam. Because of that fact, beyond any other factor, much of the American public quietly turned against the war. Most never demonstrated against or protested the war. They would continue to support the forces in Vietnam; however, they wanted the war to end.

                            The Tet Offensive was a strategic victory for the Americans and their South Vietnamese allies. After Tet, the NLF (“Viet Cong”) was so devastated that they ceased to be an effective fighting force. The NVA would be the primary foe for the rest of the war for the Americans and ARVN. LBJ brought together senior, elite, and retired members of the foreign policy and military establishment, including Omar Bradley and Dean Acheson (“the Wise Men”), to advise him on how to proceed in Vietnam. Their advice was to scale back on the war and begin negotiations. In March 1968, word leaked that the American commander in Vietnam was requesting an additional 250,000 troops for Vietnam deployment. The new Secretary of Defense, Clark Clifford, advised LBJ not to authorize an increase in the force fighting in Vietnam.

                                Most political experts assumed LBJ would run for re-election in 1968. He had, however, a primary challenger; Senator Eugene McCarthy of Minnesota, who was running as a peace candidate. LBJ won the New Hampshire Primary, but the margin of victory was much smaller than expected. In mid-March, New York Senator Robert F.   Kennedy (President Kennedy’s brother and Attorney General. LBJ and RFK despised each other.) entered the race for the Democratic nomination. On March 31, 1968, in one of the most dramatic and consequential moments in American political history, LBJ announced that the bombing of North Vietnam would be limited to encourage the North Vietnamese to begin negotiations. The “bombshell” followed as LBJ announced that he would not seek another term as President. 

                              Richard Nixon was the Republican candidate for President in 1968. Nixon ran on the promise of ending the war by bringing “peace with honor” to the American people. He had a plan to end the war; however, the specifics were never disclosed. Vice-President Hubert Humphrey ended up with the Democratic nomination after the horrifying, disastrous events of the Democratic Convention in Chicago. McCarthy supporters felt that the “establishment” had stolen the nomination from their candidate and were in no mood to support Humphrey. Kennedy’s supporters were still in mourning. Senator Kennedy had been assassinated in Los Angeles in June, moments after winning the California primary.

                                 Peace talks began in Paris in May, as the Americans and ARVN started the most extensive ground campaign of the war against the NVA and the NLF. General Creighton Abrams replaced General William Westmoreland as the American commander in Vietnam. MACV began initial steps to prepare ARVN for when American forces would no longer be in Vietnam. In October, it seemed possible that a deal between the combatants to end the war might be in reach. On October 31, LBJ announced that “all air, naval, and artillery bombardment of North Vietnam is to cease as of 8 AM, Washington time, Friday morning.” Both the NLF and the South Vietnamese government were invited to the talks. Behind the scenes, representatives (and based on information from a “mole” with the Johnson administration) of Nixon had secretly been meeting with Anna Chan Chennault, the widow of General Claire Chennault, a member of the “China lobby.” Mrs. Chennault passed the following message to the South Vietnamese government: “Stay out of the Paris talks; the Democrats were planning to sell out South Vietnam; a Nixon administration would stand by America’s ally.” (Ward and Burns 347) The plan worked: South Vietnam would not participate in the resumed talks.

“The president (LBJ) had a clear picture of what Nixon’s agents had been up to. The National Security Agency had intercepted cable traffic between Saigon and its Washington embassy. The CIA had placed a bug in President Thieu’s office. The FBI tapped Bui Diem’s telephone at the South Vietnamese embassy. The president ordered the Bureau to tail Mrs. Chennault and record who came and went at the embassy. Saturday evening, with just three days before election day, Johnson called his friend and former colleague Everitt Dirksen of Illinois, the Senate minority leader, and the highest elected Republican official in the country, trusting that he would tell Nixon that the president was on to him and was considering telling the voters what he knew.” (Ward and Burns 349)

                       Nixon called LBJ the next day and denied everything: “…I would never do anything to encourage Hanoi- I mean Saigon- not to come to the table because, basically, that was what you got out of your bombing pause, that good God, we want them over in Paris. Peace… I just want you to know, I’m not trying to interfere with your conduct of it. I mean I’ll only do what you and Rusk want me to do, but I’ll do anything…” (Ward and Burns 350). Nixon was lying, and LBJ knew it. Johnson did not “go public” with the information he had. Why? We will probably never know for sure.  Nixon won a close election in a three-way race over Humphrey and Alabama Governor George Wallace (his running mate was Curtis LeMay).

                 16,899 Americans were killed in combat in Vietnam in 1968. The war did not lessen in 1969. It would end up being the second bloodiest year of the war, as Nixon’s plan for “Peace with Honor” was put into effect.


                               The fighting and dying continued almost unabated through 1969. The anti-war demonstrations grew more extensive and more pronounced.  The “Vietnamization” program began in June 1969. With great fanfare, Nixon announced the first American troop withdrawals: 25,000. In the field, the discipline and morale of American troops, both combat, and support, began to collapse. Alcohol and drug abuse were widespread (the heroin came in neat plastic vials; the author believes they were probably shipped in from Thailand). Incidents of insubordination increased. The most common ones were not saluting officers and refusing to advance under orders. Incidents of “fragging” (attacks on officers and non-commissioned officers) did happen; however, the numbers were overblown by a media looking for a sensational story. Racial tensions increased, and incidents primarily occurred in base camps and rear support areas. The display of Confederate flags was not discouraged, as most African American troops responded with “Black Power” salutes and “daps” and grew their “Afros” right up to the regulation limit. As 1969 (with the US force level dipping below 500,000) ended, the effectiveness of the US Army and, to a lesser extent, the Marine Corps was seriously questioned. The “hollowing out” of units in the United States, Germany, and South Korea, to send officers (“career” officers needed combat experience to get promoted) and “NCOs” to Vietnam; weakened the ability of NATO to stop a Warsaw Pact attack on Western Europe or another North Korean invasion of South Korea. The Americans had to get out of Vietnam.

President Nixon in Vietnam, 1969

                             Going into 1970, the Americans were becoming frustrated by the slow progress of the Paris peace talks. American commanders had always wanted to attack Cambodia’s NVA/NLF sanctuaries; however, they had always been off-limits out of fear of expanding the war. In 1969, the “secret” bombing of Cambodia and Laos had increased in the areas adjacent to South Vietnam. In the spring of 1970, Nixon authorized an attack on Cambodia to knock out the sanctuaries. On April 29, 1970, a force that would eventually reach approximately 48,000 troops (including over 19,000 Americans) entered Cambodia. Nixon announced the incursion on national television that night. The domestic US reaction was swift. Polls indicated that 60% of the public opposed the operation.

                                   Protests exploded on college campuses across the country.  As at many universities, protests occurred at Kent State University in Ohio. The campus ROTC building was burned down, and however, for the most part, the demonstrations were peaceful.  Ohio’s governor sent National Guard units to Kent State to help restore order. On May 4, 1970, the protests at Kent continued. Guard units were ordered to disperse a crowd gathered near an administration building. Tear gas was fired as the guard advanced. Then, amazingly, they opened fire. Sixty shots were fired from 28 National Guard personnel. Four students died. Nine other students were wounded. In the 21st century, it is still unknown who gave the orders to; first, load live ammunition and, second, open fire. (The author returned from Vietnam in 1972 and was assigned to Fort Riley, Kansas, where his unit received anti-riot training in preparation for the 1972 national political conventions. Our most crucial order was that under no circumstances was live ammunition to be loaded into our weapon unless under direct order.) The National Guard soldiers used antiquated Second World War/Korean War era M-1 rifles to shoot at the protestors. If this had been the Second World, instead of Vietnam, those soldiers would not have faced students on a college campus; they would have been in the field, fighting the enemy.  

                           On May 13, 1970, tensions over the continuation of the war and racism exploded on the campus of all-black Jackson State University in Mississippi. Incidents involving white motorists prompted the deployment of the Mississippi National Guard and highway patrol on the campus. On the night of May 14, more incidents took place (mainly rock throwing). Shortly before midnight, 150 rounds of ammunition were fired by law-enforcement personnel into a dormitory, killing two students. It was all over in 28 seconds.


                        By the end of 1971, the number of American personnel was 156,000. The American air campaign grew even larger and more intense to support ARVN forces, who now were doing most of the ground fighting. Presidential adviser Henry Kissinger continued to conduct secret talks with the North Vietnamese, unknown to America’s South Vietnamese allies. In a diplomatic move that resonates into the 21st century, Nixon went to China to meet directly with Mao and Chou- Enlai. In the spring of 1972, North Vietnam launched a major offensive across northern South Vietnam and the Central Highlands. Only American airpower, including the extensive use of B-52 strategic bombers and the mining of Haiphong harbor, saved the South Vietnamese from being completely routed. For the first time since the late 1960s, American aircraft bombed targets in and near Hanoi, the capital of North Vietnam. It was becoming clear that without direct American military support, the South Vietnamese would be unable to withstand any determined North Vietnamese effort. North Vietnam had not lost its determination to win the war and unite all of Vietnam under its control, no matter the price or the time it would take. After almost nine years of direct warfare and over twenty years of indirect involvement, Americans, because of their willful ignorance, not only of their history but, more importantly, that of other countries and cultures, never understood or grasped that immutable fact.

                       In October 1972, the United States and North Vietnam agreed to a ceasefire and the release of American prisoners of war. The South Vietnamese government hesitated to accept the terms, knowing that any agreement that brought about US disengagement would be their end. Knowing about South Vietnamese reservations, the Americans also hesitated. At the last minute, the North Vietnamese balked at accepting the settlement. With no final agreement, the Americans launched one more massive bombing campaign over North Vietnam. Nicknamed the “Christmas Bombing” because it took place in December, it forced the North Vietnamese back to the bargaining table. On January 27, 1973, all the warring parties signed an agreement in Paris to end the war. It was basically on the same terms agreed upon in October. By April 1973, all American forces had left Vietnam, and all US prisoners held by North Vietnam had been released. “Peace with honor” had been achieved. The South Vietnamese were now on their own, and their fate was sealed. It would not be if they were overrun; it was when. The 1973 agreement could have been achieved in 1968; it was the best deal the Americans would get.

                           In the spring of 1975, in what some would call the Third Indochina War, the North Vietnamese overran and crushed the ARVN in a matter of weeks; President Thieu fled, and as did millions of Vietnamese, by any means they could find. Americans watched on the evening news as NVA tanks crashed through government gates in Saigon and the last evacuations took place from the rooftop of the American embassy. (The Vietnam evacuation was just as “chaotic” as the 21st-century evacuation from Afghanistan; it was not on a 24-hour cable broadcast loop, with the scene of the same C-17 continuously taking off.)

                     The American war in Vietnam was over. The United States has never wholly recovered from the cost of the Vietnam War either: financially, politically, culturally, or psychologically. 

