Reagan on Church and State

Reagan on Church and State April 7, 2012

This picture is making the rounds on Facebook:

The point of this is to say, “See, even Ronald Reagan supports the separation of church and state! Suck it, conservatives!” But that is a disingenuous argument. Reagan claimed to believe in such a separation but he really didn’t. He repeatedly criticized the Supreme Court ruling banning mandatory prayer in public schools. If forcing kids to recite government-composed prayers does not violate your conception of the separation of church and state, you don’t really believe in it at all. These are empty words, so offering them as evidence that Reagan was on our side is not honest.

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  • tbp1

    Reagan was a truly despicable human being, always out for himself not only foremost, but solely (look at the way he treated his children). Like Romney he was a political protean, adapting whatever political stance would currently benefit him most, and selling his affable façade to the highest bidder. He was a New Dealer when that was useful, but did a 180 when it wasn’t any longer. I doubt he ever had a coherent political philosophy, even before dementia set in.

    Still it’s amusing to occasionally see quotes like this which ought to make the Reagan-worshippers’ heads explode, but somehow always get overlooked, just Ike Jesus’s pesky admonitions to care for the poor.

  • freelunch

    Did Reagan ever care about religion except for the political symbolism that it entailed? He knew who his voters were. He understood and manipulated symbolism his entire career so they would feel happy and vote for him.

  • Yoritomo

    You made something closely resembling this “disingenious argument” yourself. What’s the difference between you citing Reagan and people on Facebook citing Reagan? What was your point if not the one you now criticize?

  • Quote mining is quote mining. It has gotten to the point of sheer ridiculousness on Facebook. Any quote can easily be taken out of context to make it seem it’s supporting “your side”. The quote about the eye by Darwin is a classic. Einstein is quoted a lot also to show his support for religious belief. I think people now post random quotes on FB more than anything else, even more than cat pictures.

  • peterh

    A sitting president who has White House visits by an astrologer isn’t an intellectual contender for the title of “normal.”

  • regexp

    Reagan said a lot of things but never backed them up. But he was a politician so that shouldn’t be of any surprise to anyone. But at least he cared about governing – unlike the current crop of Republicans.

  • Michael Heath

    Ed writes:

    The point of this is to say, “See, even Ronald Reagan supports the separation of church and state! Suck it, conservatives!” But that is a disingenuous argument. Reagan claimed to believe in such a separation but he really didn’t. He repeatedly criticized the Supreme Court ruling banning mandatory prayer in public schools. If forcing kids to recite government-composed prayers does not violate your conception of the separation of church and state, you don’t really believe in it at all. These are empty words, so offering them as evidence that Reagan was on our side is not honest.

    This is not a compelling argument regarding President Reagan. One of the distinguishing attributes of his presidency was consistent conservative-friendly rhetoric coupled to a frequent abdication of such when it came to what his Administration actually did. Therefore one would have to consider his Administration’s actual record, not just the rhetoric, to make a confident conclusion. Certainly his rhetoric and part of his record is a strike against him to the point he was no champion of secularism, but without considering his Administration’s entire record we can’t claim he was an effective enemy either.

    His Sandra Day O’Connor and Anthony Kennedy Supreme Court nominations* argue against theocratic leanings. His nomination of Antonin Scalia possibly argues contra while there’s no doubt where Robert Bork stood when he was nominated. So the Bork nominations is a clear strike against Reagan. I’m waffling on Scalia because I’m not sure his church-state views were fully known until he arrived at the SCOTUS, he was not the partisan radical on the appellate court he’s been on the SCOTUS.

    Perhaps the most noxious official given the length of his tenure was Ed Meese (James Watt didn’t last long and was booted after becoming too controversial for too long). But a reading of history has Reagan continually frustrating Meese by either going against his counsel, ignoring it, or passively allowing Meese to lose by refusing to champion his causes. Early in the Reagan administration this occurred frequently enough there was talk amongst conservatives about running against Reagan in the ’84 primary. In fact there is a strong parallel between the Reagan and Obama presidencies regarding their continually letting down conservatives and liberals respectively.

    *I don’t know enough of Douglas H. Ginsburg to weigh-in on whether he was friend or foe to secularism.

