tv Call-in with Michael Beschloss Presidents of War CSPAN November 17, 2018 11:12pm-11:47pm EST
in. any time we're back in dc we'd a love to talk to you again. >> sonia: i'd be delighted. "the beloved world of sonia," the young reader's decision, and she has an even younger edition of the book, "turning pages," want to show you that cover now, justice sotomayor, you will see her later m during our coveragef the miami book fair. thank you. [applause] >> mr. beschloss thank you for your time. do you get anybody complaining about being at the miami book fairen? >> host: in your talk in texas you were talking about the fact that we have invested a lot of power in the president of the united states and that can affect judges.
>> michael: our founder were worried about that because they were worried that our presidents were trying to be like kings of england. what they specifically wanted to make sure was that no president could get us into a war single-handedly or almost overnight. and in over 20 years, that's the lstory of my book, i tell the story of 8f9 guys who took us into major wars and grabbed more power for themself, and made it possible in our own time and also made it possible for a president to take us into war with little input from congress. guest it isfl telling the last time a president asked congress to declare war was 1942. >> michael: 1942, and have we had any major wars since then? congress is supposed to be part of this. presidents have been attempted to get involved in sometimes
unnecessary wars over 200 years and that's exactly what our founder at the time of the constitution made sure to prevent, and they failed. >> host: one of the things we may not think about, and you write about it in "presidents of war," the role of james k polk. >> michael: right, he was a liar and a scoundrel, and a bully, he did a terrible thing. hemer manufactured a counterfeit incident to provoke mexicanens to attack americans and went to congress and said we need a major war against mexico all the way down to mexico city. and it turns out that he had an all tearier motive that he lied about the congress, and lied to his own secretary of state which was to try to acquire from mexico nearly a million square miles of territory so we americans could become a cont
intently nation from atlantic, and pacific, but what he did was opened the door to presidents essentially getting them involved in wars on the basis of instances that really didn't happen. thinking of the may, 1998. mckinley said let's have a war against -- the war was not b by the spanish but by a boiler accident. then 1964, lyndon johnson says to congress there's been an unprovoked attack in the gulf. a couple of later they pass the resolution, johnson realizes there was no such incident. based on this flimsy resolution the whole vietnam wars, killing almost 60,000 americans was waged by the americans would cricry. >> host: has this been the first experience with james polk?
i. >> michael: this is my first experience, and watching him on television he basically allowed later presidents that our founder would be horrified by. >> host: speaking of which, what was the founders original vision? >> michael: sometimes they have to go to war but it's rare and make sure congress supports it and the american people did to. because as a i write, war of 1812, madison got us involved in that what was the first war we lost? i would say it's the war of 1812, not vietnam. what was the most unpopular war, i would say 1812, not vietnam, almost half the congress was against it, new englieutenant almost receded because new englanders were so angry about this and the war was spun as a
great secretary, victory, and this glorious vision of the great victory of 1812, which by the way was such a failure that james madison was almost hang said by the british, who chafed him out of washington which they d,burned. james poke in the 1940s says i want to be a war president too. >> host: michael beschloss his most recent book, "presidents of war," the epic story of 1807 to modern times. we've covered him on many books, and you can watch his past appearances on booktv.org. let's begin with with some call. james is calling in from south bend indiana, go ahead with your question or comment james.
>> guest: yes, sir, speaking of books and wars, i'd like to get michael's comments on one some people call the best book ever. j-4:1, in the bible. roman 3:18, the cause of war is sin, and isaiah 2:4 -- where trillions and trillions. >> host: where are we headed with this, could you -- could you nail it down to a question? >> guest: the question is wars -- would man ever fight for share of trillions of dollars in tax money and the bible's answer to that. maybe your guest can correlate to the bible and more.
