Tag Archives: Harry Truman

It’s ‘Secretary,’ not ‘General’ Mattis, Mr. President

I’ve made this point already, but I feel the need to restate it.

Donald J. Trump once again referred to the secretary of defense as “Gen. Mattis.” Yes, James “Mad Dog” Mattis — one of my favorite Trump Cabinet appointees — is a retired Marine Corps general. He’s got four stars on his epaulets.

But that was then. Today, the here and now, Mad Dog Mattis is a civilian, just like the president is a civilian.

Trump’s reference to “Gen. Mattis” came as he was announcing his decision to sh**can the planned June 12 summit with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un. The president, naturally, followed that reference with a statement that the U.S. military is the strongest in the world and that it is ready to act if the need arises.

Oh, brother, man!

Mr. President, we assign these Cabinet posts to civilians. It’s a time-honored tradition that civilians control the military. President Truman had to remind Army Gen. Douglas MacArthur of that fact when he relieved him of his Korean War command in the early 1950s.

I know it’s a semantics issue. It just bothers the daylights out of me that the commander in chief cannot honor the long-standing tradition of the office with a simple reference to the defense boss as “Secretary” James Mattis.

Get with the program, Mr. President.

‘Power like the world has never seen’?

Donald J. Trump has issued the sternest of statements to North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un. It’s full of bluster and a bit of bravado.

It’s also frightening in the extreme — to our side as well as to the North Koreans!

The communist regime reportedly now is able to place a nuclear weapon aboard an intercontinental ballistic missile that can reach the United States. That’s a line that the president cannot tolerate.

So, while vacationing in New Jersey, Trump issued a direct threat to North Korea, saying that the United States is prepared to unleash “fire and fury” and a “power like the world has never seen.”

Let’s hold on. The United States once did unleash “fire and fury” on an enemy combatant state. It occurred on Aug. 6 and again on Aug. 9, 1945. We dropped two atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan. World War II was drawing to a conclusion and President Truman decided he needed to deploy those weapons to persuade the Japanese that continued fighting would be futile.

Truman learned of the Hiroshima bombing while returning from the Potsdam Conference.

The strategy worked. Japan surrendered just days after Nagasaki was incinerated.

If Donald J. Trump is proposing measures that would eclipse those twin events in August 1945, then we are truly embarking down the most dangerous path anyone ever imagined.

Trumps’ ‘dump’ to get spruced up a bit

Donald J. and Melania Trump are accustomed, I presume, to some pretty sumptuous living quarters. They’re accustomed to glitz and glam, of which they have plenty at their various homes in New York, south Florida and New Jersey.

They have taken up part-time residence in an old house at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. Trouble is, though, the president thinks it’s a “real dump.” He made the remark to golf pals; Trump, as is customary, denies saying it.

Hey, not to worry. The first couple and their young son are now spending the next 15 or so days at their golf club in New Jersey. The “dump” in D.C. is getting a little fixup while they are away: a new heating and air conditioning system and some nips and tucks here and there throughout the residence.

Still, for millions of Americans who’ve seen the White House up close — as my wife, sons and I have been honored to do — the “real dump” comment is offensive to the core.

It’s been the home for presidents since John Adams. Yes, it got burned during the War of 1812. Presidents since that time have been forced to fix things up at the place. President Truman moved into the Blair House with his wife and daughter while crews repaired some flooring. President Clinton had some asbestos issues. The White House has been plagued by flies on occasion, too.

It’s not a “dump,” let alone a “real dump,” as Trump has called it.

Read more about the “dump” issue here.

Sure, the place is old. It needs repair on occasion. A “dump”? Hardly. It’s filled with history and its walls contain portraits of all the men and women who have called it home.

If only the current president could appreciate it. Maybe he will if the heating and AC are in proper working order when he returns from his vacation.

Hiroshima debate will rage until the end of time

Seventy-two years ago today a single U.S. Army Air Force bomber dropped a single bomb on a Japanese city and ushered the nuclear age into modern warfare.

The plane was called the Enola Gay, named after the mother of the bomber’s commanding officer, Col. Paul Tibbetts. The place was Hiroshima. The atomic bomb killed many thousands of Japanese civilians — quite literally in a flash of light, heat and unimaginable concussive force.

