Friday, February 5, 2010

Who's Afraid of the Atomic Bomb?


In Crisis and Command, his sweeping history of presidential prerogatives, John Yoo argues that national security crises inevitably ratchet up the power of the president at the expense of Congress. “War acts on executive power as an accelerant,” he writes, “causing it to burn hotter, brighter and swifter.” In Bomb Power, Garry Wills argues much the same thing, adding that the advent of atomic weapons has made this concentration of power in the White House even greater. “The executive power increased decade by decade,” he writes, “reaching a new high in the 21st century — a continuous story of uni­directional increase.” Where the two authors disagree is on whether this trend should be celebrated or denounced. Yoo finds increased executive power appealing and in accord with the Constitution. Wills finds it appalling and a constitutional travesty.

From The New York Times

13 comments:

  1. Is it so surprising then that other nations want "the bomb?" Makes me think of that great Peter Sellers romp, The Mouse That Roared. Of course, "the bomb" is a little harder to handle these days.

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  2. "Duck and cover" -- I hated those school day drills!

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  3. There was a good interview on WNYC with Leonard Lopate and Garry Wills:

    http://www.wnyc.org/shows/lopate/episodes/2010/02/01/segments/149288

    or in itunes podcasts under Leonard Lopate.

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  4. Wills was interviewed on NPR in SF this a.m., and fielded some calls from folks who tried, but mostly failed, to make points contrary to his (some to his amusement). He remarked mildly to one such caller "It's good to have evidence." Indeed.

    Here's a link: http://www.kqed.org/epArchive/R201002111000

    Several times he made the point that the Pres. is not everybody's commander-in-chief, as in some of the right wingers' criticism of the lack of patriotism of those who don't acknowledge same.

    But that was a cavil compared to his major point about the growth of presidential power following & based on the bomb.

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  5. Thanks for the interview links. There were some obvious overlaps but both were very interesting: if you knew what I knew (but can't be allowed to know) then you would know how important it is to stay in a perpetual state of war.

    Here's the NY Times editorial Wills mentions in the SF interview:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2007/01/27/opinion/27wills.html

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  6. Also interesting to see the overlaps with Madison who believed that Congress was supposed to be the center of power in the government -- which they've sort of given up without protest to the President, particularly when it comes to war.

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  7. One thing that has always interested me about the dropping of the bomb on Japan is why they did it, given that we now know that Japan was ready to surrender. The Russian explanation makes sense to me, but Wills downplays that saying there's no evidence of that in the record. Rather, he sees it as a purely political decision to save Truman's presidency. Wow. What a concept when you think about it.

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  8. Oh, yeah, and once again we learn how downright terrifying Dick Cheney is.

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  9. When I taught high school US History in NM, each spring semester featured a major debate on whether or not to drop the bomb and what other options would be preferable. Since many of the students were of military families, I was surprised at how often other options were chosen, most frequently the one involving inviting Japanese observers to view the dropping of a demonstration bomb on an uninhabited island, after which an ultimatum would be delivered. Domestic political/party considerations figured little in the discussions.

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  10. And I'm only somewhat comforted to know I'm not alone in thinking that Cheney is still very scary indeed.

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  11. ALERT: Wills is on BookTV (CSPan2) "After Words" tonight at 6 p.m. (watching now) 9 p.m. & midnight (Pacific time).

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  12. I'd be game to read this book if anyone else is interested.

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  13. Sure -- I can read that starting next month. (I hope it's written better than the Adams book -- he certainly talks eloquently about it)

    Are others here interested?

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