What America’s Wars Revealed About Their Commanders-In-Chief
In Presidents of War, Michael Beschloss, one of our premier historians, looks at eight wars and nine presidents:
- James Madison and the War of 1812
- James K. Polk and the Mexican-American War
- Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War
- William McKinley and the Spanish American War
- Woodrow Wilson and World War One
- FDR and the Second World War
- Harry Truman and the Korean War
- Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, and the Vietnam War
Not much in this fat book on battles and strategy. Instead, the focus is on presidential decision making and the play of political forces in shaping the decisions. The book is superb in its focus and its facts, a new look at a central topic.
Some easy comments on the details:
- Madison was a lot better at writing constitutions than he was at running a war.
- Polk was a sly one, even corrupt, making a war with Mexico out of little conflict, all the while hiding his true purpose, to acquire Mexican land in then-New Mexico and into California all the way to the Pacific. Which he did.
- Lincoln’s war, so well documented by armies of historians, nonetheless striking for its shifting purpose, to hold the Union at the start, to end slavery at the finish.
- McKinley ready to take advantage of the destruction of the USS Maine in Havana Harbor, never using that explosion as his causa bellum but happily starting a war incident to the accident (as is now known to be).
- Wilson contending with contrary forces, reluctant to go to Europe, then seeing American engagement as his segue to a new League of Nations, then fumbling the politics to create the League.
- FDR, again his war so well documented, slipping and sliding at its start to get American help to Great Britain in the face of fierce isolationism, then being the very model of the Commander in Chief …read more
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