Vietnam War Casualties: (1956-2006) Major Operations: (1964-1973)

Killed in Action- by year

1956-1960:                  9               Eisenhower

1961-1963:                 191            Kennedy

1964-1968                  33,798       Johnson

1969-1973                  21,192      Nixon 

1974-2006                  67

KIA                                      40,934

Died of Wounds                   5,299

MIA- declared dead.            1,085

Captured- declared dead      116

Missing-Presumed dead       123

Total Non-Hostile Deaths    10,786

Total: 58,220

Wounded                           303,604

Wounded/Hospitalized.    155,303

North Vietnam/NVA- NLF/ “Viet Cong” Combat Dead          849,018

South Vietnam Civilian Dead                                                   340,000

North Vietnam Civilian Dead                                                     65,00

Number of Americans serving Worldwide:                         8,744,000

Number of Americans serving in Southeast Asia:               3,403,000

Number of Americans serving in South Vietnam:          2,594,000

Number of US Vietnam Veterans alive in 2021:                850,000 

Britain and France refused to send troops to fight in Vietnam, much to the anger of US government officials. The following countries agreed to send troops to fight in Vietnam. 

The country, number of troops, and year of largest deployment:

Australia         7,670       1969

South Korea   50,000      1968

New Zealand      500      1969

Philippines      2,500      1966

Thailand.       11,570     1970

(Source: National Archives)

                          For the rest of the 1970s, “détente” and “openings” were the Cold War themes. In June 1972, following his historic trip to China, President Nixon went to the USSR and signed the first Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT) to limit the growth in American and Soviet nuclear arsenals. A second SALT agreement was signed in 1974 by President Gerald Ford and Leonid Brezhnev. The second agreement specified the number of nuclear warheads each side could have. SALT II had not received US Senate ratification by the time the new US President, Jimmy Carter, the former Georgia governor, was sworn into office in January 1977. Carter changed the focus of US foreign policy, emphasizing human rights. He also went ahead with the effort to have better relations with China, recognizing the Beijing government in 1978 and establishing diplomatic relations.

                     Carter was also able to broker a peace agreement between Israel and Egypt in 1978. Arab countries and Israel had fought major wars against each other in 1956, 1967, and 1973. Egyptian President Anwar Sadat felt that peace was in the best interest of Egypt and Egyptian economic development. In the Arab world, his was the minority viewpoint (except for Jordan). Sadat would pay for his peace efforts with his life in 1981. He was assassinated during a military parade. In Iran, the US continued its support for the Shah of Iran (whom they had restored to the throne in 1953 in a US/UK intelligence operation). Carter visited Teheran and toasted the Shah in what would eventually become a foreign policy disaster for the Americans. The Shah was deposed in the spring and summer of 1979 by fundamentalist clerics led by Ayatollah Khomeini. (No country was willing to give him permanent refuge.) By the fall of 1979, the Shah was critically ill and needed medical care to save his life. He was admitted to the United States and treated at Wilford Hall Air Force Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas. The Khomeini government demanded that the Shah not be admitted to the US and that he be returned to Iran. Later in October 1979, “students” stormed the US embassy and took the embassy staff hostage. Eventually, all but 52 would be released. In April 1980, the US attempted a military raid to rescue the hostages in Teheran. The mission failed, leaving eight US personnel dead. A deal was finally reached to release the hostages. They were freed on January 20, 1981, moments after Ronald Reagan became President. 

                                  In December 1979, to prop up the pro-USSR government in Kabul, the Soviets invaded Afghanistan. Jimmy Carter announced a significant increase in defense spending and that any USSR move toward the Persian Gulf would be met by American force. Détente was over. The Americans announced they would boycott the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow and encourage other countries to do the same. The hostage crisis and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan (along with sluggish domestic economic growth and inflation) were issues Carter could not overcome in his 1980 election race with Republican candidate, former California governor Ronald Reagan. Reagan won in a landslide. He promised to restore American greatness and prestige in the world. Reagan and his advisers believed that Nixon and Ford had been too accommodating to the Soviets and Chinese and that Carter had been too “weak” and had not shown enough “toughness” regarding both countries. The Reagan administration was determined to change the direction of the course of the Cold War back to the advantage of the United States. 

                             Upon taking office, Reagan proposed and Congress the largest peacetime military budget in American history. New missiles, aircraft carriers, aircraft, infantry weapons, armor, and something called the “Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), better known as “Star Wars.” The Soviets feared that the US was seeking to acquire “first strike” capability against their nuclear arsenal. It was a system designed to shoot down incoming Soviet warheads. The Soviets increased their defense spending to match the Americans. For them, however, it was a hopeless situation; they could not come close to matching American spending unless they wanted to wreck their economy. For all intents and purposes, the Americans, in the long run, did ruin theirs. The increase in defense spending was enacted simultaneously with substantial tax cuts, massively increased American budget deficits. In the 21st century, the fierce debate over deficits in the American budget continues to rage. 

                                          The Reagan administration showed his “toughness” throughout the 1980s. The US bombed Libya in 1981 and 1986 in response to terrorist attacks. It supplied weapons and aid to the “Mujahadeen,” fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan. It invaded the Caribbean Island of Grenada in 1983 to prevent the Cubans from finishing an airfield while protecting the government of Grenada. (Grenada was a member of the British Commonwealth. The UK government was not notified beforehand of the attack by the Americans). In the Middle East, the US sent intelligence support and weaponry to Iraq in its war with Iran and intervened in Lebanon during the 1982-83 Israeli war with the PLO (Palestine Liberation Organization). It is still unclear why US ground forces were at the Beirut airport.  In October 1983, terrorists using a truck bomb killed over 200 Marines at the airport and wounded many more. In the aftermath, the US did not retaliate. The mission ended, and the troops withdrew in February 1984. In Central America, the US sent aid and arms to anti-communist rebels in El Salvador and Nicaragua. In a bizarre scheme in 1987, weapons and money were funneled through Iran to circumvent a Congressional ban on aid to the “Contras.” In Africa, the Reagan administration maintained its support for the Apartheid regime in South Africa as a bulwark against communist expansion in Southern Africa. In 1983, NATO agreed to let the US station Intermediate-Range Missiles at bases in Europe, over the protest of many rank-and-file Europeans, especially in the United Kingdom.

1984 Summer Olympics, Los Angeles: “America, Triumphant”

                                    Reagan ran for reelection in 1984. His “Morning in America” campaign hit a perfect note as the American economy improved, and it appeared that America’s standing in the world had been restored. It was the ideal backdrop for the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. In retaliation for 1980, the Soviets and their East-bloc allies boycotted the Los Angeles games. China and Romania, however, sent teams. Both received rapturous applause. They were the “good communists.” In 1985, the Soviets had a new, relatively young leader after a series of sick, frail older men. Mikhail Gorbachev, unknowingly, would oversee the end of the Soviet Union. Reagan had a fantastic turn of heart and prepared to discuss limiting, if not eliminating, nuclear weapons. In Iceland, in 1986, Reagan agreed to an INF (Intermediate Nuclear Forces) treaty (the treaty was abrogated by Donald Trump in 2019) and the START (Strategic Arms Reduction) treaty. The keyword was “Reduction,” and previous treaties had been about limitation. The discussion now was on reduction, which meant the elimination of nuclear weapons.  

Mikhail Gorbachev and President Reagan, Switzerland, 1985

               The end was near. The Soviet economy was a “basket case” by 1989. That same year, the Soviets gave up in Afghanistan and withdrew their troops after ten years of fighting. In the Eastern bloc, the collapse began in East Germany. Demonstrators pushed holes through the Berlin Wall. The East German government called Moscow for advice. Gorbachev’s answer was to do nothing. (A Soviet KGB officer in his late thirties named Vladimir Putin watched helplessly from his post in Leipzig, East Germany). The “collapse” spread in 1990 to Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland, Romania, and Bulgaria. Gorbachev survived a coup attempt in 1991. The Russian Federation, Belarus, and Ukraine declared their independence from the USSR. Gorbachev resigned as the final president of the Soviet Union in December 1991. The Russian flag replaced the “Hammer and Sickle” over the Kremlin. The great People’s experiment was over.

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                           The “Space Race” to put humans into space, explore the heavens, and land on the moon was part of the Cold War. It began with Sputnik, the satellite the Soviets put into orbit in 1957. The United States reacted by putting massive expenditures into science, engineering, and technology for universities and the military. The former Third Reich rocket scientist, Wernher von Braun, led the effort to build rockets for the Americans. NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) was started in 1958. Soon seven military pilots were chosen to be the Astronauts. The Soviets beat the Americans by putting a man (Yuri Gagarin) into space (108 minutes) in 1961. President Kennedy then boldly expressed that the goal of the United States should be to place a man on the moon by the end of the 1960s:

 “I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieve the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to Earth.”

President Kennedy, addressing a joint session of Congress, May 25, 1961

                              The first two manned American flights would be flown by Alan Shepard and Virgil “Gus” Grissom. They were short, suborbital flights, going up for approximately 15 minutes and then splashing down in the Atlantic Ocean. The first orbital flight of the original “Mercury” program took place in 1962 when Marine Colonel John Glenn orbited the earth three times.  The last Mercury flight on May 15, 1963, was flown by Air Force Major Gordon Cooper. Cooper was in orbit for over thirty-four hours. Each step in the program prepared for the ultimate goal: to land astronauts on the moon. The “Gemini” program would involve two-men crews, emphasizing “spacewalks,” longer flights, and docking procedures. James Lovell, John Young, Frank Borman, and Neil Armstrong were among the nine chosen to be “Gemini” astronauts. Ten “Gemini missions took place in 1965 and 1966. The next phase of the manned space program was the “Apollo” missions. The “Apollo” flights would take astronauts to the moon. The crew chose Apollo I, Roger Chaffee, Edward White, and “Gus” Grissom to begin their training. On January 27, 1967, a fire broke out in the capsule, killing the three astronauts. Unknown to the Americans, another space-related disaster in the USSR had ended the Soviet desire to win the race to the moon. The Soviet N1 moon rocket exploded on the launchpad, killing valuable Soviet engineers and rocket designers. The Soviets were not going to the moon.

                             The first four “Apollo” flights (7-10), from October 1968 to May 1969, were used for testing, preparation, and training. On July 16, 1969, Apollo 11 was launched. Its goal was to land on the moon. The crew included Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, Michael Collins, and Neil Armstrong. Armstrong was mission commander and was the first human to walk on the moon’s surface. The moon landing took place on July 20, 1969, a Sunday. The world watched a grainy, black-and-white image of Neil Armstrong stepping from the lunar module, “Eagle,” and into immortality. It took the Americans eight years to fulfill President Kennedy’s pledge. The moon landing proved, again, that a dedicated effort, combining American public and private resources with a united purpose, could achieve almost anything. 

July, 1969 – “Mission Accomplished”: Apollo 11 on the Moon

                             There would be six more “Apollo” missions to the moon, from November 1969 to December 1972. Apollo 13, launched in April 1970, almost ended in disaster as an oxygen tank exploded on the way to the moon. It was only the heroic efforts of the crew (James Lovell (4th space flight), John “Jack” Swigert (only flight), and Fred Haise (only flight), and ground personnel at the Space Center in Houston, that enabled Apollo 13 to return to Earth successfully. There were doubts about the “Apollo” program as far back as the “Gemini flights. Members of Congress thought it was too costly; even former President Eisenhower questioned whether the effort should continue. (He died four months, March 1969, before Apollo 11). In August 1971, President Nixon proposed canceling the remaining “Apollo” flights. NASA did cancel Apollo 18, 19, and 20. Manned space flight would continue with the Skylab and Soyuz missions for the rest of the 1970s. Regular manned flights would resume with the Space shuttle missions in 1981. The possibility of the exploration of Mars has always fascinated humans. Beginning in 1962, the Soviets sent nine probers to Mars; 3 were successful. The Americans began a Mars program in 1964 called “Mariner.” Mariners 3 and 4 did flybys of Mars in 1964 and 1965. An American probe, Viking 1, landed on Mars in 1976 and sent the first color pictures of the “Red Planet” to Earth.