  • Michael Heath

    tbp1 writes:

    Reagan was a truly despicable human being, always out for himself not only foremost, but solely (look at the way he treated his children).

    A liberal using YEC-like thinking, i.e., a fierce denial of history. One of President Reagan’s distinguishing attributes of his administration, not a trivial attribute but instead a distinguishing attribute, is his repeated compromises in fealty to the national interest at the expense of the conservative agenda; and at the expense of his own political capital. E.g., raising taxes which allowed the Dems in Congress to increase spending on their initiatives, reform compromise of Social Security, and a very liberal approach to reducing nuclear arms being three of many.

  • Michael Heath

    tbp1 writes:

    Reagan was a truly despicable human being, always out for himself not only foremost, but solely (look at the way he treated his children).

    Certainly Ronald Reagan was a lousy parent. But using this logic to make a case against Reagan the president, we’d have to refuse to consider the benefits to humanity derived from Albert Einstein since he was a far worse husband and father than Mr. Reagan.

  • Aquaria

    I’m waffling on Scalia because I’m not sure his church-state views were fully known until he arrived at the SCOTUS, he was not the partisan radical on the appellate court he’s been on the SCOTUS.

    Sigh.

    Consider this, from a NYT article from 1986:

    Among the issues on which Judge Scalia’s conservative views appear to match those of the Administration closely are abortion, desegregation through busing, preferences for women and members of minority groups, the Freedom of Information Act, and the need to curb lawsuits and to reduce the role of the courts in making policy.

    All of those are typical conservative sniveler positions, but anti-abortion and hating on women are all fueled by right wing religious nut idiocy.

    And what do you think it said when Scalia showed up to his confirmation hearings with his nine children, combined with his reactionary positions on abortion and women? Gee…that said to most people that he was a super-devout Catholic, when we were being nice about it, or hyper-religious nutcase when we were being honest.

  • tbp1

    Michael, c’mon, read my whole post. That was just one example of Reagan’s “me first, last, and always” attitude. I did not claim that his lack of parenting skills per se made him a lousy president, but I do think this attitude that made him such a lousy father is certainly related to his chameleon-like adoption of whatever political stance would personally benefit him the most at the moment.

  • abb3w

    It’s also possibly relevant what audience he was pandering to at the time. The quote is from remarks to members of the Congregation of Temple Hillel and Jewish community leaders in Valley Stream, New York – a group of a minority religion, who almost certainly had relatives that had faced Christian persecution in Germany; a religion that tended to lean more liberal and Democratic than the rest of the country, in a part of the country that also tended so.

    It’s also worth noting that elsewhere in the remarks he sounds off on the then-developing Thornton v. Caldor as an infringement of religious free exercise… but the SCOTUS ruled (8-1) the underlying statute constituted a general establishment of religion.

  • llewelly

    Like Romney he was a political protean …

    Like Romney? ahahahaha!

    Comparing Reagan to Romney is like comparing a shapeshifting octopus to a suit with a pair of groucho glasses.

    One has a variety of convincing disguises, cleverly used, difficult to penetrate, and often appropriate to the situation.

    The other, not so much.

  • Chiroptera

    abb3w, #12:

    OT: This is the first I’ve seen Thornton v Caldor. If I’m reading it correctly, it seems to be saying that a law that grants religious exemptions ends up imposing religious beliefs on other people.

    Would this be relevant in the case of the law allowing pharmacists to refuse dispensing medications due to their religious beliefs? Or charities or hospitals to not fund their employees health insurance (or a portion thereof) due to their religious beliefs?

  • Michael Heath wrote:

    His Sandra Day O’Connor and Anthony Kennedy Supreme Court nominations* argue against theocratic leanings. His nomination of Antonin Scalia possibly argues contra while there’s no doubt where Robert Bork stood when he was nominated. So the Bork nominations is a clear strike against Reagan. I’m waffling on Scalia because I’m not sure his church-state views were fully known until he arrived at the SCOTUS, he was not the partisan radical on the appellate court he’s been on the SCOTUS.

