Tag Archives: Politics

Chain of Command

General Douglas MacArthur is arguably one of the most accomplished military officers in American history.  His resume boasts having lead troops into battle in World War I, superintendent of West Point, Army Chief of Staff under two presidents (Hoover and FDR), World War II Pacific commander, presided over Japan’s surrender in 1945 as well as the military occupation of Japan following the war.  When conflict erupted on the Korean peninsula in 1950, MacArthur pulled off one of the most daring and brilliant invasions in modern history, choosing to land troops at Inchon in order to divide and route North Korean forces (who had pushed South Korean forces to the tip of the peninsula) – eventually forcing the North Korean army to retreat to the North’s border with China.  China – claiming the fear of invasion (a matter the students of history will continue to debate for decades to come) – joined the North Korean forces and pushed MacArthur back to the 38th parallel.

MacArthur had urged President Truman to take the fight to the Chinese.  Just as Patton, in many ways, foresaw the Cold War with the Soviet Union, MacArthur believed China needed to be confronted, and fast.  Frustrated that Truman saw things differently, MacArthur publicly announced his dissatisfaction, ultimately leading to his dismissal by Truman in 1951.  MacArthur was – and still is – celebrated as a hero, and he should be.  What should not be celebrated, however, is his public insubordination to the President.  It’s a difficult position to reconcile for many of us who felt Truman should have taken a different road – possibly even taken MacArthur’s advice.  Truman did the right thing in dismissing MacArthur, even if we disagree with Truman’s choices on the war.  The same goes for President Obama’s dismissal of General McChrystal.  McChrystal’s complaints should have been fully and bluntly discussed, in private, with the President.  If he still felt, after all that, that the President was not giving him what he needed to fight the war, then he should have resigned, retired and taken his case to the public.  Most Americans would have listened, politics aside, to a man who’d served his country honorably and respected the chain of command enough to not publicly denounce the President while actively wearing the uniform.

It’s all too easy for the ‘opposition’ (in this case, conservatives) to selectively ignore the importance of our military respecting the civilian chain of command at the top when the target of the complaint is a President with whom we strongly disagree.  It’s conveniently ignored by the Left as well, when it suits them (take the treatment of Petraeus today vs. the “Betray Us” ad in 2004).  The danger would be for us, as citizens, to take the military’s respect for civilian leadership for granted, or to sacrifice that respect for the sake of politics.  The importance of this principle – and the essential truth that the office of president must be respected, even if you don’t like the man – is one of the many reasons why our nation hasn’t fallen into the cycle of “bloody coup after coup” as other nations have when civilian and military leadership come into conflict.  Our current President doesn’t seem to mind ignoring, dismissing or even undermining the institutions that have made us great, but in accepting McChrystal’s resignation, he – whether for this motive or not – helped preserve them.

They Didn’t Teach that in History!

Imagine soup lines stretching city blocks, spanning streets.  Americans – hungry, malnourished and without work.

Imagine the Department of Agriculture (DoA) – obviously worried about the situation – releasing information on four sample diets: a liberal, moderate,  minimum and emergency diet. 

Imagine the government announcing to the nation: “Figures show we cannot produce enough food for our population for a minimum diet, a mere subsistence.”

Now, with that “Great Depression” backdrop, consider the following:

“We had men burning oats when we were importing oats from abroad on a large scale, killing pigs while increasing our imports of lard, cutting corn production and importing 30 million bushels of corn from abroad…while Wallace [then Secretary of Agriculture] was paying out hundreds of millions to kill millions of hogs, burn oats, plow under cotton…” – historian John T. Flynn:

The DoA signed up around 1 million cotton farmers, and paid them $100 million to plow under 10 million acres of farmland.  Why?  To force up prices.  But the results were disastrous.  Economist Clifton Luttrell explained, “…a large portion of the American cotton crop was grown for export and a number of close substitutes were available.  Wool, silk, and other vegetable fibers…and a new and vigorous rival – synthetic fibers – emerged to take an increasing portion of the domestic and world fiber markets….”  The false shortage that government policies created simply drove the cotton business into the ground, and gave competitors a boost.

The government paid hog farmers to slaughter 6 million baby pigs.  California peaches were left to rot in their orchards.  Less than 1/10th was saved as food and used in relief efforts.

Why in the world did this happen?  Let’s back up a few years.  During World War I, American agriculture experienced increased demand, since European farms were devastated.  After WWI, American farms did not cut back so when the Great Depression hit, there were too many farmers cultivating too many acres.  Political support from farmers was important to FDR (and a big reason why he was elected in 1932), so he sought to enact policies that would help them.  Farmers lobbied for mortgage moratoria.  Congress authorized the DoA to restrict the output of food processors and began to tax them, giving the proceeds to farmers in return for reducing their acreage.  Were they successful in raising prices?  Yes!  However, they raised prices in the midst of deflation and millions of industrial workers being unemployed, and – ironically – the price hikes caused the farmers themselves to pay more for manufactured goods.  The aftermath ruined the small family farms – since many were unable to pay their mortgages, or make enough to live in a market the government had forced to contract.  The more acres you owned and kept out of production, the more subsidies your received from the government.  Sharecroppers were hit the hardest, while large corporate farms began to gobble up the smaller ones who could not afford to stay in business.  The very “forgotten man’” that FDR and the New Dealers claimed to be fighting for was trampled underfoot by their policies.  It’s no wonder that the Supreme Court ruled the Agricultural Adjustment Act unconstitutional in 1936.

These are wonderful examples of how well-intended ideas can wreak havoc when made into law without any consideration of their real-world impact.  Too often, government officials only assess the political impact.  A global market is a highly dynamic environment.  In order to have all the necessary knowledge to predict every possible outcome, and to know how each consumer in the market will respond, in addition to the ‘natural’ factors like drought, earthquakes, etc., one would have to be God himself to centralize control of prices, supplies and consumption and actually execute it successfully.  Yet, doesn’t it seem that our government is constantly infatuated with the idea that they can do the impossible?  The temptation to rely on technocratic solutions is a strong one, and officials often believe that they just need more of the right information to do it correctly.  An earlier post of mine explains that at some point, the brain can no longer absorb information, and attempting to do so makes it more difficult to make right decisions.  There are simply too many moles in this cosmic game of whack-a-mole for us mere mortals to presume we can beat them all down at once.