                                   Was the Space effort worth the cost? The question is still being debated; however, the evidence of the space program is all around us in our daily lives: the technology we use, the science we study, the food we eat, and even the clothes we wear. 


                                   Having “survived” Vietnam, the Americans were triumphant in the “Space Race” and “victorious” in the Cold War. Despite its critical and potentially debilitating domestic issues, the United States could argue that its values could and should spread worldwide.  “Free Markets,” “Jeffersonian” democracy, “Liberty,” and “Freedom” would encompass the globe. It was time to cash in “the peace dividend” and begin the era of “A New World Order,” led and dominated by the United States.

Works Cited


Archer, Christon I, John R. Ferris, Holger H. Herwig, Timothy H.E. Travers. World History of Warfare. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2002

Boyer, Paul S., ed. The Oxford Companion to United States History. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001.

Branch. Taylor. Pillar Of Fire: America in The King Years 1963-65. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1998.

Cox Richardson, Heather. How The South Won The Civil War. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2020.

Hastings, Max. Vietnam: An Epic Tragedy, 1945-1975. New York: Harper Perennial, 2018.

Horne, Alistair. Hubris: The Tragedy of War in The Twentieth Century. New York: Harper Perennial, 2015.

Jacoby, Susan. The Age of American Unreason in a Culture of Lies. New York: Vintage Books, 2018.

Kershaw, Ian. The Global Age: Europe 1950-2017. New York: Viking, 2018.

Lind, Michael. Land of Promise: An Economic History of the United States. New York: Harper Collins, 2012.

Lopez, Jean, ed. World War II Infographics. London: Thames and Hudson, 2019.

Ricks, Thomas E., The Generals: American Military Command from World War II to Today. New York: Penguin, 2012.

Ward, Geoffrey C., and Ken Burns. The Vietnam War: An Intimate History. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2017.

National Archives

The “Post-War,” 1945-2022 – Part II

The “Post-War,” 1945-2022


John M. Lane

Part II

High Hopes, 1947-1977

                                             From approximately 1947 to 1977, the United States, Canada, Western Europe, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand, arguably had the most significant period of targeted prosperity in recorded history.The standard of living rose across the class spectrum in all those countries and regions mentioned above. By 1970, the broad range of the “first world” populations had access to affordable, durable goods, housing, energy, education, health care, and retirement pensions.

New York City, 1951

                                         Economic growth was fueled in the United States by policies that began in the 1930s, although in a way not traditionally or historically understood. According to Michael Lind… The institutional and physical underpinnings of the American economy were rebuilt in the New Deal era between the 1930s and the 1970s… Liberals, it is said, reconciled themselves to a combination of free enterprise and Keynesian demand management. Nothing could be further from the truth. Keynesian demand management policies were pursued inconsistently under presidents Truman, John F. Kennedy, and Johnson and hardly at all under EisenhowerNor was the postwar economy based on free markets, as those are usually defined. The major sectors of the economy were either organized as government-backed cartels or dominated by a few oligopolistic corporations. Unions were concentrated in the same sectors.” (Lind 345-46) Lind described the heavily regulated industries for the public good and benefit: trucking, airlines, energy, banking & finance, communications, agribusiness, shipping, and radio & television. (Lind 346-47) “America’s oligopolistic corporations were both stable and prosperous. Between 1954 and 1976, fewer than five of the hundred largest industrial corporations lost money, except for two years.” (Lind 348-49) 

                          The Post War “boom” was fueled by progressive tax structures, global trade, massive investments in education and infrastructure, a solid manufacturing base, responsible, far-sighted corporate management, and government regulation that kept the “playing field” levelPossibilities seemed endless for the first world “Baby Boom” generation, born after the war. However, we should remember that the Post War boom was a historical accident brought about by the convergence of events and ideas that coalesced at precisely the right time. The historical forces of reaction and authority that opposed the New Deal and “governmental activism” had not disappeared; they were reorganizing, reassessing, and regrouping. They would reassert themselves with a relentless fury when the time was right to regain power. 


                        In the United States, the pent-up demand for consumer goods, the New Deal era economic reforms, the support for veterans’ education, the government subsidizing of suburban housing, free trade, and the interstate highway system were among the factors leading to explosive economic growth from the early 1950s into the 1960s. The wealthy and heads of corporations did not display their wealth. Conspicuous displays of consumption were in bad taste: no yachts, third homes, or private planes. There were few stock options and hostile takeovers. Incompetence was not rewarded; there were no “golden parachutes” for executives who were not up to the job. Savvy corporations put most of their profits back into their businesses, not bonuses. The shareholders wanted it that way. When the company grew, both workers and owners benefitted. It was considered wise and morally responsible to support unions and give your workers fair wages and retirement pensions. Attorneys and physicians did not advertise; advertising was in bad taste and unprofessional. A generation of Americans had survived the Great Depression and the deadliest war in history. They wanted to build a better future like their counterparts in Western Europe, Japan, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.

                           From the war’s end to the early 1960s, the United States had no real international economic competition. Its potential competitors were rebuilding after being devastated and bankrupted. In a move designed more as an anti-communist tactic rather than a humanitarian policy, the Americans spent millions of dollars to aid the reconstruction of Europe through the Marshall Plan. In the meantime, if you wanted a durable good (automobiles, washers, dryers, or the new television), you bought American-made.

                         A new popular culture spread across America and around the world. The medium of television brought news and entertainment into more and more American homes, beginning in the late 1940s. Although Britain, France, Italy, Scandinavia, Germany, and Japan had strong film industries, they were dwarfed by the Americans. American films and television were where foreigners could learn English to study American “history” and the American “way of life.”  Fears, however, that television would cripple the film industry did not materialize. 

                            American English replaced French as the language of diplomacy. It became the preferred language of business and commerce. (These facts would cripple the study of “foreign” languages in the United States into the 21st century. “They all speak English, why bother…”). The new musical genre, “Rock and Roll,” originated in the United States from roots in African American culture (a fact that caused so much consternation, anger, and concern in many elements (not most) of the broader American populace. “Alternative artists” performed the music to make it acceptable. In Europe, young musicians in groups later known as “the Beatles, Rolling Stones, and Led Zeppelin” openly embraced the musicians they copied and learned from). For better or worse, new youth culture had spread worldwide because of American popular entertainment.


                                 There was a strong belief within the African American population in the United States that with the victory in the Second World War, the nation would begin to fulfill the unmet promise of liberty, freedom, and equality. Conditions, however, in the early post-war years were not promising. As in the aftermath of the First World War, African American veterans were attacked, often while still in uniform. Because of local control, these same veterans were denied complete access to GI Bill benefits that should have been available to all veterans, especially mortgage loans (housing ownership is a crucial means of developing long-term wealth). As in Europe, there was a movement to expand the “social safety net” in the United States. The first proposals to provide universal health care to Americans were in 1946 and 1948. Although the insurance and pharmaceutical industries, along with the American Hospital Association and the American Medical Association, had not yet established complete control over health care in the United States, they could still mount a highly effective campaign to stop the legislation. Their allies were segregationists, South, North, and West, who did not want even to consider the possibility of integrating medical care, which would have resulted from a universal system. 

                              The initial breakthroughs of the Civil Rights Era, from 1954 to 1968, began with the landmark decision in the Brown v. Board of Education case in 1954, which overturned the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson “separate but equal” decision. The Supreme Court in “Brown” ruled that public school segregation was illegal. However, “all deliberate speed” was used in the decision’s wording. Jurisdictions throughout the country, especially in the South, would use those words to take measures to avoid obeying the decision. Elsewhere, direct, non-violent civil disobedience by a young Baptist minister in Montgomery, Alabama, named Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., proved it could work. He led a boycott of Montgomery’s bus system, leading to the system’s desegregation.

May 17, 1954 – Brown v Board of Education, Topeka, Kansas

                                 In Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1957, the governor of the state-led the challenge to “Brown” by refusing to allow the integration of Central High School. Although “lukewarm” on desegregation, President Eisenhower decided to overrule the Arkansas governor and send federal troops to enforce the “Brown” decision. It had not been one hundred years since the US Civil War. Feelings about the North and “Yankee aggression” had always festered just beneath the surface of civic life. Those feelings now came out into the open. Opposition toward the changes promoted during the New Deal and continued by Truman and Eisenhower never went away. In the 1950s, the opposition developed a new ideological/intellectual foundation through the journal National Review, and its founder, William F. Buckley, Jr. National Review published an article on August 24, 1957, entitled “Why the South Must Prevail,” stating the argument for what soon would be called “movement conservatism.” : “Buckley made the same argument James Henry Hammond made in 1858, explaining that a minority could override the majority’s wishes if the majority were wrong. Buckley dismissed the idea of universal suffrage as “demagogy” and declared that whites were entitled to dominate black people because they were “the advanced race.” (Quoted in Richardson 159). The foundational beliefs of “movement conservatism” are anti-communism/socialism, free markets, little or no taxation, little or no regulation of business, privatization of government and public services (including education), judicial “restraint,” religious conformity, “traditional” family values and white domination of society and the body politic of the nation (which means access to the voting booth must be limited). The language that has evolved to promote these ideas has been brilliant and deployed in a masterful way that has dominated American political life from the late 1970s into the 21st century. The political opposition to movement conservatism has been at a loss to develop the language (and ideas) to counter it. Orwell, writing in 1949, was prophetically right:




In “1984

By George Orwell


                                    The US Supreme Court also began, except during the “Glorious Thirty Years,” to use creative language. In their interpretation of the 14th Amendment, “corporations” are “people,” and in their support for “free speech,” “money” is now “speech.” In the history of the American republic, the US Supreme Court, except for fifteen years (1954-1969), has ruled around eighty percent of the time to make the wealthy wealthier, the powerful more powerful, and the comfortable more comfortable. In a court presided over by a Republican chief justice (former California Governor Earl Warren), appointed by a Republican president (Dwight Eisenhower), the Court began to rule in favor of ordinary Americans instead of the power interests. Separate but equal by race was no longer constitutional; you had the right to legal representation if charged with a crime. Individuals had the right to privacy, criminal suspects had the right to remain silent during interrogation, and people could marry whomever they wanted, no matter their race (Loving v. Virginia, 1967). The Court ended “Same-sex” marriage bans in 2013. “Traditionalists” have waged battles to attack, weaken, or overturn these decisions as examples of “judicial overreach.”


                                  The civil rights movement continued to gain momentum into the 1960s. Demonstrations, “sit-ins,” and “freedom rides” drew attention to the hypocrisy of American life. The 1963 demonstrations in Birmingham, Alabama, with the images of fire hoses and attack dogs, were seen in print and on newsreels worldwide. How could the Americans promote “liberty and freedom” worldwide and deny it to their citizens? President Kennedy proposed a Civil Rights Bill and implored Congress to pass it in a nationally televised address. The height of the Civil Rights movement was the August 1963 “March on Washington.” It would be the last time until 2020-21 that the possibility of a peaceful reckoning and racial reconciliation for the American people appeared to be within reach. Dr. King’s riveting speech (parts of which have been co-opted by “the movement,” especially “the content of our character”) was a call for social, political, and economic justice. It was a fleeting moment for what could have been.