    He only nominated O’Connor because she was a woman, that much is absolutely clear. Had he been able to nominate a much more conservative woman, he certainly would have. They just didn’t exist on the bench at the time. And Kennedy, as you indicate, was his third choice for the seat, only after nominating the abominable Robert Bork, who is absolutely a theocrat. And Kennedy was viewed as solidly conservative, and he hasn’t been very good on church/state issues (much better on gay rights issues, of course). As for Scalia, he was well known to be exactly what he has turned out to be. He still believes that the only violations of the Establishment Clause are in cases of de jure coercion, which would gut a century of precedents. And that was hardly a surprise.

    Perhaps the most noxious official given the length of his tenure was Ed Meese (James Watt didn’t last long and was booted after becoming too controversial for too long). But a reading of history has Reagan continually frustrating Meese by either going against his counsel, ignoring it, or passively allowing Meese to lose by refusing to champion his causes.

    Ed Meese was and is a theocrat. And Reagan certainly didn’t prevent him from undertaking his absurd crusade against pornography in the name of God. Sorry, you can’t rescue Reagan on this one. He was very, very bad on church/state issues.

  • Yoritomo-

    I didn’t just offer something closely resembling that disingenuous argument, I did it quite blatantly. And I was wrong. It didn’t occur to me that it was wrong until the last few days. Mea culpe.

  • Nemo

    I won’t pretend that Reagan was on our side, but with people like Rick Santorum now openly denouncing the concept of separation, it still seems like a useful quote.

  • slc1

    Re Michael Heath @ #9

    In fairness to Reagan, his marriage to his first wife, Jane Wyman, was arranged by the studios, like many marriages in tinsel town. There was no love there between the two. His marriage to Nancy Davis, on the other hand, which occurred after his motion picture career was pretty much over, was a marriage of love and was quite different then his first marriage.

  • Aquaria

    One of President Reagan’s distinguishing attributes of his administration, not a trivial attribute but instead a distinguishing attribute, is his repeated compromises in fealty to the national interest, at the expense of the conservative agenda

    What compromise? I could use the laugh. And caring about the national interest?

    If he cared about that, he wouldn’t have spent his entire administration trashing more than half the country every time he opened his scumbag mouth. And he wouldn’t have let Americans prop up murderous thugs. Every time you talk about this Scumbag, I’m reminding you about El Mozote, Heath. And those mined harbors in Nicaragua. And those dead Marines in Lebanon.

    And he wouldn’t have been so gung-ho about his BFF Saddam. That didn’t cause us any headaches, eh?

    and at the expense of his own political capital. E.g., raising taxes

    You give him credit for that one act, which he had to do because of his past tax slashing (there’s no other word for it).

    Did you forget Kemp-Roth in 1981, which lowered the top tax rate from 70% to 50%? Or the supposedly tax-neutral Tax Act of 1986, where “tax-neutral” must be conservative scumbag-speak for lowering the top rate from 50% to 28%, and lowering the Capital Gains tax to 28% as well? And let’s not forget that “simplification” included things like raising exemptions for taxes that affected only the rich, and closing a few loopholes that only a few people used.

    And then you act like he made everything all better with the omnibus act of 1988, which–OMG–raised the top rate to all of 31%–to take effect after he left office.

    What planet are you living on to think that going into office with a 70% top tax rate and walking out with a 28% tax rate that would go up to 31% after he left office is a “tax increase?”

    That’s the equivalent of putting a band-aid over a chin-to-navel gash and calling it successful thoracic surgery.

    Do you want me to provide links to the actual bills your scumbag hero signed? Because I can.

    which allowed the Dems in Congress to increase spending on their initiatives

    What Dem initiatives?

    The Senate was in the hands of the Republicans all but the scumbag’s first two years in office, Heath. You make it sound like the Ds were writing legislation and forcing the Scumbag to sign it all throughout his stay in the White House, or at least overriding his vetoes, rather than the Ds having to fight and compromise to get anything onto the Scumbag’s desk and signed.

    So 2/3 of the power to get legislation enacted was in the hands of Republicans, and you’re blaming the Dems for the spending that took went through?

