tv Call-in with Michael Beschloss Presidents of War CSPAN December 24, 2018 11:50am-12:26pm EST
[applause] >> thanks for your time. everyone complaining about the book fair, it's not. in your talker in texas, you were talking about the fact that we have invested a lot of tolerance in the president of t the united states and that can affect more judges. >> that's for sure. that's what our founders were terrified of because they were worried that our president mighn become like england, what they were trying to get away from, they wanted to make sure that no president could get up and a war single-handedly worked almost overnight. over 20000de years, i tell the y
who took us in the worst. in the process, more power from themselves. also made it for our own time for taking into war with that. >> you right into book that they have for themselves, the power to launch large conflict. it is telling that the last time you president ask congress to declare war, was 1942. >> 1942 and we had any major force since 1942. congress is supposed to be part of that. what i found was that president had been involved in sometimes unnecessary wars over 200 years and that's what our founders wanted to make sure to prevent. they failed. >> one of the things we might not think about, you write about it, to go with james.
>> james, in 1840s, he was a liar and a bully, other than that, wonderful president. he did a terrible thing which was, he manufactured an incident on the border, to ship mexicans to attack americans. then he went to congress and said we need a major war against mexico although we down to mexico city. he had an arterial motive that he lied about the congress and is only secretary to try to apply mexico a million square miles of territory. we did for the first time in our history, become a continental nation from the atlantic to the pacific. what he did was open the door to the president, essentially getting involved in the war on the basisas of incidents. the main 1988, let's have a war.
it was not by the spanish but by accident. tragically linda johnson said the congress and unprovoked attack. called him several weeks later, the resolution, johnson realized there was no such incident. yet, based on this resolution, the whole vietnam war for the next nine years, killing 60000 americans. the founders would cry. >> michael, have you written extensively or is this the first time. >> this is my first b experience and for the members and by definition, leads washing us on television, i apologize but he basically a allowed later president to do something our founders would be horrified by. >> what was the founder's
original vision? >> the nation has to come to war sometimes but make sure it's rare, make sure congress supports it overwhelmingly and the american people do, too. he was the guy who ruined all of this because of our rights. war of 1812, madison got us involved and what was the first work we lost? i would say war 1912. the most unpopular war, i would take 1812, not be in. almost half the congress was against it. new england was so angry about this and yet, this work was his great victory. the star-spangled banner, don't give up the ship and so this glorious vision of great victory of 1812, which by the way, was a failure but james madison was almost hanged by the british to take them out of washington.
james in the 1840s said i want to be a war president, too. >> michael is our guest. his most recent book. president of war. the modern times. you can watch all of his appearances on booktv at booktv.org. let's begin with calls. here are the numbers. 748 -- 8201 in the mountain and pacific times on. james is coming from indiana. >>caller: enjoy your show there. speaking of books and wars. i'd like to get michael's comments on what people call the best book ever. james in the bible, the cause of war is lead.
romans 318, the cause of war, offend and i say isaiah 24. >>host: where are we headed with this? >>caller: the question is, wars, what man ever fight for millions of dollars in tax money in the bible's interest to that? maybe you can correlate with the bible. >>guest: i'm afraid i'm a political historian. not bible to petition. one thing i would say, in the course of history, what do these eight or nine presidents have in common? i write about this for madison. one thing is that every single
one of them become. abraham makin in a young man, a canoe atheist, agnostic and he was visiting the white house by the earlier days, reading the bible and the consent, i don't president can get being a war president without finding spiritual comfort. he was a sort of show, even he would've, went to church, no signs of spiritual involvement. by the late 60s, he was distraught over the vietnam war, his daughter, lucy, who converted to catholicism at 16, went to her catholic church johnson got comfort from this. she wouldn't have been surprised he converted to catholicism. >>host: how was it insightful?