Aug. 6, 1945 has gone down in history as arguably the most compelling moment of the 20th century. American air power would drop another atomic bomb three days later on Nagasaki, Japan. The Japanese would surrender a few days after that and World War II would come to an end.

The debate has raged for seven decades: Should we have dropped the bomb? Did we have to kill so many Japanese civilians? Would the Japanese have surrendered without having to suffer such horrific destruction?

I have some proverbial skin in that argument. A young man was stationed in The Philippines when the bombs fell on Japan. He was serving in the U.S. Navy and well could have taken part in the invasion of Japan had it occurred. We also well might have died in the effort, denying him the chance to return home and start a family that resulted in, well, yours truly being born.

Dad made it home from that terrible war, got married and produced his family. I wrote four years ago about how the Hiroshima decision remains quite personal:

Hiroshima gets personal with me

President Harry Truman had been in office only since April 1945; he assumed the power of the presidency upon the death of President Franklin Roosevelt. He only learned about the A-bomb development after he had taken the oath.

The newly minted commander in chief was handed some information that could have shortened the war by weeks, maybe months. Yes, the option before him would cost a lot of Japanese lives and he knew that at the top. He had to make a stern choice: Do I deploy this weapon knowing the destruction it will bring to the enemy’s homeland or do I risk sending our young men into battle at the cost of many thousands of American lives?

The president knew the consequences of the choice he had to make.

In my mind — and in my heart and gut — the president made the correct call. I cannot be objective or analytical about this. It’s personal, man.

God bless President Truman.

This is how Trump refuses to ‘own’ his failures

Well now. Donald Trump is tweeting something about “repercussions” if Senate Republicans fail to enact a health care insurance overhaul that would “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act.

This must be what the president means when he says he won’t “own” any failure to approve this legislation.

I believe the president must own it. He must take responsibility. He is the nation’s top Republican — even if he is a Republican In Name Only, aka a RINO, in the hearts of many true believers.

That’s not how sees it. He’s now suggesting via Twitter that he’ll somehow punish Republicans on Capitol Hill if they fail to do his bidding.

Explain yourself, Mr. President.

First things first. He needs to offer some detail on what his bidding entails. What does he want, specifically, in a health care overhaul? Oh, I almost forgot. The president is just too damn busy “making America great again” to worry about the details of legislation that aims to affect one-sixth of the American economy.

The Congressional Budget Office doesn’t like the GOP plan. It will cost millions of Americans their insurance plan and it cuts too much money from Medicaid, which enables Americans to afford health insurance.

Just as President Truman famously posted the sign on his desk proclaiming “The Buck Stops Here,” Donald Trump is now infamously declaring that others will pay the price for his own failures as head of a once-great American political party.

In my humble view, presidents don’t earn their tickets into the pantheon of greatness by refusing to “own” their mistakes. The GOP health care plan is a doozy of a mistake, Mr. President. It’s on you.

Yep, Trump isn’t your ‘normal’ president

Donald J. Trump more or less vowed to be an unconventional president while he campaigned for the office. Man, he’s made good on that one, eh?

Consider what he said after the failure of the Republican caucus in the Senate to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.

“I won’t own” the failure, he said. He wants to let the ACA fail and then he’ll swoop in to clean up the mess — assuming, of course, that it even happens.

How disgraceful.

President Truman famously had that sign on his Oval Office desk: “The Buck Stops Here.” President Kennedy told us after the Bay of Pigs disaster in 1961 that “victory has a thousand fathers, but defeat is an orphan”; he took the hickey for the invasion’s failure. President Reagan admitted to making a mistake during the Iran-Contra controversy, that he didn’t believe “in my heart” that he was trading arms to a hostile nation; he “owned” it eventually.

The current president? He’s not standing by the stumble-bum effort in Congress to enact this legislation. Republicans had seven years to come up with an alternative to the ACA, which they despise largely — or so it seems — because it has Barack H. Obama’s name on it. They call it “Obamacare” as a term of derision.

They blew it. As head of the Republican Party, so did the president. He owns this mistake, whether he cares to admit it or not.