                                       In the fall of 1963, President Kennedy prepared to run for a second presidential term. He expected his opponent to be Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona, a former Senate colleague. “Movement” activists hated JFK. As he arrived in Texas, “wanted leaflets” began to appear. Some of the charges were as follows: “He has given support and encouragement to the communist-inspired racial riots” (they meant Birmingham 1963). and “He has illegally invaded a sovereign State with federal troops.” (National Archives). (They meant he sent Federal marshals to the University of Mississippi in 1962 to enforce court integration orders allowing James Meredith (US Air Force Veteran) to attend the university.) 

                                     Both parties knew that Texas would be crucial in the electoral college vote. JFK decided to go to Texas to unite the factions of the State Democratic party behind his candidacy. The trip would take him to San Antonio, Houston, Fort Worth, Dallas, and Austin. While the president rode in an open car in downtown Dallas, he was shot by an assassin using an imported rifle purchased from a mail-order company. The President died from his wounds on November 22, 1963. Lyndon Johnson was sworn in as President on Air Force One, as it departed Texas for Washington D.C.   Johnson was a southern “new dealer.” He believed in FDR and what he had tried to accomplish in the 1930s. Johnson wanted to finish what FDR had started and create a “Great Society.”

President Kennedy, Dallas, Texas, November 22, 1963

                                     In 1964, Johnson still had the political support to proceed with his ideas. LBJ was able to get the Civil Rights Bill through Congress in 1964 by using his legislative experience to break a Senate filibuster (and with crucial support from mainstream Republicans, 82% of House Republicans and 80% of Senate Republicans voted “Yes.” Western and Midwest “movement” Republicans and southern segregationist Democrats opposed the legislation, including Republican presidential frontrunner Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona. The former two mentioned groups would soon begin forming the “new” Republican Party).

                                      The Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlawed discrimination in employment (including gender), public accommodations, schools, and federally funded programs. 1964 was a presidential election year, and LBJ ran against Barry Goldwater. The South had always been the base region of the Democratic Party, going back to the days of Andrew Jackson. Eisenhower and Nixon had made inroads in recent elections, and as the campaign accelerated, LBJ was concerned about the party’s chances of holding its Southern base. After signing the Civil Rights Bill, LBJ said to Bill Moyers: “I think we just gave the South to the Republicans for your lifetime and mine.” (Branch 404). African Americans had been loyal to the Republican Party since the Civil War, and Reconstruction ended. In 1960, the African American vote split between JFK and Richard Nixon. (Retired baseball “superstar” and racial pioneer Jackie Robinson supported Nixon). As Republicans moved toward the philosophy of the “movement,” The Right longer welcomed African Americans with open arms into the Republican Party. The passage of the Civil Rights Act, and the Voting Rights Act in 1965, only accelerated the process. In 1964, the great American political realignment began.

President Johnson and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. : The signing ceremony of the 1964 Civil Rights Act

                                       LBJ won the 1964 election over Goldwater in a landslide. Goldwater carried the Deep South states of Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, Georgia, and South Carolina. Alabama Governor George Wallace won the Indiana Democratic primary in the primary season. The handwriting was on the wall for all who wanted to see it. 1964 would be the last presidential election in which most white American voters would pull the lever for the Democratic presidential candidate.

                                   In 1964, the first urban “riot” occurred in Harlem (New York City). The riot was the first example of expectations not meeting results. The pattern would continue in the immediate years to follow. Also, in the summer of 1964, a significant push began to increase African American voter registration in the South. “Freedom Summer” was declared, and Mississippi would be the point of focus. After training in Oxford, Ohio, college students went to Mississippi to challenge the state’s voting practices. They entered a maelstrom of racial hate and intimidation. Three young people (two were white) went missing near Philadelphia, Mississippi. Their bodies were found in an earthen dam. The local terrorists had murdered the students with the support and knowledge of law enforcement and “prominent” citizens. Today, Philadelphia, Mississippi, remains a focal point for the “movement,” which presidential candidates and surrogates visited in 1980, 2016, and 2020. 

                         Dr. King became more directly involved in the push for Voting Rights in 1965. The marches from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, in the winter of 1965, beginning with “Bloody Sunday” on March 7, and were seen on worldwide television, galvanized support for Voting Rights legislation. Congress passed the Voting Rights Bill in 1965 with broad bi-partisan support. The law outlawed the denial of the right to vote based on race, the poll tax, literacy tests, and most importantly, required federal election examiners to be present to protect African Americans attempting to vote or register to vote. The Voting Rights Act completely changed the calculus of American politics in the South and across the nation.

                         The nature of the Civil Rights revolution changed by the mid-1960s. Younger activists were tired of non-violent rhetoric; instead, they advocated “action.” “Rioting” broke out in cities across the United States from 1965 through 1967. The worse of what could better be called “uprisings” occurred in Los Angeles, Detroit, and Newark. The spark was usually the heavy presence of police, using command and control methods in areas where widespread poverty existed. The programs of the “Great Society” were a start. However, they could not overcome unabated systemic racism and discrimination. Now one of the most despised people in America, Dr. King took his campaign North to highlight housing and job discrimination. His reception in Cicero, Illinois, an “ethnic” suburb of Chicago, should have dispelled all notions that America’s racial issues were primarily a Southern problem. 

                     In April 1968, Dr. King went to Memphis, Tennessee, to assist garbage workers in labor disputes with the city. On April 4, 1968, he was shot and killed on a balcony of the Lorraine Motel. Nationwide, “rioting” broke out after the assassination. The assassination of Dr. King was a part of a year, 1968, one of the most tumultuous in American, or indeed, World History. In the United States, the Vietnam War drove Lyndon Johnson from the presidency, as he decided not to seek another term. Student demonstrations against spread across university campuses. In June, Robert Kennedy was assassinated in Los Angeles after winning the California Democratic Presidential primary. In August, at the Democratic convention in Chicago, protestors for many causes clashed with Chicago police in violent melees around the city.  

                              Richard Nixon was the Republican candidate for President in 1968. He promised to end the war in Vietnam “with honor” and restore “law and order” in the country. Third-party candidate George Wallace, Governor of Alabama, promised to bring order back to the country. (Wallace carried Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia. Humphrey had Texas; Nixon took the rest of the South). The Democratic candidate, Vice-President Hubert Humphrey, ran a brave campaign. In the end, he closed the gap, but it was not enough. Nixon was elected President. The New Deal coalition that had controlled the Democratic Party and dominated policy since 1933 was over. Two things brought about the coalition’s collapse: Civil Rights and Vietnam.

                                    Nixon held grudges and despised his “eastern elite establishment” enemies. He knew resentment and could recognize it; he could sense the country’s mood. Nixon would enlist the “Silent Majority” in his war against the elites. He allied himself with evangelical Protestants and conservative Catholics. He appealed to the “ethnic” and rural working classes and those who had not gone to college. Nixon knew the main reason the country turned against Vietnam was not the war itself but that America had decided not to try to win it. In general, Nixon had figured out what the Democrats and the Left did not grasp: Namely, that using class and racial resentment could be used to peel white Southern voters (the “southern strategy”) away from the Democratic party. He and his advisers saw that it was possible to build a new coalition of business/corporate interests, northern working and middle class “ethnics,” religious/social conservatives, and combine it with the South into a voting bloc that could win elections.                               

                           Susan Jacoby explained this situation in her book The Age of American Unreason in a Culture of Lies: … “In 1969, a Gallup Poll conducted for Newsweek revealed the breadth and depth of the silent majority’s disapproval of student demonstrators. (Significantly, the Newsweek poll was limited to white adults. Blacks were not considered “middle Americans,” the group targeted by the pollsters.) More than 84 percent felt that protestors on college campuses had been treated too leniently by university and law enforcement authorities. More than 85 percent also thought black militants had been dealt with too leniently. “It is almost impossible to overstate the resentment in middle America against the recent turbulence on the nation’s college campuses,” observed one analyst, adding that the resentment “has a special spice for those in the lower economic brackets” because they see the protests as a manifestation of “ingratitude and irresponsibility on the part of those who have a chance that they never got.” (Jacoby 153-154) 

                               In the long term (decades), the political and philosophical infrastructure to accomplish this was already under construction by the late 1960s. The “think tanks” were being built, the theories were under discussion, and mechanisms to carry out their ideas were under development. Financing these efforts would not be a problem. Foundations and corporations controlled by the “movement” would see to that. The Democrats had lost sight of the legacy of FDR and Truman but believed they were ascendant. The Democrats wrecked their party structure and cohesion in the name of fairness and equal representation. (The Republicans would eventually do the same, but for different reasons.) The Democrats forgot that political power is built at the local level, in school boards, city/county councils, and state legislatures, not just in presidential elections. By the time the Democrats figured out what had happened (over fifty years later) in the 21st century, it was too late.


                                 The domestic agenda of the Nixon administration remains an enigma. Nixon supported the creation of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the expansion of the Job Corps, a guaranteed annual income to replace welfare payments, and “OSHA,” the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. In economics, Nixon took the US off the “gold standard” and continued the policy of deficit spending to “prime” the economy. The “other” Nixon opposed the extension of the Voting Rights Acts and busing to achieve school integration. In 1971, the Supreme Court ruled in the case of Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education that busing to achieve racial balance in schools was legal. (The worse anti-busing backlash occurred in Boston in 1974-75, where violence broke out as students and buses were attacked). He tried to put southern conservatives on the Supreme Court (that effort failed). Nixon was determined to roll back what he and his supporters believed was judicial activism. His appointees to the court would change the American political and judicial landscape into the 21st century. Warren Burger replaced Earl Warren as Chief Justice in 1969. Burger changed the administrative procedures of the court and was a reliable center/right vote on most decisions, as was his fellow Minnesotan, Harry Blackmun. Corporate lawyer Lewis Powell had been active in planning the business response to the “New Deal” and “Great Society” and would be instrumental in championing corporate interests on the court. William Rehnquist, still in his forties when he was appointed, had been a clerk for Justice Robert Jackson in the early 1950s when he wrote a memo opposing the “Brown” decision and affirming that “Plessy” (1896- Separate but Equal) had been right. Rehnquist would eventually be appointed Chief Justice by Ronald Reagan. 

                                       In 1969, Nixon declared a “War on Drugs.” Drug use had indeed increased, which gave the administration the excuse they needed to go after the groups who were the real targets of the “war”: anti-war protestors and “the Blacks.” This policy was admitted to years later by Presidential advisor John Ehrlichman. As the “war” began, so did the policy of mass incarceration.