>>guest: unbelievable. she gave her last interview them around 1989. she loved to interview but she felt that she was not quite what she had been before. that turned out to be a really interview. one thing she did, all the president, they were all married to strong women and i wish i could say that if you ever have to have a war president again, the president was married to a strong man. that's something in the future, if you have a book back, i'll expand on that. i'm not psychiatric are qualified but she has a lot of things on this case that you and i have talked a lot about. paranoid and angry andou you ha, he was prone to severe depression. he was, she can't and down.
her friends thought that was a moment in their marriage that never recovered from. you will know for the rest of world war ii fdr kept on tellin her i really would like to have you home, i'm lonely, i need the company. she went on all these trips. she kept her distance and i'm convinced one reason for that was that by interning the japanese-americans, fdr was showing her maybe we don't have the same logical ideals after all. >> host: next call is jonathan in milwaukee, wisconsin. >> caller: thank you very much for taking my call. i would like to ask about woodrow wilson. in 1916, famously vowed to keep our country out of war. in the election of -- >> guest: that was a lie. >> caller: precisely. the election against charles hughes was so close, charles evans hughes famously went to bed thinking was presidenten and then was woken up to find out
no, california with a different way. i wonder if you -- >> guest: can i -- that's a great point. >> caller: i wondered what your thoughts were on whether charles evans hughes if he had been president, how the course of world war i would have been different. thank you. >> guest: o hard to speculate. he was very close to the rambunctious theater roosevelt who hated woodrow wilson but the one thing to be aware of combined so glad you brought up 1916. woodrow wilson who i think is vastly overrated, he was a horrible racist, he was not a man of his time. his two predecessors were far more progressive on civil rights. this is someone who gave comfort to racism in this country, showed birth of the nation celebrating the ku klux klan in the white house.
the other thing wilson campaigned for reelection just as our call is saying, his slogan was he kept us out of war. he knew we would getdo involvedn that war early and the second term and he was telling a falsehood. what drives me crazy is in that very close electionn of 1916, te people who made the difference for votersin in california, specifically women in california who could vote in 1916. they from everything we know hated the idea of war, love the idea phds, voted for wilson because they idealistically expected wilson to bring them peace. very soon the second term wilson brings them more, and i just hate for our democracy to see a president elected under false pretenses, and youec can imagine what those women would of thought. >> host: had woodrow wilson prior to that election been
planning to enter the war? >> guest: he knew we're very close and we were one ship sinking our one incident in the north atlantic by the germans away from getting involved in war. the problem is that wilson had been writing these wonderful books and journal articles when he was an academic for decades saying such things as president have to be honest and they have to communicate with the people. once he was and how he did almost the opposite. when the war began he moved towards authoritarianism picky past something called thee espionage act which is still in force, allows the president to harass journalists if they criticize him for war or other reasons. that's one problem with the president which i write about all the way through. if you're worried about an authoritarianst president, thats the time to abuse power. president in war, they can declare martial law. you may have gotten as i did a
presidential alert announcement so-called iphones a couple of weeks ago typically benign but if the president is able to send you messages on iphone in the hour of the day or night during a major war that is beginning, that opens up the possibility for authoritarianism. >> host: in your book president at war, you write about liberal democracy, the moment wilson became war president he grabbed for authority with some of the passion of an autocrat claiming that unquestionable powers were absolutely necessary and step on civil liberty. tom is calling from milford kansas go ahead. we are listening. >> caller: thank you.u. to my questions. number one, had the nuclear age maybe i do of full blown all out unthinkable so congress wouldn't really want to dold it and give the president that kind of authority? and the second question, when was the last time since 1945 that any nation anywhere