    How about putting aside the bong and grasping the idea that the Republicans didn’t dare cut popular programs for which they would have been tarred and feathered in the 80s, rather than blaming the Dems who weren’t in control?

    reform compromise of Social Security

    BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

    What compromise? Reagan had been on the record for well over a decade about how much he hated Social Security and wanted to get rid of it. The joke when he appointed Greenspan to the “blue-ribbon” SS commission was that he was hoping Greenspan would declare SS a lost cause, so your scumbag hero could get rid of it. Instead Greenspan came up with enough ways to keep Social Security while socking it to those chiselers who were jonesing for their SS checks. You know, things like making SS benefits taxable, and raising the retirement age. Oh–and making sure the taxable portion of working people’s income that could be taxed would get more of the middle class, but wouldn’t affect his rich friends at all.

    That seemed to make the scumbag happy enough to sign the “compromise” bill. If he’d really cared about fixing Social Security, he would have gotten rid of the income cap and gone straight for everybody who works or lives off of an estate paying into SS, and putting a non-SS income cap on who can draw SS.

    and a very liberal approach to reducing nuclear arms being three of many.

    OMFG–No.

    I guess you forgot that 1981 speech when he said he would increase our nuclear arsenal–and then went about doing just that.

    Or that Reagan conducting nuclear war planning in 1983 (or maybe it was 1984) had the Soviets go on high nuclear alert. That at least scared the shit out of him, and made him realize that his big dumb mouth could get people killed.

    Were you even aware that Reagan didn’t even talk with a Soviet leader about nuclear reduction until Gorbachev came to power.?

    I guess you also forgot that MX Missile program.

    And the Star Wars program into which he poured tens of billions of those precious tax dollars he was always so worried about, even though scientists and engineers weren’t even sure if what he was proposing was possible without 10 years of study. Or how his attachment to this insane policy broke down talks with Gorbachev in 1986. A good thing Gorbachev had a lot of reasons to push for those talks–over and over again.

    I always wonder what 80s you were living in to have such a through the looking glass view of what was actually going on.

  • KG

    Were you even aware that Reagan didn’t even talk with a Soviet leader about nuclear reduction until Gorbachev came to power? – raven

    Even then, he was very slow to recognise that Gorbachev was a genuinely radical reformer – in marked contrast to Margaret Thatcher, who I am seldom the first to praise. Reagan, at least while in office, never met a tyrant, terrorist or torturer he didn’t love, just so long as they were anti-Soviet (they didn’t even have to be anti-Communist – his administration continued the diplomatic, monetary and armaments support for the Khmer Rouge begun under Carter). He was either a racist or perhaps worse, willing to use racist dog-whistle phrases for political advantage. He set on its way the vast concentration of wealth the USA has seen over the last three decades, and did so quite deliberately. He attacked union rights savagely. Through the rhetoric of his earlier years in office, the idiot convinced the Soviet gerontocrats that an American first strike was a real possibility, and nearly got us all killed.

    I always wonder what 80s you [Michael Heath] were living in to have such a through the looking glass view of what was actually going on.

    I gather (I’m sure he’ll correct me if I’m wrong) that he supported and voted for Reagan. His political views have clearly changed since then, and perhaps a reluctance to face up to the vileness of what he actually supported at the time is understandable.

  • stevegerrard

    The next line of the speech was:

    “All are free to believe or not believe, all are free to practice a faith or not, and those who believe are free, and should be free, to speak of and act on their belief.”

    The last part of that is where Reagan slipped in his view on public prayer, etc. The real issue of public religion is how much the right to speak and act on your belief allows you to do.

  • Pingback: Reagan on Church and State | Dispatches from the Culture Wars | Church()

  • slc1

    Re Aquaria @ #19

    His excuse for not meeting with Soviet leaders until Gorbachev took power was that they kept dying on him.

  • mikeym

    Reagan’s “wisdom” regarding church/state includes his telling an audience of Evangelicals, “We’ve tolerated every other religion.” If he really understood the First Amendment, he’d have realized that, since there’s no state religion, there can’t be any such thing as an “other religion.” And free people don’t have their religion tolerated, because everyone has freedom of religion.

  • Michael Heath

    Ed responds to my critique:

    Sorry, you can’t rescue Reagan on this one. He was very, very bad on church/state issues.

    I wasn’t defending President Reagan but rather criticizing the quality of your argument and others.

    Ed writes:

    He only nominated O’Connor because she was a woman, that much is absolutely clear.