>> michael: i'm afraid i'm just a political historian not great on bible -- but in the course of history what did these 8-9 presidents have in common who took us in major wars. which i write about from madison to lbj. one thing is that every single one of them becomes more religious. abraham lincoln was an agnostic, andom was visited in the white house by someone who knew him and found him reading the bible and lincoln says i don't know how a president could get through the trauma of being through a war president without finding comfort of the bible. lbj said before the 1960s went to church, heavily photographed, no signs of deep spiritual involvement. by the late 60s he was so distraught over the vietnam war his daughter lucy, who converted to catholicism took him to her
catholic church usually in private, and johnson got such comfort from this that ladesy bird johnson told me later on during those days i wouldn't have been a bit surprised if lyndon had converted to catholicism. >> host: how insightful was it to talk to lady bird johnson about lbj? >> michael: she gave her last tv interview to c-span, i think that was around 1999. she loved the interview but felt she was not quite what she had been before. but one thing she did, all these war presidents another thing they had in common they were all married to strong women, and i wish that i could -- they say thatay if we ever have to have a war president again, the president would married to aet strong man, that's something in the future h if you have me back i'll expand the book. but she made it possible for lbj
to get through that war. i'm not psychiatrically, qualified but he said a lot of things that are paranoid and angry, and he was very prone to severe depression. she calmed him down and on these tapes johnson at war with i put these in the books. johnson is saying bobby kennedy, and martin luther king are paying -- to embarrass me. and the reason the students on campus are protesting the vietnam war is because the soviet and communists are telling them to. and the reason senators like william full light, is because the soviets are stuffing cash in his pockets. that's what he said in private and that was not a president that was operating with a full deck. she made it possible for him to get through that war in a way
that was relatively stable. elnor roosevelt 1942, fdr was talking about sending the japanese to internment camps and she said this isn't necessary for national security, total violation of civil liberties. he did it anyways. and they felt this was a part of their marriage they never recovered from. from 1942, fdr would tell him he would like to have her home, and she went on trips and kept her distance and i think one reason for that, by interning the japanese, he was telling her maybe we don't have the same political outlook. >> guest: thank you so much for taking my call. i would like to ask about woodrow wilson. in16 1916, he famously vowed to
keep our country out of war. in the election of -- >> michael: which was a lie -- >> guest: so the election against charles evans hughes, famously went to bed thinking he was president, and then would woken up to find out no, california went a different way. but i w wondered if you had any- can. >> michael: can i -- that's a great point. >> guest: i wondered what your thoughts were on whether charles evan hughes if he had been elected president how the course of world war i would have been different, thank you. >> michael: hard to speculate he was very close to the ram bunktious theodore roosevelt who hated woodrow wilson. but the one thing to be ware of. onwild row wilson was vastly
overrated. he was a racist, a throw-back not a man of his times. his two predecessors were far more progressive on civil rights, which was someone who gave comfort to racist of this country showed birth of the nation showing the klu klux klan in the white house. but wilson campaigned for election in 1916 just as our -- he kept us out of war, he knew we were going to get involved in that war early in the second term and he was telling a falsehoot hood and what drives me crazy in that very close election of 1916, the people who made the difference were voters in california, specificallyal women in california, who could vote in 1916. and they from everything we know, hated the idea of war, loved the idea of peace, voted for wilson because they i dealistically expected violencen
to bring them peace, and very soon wilson brought them war and i hate for our democracy to see a president elected under false pretenses and you can imagine what those women what have thought. >> host: had woodrow wilson prior to that election planning on entering the war? >> michael: he knew we were very close and the problem is that wilson had been writing these wonderful books and journal articles when he was an academic for decades saying things like presidents have to be honest and communicate with the people, and once he was in power he did almost the opposite. when the war began he moved toward authoritarianism, he passed something called the espionage act, allows a president to harass journalists if they criticize him for war or other reasons, and that's one problem with the president of war, when i write about all the