actually went through a declaration of war against another country? >> guest: no declarations of war since 1942, and without a couple of major wars since then so we have a problem. i think it's a violation of the constitution. i'm not suggesting if god for bid tomorrow there's a a cyber attack or a terrorist attack may god for bid or the russian missile nuclear chip comes over the north pole that the president should convene congress and debate it for two weeks. that's not what i'm talking about.ng about istalking nursing major warf of the kinde have seen in recent years. we are now involved in a war in afghanistan has been for 17 years, the longest war in our history, about four times the length of our involvement in world war ii based on a resolution by congress to let the president use the armed forces. my point ist that if the something like that in the future he should be required to go to congress and say i want
you to do with the constitution says, declare war, give me a war declaration. let's have a debate. i will tell you how many americans might have to give their lives, how long this might take, what other sacrifices americans might be required to take. if we don'tui have the war declaration, the problem is members of congress can put forward in the second war becomes unpopular and we've seen this happen so many times, members of congress that i had no idea this might lead to war. i wish his voting for getting the president authority to use the armed forces. i'm saying that if you have a president of war, make sure you scott congress and on the takeoff so when things get rough, they can't run away and say the president to something we didn't ask for. >> host: how long did it take to write this book? >> guest: it took ten years and, peter, you're so nice to me today for a lot of reasons but particularly because i take tenure to write write a book, how much time would ask for in the portion of the link we've
been droning on for the next six hours. the reason for that is that i found, i expected this to take about four or five and it covers 200 years. in detail the state are nine presidents and they couldn't just read like three or four books of each president and visit three archives. i do research every time as if i were writing a whole book on it. that part of this and that is to be able to go in and read other mail.s for instance, what i try to do is not on talk about the presidents but other key figures that they deal with t in these wars. for instance, spanish-american war when the ship the main whatsapp, there was a captain called charles, and he was a supreme narcissist, terribly self-involved. the ship sinks. tragically hundreds of americans died and ien found he set off a message to his wife that said something like that ship has
sunk, so many of our crew have died, i'm going to have to replace my whole wardrobe. you begin to get a sense of who these people were. robert anderson who was the commander of federal soldiers at fort sumter with the confederacy fired on them and they had to surrender, lincoln terms, a great politician but he had his anger in the wind because what americans plan anderson or would he be a hero? anderson goes to new york, there is a huge celebration of anderson i think any unit scale where, about 100,000 people, people think anderson is a hero. onlyly then does lincoln get in touch with anderson andll basically say i've been beating to write. why not come visit me at the white house? there's this wonderful story of lincoln meets with anderson and says major anderson, do you remember ever having seen me at work? anderson said no, i really don't remember, i'm sorry. lincoln said i was only involved
in a war before one can the black hawk wark in illinois 183, and guess who mustered in the war service? it was you, major anderson. anderson was bowled over, completely charmed. he was a lincoln man for the rest of his life. >> host: next call comes from robert in temecula california here. >> caller: thank you for taking my call. when i was a young teenager i remember the press, the media president johnson had this commercial called the daisy commercial. you're probably very familiar with the daisy commercial. that's with a little girl pulling up saying he's all crazy man. he will blow up theng whole word and i'm scared, i'm believing abc, cbs, nbc and goldwater, i think he only won one state.
maybe one state and all that and later on three of my friends were killed in vietnam, okay? i was so mad at johnson i never voted. i have not devoted to the stated i was so mad at that time i was just wondering how did we get pulled in by the meeting and johnson and later on you find a goldwater really wasn't such a bad man. i'd like to see a comment on that. >> guest: i think goldwater was a much better than any seemed at the time. there's a moment on these johnson tapes i quote from the book in the early 1965 and it broke my heart, and lbj was talking to robert mcnamara the secretary of defense who is one of the villains of the vietnam war, mcnamara had been urging johnson to get in in a big way. the same month february at 65 johnson is sending huge numbers of young americans off the vietnam and telling them he expects to win.