    She was a Goldwater Republican female, not just a female. Where Goldwater’s brand of conservatism, and Justice O’Connor’s, was not committed to the social conservative agenda – including Christianism – but in many cases directly, energetically, and overtly opposed. Ms. O’Connor had a legislative record that provided ample evidence of such; that led to anti-abortion and Christianist groups boisterously opposing her nomination – for good cause as validated by her tenure on the court.

    Re Meese and porn. I perceive Reagan as a man of his time who sometimes was either slow, or outright failed to consider the progression towards liberty and moral progress happening in his time. Porn sure, but especially his position on gays and AIDS is to be condemned. I think this was partly due to his being too old even upon his inauguration.

    But this failure of judgment and character is one suffered by many presidents, such as George Washington and especially Thomas Jefferson when it came to not just slavery, but in Jefferson’s case the nature of black people in general. Jefferson’s position on race was absolutely repugnant, and yet the benefit of time allows us to dispassionately grade Jefferson’s failures within the context of his many successes where he generally comes out in the second echelon of successful presidents. Older extant liberals demonstrate the very type of denialist attitudes we see from conservatives towards Barack Obama, where they continually create a strawman of President Reagan and actively seek out insufficiently framed premises to make their judgment. Which is that he was always wrong and always a horrible president, in spite of what actually happened. They can’t confront the fact that a political ideology they justifiably condemn turned out a successful president – just like conservatives can’t bear the fact Barack Obama who along with Bill Clinton is as mainstream an American as anyone whose been president since at least Harry Truman – who I think was a horrid president, the most over-rated of the post-WWII era.

    I despise conservatism as much as anyone, in fact I don’t merely think its mutated away from some semblance of Burkean competence into a religious-political movement, but that its adherents suffer from an inability to think coherently and act with integrity. But I can’t ignore the reality that this was a generally successful presidency, with benefits we continue to enjoy and costs which harms us to do this day.

  • slc1

    Re Heath @ #25

    1. Ms. O’Connor had considerable influence on Justice Kennedy, which included talking him out of voting to overturn Roe vs Wade. She was the true centrist on the court.

    2. Harry Truman – who I think was a horrid president, the most over-rated of the post-WWII era.

    Of course, the reason why Heath bad mouths Harry Truman is because he recognized the State of Israel, which Heath loathes with a passion.

    With all his foreign policy successes (NATO, the Marshall Plan, the Berlin airlift etc.), IMHO, his biggest success was the fact that he was the first civil rights president, jeopardizing his reelection chances in 1948 by insisting on a strong civil rights plank in the Democratic platform, and ordering the integration of the armed forces against the advice of his military advisers.

    3. But this failure of judgment and character is one suffered by many presidents, such as George Washington and especially Thomas Jefferson when it came to not just slavery, but in Jefferson’s case the nature of black people in general.

    Actually, Woodrow Wilson was a worse racist then Jefferson. In defense of Jefferson, virtually everybody thought that blacks were inferior to Caucasians in the 18th and early 19th century. Washington, unlike Jefferson, had considerable experience with free black soldiers who served under his command and he eventually came to a different conclusion, based on his observations that they performed as well as Caucasian soldiers.

  • Michael Heath

    slc1 writes:

    . . . the reason why Heath bad mouths Harry Truman is because he recognized the State of Israel, which Heath loathes with a passion.

    Are you inebriated? How could you possibly conjure up my assessment of President Truman given I’ve never explained my conclusion on the Internet? And please, point to where I ever presented any passion towards Israel, or loathing. I’m confident you’ll fail miserably on both; instead this is evidence of how you create a fevered narrative in your head which is resistant to any antidotes.

    And my antipathy towards President Truman is predicated on his lack of good judgment during crises, e.g., dropping nuclear bombs on Japan, his handling of the Korean War, and seizing control of some steel plants being the most impactful fiascos.

    I actually appreciate Truman’s fealty to Wilsonian internationalism which is consistent with his recognizing the state of Israel. And his support for the Marshall plan is highly laudable. My problem with Israel has to do with its antipathy for secularism, liberal democracy, and human rights; and not its existence.

  • Azkyroth, Former Growing Toaster Oven

    Are you inebriated?

    No, just clinically obsessed.