FILE – President Richard Nixon tells a group of Republican campaign contributors, he will get to the bottom of the Watergate scandal during a speech on May 9, 1973 in Washington. (AP Photo/John Duricka, File)

                                    By 1972, with the Democrats in complete disarray and the Vietnam War winding down, Nixon seemed assured of reelection (he won in a crushing landslide over George McGovern, who carried one state). That was not the way he saw it, however. He believed his enemies were everywhere and out to get him. Outside of regular law enforcement and intelligence entities, special units strike against those enemies first. These units conducted break-ins and deployed “dirty tricks.” The most famous break-in occurred in June 1972 at the Democratic National Headquarters in the Watergate Hotel/Office complex in Washington DC. Washington police captured the inept burglars. The coverup began as Nixon destroyed himself. The country was mesmerized and paralyzed by “Watergate” from the summer of 1972 to August 9, 1974, when Nixon, facing impeachment and substantial evidence that he had broken the law, resigned from the presidency. 

                                  On December 6, 1973, Michigan Representative Gerald Ford was appointed by Richard Nixon to replace Spiro Agnew as Vice-President (Agnew had resigned over tax evasion charges). Ford was sworn in as President on August 9, 1974. Ford continued Nixon’s foreign policy regarding China and the USSR. At home, he faced a slowing economy brought about by the 1973 Oil embargo and the after-effects of the Vietnam war. Goodwill (and there was a lot) that the American people had for Ford vanished when he pardoned Nixon of all crimes in September. The Democrats won a solid majority in both houses of Congress in 1974. (Including a young senator from Delaware named Joseph R. Biden, Jr.). Inflation worsened throughout 1975, as the worse economic downturn since the Great Depression spread across the United States. Unemployment reached the level of 9% of the workforce. 

                                The Post War boom was coming to an end. By 1975, the desire to work and sacrifice for a better society was gone. Instead, self-awareness and self-indulgence spread through the country. Looking out for “Number One” became the new “mantra.” “Disco” music, with its pulsating beat and meaningless lyrics, took over the “airwaves” and clubs while creating new fashion trends.

                              The sexual revolution that began in the 1960s continued into the 1970s. In the 1972 case of Baird v. Eisenstadt, the Supreme Court ruled that it was permissible for single persons to purchase contraception methods. (Married couples had gained the right to use artificial birth control in 1965 in the case of Griswold v. Connecticut. The case guaranteed a right to privacy). In January 1973, the Court made having an abortion a constitutional right in the case of Roe v. Wade.

                           The post-war prosperity allowed women to challenge the status quo at home and in the workplace. They entered professions that had previously been “for men only” and broke barriers. Unfortunately, for every wall broken, a new one appeared to replace it. The journalist Betty Friedan wrote the ground-breaking book for modern American feminism, The Feminine Mystique, in 1963. “Friedan blamed what she called “the feminine mystique,” a repressive ideal promoted by journalists, magazine editors, advertisers, educators, and social scientists. The domestic ideal held that women could find fulfillment only as wives and mothers. It stunted women’s aspirations and trapped them in the home.” (Boyer et al. 262). Legal and de facto discrimination against women began to be challenged by groups like the National Organization for Women (NOW), founded in 1966. In 1972, Congress approved a proposed constitutional amendment, The Equal Rights Amendment, which stated: “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any state on account of sex.” To be ratified, thirty-eight states also needed to approve the amendment. In rapid order, thirty-five states approved the amendment. At that point, the amendment’s opponents launched an assault on it that was so intense that by 1982, it was clear the amendment would not become part of the Constitution.

                          Other marginalized groups asserted their voices during this period. Indigenous people began to speak up and demand equality in a land taken from them. Latinos demanded justice and cultural respect; Gay and Lesbian people started to leave the “closet” and openly demand equal treatment. The backlash against these movements played out against the backdrop of Vietnam and its aftermath, however, gained political and cultural momentum.


                           If not for “Watergate,” there is a strong possibility that Jimmy Carter would have never become president. He ran as an “outsider” in 1976, positioning himself as a competent, organized professional who could straighten out America’s economic issues and restore faith in American governance. In the general election, Carter had clinched the Democratic nomination by May 1976 and faced President Ford, who barely survived a bruising primary battle with Ronald Reagan. The Republican contest for the 1976 Republican nomination indicated that the ascendancy of “moderate” republicanism was over. In a close election, Carter only won because he carried the South. He would be the last Democratic presidential candidate to do so. The two factors in his favor were that he was an evangelical from Georgia and a prominent African American voter turnout.
                         Domestically, Carter inherited an economy in transition. The era of cheap energy was over, and the West (especially the United States) had difficulty adjusting to the new energy reality. The oil crises in 1973 and 1978 and brutal winters in 1977 and 1978 were the first indications that the United States was not ready for that new reality. The energy situation was not helped by the 1979 accident at the Three Mile Island nuclear plant in Pennsylvania. Any confidence the public had in atomic power use for energy was gone. Carter tried to explain to his credit that the country’s energy habits needed to change. His calls fell on deaf ears and were ignored. The beginning of deregulation of the economy did not begin under the Republicans; it started under Carter, who deregulated the trucking and airline industries (the airlines were deregulated in 1978, the author remembers when flying on a passenger plane was a civilized experience). Carter was an economic moderate, which infuriated many Democrats who wanted to expand the size and reach of social programs. Carter could not do that, even if he had wanted to.

The End of Cheap Energy: lines during the 1973 Oil Embargo

                          By 1978, economic growth had slowed, and unemployment remained high as inflation increased. This situation became known as “Stagflation.” This condition hit the United Kingdom in the late 1960s and, by the 1970s, had spread to at least seven major economies, including the United States. Carter tried to rally the country in July 1979 with an excellent speech revolving around sacrifice and hard work. At first, the speech was well-received; however, it became known and reviled as the “malaise” speech over time.

                       The Federal Reserve tightened the money supply as interest rates approached 21%. Carter’s approval ratings dipped into the “20s”. In 1980, as the hostage crisis dominated his time, Senator Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts challenged Carter for the Democratic presidential nomination. Carter won a bitter fight with Kennedy to win the nomination. In the fall campaign against Ronald Reagan, the election appeared to be close, but things broke for Reagan over the last two weeks before election day. He won a crushing victory over Carter.

                       During the “High Hopes” era, the working and middle classes of the “First World” reached a level of well-being and general prosperity never seen in human history. By the late 1970s, and accelerating into the 80s, it was going to slowly but steadily be taken away; in the name of “Liberty and Freedom.”         

Works Cited


Archer, Christon I, John R. Ferris, Holger H. Herwig, Timothy H.E. Travers. World History of Warfare. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2002

Boyer, Paul S., ed. The Oxford Companion to United States History. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001.

Branch. Taylor. Pillar Of Fire: America in The King Years 1963-65. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1998.

Cox Richardson, Heather. How The South Won The Civil War. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2020.

Hastings, Max. Vietnam: An Epic Tragedy, 1945-1975. New York: Harper Perennial, 2018.

Horne, Alistair. Hubris: The Tragedy of War in The Twentieth Century. New York: Harper Perennial, 2015.

Jacoby, Susan. The Age of American Unreason in a Culture of Lies. New York: Vintage Books, 2018.

Kershaw, Ian. The Global Age: Europe 1950-2017. New York: Viking, 2018.

Lind, Michael. Land of Promise: An Economic History of the United States. New York: Harper Collins, 2012.

Lopez, Jean, ed. World War II Infographics. London: Thames and Hudson, 2019.

Ricks, Thomas E., The Generals: American Military Command from World War II to Today. New York: Penguin, 2012.

Ward, Geoffrey C., and Ken Burns. The Vietnam War: An Intimate History. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2017.

National Archives

Next: Part III, “The Cold War”

In The Balance

In The Balance


John M. Lane

                          “As a nation, we began by declaring that ‘all men are created equal.’ We now practically read it ‘all men are created equal, except negroes.’ When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read ‘all men are created equal, except negroes, and foreigners, and Catholics.’ When it comes to this, I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretense of loving liberty – to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure and without the base alloy of hypocrisy.” 
 Abraham Lincoln, Lincoln Letters

Photo by Gu Bra on Pexels.com

                Events in the United States over the next thirty months will go a long way in determining the future of democracy in this country and freedom-loving countries worldwide. As said previously, the forces of authoritarianism are on the march. The ability of the forces of evil and tyranny to recruit and radicalize racial and religious zealots has reached the point where acts of terrorism can be carried out similarly worldwide because of the internet. Politically, the United States in particular, and democracy in general, faces an existential threat. Some political parties and countries have eagerly embraced the new “fascism” of the 21stcentury. The future of the three great “western democracies” literally lies in the balance. It is in the realm of possibility that Britain, France, and the United States, could, by 2028, be ruled as authoritarian one-party states in “illiberal” democracies/dictatorships, complete with phony elections and sham legislatures, and faux legal structures. Large portions of the populations in all three countries appear to want that outcome.

                               French authoritarian Presidential candidate Marine LePen announced that she would pull France out of the NATO command structure.  LePen lost the election to President Macron. However, as stated in earlier writing, her vote total increased from 31% five years ago to 41% in the recent election. Similar rumblings about NATO were heard in the United States between 2017 and 2020. Britain has already exited the European Union. If democracy collapses in France, Britain, and the United States, how long will it last in Australia, Spain, New Zealand, Japan, Canada, and Italy…?

                                       That list is long. The awful possibility is there. European and American fascists/authoritarians are especially enamored with Russia because, at their core, they are racists. Western Europe, the United States, Canada, and Australia no longer exemplify “western civilization.” They are now seen as decadent mongrels, poisoned by “yellow, brown, and black” immigration and homosexuality. Russia is seen as the last bastion of “pure white” civilization and manly virtues; the sooner the other “white” nations join with Russia, the better. European and American fascists/authoritarians see China as the implacable foe of the West for obvious reasons. (Apparently, the current Russia-China détente can be overlooked.) Pictures of western leaders/celebrities shaking hands with the Russian leader are clear signs of progress and stability. Images of western leaders/celebrities (mainly American Presidents) shaking hands with Chinese leaders are clear signs of “weakness.”

Photo by Gotta Be Worth It on Pexels.com

                                     The possibilities of the “American Experiment” are endless. It is finally time to realize those possibilities. The rule of law and the rule by law, free and fair elections, equal opportunity, and the expanded right to vote need to be defended, not disparaged. These are things that many Americans are now sadly turning their backs on. These Americans believe that trust in the ability of a “Great Leader” is all that is needed. The enemies of the United States, foreign and domestic, are counting on class, gender, and especially racial divisions to continue. (Unfortunately, it appears this situation is not going to change. The sad, shameful, yet not surprising massacre in Buffalo, New York, is confirmation. (The forces of chaos unleashed on the Internet, and the media are determined to ensure that it does not). The 21st-century fascists/authoritarians intend to destroy the United States and its institutions. In the 1940s, the United States and its Allies defeated the fascist/authoritarian attempt to create empires and destabilize the world. However, this time, the fascist/authoritarians are better prepared and organized; they live among us and will use available technology and the institutions of democracy to their advantage.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt, FDR Memorial, Washington D.C.