Presidents Truman, Kennedy and Reagan all knew how to stand behind their failures. They all understood that the terms of the office they required them to do so.

Aw, but what the hell. They were just your normal run-of-the-mill politicians who played by the rules. The current president doesn’t operate under the same precept of full accountability.

Memorial recalls memory of favorite veteran

WASHINGTON — The atmosphere in the nation’s capital has become overheated, overblown and overstated. It’s not a happy place if you are a politician who wants to do the right thing, but you get caught up in the daily — if not hourly — struggles between the two major political parties.

They all ought to come to this place perhaps once a week. They should cast their eyes on the World War II Memorial, which reminds us of just how titanic our struggles can get.

I came here with my wife, our niece and her husband. It was hot that day. During our entire walk along The Mall, I managed to put contemporary politics aside. I thought instead of my favorite veteran. I’ve written before about my father, the late Pete Kanelis. He served during this struggle, the one that enveloped the globe from 1939 until 1945.

The picture above honors those who served in the European Theater of World War II, as Dad did. He saw combat as a sailor in the Med.

Yes, I have heard about critics of this particular memorial, one of the newer exhibits along The Mall. It’s too gaudy, too grand, too big, they say. It really isn’t, at least in my view. It honors a massive military engagement. By the end of the global war, more than 16 million Americans suited up to enter the fight; whether it was at home or abroad, they answered the call and performed magnificently.

They were, as the author/journalist Tom Brokaw has written, The Greatest Generation.

At the other end of the WWII Memorial pool is a section devoted to the Pacific Theater of Operations.

There, too, Americans and their allies fought across the vast ocean to take back land conquered by Japan. They endured sacrifice most of only can imagine. My favorite veteran happened to be in The Philippines when President Truman ordered the dropping of the atomic bombs in August 1945. The enemy surrendered. Thus, I remain convinced that the president likely saved Dad’s life. I am eternally grateful for the president.

We walked along the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the Korean War Memorial, the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial. They all reminded us of the nation’s greatness and they allowed me to set aside the ongoing anger and anxiety I am feeling about the present day.

Later in the day, we saw Marine One fly overhead on its way back to the White House, carrying the president of the United States back from wherever he had spent the weekend.

I had been filled with awe at what we had seen. In that context, seeing the presidential aircraft made me appreciate the struggles that accompanied the building and the development of the world’s greatest nation.

Dad would have been proud, too.

Still waiting for POTUS to act, sound like one

A critic of High Plains Blogger scolded me recently about how I reference the commander in chief, Donald J. Trump.

The critic wants me to use the term “President” in front of his last name. I told him I would consider it.

I’ve thought about it for a bit of time and have decided … that I cannot make that leap. I just cannot — at least not yet — connect the words “President” and “Trump” consecutively.

It’s not that I disrespect the office. Indeed, I have great respect for the presidency. I’ve harbored that respect going back to the early 1950s, when I became aware of the office and the man who occupied it.

I was born in December 1949, when Harry Truman was president of the United States. He left office in January 1953, when I was just barely 3 years of age. The first president I remember was Dwight D. Eisenhower. To borrow a phrase, I liked Ike.

My first vote for president came in 1972. I voted for George McGovern, who got trampled by President Nixon. I’ve voted for plenty of losing candidates and my share of winning ones ever since. I’ve always managed to refer to the men I voted against by their title. Why? Because they were dignified, they knew how to act and speak like the leader of the free world, the commander in chief, the head of state of the greatest nation on Earth.

The man who occupies the office now hasn’t yet learned how to do that. He keeps saying patently goofy things. He keeps behaving strangely.

Am I still angry at the outcome of the 2016 election? Sure I am. That’s patently obvious to readers of this blog; it damn sure is obvious to the critic who scolded me. I won’t apologize for harboring the anger that a profoundly unfit man got elected to the highest office in the land. Nor will I apologize for declining to refer to him by the title he earned through his election.

Donald Trump has to earn it. To date, he has fallen short. His penchant for prevarication is an outrage. His ignorance of government and the mechanics of how to govern is annoying in the extreme.