  • KG

    They can’t confront the fact that a political ideology they justifiably condemn turned out a successful president – Michael Heath

    Sure he was successful – in bringing about a vast concentration of wealth and power in the USA, and ensuring that large numbers of people were tortured and killed by the vile scumbags he aupported round the world.

  • DaveL

    He still believes that the only violations of the Establishment Clause are in cases of de jure coercion, which would gut a century of precedents

    This is precisely why this quote, from Reagan or any other conservative, gives me no comfort. We’ve seen time and again that those most adamant about tearing down the Establishment Clause don’t consider any official state sanction of religion as coercive unless you actually bring out the rack. I’ve even heard arguments that requiring religious observance on pain of imprisonment isn’t coercive because you can always choose jail.

  • slc1

    Re Michael Heath @ #27

    1. I would agree that the seizure of the steel mills was not one of Truman’s shining moments.

    2. Truman’s failure to reign in MacArthur and stop him from approaching the Yalu River was his biggest failure in Korea. However, I think the reason that he failed to do so was because he was overawed by MacArthur’s spectacular success at Inchon, a maneuver that Truman approved over the objections of every member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. For a period of time, he put too much confidence in MacArthur’s military ability.

    3. On the subject of the use of nuclear weapons against Japan, I am afraid that here Heath and I are going to have to agree to disagree, hopefully not disagreeably. Given the information available at the time, Truman was faced with the Hobson’s choice of invasion or use of the bomb. The number of American troops who would have died in an invasion, not to mention the number of Japanese would have died in attempting to repel such an invasion would have greatly exceeded the number of Japanese who died in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

    I am well aware of the revisionist arguments propagated by the likes of leftists like Gar Alperovitz, who claim that Japan was ready to surrender. However, we now know that the high command of the army was preparing a coup against Emperor Hirohito because he was backing the surrender contingent. Even as the Enola Gay was winging its way towards Hiroshima, the plotters were meeting to finalize their coup. Counterfactual history is always controversial. Maybe if Truman had stayed his hand, the coup would have failed and Japan would have surrendered. On the other hand, the coup might have succeeded and the diehards in the army, having taken over the government, would have fought to the last man, just as Japanese soldiers did on numerous islands in the Pacific. The bottom line is that the bombs were dropped, Japan surrendered shortly thereafter, and no invasion was necessary.

    4. My problem with Israel has to do with its antipathy for secularism, liberal democracy, and human rights; and not its existence.

    Compared to all the countries in the Muslim world, Israel is a paragon of virtue and righteousness. As a matter of fact, the human rights record of Israel compares favorably with that if the US (black slavery anyone).

  • Michael Heath

    KG writes:

    Sure he was successful – in bringing about a vast concentration of wealth and power in the USA, and ensuring that large numbers of people were tortured and killed by the vile scumbags he aupported round the world.

    Thanks for validating once again how some liberals think just like a denialist whenever Ronald Reagan’s name is raised. First off the first budgetary efforts by Reagan, complementary to Volcker’s monetary policy, attacked the then enormous problem of prices on goods and services increasing at a rate faster than wages. So working people during the late-70s were suffering from marginal tax bracket creep while unemployment was also rising, which was driving down median income and therefore leaving them with less money after paying their taxes and spending on non-discretionary goods and services. We observe that the Reagan and Clinton years, had them and those Congresses establishing fiscal policies, coupled to monetary policies at the Fed, which yielded solid growth in income at the median as a reaction to this rare dilemma of stagflation that Reagan and his attendant Congress inherited. It wasn’t just the rich getting richer, but instead a wide continuum. Cite: http://goo.gl/4anQR . And of course this wasn’t all due to federal fiscal policy and the policies of the Fed, but private industry in the tech sector also began to boom at this time, especially the hardware sector.

    Your point regarding President Reagan’s foreign policy position within the context of his entire foreign policy record once again validates how liberal denialists will conjure up strawmen to avoid dealing with the complete record. If we were to extend the logic you use here to all presidents they’d all be monsters with Reagan a relatively benign one.