                                Everything hangs in the balance…

“America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.” 
 Abraham Lincoln

War,Peace, Authoritarianism, and Democracy

War, Peace, Authoritarianism, and Democracy


John M. Lane

                                             Democracy is the most fragile form of government that humans have devised to rule themselves. Various forms of dictatorships, monarchies, absolutist rule, and theocracies, have for most of the time that humans have lived in what we call “civilization” (give or take 7,000 years), have been how humans ruled and governed themselves. It was simple to implement. Those with the most weapons and largest armies won. The populations depended upon them for protection, order, and leadership. The victorious warlord established an elite resource/landowning class accountable to the ruler/warlord and installed it in power. The “power elite” installed a priestly class to legitimize the new order. Everyone knew their place in what would be called society.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

                                           The significant deviation from this order was Ancient Athens, where the first direct democracy exercised authority with minimal participation from only the elite male population of the city. Millennium later, the ideas of the Enlightenment brought forth the concept of rule through the consent of the governed: Democracy or the Democratic Republic. The original manifestation of this idea was the creation of the United States, the first democratic republic with a written constitution. Although far from perfect (the list is long, beginning with the “three-fifths” clause created to count enslaved persons for purposes of representation in the House of Representatives), the document did establish fundamental rights for citizens that have expanded (often grudgingly) over the past two hundred plus years. 

                                          The United States Constitution has been repeatedly copied and imitated over two centuries. Even the vilest, repressive regimes in history have felt the need to create a document that at least reads like the United States Constitution. Around the world, most people are aware of the document’s contents, except, sadly, Americans themselves. Many of whom do not have an accurate idea of what the document says (Political Science/Civics/ Government instruction is currently not in vogue) and attribute it to its “rights” that are not mentioned in any part of the document. Americans do not have the “constitutional right” to practice the “personal liberty” of not stopping at stop signs or driving through lights at intersections. 

Photo by Element5 Digital on Pexels.com


                                       “Classical liberalism” reached the point of becoming a viable political philosophy by the 1840s. Classical liberalism, at its core, promotes the rule of law, rule by law, free and fair elections, representative democracy, capitalism, free trade, and equality of opportunity. By the beginning of the 20thcentury, Classical liberalism had split into two camps: The Tories (Conservatives) believed that the role of government should be “limited” and that lightly or unregulated capitalism and opportunity were the best ways to improve life for most people over the long run. The Social Democrats (liberals/progressives in the United States) felt that the government was obligated to intervene to “level the playing field” to ensure that markets and capitalism worked for all populations through regulation, fair taxation, and worker representation. The struggle between Conservatives and Social Democrats over how to define classical liberalism and implement it has continued into the 21st century. In the past, politics in a democracy/democratic republic meant that neither side got everything it wanted. This situation used to be called “compromise,” which is now a “dirty” word, a sign of “weakness,” and a failure to stand up for “core values.” Because of the refusal to compromise, actual governance in the United States has ground to a screeching halt. Nothing of any substance is accomplished or agreed to. Today, what is substituted for governing management is who can “score the most points” over the latest incarnation of the “culture war.” Meanwhile, for example, the country is burning and melting under our feet, while close to one million people died because a public health crisis was turned into an “us” vs. “them” political battle.

Photo by Werner Pfennig on Pexels.com

                                Historically, the political extremes have been waiting to take advantage of the situation under the circumstances described above. When compromise fails in democratic republics/democracies, either the Communist Far Left or the Fascist Far Right were ready to offer easy solutions to society’s problems. The Communist Far Left will promise that state control of all the means of production will solve everything, while the Fascist Far-Right blames “those other kinds of people” for stealing your jobs, taking your money, and ruining the country. Today, four countries can be called “Communist”: North Korea, Cuba, Vietnam, and China. North Korea and Cuba are “basket cases.” Vietnam is a threat to no one and seeks better relations with the United States. China is positioning itself to challenge the United States to control the “Commanding Heights” of the world economy in the 21st century.


                                   The main threat to the democratic republic/democracy in the 21st century comes from the Authoritarian Right. They offer the comforting notion that it is possible to return to the world of 1950; when the “right kinds of people” were in charge politically, economically, and culturally, no matter what your situation was, you knew you were superior to “those other kinds of people.” In the United States, that guaranteed “superiority” meant that you would be willing to accept higher costs in education and housing, a lesser quality of health care, public transportation, and infrastructure to ensure that “the other” did not benefit from your “hard-earned tax dollars.” To gain and retain power, the Authoritarian Right will build on resentment to stoke anger and frustration in the “working class” against “the other.”

                              What does the war in Ukraine have to do with any of the above? It has everything to do with it. If the Democracies do not stand with Ukraine to fight against the savage, authoritarian attack on that country, the aggression will continue. It appears that Western democracies have decided that they will make that stand. Their battle will be both internal and external. In the recent French presidential elections, the authoritarian candidate received only 41% of the vote. However, that is ten points higher than that candidate received five years ago. Five years from now, it could be even closer.

                                     In Britain and the United States, authoritarians are making gains at every level of government, confident that soon they will gain power, permanently, they hope. Externally, authoritarians worldwide are connected and coordinated. They use the same “playbook,” media outlets and technology, conferences, and propaganda techniques to undermine democratic institutions, the rule of law and spread division. (In the West, they are protected by the same freedoms and constitution they seek to undermine and destroy.)  Democracies must fight back with an equally vigorous effort on all fronts. From time to time, “carrying a big stick” works: At the height of the Cold War, in the 1960s/1970s, the United States had 300,000 troops stationed in Western Europe (while fighting in Vietnam). The Warsaw Pact/USSR never seriously considered a westward attack.  That number is not going to be placed there today. Right now, there are around 65,000.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

                                   Authoritarians must be made aware that further aggression, both military or otherwise, will be met with determined political, economic, and, if necessary, military resistance.

Blog Update

Good afternoon on April 3, 2022.

I have not posted any material over the past two weeks because I have busy working on the last chapter of my book, tentatively entitled-

The Second World War and The Course of World History:

The Rise and Fall of Empires and Nations, 1865-2022

This coming Wednesday I will comment on the changing military situation on the ground in Ukraine, and try to place it into historical context.


Worshiping at the Altar of the Second World War

Worshipping at the Altar of the Second World War


John M. Lane


                                    In September 2022, the Second World War will have been over for seventy-seven years. Those who lived through the war and those who fought in it are leaving us by the thousands every day. Soon the only tangible remnant of the war will be history and our memory; in the seventy-seven years since the war ended, the issue has always been commemorating and studying that history and memory. We in the “victorious” countries, especially the United States and Britain, have turned the history and memory of the war into a “quasi-religion,” complete with its own “holy” texts, shrines, prophets, and mythology. When it comes to the Second World War, the line between fact and fiction, truth and lie has become, in many cases, blurred. subject to moral, social, and strategic factors.

The Moral Factor

                               In the Christmas 2020 issue of BBC History, Christianity Historian Alec Ryrie of Durham University made the case in an article entitled “Our Dangerous Devotion to the Second World War” that “the West’s enduring obsession with battle against Nazism is hampering its efforts to meet the challenges of the modern world” (Ryrie). Ryrie makes the case that as the West has become increasingly secularized, the story of the Second World War and the battle between good and evil has become the West’s new secular religion. “…There’s been a common lament from cultural conservatives that we longer have shared sacred narratives that hold our societies together: we can no longer agree on what might the greatest story ever told might be. (In a Christian, church-going society that story is the birth and life of Jesus Christ). This is supposedly, a sign of our fragmenting values. But this is not true. We do have a new shared narrative: the event that the French novelist Laurent Binet calls “our Trojan war: a landmark, a reference, a source of inexhaustible stories, a collection of epics and tragedies”. In fact, the Second World War is even more than that. It is the defining moral event of our times, the sacred story of a secular age.” (Ryrie) 

                              When the United States joined Britain in the war against Germany in December 1941, it was portrayed as a moral crusade of good against evil from the very beginning. The Nazis were an authoritarian, racist regime that was forcibly spreading its evil poison across Europe, and eventually, the Nazis hoped, across the world. Seventy-seven years after the end of the war, we have forgotten how realistic that hope was. The Nazis had authoritarian and racist followers around the world, in every major country (including the United States and Britain). Nazi authoritarian and racist philosophies never disappeared after the war, and now in the 21st century, they are back on the march, threatening that most fragile form of government, democracy, once again.

                              “The Atlantic Charter of 1941, which laid the basis for the whole postwar legal and moral order, presented the war as a struggle to defend human rights – including the freedom of worship. Allied soldiers were told that they were fighting the forces of evil.” (Ryrie) Going into the war, as we will see later in this essay, most American (and British) soldiers were only interested in getting the war over as quickly as possible. A moral crusade was the farthest thing from their minds as they put on their uniforms and began training, rumors, and stories of the ghastly activity of the brutal German occupation of conquered territories and the beginnings of the Holocaust began making their way westward. On the other side of the world, what the Japanese had done, and were doing in China was already well known, especially in the United States.

                             Once the Western Allies reached the camps in Germany in 1945, the idea of a moral crusade came clearly into focus. What they found at Bergen-Belsen, Buchenwald, Dachau, and other locations made it clear they indeed had embarked on a moral crusade. “Plenty of armies are told they are fighting the forces of evil. Just this once, it turned out to be true.” (Ryrie) Since the end of the war, western leaders, especially political leaders have made the profound mistake of using the Second World War moral argument to justify almost every military action or intervention that has taken place. The cost for this reckless use of history has been beyond calculation in treasure, blood, and credibility.

The Social Factor

                                    Between 15 to 16 million Americans served in the Second World War, most never saw combat, however they did what they were expected to do. Most were born between 1917 and 1924. The average age of an American service member in the Second World War was 25-26. They had lived through and survived the Great Depression and when the war began in Europe in 1939, most hoped that the United States could avoid getting involved. When the war was forced on them by the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the insanity of Hitler declaring war four days later and the gross stupidity of Mussolini going along with “Der Fuhrer; there were no great celebrations, just a quiet determination to get it over with as quickly as possible. For what will probably be the last time in United States history (the utter selfishness of 21st century America would preclude any such effort even being attempted- see my essay on “Time Travel”) a true citizens army was formed: draftees, volunteers, the poor and the rich from every ethnic and racial group (this force would be the last one that was racially segregated. The American military began full integration in 1948, becoming the only truly racially integrated institution in the United States. It has done or is attempting to do what most corporations, businesses, universities, and other American institutions only pay “lip service” to, usually out of fear of the highly probable “reverse discrimination” lawsuit.)

                                 Americans were deployed and fought around the world. In an alliance of convenience with the British Empire and the Soviet Union against common enemies, their efforts were crucial and, in some ways, decisive to the ultimate Allied victory. After the victory, they returned home, taking advantage of the last great legislative achievement of the FDR presidency, The “GI Bill”. The results of this law changed the American economy, education “system”, transportation, and housing. In short, it completely transformed American life. (Because many of the programs were locally administered, the discrimination towards African American veterans was blatant. The result has been that the accumulation of tangible wealth, especially housing, among African Americans has consistently lagged behind the general population.)  


General of the Army Dwight Eisenhower, President, 1953-1961

                               The American veterans of the Second World War, and Americans in general, did not glorify the war or the service of veterans in it. Veterans joined groups like the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign War, however the sense was that we fought and won a victory. That was enough. The military and life in it were not glorified. The reason was obvious. There were millions of veterans of the war (including the Korean War, which ended in 1953) in every walk of American life: the professions, the arts, education, business, and government. They knew what the inside of a barracks looked like. They had a common thread of kinship and experience. Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, H.W. Bush, and Reagan all served in some capacity on active duty during the Second World War. (Truman had been an artillery officer in the First World War) Eisenhower had been Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, Kennedy (Harvard) and H.W. Bush (Yale)were decorated Navy combat veterans. Carter graduated from the Naval Academy and barely missed the war, going on to be a submarine officer.