way through. if you are worried about an authoritarian president that's the timepr they abuse power. presidents in war they can declare a marshal law. you may have gotten as i did a presidential alert announcement on our iphones a couple weeks ago. perfectly benign but if a president is able to send you messages on iphones, any hour of the day or night during a major war that is beginning, that opens the possibility for authoritarianism. >> host: in your book "presidents of war," michael beschloss writes for all his high-gloan rhetoric, the moment wilson became a war president he grabbed for authority, claiming unquestionable powers were absolutely enters and stepped on civil liberty tom's from kansas. >> guest: thank you. two questions. number one, how did the nuclear
age made the idea of full-blown all-out war unthinkable so that congress wouldn't really want to do it and give the president that kind of k authority, and te second question is when was the last time since 1945, that any nation, anywhere, went to a declaration of war in another country? >> michael: no declarations of war since 1942, and we've had a couple major wars since then so we have a problem, a violation of the'm constitution. i'm not suggesting that if god forbid tomorrow there's a cyber attack or a terrorist attack, or a russian missile nuclear tip comes over the north pole that a president should convene congress and debate it for two weeks. that's not what i'm talking g about. what i'm talking about is if there's a major war of the kind we've seen in recent years we're now involved in the war in afghanistan has been have 17 years, the longest war in
history. about four times the lent of our involvement in world war ii. b based on a resolution by congress to let the president euse the armed forces. and my point is if there's something like that in the future he should be required toc go to congress and say, i want you to do what the constitution says. declare a war, get me a war declaration, let's have a debate. i'll tell you how many americans might have to give lives. what other sacrifices americans might be required to make. if you don't have a war declaration the problems is members of congress can vote for it and the -- of war becomes unpopular and we've seen this happen members of congress say i had no idea this might lead to war. i was just voting for getting the president authority to use the armed forces. i'm saying that if you have a president of war make sure he's got congress in on the take-off so that things get rough they
can't run away and say the president did something we skdidn't ask for. >> host: how long did it take to write this book?u >> michael: it took ten years and peter you are so nice to have me today particularly because i take ten years to write a book, how much time would i ask for in proportion to the length we'd be droning on for the next six hours but the reason for that is that i found i expected this to take about 4 or 5, and it covers 200 years, and in detail these 8-9 presidents and i couldn't just read 3-4 books on each president and visit like three archives, i had to research every period as if i were writing a whole book on it. and the part of this i love is to be able to go in and read other people's mail, for instance, what i try to do is not only talk about the presidents, but other key figures theyse deal with in thee wars. spanish american war when the ship to maine was sunk, there
was a captain called charles bixby, and he was a supreme narcissist, terribly self-involved, the ship sinks andve tragically hundreds of americans die and i found he sent offns a message to his wife that something like the ship is sunk, so many of our crew have died, i'm going to have to replace my whole wardrobe. yew begin to get a sense of who these people were. robert anderson when the n confederacy fired on them and they had to surrender. lincoln was a great politician but he had a finger in the wind because would americans blame anderson for this. anderson goeser to new york, the is a huge celebration of anderson i think gnat union square. 100,000 people, turns otthey think he's a hero, although he surrenders, only then does lincoln get in touch with anderson and say i've been
meaning to write, why not come and visit me at the white house. he wanted some of anderson's aura. there's a story, lincoln meets with anderson, and he asked anderson if he's seen him ybefore, and he said i don't olremember. and lincoln said i was only involved in a war before once. that was the blackhawk war in ilnotice, 1832, and guess who mustered me into war service, veand he said it was you mr. anderson. he was a lincoln man for the rest of his life. >> host: robert in california,. >> guest: high. thank you for taking my call. my something -- i'd like to say when i was a teenager i remember the media and president johnson they had the commercial called a daisy commercial. you're probably familiar with the diesy commercial.