in private is talking to mcnamara and he says i can't think of s anything worse than losing the war in vietnam and he don't see any way to win. heee goes on to tell lady bird later that year in private about the war in vietnam. i feel as if i am in a plane that is crashing and a do not have a parachute. the point i'm making is that johnson had an enormous heart. he was going against his instinct. allowed himself to be convinced that that the vietnam war was essential for us to win the cold war. of course we know with 2020 hindsight that was not true but i'm so sorry to hear what you told me because even at the beginning of this work in private lbj was extremely skeptical to get everyone at a wish i could've gone through time for some other estimate and just told him listen to yourself figure saying the war cannot be won if that's what you think in private, you should say so also in public and if that's what you think of out of that work. thank you so much for your
question thank you so much for your family sacrificed. >> host: and follow-ups. as historian, what did you think of robert mcnamara said subsequent apology tour? >> guest: i thought itt was dreadful, because one of thef subtext of the book is that he was not that much to blame for vietnam and two quoted almost directly he says we were all to blame. we were not alternately. certainly not equally. he was the one that told lbj if president kennedy were alive he would escalate the war, big deal. and number two, if you do it you will be subject to criticism for that and not fulfilling our treaty obligations. bad news for him, , he did not know that lbj had made a lot of tapes of their private conversations which mcnamara had not heard all of before he published this book in the 1990s, and bad luck for him because you listen to the states
and the show that some of what in the book did not turn out to be true and lbj was, had sort of the last word. >> host: second follow-up. robert suggested presidents use war as a political tool. was this a common thing among you coveredts that in presidential war? >> guest: presidents are tempted. james polk used or not to run for reelection basically because he had pledged to serve only one term, but this was one way that he could get something he felt he couldn't get any other way which was actually trying to get more land for the united states to make up a nation that span the continent. the problem is in modern times i'm worried a modern president would look at george h.w. bush who wages the persian gulf for about six weeks, his numbers go up to 90%. it horrifies me to even talk in these terms but after national
tragedy like 9/11, people unite behind the president and even president trump said in 2011 tweeted, saying watch out because barack obama, i b predi, will get as involved in the work to get reelected. i think that's always a dangerous thing in the might of a president to link the possibility of our being involved in a major war, and i'm not predicting that in president trump's case or anyone else, but i but i never want to see ao modernod president even brief of the word of, and march towards war at the same time politics are being discussed. if you go back to the founders, that is specific to what the design this system to avoid, and think they would say we didn't do our job. >> host: w kenneth, richmond kentucky his go ahead for michael beschloss. >> caller: yes, sir. thank you. i'm a retired i marine officer, retired a couple of times but there's been some books, history that was impacted me.
two of them are books on war and remembrance, and also john jakes books of the north and south geology. now there are three books out today that are affecting me and i think affects assigned just as much, your book, doris kearns book in leadership and jon meacham smoke soul of america. this is more or less an opinion question, but it just seems coincidental that books like is a published in times that we need them the most and get you worked on this ten years ago and these other officers just didn't sit at down and type them up ad get them published. what do you think causes people, not causes, but the gift of these books at this time that we need in our national politics right now? i'd like to listen to what your opinion is. >> host: that's a really
interesting question, tying those three books together. >> guest: thank you, yes, and good company. we are in a time as troubled and sometimes as confusing as a time where living to politically, sometimes you look to an earlier. the context. the same thing is to a presidents. if i'd ask for qualities i want to see in a president, what is i'd want the president who knows about history and uses history. harry truman was probably read about in presidential history than almost anyone else. when he was a kid he had these classes, parents said we can't afford to replace them so truman said i, therefore, read every book in the independent missouri public library which i thought was an exaggeration but it was a small library. so we probably did. what truman said when i was having to make tough decisions like firing macarthur of whether not to use atomic bomb, i thought back to appropriate
presidents that it never ann exact parallel but there were enough similarities that i have a bit of insight to make the decision. prep something after jackson get something that abraham lincoln did. one thing truman said was not all readers would be leaders but he said every leader has to be a reader. because this is my language not his, but why would you if your president for all of us as voters what ever would you want to deny yourself the collective wisdom of billions of people who have walked the earth and find out what mistakes they madee and what successes they had, particularly previous presidents and generations of americans? what the founders wanted was this country to be very different from england, and in one way in particular. in england there wasn't much history because documents were not released and what was written basically said that king was perfect and everything was wonderful. they wanted us to do the opposite.