Lt. (jg) John F. Kennedy, South Pacific, 1943

                           Veterans cringed at the inevitable movies and television shows depicting the war. Some were quite good, most were awful. Books about the war were written and published by the hundreds. The author, the son of a Second World War veteran, was introduced to the reading and study of history through reading a lot of those books (the first, I remember, was Richard Tregaskis’ Guadalcanal Diary.) The genesis of the deification of the Second World War began during this period. By the mid-1960s, the sons of the Second World War had their own war to fight. If the communists were not stopped in Vietnam, “dominoes” would fall in Asia and around the world. Appeasement had failed in 1938 in Munich, and it would fail again, the communists needed to be confronted. Today we forget how much support there was for the Vietnam War during the first years (1965, 66, 67). The author had a map of Indochina, marking where the latest, publicized bombing raids had taken place, in his bedroom. By 1971, he would be on the ground in Vietnam, having volunteered. I had, like millions of others, internalized Churchill: We must fight on the beaches, the landing areas… we must never surrender.

                          The American “baby boom” generation (approximately born between 1947 and 1964) will forever be divided: especially by class, education, and who went to Vietnam. Contrary to popular belief, most of the baby boom generation did not go to college during the Vietnam War. They followed their grandparents and parents into the factories, mines, construction sites and farms of the United States. These were the people (black, white, and brown) who fought the Vietnam War. They either volunteered or were drafted by a grossly unfair selective service system. (College students were exempt). None of the “baby-boom” presidents went to Vietnam: Clinton (Georgetown/Yale), W. Bush (Yale/Harvard), and Trump (Fordham/Pennsylvania). W. Bush was in the Texas National Guard. Speaking as a Vietnam Veteran member of that generation and considering the three names just mentioned, I hope the United States has had its last “baby-boom” president.


                               In 1973, mandatory military service in the United States ended. As a result of Vietnam, respect for and trust in the American military reached historic lows. At this point, because of the outcome in Vietnam, the ground was now prepared for the deification of the military in general and the Second World War in particular. After 1973 and continuing to our present time in the 21st century, military service has become a “career path” or a “training opportunity” of choice. Service to country is no longer seen as obligatory. (The exception to this trend was the rush to enlist after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the one time since the Second World War where a call to national service might have worked. Instead, we were encouraged to continue shopping and visit Disneyworld.) 

                           In our latest wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, about one percent of the US population has done the “heavy lifting” of sacrifice and warfare. They have dealt with the constant deployments, the injuries, the PTSD, and the deaths. For the rest of us, we just went go on with our everyday lives. We put yellow magnets on our cars, ate “Freedom” fries, flew flags, and “supported the troops.” No other sacrifice or commitment would be necessary. Unless you or a family member were there, it was a painless, sanitized war. I have concluded that this newfound reverence for the military comes from a deep uneasiness from the 99% about their role in the recent wars and the way those wars were started and conducted. This uneasiness manifests itself in a variety of ways. One is that the Military is now one of the most trusted, if not the most trusted institution in the United States. Another is the quasi-religious worship of the memory of the Second World War.

                              Veterans of the Second World War have never put the military on such a pedestal of worship. They knew (or know) from first-hand experience that the Military is not perfect. The Military is now incredibly isolated from the general population, for a democracy to be maintained, that isolation is an extremely dangerous situation. The overwhelming majority of Americans have no real idea of what the Military does, what Military life is like (especially members of Congress), and what the Military’s role in a democratic republic should be. The average citizen has never heard of the term “civil-military relations”: the proper relationship between the uniformed military, the elected political leadership, and the body politic of citizens in a democracy


                        Into 1990s and the first decades of the 21st century, the books, movies, and television shows kept coming in ever increasing numbers. The 1998 film, Saving Private Ryan, was groundbreaking in its accurate portrayal of the brutality of combat. The television series, Band of Brothers, appeared just as 9/11 occurred. It was a smash hit, as the paratroopers fought their way across Europe, crushing the Nazis as it was hoped our forces would soon crush the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan. Ten years later, the series, The Pacific, did not meet with the same popular reception. Maybe it was because the war on terror in Afghanistan had reached a dead-end and the “crusade” in Iraq had gone hopelessly off the rails. The lackluster performance of The Pacific is surprising when examined against the history of American attitudes about the war as it was happening. During the war, Americans paid much more attention to the Pacific War. It was seen as the American war and the hatred of the Japanese enemy was at a visceral level. That was not the case in Europe. The civilian command decision to concentrate on defeating Germany, as the most dangerous, long-term enemy, first, was not overwhelmingly popular with the military command (especially the Navy) or the public.

“Band of Brothers” – 2001

                        Fast forward to the 21st century, and D-Day is now the American “holy grail” of the Second World War. It has become the American battle, even though on D-Day itself, June 6, 1944, British Empire/Commonwealth forces outnumbered the Americans. D-Day has been called the “climactic battle of World War II”. It was not. The climactic battle of the Second World War in Europe took place in Kursk, deep inside the Soviet Union in 1943, between millions of German and Soviet troops. Was the D-Day landing and the Normandy campaign important? The answer is yes. The success of the Western Allies Northwest Europe campaign in 1944-45 prevented the Red Army from occupying all of Germany, and possibly Denmark and the Low Countries.

                       The Second World War… “remains the story we cannot stop telling ourselves: fiction, film, and TV circle around its carcass like vultures, and we never tire of it…My children watch the newest cinematic retellings of the war’s story transfixed and are hungry for more. As we all are.”(Ryrie)

                       “More” continues to arrive. The most recent “top-notch” film entries have been Dunkirk, a visually stunning epic about the evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force from France in 1940, (Dunkirk, along with the Battle of Britain, are the defining British moments of the Second World War, always invoked, and remembered, never to be forgotten), and Darkest Hour, brilliantly acted by Gary Oldman as Churchill, with parts that are hopelessly wrong. Churchill never rode in “the tube” and discussed strategy with ordinary citizens. The famed “we will fight” speech took place after Dunkirk, not during it. Both Dunkirk and Darkest Hour received the prestigious “Best Picture” nomination for an Academy Award.

                    “Dunkirk” – 2017

    The network that brought you Band of Brothers and The Pacific is apparently producing a new series on the strategic bombing campaign over Germany. The audience will no doubt be huge.

The “War Fighting” and Strategic Factor

                                  The American public (and Westerners in general) view and vision of war is the Second World War: armies fighting to victory, the battle won, the enemy clearly vanquished. The problem is this: The United States has not fought a war like that since 1945; with one exception. In 1991 Iraq, under Saddam Hussein, decided to fight Western armies in a head-to-head battle. American, British, and French forces crushed the Iraqi ground forces in a matter of days, making clear the obvious fact that fighting the Americans and the West in the open is a hopeless proposition. The way to fight the Americans and the West was use a different tactic: terror. Terrorism is the tactic used by the weak against the strong. Consequently, a war against a tactic is a hopeless proposition. The United States had to develop a new way to fight wars and the American public had to develop new way to view war. Neither has been completely successful.

                             After 1945, Second World war terminology entered the regular political discourse, especially as the deployment of America’s volunteer military to hotspots around the world dramatically increased (the Libyan bombing raids, Lebanon, Grenada, Panama in the 1980s, the First Gulf War, Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, Iraq enforcement of the “no-fly” zone” in the 1990s.) Appeasement of aggression only leads to more aggression. In 1982, the British sent practically their entire navy and substantial air and ground forces to recapture the Falkland Islands from Argentina to deter further aggression. 

                            Re-fighting the last war is always a mistake. The American psyche has been re-fighting the Second World War since 1945: stopping aggression, rejecting appeasement, and “being strong”, and standing up for what is right morally. We call upon the “sacred” texts, prophets, and myths of a past war to guide us. They cannot do that. Right now, however, our secular faith in the righteousness and morality of the Second World War as a society is maybe all we have to unite us. 


                                The Second World War needs to be studied. It was the most important historical event of the 20th Century. It should never be forgotten, not because history repeats itself (it does not, it occasionally rhymes), but because the war and its outcome created and shaped the world we live in today.


Ryrie, Alec. “Our Dangerous Devotion to The Second World War” BBC History Christmas 2020: 25-29.

Do You Still Want A Democratic Republic ? – Part II

Do You Still Want a Democratic Republic?

Part II

The Movement toward Authoritarianism: A Worldwide Trend


John M. Lane

Authoritarianism- A Definition

                      Economically, the means of production are not (entirely) controlled by the State. Market aspects of the economy are allowed to function if they serve the interests of the State and the ruling classes (whose wealth and profits, at the expense of the working and middle classes, will grow at tremendous rates). Political parties, unions, student groups, civic organizations are to be disbanded and replaced by organizations that serve the interests of the Leader and the State. Conformity is to be the proper behavior for all classes. Freedom of the Press and thought are to be strictly regulated. State-approved media outlets can function if those outlets support the party and the Leader and promote “true facts” and “free speech.” “Elections” are still held; however, the dominant ruling party has arranged the mechanisms of elections so that they will maintain power, even if they are the minority. Authoritarianism also needs an internal enemy, usually a racial or ethnic “other” to focus on. This internal enemy can be blamed for all that is “wrong” within the country. The Leader and the ruling elite are to be honored, worshiped, and obeyed. Nationalism and Patriotism are to be “encouraged” and promoted at as many events, especially sporting events, as possible. In the end, only the State, through the Leader, has the proper authority.