And I also am waiting for a full-throated apology for the “fake news” lie he kept alive by asserting that Barack Hussein Obama was constitutionally unqualified to serve as president of the United States. Trump kept alive the lie that Obama was born in Africa and therefore was not a “natural born citizen” of the nation he governed successfully for two terms. Donald Trump was the disgraceful godfather of the “birther” movement.

I hope the man grows into the office. I want him to succeed. Honestly, I do.

Until he does and until he demonstrates some level of the decorum the office deserves, I will refuse — with all due respect — my critic’s demand that I change the way to which I refer to the president.

The buck still stops in the Oval Office … doesn’t it?

There once was a time when presidents of the United States took the heat when things went badly.

President Harry Truman had that sign on his Oval Office desk that declared “The Buck Stops Here.” He knew, for example, that his firing of Army Gen. Douglas MacArthur from his command post in Korea would be political dynamite at home. But he did so anyway as a statement of support of civilian authority over the military.

President John F. Kennedy fell on his grenade in 1961 when the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba — which sought to overthrow Fidel Castro  — went badly. He told us that “Victory has a thousand fathers while defeat is an orphan.” He took responsibility for the failure of the mission.

Other presidents have assumed responsibility for missteps, mishaps and outright tragedy.

The current president is not wired that way. Donald John Trump’s first and last instinct is to blame others.

The commando raid in Yemen in which a brave Navy SEAL died was the fault of the “generals” who put the mission together, Trump said.

Then came the failed effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. Trump is not taking a lick of responsibility for the failure to cobble together a political alliance that would institute something called the American Health Care Act.

Oh, no! He said first it was the fault of Democrats who didn’t sign on at all with the AHCA. Then it became the fault of the conservative Freedom Caucus of the House GOP. After that, the president tossed a barb at Republican moderates who hated the AHCA as well.

Where, oh where is the president’s responsibility?

Leaders step up when matters go awry, just as they bask in the reflected glory when matters go well. They take the bad along with the good.

If only the current president could actually lead. He simply cannot fulfill a basic tenet of the office he occupies.

Presidents Truman and Kennedy are spinning in their graves.

Obama and Trump: no longer BFFs

That didn’t last long.

President Barack Obama pledged to do all he could to ensure a “smooth transition” to the presidency of Donald J. Trump.

Now we hear that the men are at each other’s throats. They’re sniping from lecture podiums and over social media.

Trump has been sniping at the president over his decision to forgo a U.N. Security Council veto of a resolution that condemns Israel for its construction of settlements on the West Bank. The president, meanwhile, is talking out loud about the dangers of isolating the United States from the rest of the world.

How will all of this — and more — affect the transition? No one can yet determine how the men’s staffs will work together. Indeed, that’s where the transition must occur without a hitch. Chiefs of staff need to talk constructively to each other, along with other White House staffers. National security experts need to talk candidly about the threats to the nation.

Even though I shouldn’t give a damn how this affects the two men’s personal relationship, I feel compelled to recall an anecdotal story I heard some years ago about two earlier presidents.

Harry Truman left the presidency after Dwight Eisenhower was elected in 1952. The two partisans despised each other. Truman, the Democrat, couldn’t stomach the idea that Eisenhower, the Republican, would occupy the Oval Office. They barely spoke to each other during the transition.

The men reportedly set aside their personal antipathy at the funeral of another president a decade later. President Kennedy was gunned down and Give ‘Em Hell Harry and Ike managed to patch up their personal relations as they joined the rest of the country in bidding farewell to JFK. Did they realize at that time that life, indeed, is too short to harbor grudges? Perhaps.

No one really expects Obama and Trump to become BFFs. Given the mercurial temperament that Trump exhibits — describing his meetings with Obama as “terrific” and “terrible” in the same week — one cannot predict how the president-elect is going to respond.

President Obama has spoken eloquently about the graciousness extended to him and his staff by President George W. Bush’s team in 2009. The transition from President Clinton to Bush in 2001, as we have learned, wasn’t quite so smooth with reports of keyboards missing the letter “W” and other pranks being pulled.

The stakes are much greater, of course, when rocky transitions involve heads of state instructing their staffs to undermine the other guy in this troubling and unsettled time.

Barack Obama and Donald Trump have three more weeks to put this campaign behind them. Let’s get busy, gentlemen.