they wanted too absolutely scrutinize with earlier presidents, earlier generations of citizens had done and learn the lessons as quickly as possible. that's one reason why the founders felt very strong we should keep very exact records of what our presidents do and release them to the public as soon as possible so that we can quickly. lessons >> host: mary, el paso, good afternoon. >> caller: yes. my question is and perhaps you already touched a little bit on it, is it possible to curb the presidential power of the day being able to send troops without ever declaring war, or just sending troops anywhere he wants? for example, here along the border where i live, sending troops to keep the caravan that is crossing mexico from coming into the united states. >> thank you, ma'am. >> guest: it's a really great
point, and in history the time that we do best are when we have congressional leaders especially other president's own party to whom that he's too long. that's what the founders wanted, they wanted push back. they wanted criticism, if you have your president that behaves like a king and doesn't take criticism and basically says if you're criticizing me, you're criticizing the soldiers, basically shut up, that's what they did that one. lbj's waged theso vietnam war family for the most part but the majority leader mike mansfield hated the work am told him all the time this is what you can do better. same thing with other senate leaders. there was an effort in the early 1970s that you probably know about, the war powers act, to limit president's ability to just send troops are' all sorts of reasons and limit it to a number of weeks after which they would have to get congress to approve it or withdrawal. as it worked very well.
most presidents have said it's unconstitutional. i love what our el paso caller has said, and we will be a problem which i tried to write about. >> host: president trump sending troops to the border. let's go back to the founding fathers. is there a clear line of authority from them to what he wants to do? >> guest: they were worried about president using our armed forces for blatant domestic levitical reasons. so if a historian like me 40 years from now is confirmed looking at this in history and says, if this is true that donald trump sent these armed forces to the border to help his parties prospect in the midterms, it looks that way in 40 years, and then barely talks about brett kavanaugh but didn't barely talk about the caravan after the election returns were in, i think that historian would say that the founders would look very much at the use of troops
for politicalal reasons. the one of the differences in looking at this as an historian, which i do for system looking at it in real time is that i think it will take about 30 or 40 years to finally have judgment. you always have to keep your mind open to the possibility of different scenarios. that's why this is so exciting to do this kind of work because i look at james polk very differently. james madison, what wilson i'm really mean on, and friends of wilson scholars i'm sure i drive them crazy but i just don't see what -- even harry truman 1950, he tookit us into korea without asking for an war declaration from congress, that open the war, open the door for later presidents to do the same thing which is not a great thing for the united states, in my opinion. >> host: let's hear from one were caller l and this is paul n washington, d.c. you are on with michael beschloss. >> caller: i'm honored to be
the last caller, i think. i really am just ready to get this book and read it. my question to you is, in doing your extensive research which i know you start with this book, do you feel that most wars are predicated on a lie? >> guest: predicated on a lie? i must tell you which you to regret having written thiss book and i like about this all the way through, there has been much too much line, and presidents have taken, i've been to many, too many innocent wars. one way to stop that is to read history and see what people want to say. look at the presidents who boldfaced lied to congress. polk, to some extent mckinley, what a wilson, lbj who i love for civil rights and voting rights and medicare, but in the
vietnam war he went the wrong way. i end on a happier note? one thing that johnson did that was a good thing, i sort of found the last pieces in this puzzle. 1968 we had been stalemated in vietnam, endangered of defeat. johnson's command in vietnam one westmoreland goes and says why do we move nuclear weapons in vietnam for use in if necessary to avert a defeat? this is the good side of lbj who was telling the truth here, didn't do that enough during vietnam, and johnson privately says absentlybs not. this could go nuclear. we could wind up killing 100 million people all in vietnam. s as a result he shuts down quick and block of the documents. if you ask me is it important that the president who tells the truth, who has wisdom and judgment and experience? in johnson's case if you had depression who did not have that
kind of life experience or understanding of what this could mean, we could've killed hundreds, elyse tens of millions of people in 1968 just in the mid-side effort to try to once and for all when the vietnam war. war. that's how important it is who we elect president. and as a result, the founders were worried that we would elect president who may be would be a little quick on the trigger. oftentimes hear people say leave or to the genitals. well, had more of a lefty william westmoreland, this could've been nuclear in 1968. 1968. you need a president with a broader perspective. thank you so much for racing that. >> host: "presidents of war" isn't of the book. michael beschloss is the author cookies been our guests, thank you for your time. >> guest: hanky. loved it. thank you so much. >> and now more from the miami book fair.