Prelude: The 1920s and 30s

                                   On the “Right” side of the political spectrum, between 1919 and 1939, the following countries had working, active authoritarian parties and movements: Hungary, Italy, Bulgaria, Germany, France, Slovakia, Belgium, Romania, Poland, Lithuania, Croatia, Latvia, Estonia, Sweden, Switzerland, Norway, Netherlands, Spain, United Kingdom. (Lopez et al. 17) At its heart, the Authoritarians were popular because they were anti-Communist. Recall that we have discussed that fear of Communism has been a concern in the West since 1917. Conservative elements in the military, church, aristocracy, ruling elite, business/financial classes were quite comfortable helping and even aligning themselves with authoritarian elements if it meant that they would maintain their power and influence and prevent the spread of Communism. It should come as no surprise that in the countries where the Authoritarians took over (Germany and Italy being the prime examples), little was done to limit the power and influence of the elements mentioned above if those elements supported the regime and did the regime’s bidding, their power and influence were left, at their core, untouched. In Germany, Krupp would have no issue taking orders from Berlin if their profits remained stable. By the mid-1930s in France, French Authoritarians had more in common with Hitler’s regime in Germany than they did with their government (they despised it), which was Socialist and run by a Jew, Leon Blum. In the United States in the 1930s,support for fascism was surprisingly high. Historian Bradley W. Hart, in his book, Hitler’s American Friends: The Third Reich Supporters in the United States, shows that even in the late 1930s, as it had become painfully apparent that war was approaching, Authoritarianism was seen as a viable philosophy. “In June 1938, Gallup polled Americans on their views of the respective merits of authoritarianism and communism, asking them which ‘you think is worse’. While nearly half of respondents offered no answer, 32 percent thought that communism was the worse ideology. Only 23 percent saw fascism as more destructive” (. Hart 4). In Hart’s view “the United States was not at risk of an imminent fascist takeover in the late 1930s, but there was certainly fertile terrain in which dictatorship might be able to take root.” (Hart 5) 

Post- Second World War

“The Glorious Thirty Years”

                                          “Les Trente Glorieuses was the thirty years from 1945 to 1975 following the end of the Second World War in France. The name was first used by the French demographer Jean Fourastié. Fourastié coined the term in 1979 with the publication of his book Les Trente Glorieuses, ou la révolution invisible de 1946 à 1975.” (Wikipedia) 

                                         For this essay, I have changed the years Fourastie used in his book.    From approximately 1947 to 1977, the United States, Western Europe, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand, had what could arguably be called the most significant period of universal prosperity in all of history. The standard of living rose across the class spectrum in all those countries and regions mentioned above. It was fueled by strong progressive tax structures, massive investments in education and infrastructure, a solid manufacturing base, responsible, far-sighted corporate management, and government regulation that kept the “playing field” level. For the “Baby Boom” generation, born after the war, the possibilities seemed endless. These new possibilities gave the African American population in the United States the hope that the nation would finally begin to fulfill the unmet promise of liberty, freedom, and equality for all its citizens. The initial breakthroughs of the Civil Rights Era, from 1954 to 1968, although promising at first (Civil Rights Act 1964, Voting Rights Act 1965); from the late 1970s, would be met by a determined backlash, which stopped any further real progress in its tracks. By the 1980s and beyond, Integration became “diversity,” as society achieved virtual integration through happy interactions in commercials and “buddy” movies and television shows—integration without having to integrate. 

                                        The new prosperity gave Women the opportunity to challenge the status quo at home and in the workplace. Entering professions that had previously been “for men only,” barriers were broken. Unfortunately, for every wall broken, a new one appeared to replace it. The sexual revolution changed the entire dynamic of female/male relationships. The debate over its effects (and aftereffects) continues today. What was the cost? What was gained? What was lost?

                                     Other marginalized groups asserted their voices during this period. Indigenous people began to speak up and demand equality in a land taken from them. Latinos demanded justice and cultural respect; Gay and Lesbian people began to leave the “closet” and openly demand equal treatment. As alluded to earlier, by the late 1970s, going into the 80s, the backlash against these movements, played out against the backdrop of growing opposition to the Vietnam War, was gaining political and cultural momentum.  

The Forty “Greed is Good” Years

                                          Beginning in the late 1970s, the reaction against what were believed to be the excesses of the 1960s and early 1970s began in earnest. Many thought it was time to restore “traditional” American values. The revolution in “rights” had gone far enough. What about “personal responsibility” and ownership?   Americans canceled many of the economic policies and programs from the 1930s because it was felt they were no longer needed. After all, they hindered financial innovation, free trade, and global growth. Technology, especially the Internet, finance, and service, became growth industries while manufacturing jobs were sent “offshore.” Lavish lifestyles were praised and admired. Television shows, fictitious and “reality”- based, glorified the wealthy, promoting a lifestyle of “premium,” “deluxe,” “exclusive,” and “first-class.” Tax cuts for the rich began the biggest upward transfer of wealth since the late 19thcentury. This has continued unchecked as of 2022. Stocks and the stock market were seen by many as the leading indicators of economic growth, which every credible economist knows is false. Throughout the West, but especially in the United States and Britain, working and middle-class wages and salaries stagnated. Quality of life declined, as the working and middle classes have taken on more and more personal debt while working at more and more low-paying jobs, just to maintain what they have. Upward Social mobility has all but stopped.

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                                      With the collapse of the Soviet Union and the “rollback” of Communism, the United States no longer had an enemy upon whom their entire foreign policy was based. In the 1990s, until 2001, American foreign policy focused on spreading free trade, open markets, and “Jeffersonian” democracy. The bubble burst on the greed in 2007-09 mortgage crisis, causing the worse economic downturn since the 1930s.

The End of the American Century

“All the armies of Europe, Asia, and Africa combined, with all the treasure of the earth (our own excepted) in their military chest; with a Buonaparte for a commander, could not by force, take a drink from the Ohio, or make a track on the Blue Ridge, in a trial of a thousand years.”

Abraham Lincoln

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                                       The United States failure, up to the present day, to make the dream of America available and true to all its people, all the people who have been here, together, from the beginning, as truly equal partners, without conditions, remains its Achilles heel. The elections of 2016 and 2020 were an indicator that a substantial percentage of the American people would rather see the relative decline of the country (and the end of the democratic republic) then give up their perceived domination over their fellow Americans. 

                                    The justified anger and fury that has developed among the American working and middle classes, of all races, at the neo-liberal economic order, that over the past forty years (see “The Forty Greed is Good Years), has crippled their ability to provide for their families and their futures, and has opened the door for a cynical populism that seeks to take advantage of their true and honest suffering. It is a suffering, brought about by conservative and liberal leaders,  elements of both political parties, and  business, media, economic leaders, who drank the “Kool-Aid” of trickle-down economics (most continue to drink It) , that has resulted in a decline in American life expectancy, the desperation of opiate use, a lowering of living standards, and a loss of faith in the ability of democracy to work for them. For the underlined above….

Shame, and eternal shame, nothing but shame!”

Henry V, by William Shakespeare


                                  Under these conditions, the door is wide open for authoritarians to walk in and offer the “easy” solution to all of the country’s problems. Those problems can be blamed on those “other people” (racial minorities) who have taken your money, your jobs, and government benefits that should go to you because you are the “real Americans”. “They” have destroyed your culture and your way of life. It is time to “take back your country.” These “solutions” always find an audience, especially among those already predisposed to listen and agree with them. Authoritarians know that creating and fighting “the culture war” is a lot easier than proposing viable policy solutions that help the American working and middle classes of all races. In the final analysis, Authoritarians have no genuine interest in doing that anyway. The “fight,” the “battle,” the “conflict, and the “war” against the enemy – “the other” is all that matters.

                                  Authoritarians can walk into power, mainly for two reasons. First, political parties no longer function as they did as recently as fifty years ago. Back then, they controlled who could stand for office and who could not. For the most part, the parties kept those who should not be in public office out of public office. Today, if you have enough money and financial power behind you, a potential candidate can bypass the party apparatus and win. This situation is now a worldwide phenomenon. Second, the “mainstream” media, especially in the United States, is so fearful of being called “liberal” that it has abdicated its responsibility to call “a horse, a horse”; instead, they opt for an almost fanatical adherence to covering “both sides” of the story. When something is not normal, it needs to be recognized as such.

                               However, the “mainstream” media does have a monumental task to deal with as it covers the news. The powerful influence of social media platforms, “specialized” cable outlets, traditional radio, and “podcasts” has undercut the ability of the media, or anyone else for that matter, to distinguish the truth from falsehoods. In his book Why Read Hannah Arendt Now, a distillation of the writings of Hannah Arendt, New School Philosophy Professor Richard J. Bernstein summarizes the dilemma: “Arendt teaches us how effective and dangerous political lying and image-making can be. It is naïve to believe that insisting on factual truth can challenge the power of lies. This underestimates the sophistication of image-makers in denigrating, mocking, and destroying factual truth. It underestimates the extent to which political liars will claim that a free press is the source of “fake news”. She notes the danger of what happens when the very distinction between truth and falsehood is called into question, when people no longer care about what is a lie and what is factually true.” (Bernstein 82-83) This alternate world, or as this writer has called it: the Parallel Universe, has already been created. In many ways, factual truth does not matter anymore. Authoritarians worldwide are relying upon and putting the means into place to ensure that this situation does not change.

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                              Democracy is under siege around the world. Indeed, it is under attack in the three great “Western” democracies (United Kingdom, France, and the United States) as we speak. The leaders of the worldwide Authoritarian movement knows that if Democracy is crippled and disappears in the three countries mentioned above, then democracy itself, throughout the world will not survive. Authoritarians have strong political followings in all three countries and their strength is growing.

                               Because the Western democracies are free and open societies, domestic authoritarian movements can threaten their own democracies, while elements of those domestic movements export their knowledge and expertise worldwide while “networking” with like-minded movements and governments. As Anne Applebaum says in her Atlantic article, The Bad Guys are Winning“…If Americans, together with our Allies, fail to fight the habits and practices of autocracy abroad, we will encounter them at home; indeed, they are already here. If Americans don’t help to hold murderous regimes to account, those regimes will retain their sense of impunity. They will continue to steal, blackmail, torture and intimidate, inside their countries- and inside ours.”

…The question remains. Do you still want a Democratic Republic?

From:  Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, How Democracies Dies, New York: Penguin Random House, 2018. Pages 23 and 24.  Author’s note: This book should be read by all who are interested in the future of Democracy

Four Key Indicators of Authoritarian Behavior

1.Rejection of (or weak commitment to) democratic rules of the game.

  • Do they reject the Constitution or express a willingness to violate it?
  • Do they suggest a need for anti-democratic measures, such as canceling elections, violating or suspending the Constitution, banning certain organizations, or restricting basic civil or political right?
  • Do they seek to use (or endorse the use of) extraconstitutional means to change the government, such as military coups, violent insurrections, or mass protests aimed at forcing a change in the government?
  • Do they attempt to undermine the legitimacy of elections, for example, by refusing to accept credible electoral results?

2. Denial of the legitimacy of political opponents.

  • Do they describe their rivals as subversive or opposed to the existing constitutional order?
  • Do they claim that their rivals constitute an existential threat, either to national security or to the prevailing way of life?
  • Do they baselessly describe their partisan rivals as criminals whose violation of the law (or potential to do so) disqualifies them from full participation in the political arena?
  • Do they baselessly suggest that their rivals are foreign agents, in that they are secretly working in alliance with (or in the employ of) a foreign government-usually an enemy one?

3. Toleration or encouragement of violence

  • Do they have any ties to armed gangs, paramilitary forces, militias, guerillas, or other organizations that engage in illicit violence?
  • Have they or their partisan allies sponsored or encouraged mob violence on opponents?
  • Have they tacitly endorsed violence by their supporters by refusing to unambiguously condemn it or punish it?
  • Have they praised (or refused to condemn) other significant acts of political violence, either in the past or elsewhere in the world?

4. Readiness to curtail civil liberties of opponents, including media.

  • Have they supported laws or policies that restrict civil liberties, such as expanded libel or defamation laws, or laws restricting protest, criticism of the government, or certain civic or political organizations?
  • Have they threatened to take legal or other punitive action against critics in rival parties, civil society, or the media?
  • Have they praised repressive measures taken by other governments, either in the past or elsewhere in the world?


Applebaum, Anne. “The Bad Guys Are Winning.” The Atlantic December 2021 42-54.

Bernstein, Richard J. Why Read Hannah Arendt Now. Medford, MA: Polity, 2018.

Hart, Bradley W. Hitler’s American Friends: The Third Reich’s Supporters in the United States. New York: Thomas Dunne, 2018.

Levitsky, Steven and Daniel Ziblatt. How Democracies Die. New York: Penguin Random House,2018.

Lopez, Jean, ed. World War II Infographics. London: Thames and Hudson, 2019.