>> michael: it was shown once in 1964. >> guest: they're saying -- is a crazy man he's going to blow up the whole world, and you're going i'm scared. 'mi'm believing johns, and cbs, and they're saying goldwater, i think he only won one state, and then later on, three of my friends were killed in vietnam, and i was so mad at johnson. i neverer voted. i have not voted to this day. i was so mad at that, and i just wondered how did we get fooled into the media and juneson and later on you find out goldwater want really just a bad man and i'd like to see what your comment on that was. >> michael: i think goldwater was a better man than he was told to be at the moment. lbj -- was talking to robert mack numara the secretary of
defense who is one of the villains of the vietnam war. he had been urging johnson to get in in a big way. and in february of '65, johnson is sending huge numbers of americans off to vietnam and telling them he expects to win. in private he's talking to mack numara and says i can't think of anything worst than losing the war in vietnam and i don't see any way to win. later onri he tells lady bird i feel like i'm in a plane that's crashing and i do not have a parascheut. johnson hadrt an enormous heart. he was going against his instincts, and allowed himself to be convinced that the vietnam war was essential to win the cold war, of course we know with 20/20 hindsight that was not true but i'm so sorry to hear what you told me because even at the beginning of the war in private lbj was skeptical it
could ever be won, and i wish i could go through time and told him listen to yourself. you're saying the war cannot be won, if that's what you think in private, you should say it in public, and b if that's what you think get out of war. we shouldn't be there. thank you so much, and thank you so much for your family's sacrifice. >> host: two follow-ups, as a story michael beschloss, what did you think of robert mack numara's apology tour. >> michael: i thought it was dreadful and one of the subtexas was that he was not much to blame for the war. he said we were all to blame, andta we were not all to blame. he was the one who told blj if president kennedy he would have escalated the war, and number two unless you do it you'll be subject to criticism for that and not fulfilling our treaty
obligations, and bad fleuz for him he did not know lbj had made a lot of tapes of their private conversations, which mack numara had not heard all of them before he published the books in the mid-1990s, because bad luck for him, listen to the tapes they show some of what he wrote in the book was not true, and lbj had sort of the last word. >> host: second follow-up, robert suggested that presidents use war as a political tool. was this a common theme among the president's that you covered ines "presidents of war"? >> michael: presidents are tempted. james polk used war not to run for reelection. he pledged to only serve one term but this was one way he could get something he felt he couldn't get any other way which was actually the -- of trying to get the r more land to help make us a nation that spanned the
continent. but the problem in mornd times is i'm, worried a modern president would look at georgia sihw bush who wages the persian gulf war in six weeks his numbers go up to 90%. and it morifies me to talk on these terms, after national tragedy like 9/11 people unite behind the president, and even trump in 2011 tweeted saying watch out because barack obama, i predict will get us involved in a war to get reelected. i think that's always a dangerousay thing in the mind oa president to link the possibility of our being oinvolved in a major war and im not predicting that in president trump's case or anyone else. but i never wantt to see a moden president breathe the word of a march-toured war as the same time ass politics is being discussed. if you go back to the founder that is specifically what they devised their system to avoid,
and i think they would say we didn't do our job. >> host: ken little, kentucky,. >> guest: thank you. sir, i'm a retired marine officer, and retired a couple times. but there's been some books in my history that really impacted me, and two of them are walks books on war and remembrance, and the winds of war, and also john jake's book of the north and souther trology. now there are three books today that are affecting me and society just as much, your book, doris concerns book and leadership, and john meechen's book "soul of america" sir, this is more or less an opinion question, but it just seems coincidental that books like these are published in times we need them the most. and yet you worked on this ten years ago and these other officers didn't sit down and type them up and get them
published. what do you think pauses people to 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 and thank you very much. >> host: that's a really interesting question to tie three books together. >> michael: b yes, and good company. i think when we're in a time that's troubled and confuses that we're living through politically sometimes you look to an earlier period for context. and theam same thing to a president. if i had to ask for qualities i want to see in a president, i'd want a president who knows history and uses history. harry frommen was probably better red about history than anyone else. and when he was a kid he had thick glasses, and the parents said we can't afford to replace them, so truman said i read
every book in the library, which i thought was an exaggeration, but it was a small library, but what truman said when i was having to make tough decisions like firing mcarthur, or whether or not to use the atomic bomb, i thought back to earlier presidents and there were enough similarities that i would have a little bit of insight that would help me make the decision. perhaps something that andrew jackson did, or abraham lincoln did, and one thing truman did said not all readers will be leaders. but every leader has to be a reader because this is my language not his, but why would you if you were president or all of us as citizens and voters why 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 made and what successes they had, particularly previous presidents andus generations of americans. what the founder wanted was the
country to be very different from england and in one way particularly. and in england there wasn't much history because documents weren't released, and what was written basically said the king was perfect and everything was wonderful. they wanted us to do the opposite. they wanted us to absolutely scrutinize what earlier presidents and earlier generations of citizens had done and learn the lessons as quickly as possible. and that's one reason why the founder felt strongly that we should keep very exact records of what our president's do, and release them to the public as soon as possible so that we can learn the lessons quickly. >> host: marry, el paso, good afternoon. >> guest: my question is and perhaps you already touched a little bit on it. is it possible to curb whichib presidential power of them beine able to send troops without ever declare war or or sending troops
wherever he wants. for example, here along the border where i live, sending troops to keep the caravan that is catastrophic mexico from coming into the united states? >> michael: it's a really great point, and in history, but times that we do best are when we have congressional leaders, especially if a president's only party who tell him what he's doing wrong. what the founder wanted. they wanted pushback and criticism. they felt if you have a president that behaves like a king and doesn't take criticism, and basically says, if you're criticizing me you're vifsing the soldiers, basically shut up, that's what they did not want. lyndon johnson waged the war badly, but his senate majority letter mike mans field told him heyo hated the war. told him this is what you can do better. there was an effort in the early
1970s the war powers act to limit president's ability to just send troops for all sorts llof reasons, and limit it to a number of weeks after which they'd have to get congress to approve it or withdraw, hasn't worked very well, most presidents have said they think it's unconstitutional so i love what our el paso has said and we have a real problem which i tried to write about. >> host: so president trump sending troops to the border let's go back to the founding fathers. ckis there a clear line of authority from them to what is he wants to do? >> michael: they were worried presidents using our armed forces for blatant domestic political reasons. so if a historian like me 40 years is confirmed looking at this in history and says if this is true the donald trump sent these armed forces to the border, to help his party's prospects, in the midterms if it looks that way in 40 years, and
then barely talked about the pattern, talked about brett kavanaugh, but barely talked about the caravan after the election returns were in, i think that historian would say that the founder would look very much at the use of troops for political reasons. but one of the differences is at looking at this as a historian, versus someone looking at it in real-time i think it takes about 30-40 years to finally have a judgment and you always have to pekeep your mind open to the possibility of different scenarios, and that's why this is so exciting to do the work because i look at james polk, woodrow wilson, james madison, and friends were wilson's scholars i'm sure i drive them crazy but i don't want see what'sn there. even harry truman, 1950 he took us into korea without asking for a war declaration from congress.
that opened the door for later presidents to do the same thing which wasot not a great thing fr the united states in my opinion. >> host: let's hear from one more caller. paula, washington, d.c. you're on with michael begs los. be thet: i'm honored to last caller. michael, mr. beschloss, i really am ready to get this book and read it. my question to you is in doing your instead of research which i know it -- you can start with this book, do you feel that most wars are predicated on a lie? >> michael: are predicated on a lie? i must tell you with huge regret having written this book and i write about this all the way through there has been much too much lying and president's have taken us into many too many nknecessary wars and i think one of the ways to stop that is to
read history and see where people -- look at the presidents through bold-faced lie to congress, polk, to some extent, mckinley, wilson, lbj, who mean i love for civil rights, and voting rights and medicare, but in the vietnam war he went the wrong way. could i end this on a happier note, would our caller mind peter? one thing johnson did that was a good thing. i found the last pieces in this puzzle. 1968 we had been stalemated in vietnam, in danger of a defeat. johnson commander in the vietnam goes to johnson and says why don't we move nuclear weapons in vietnam and use them if enters to defeat. johnson privately says absolutely not, this could go ldnuclear we could wind up killg a hundred million people all for
vietnam, and so as a result he shut that down quick and locked up the documents, if you ask me is it important to have a president who tells the truth, who has wisdom and judgment and experience, in johnson's case id you had a president who did not have that kind of life experience or understanding of what this could mean, we could have killed ten's of billions of people in 1968, just in the mid-sided effort to try to win the vietnam war. that's how important it is who we elect president, and as a result the founders were worried that we would elect presidents who maybe would be a little quick on the trigger, we oftentimes hear people say leave war to the generals. well, had war been left to william moreland this could have been nuclear in 1968. you need a president with a sibroader