    The strength of liberalism relative to conservatism is confronting reality and adapting accordingly, and yet that doesn’t stop some liberals from using the same type of thinking that puts conservatism at such a distinct disadvantage to liberalism. I hope you enjoyed your little cocaine-like high that came with your previous post, but it came at a cost to your integrity with at least me. I’m confident a few other readers shared your buzz as you defended the tribe from the heretical idea that someone who isn’t a moderate or liberal could possibly be successful – contra what history and historians reveal when it comes to the Reagan presidency, where he’s generally in the third highest grouping.

  • Michael Heath

    slc1 writes:

    Given the information available at the time, Truman was faced with the Hobson’s choice of invasion or use of the bomb.

    I think that was the post hoc rationalization which Americans ate up to avoid confronting the horror they unleashed. My reading of history, where I’m not an ardent student of this period and therefore the following is presented humbly, is that President Truman did have other choices where he obviously failed to consider the full ramifications of his actions against the Japanese and attempting to legitimize the use of nuclear weapons – which President Reagan rightly perceived after a few years as president as insane.

    Your point here is illustrative of how important premises are to the cogency of an argument. If your premise is correct, and I don’t think it is but is instead a manufactured one after the fact, then one must appreciate Truman’s dilemma and judge him less harshly as you do. But again, my understanding is that other options were understood to exist where Mr. Truman chose the most expedient and tactically convenient, while not fully appreciating the strategic cost. And let’s be clear, at this level of power, strategy must take precedence over tactical considerations.

  • slc1

    Re Michael Heath @ #33

    The other options included using US naval forces to blockade Japan and prevent supplies from getting there, in addition to a continuation of the conventional strategic bombing campaign. Although the causalities to US forces from such a strategy would have been far less then an invasion, the number of Japanese who would have died as a result of the ongoing bombing campaign and starvation from the cutoff of food supplies would, over the course of the blockade, which military estimates thought would take at least 6 months, would have greatly exceeded the deaths that occurred in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Truman rejected this option because it would take too long and the American people were weary of the war.

    The fact is that war is hell and can’t be civilized, as General Sherman said. The strategic bombing campaign focused on German cities was just as inhumane as the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. For example it is estimated that some 30,000 Germans, nearly all of them civilians, died as a result of the firebombing of Dresden, which was not much of a military target to begin with.

    One note of interest concerns two of the nuclear physicists who participated in the development of the bomb. Most histories consider J. Robert Oppenheimer as good guy because he opposed development of the thermonuclear bomb and Edward Teller as bad guy because he pushed for its development. Oddly enough, Oppenheimer lobbied for the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki while Teller opposed them, preferring to give a demonstration on an uninhabited island in the Pacific to which Japanese officials would be invited. Truman rejected this option because of the danger that the bomb to be used for the demonstration might be a dud, which would, of course, make the situation worse as we only had 2 bombs available after the test at Alamogordo in 1945. In addition, there was no guarantee that the Japanese officials would have agreed to participate in the test or would have been impressed if they had.

    And, I might also add that the results of the firebombing of Japanese cities such as Tokyo were every bit as horrible as what happened in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

    Incidentally, for those who consider strategic bombing to be out of bounds, I would remind Heath the number of people killed in the 30 Years War in Europe, as a fraction of the population, exceeded the deaths in both world wars. We can only be thankful that King Gustavus Adolphus, Count Tilly, and Albrecht von Wallenstein didn’t have 20th century weapons available or Europe might have been completely depopulated.

  • The point of this is to say, “See, even Ronald Reagan supports the separation of church and state! Suck it, conservatives!” But that is a disingenuous argument. Reagan claimed to believe in such a separation but he really didn’t.

    Apologies if this has been said already, but the quote shows at least that Reagan was forced to pay public lip service to church-state separation, without using weasel words, which is something that today’s Republican candidates almost certainly would never do. Whether he actually followed his rhetoric is only somewhat relevant; he produced a clear and direct affirmation of the concept.

    Surely that counts for something. Reagan being the right’s novo Jesus and all.

  • fastlane

    llewelly@13 wins best metaphor of the decade award!

  • abb3w

    @14, chiroptera:

    OT: This is the first I’ve seen Thornton v Caldor.

    I’ve only found it because I specifically went looking for what the hell Reagan was talking about.

    @14, chiroptera:

    If I’m reading it correctly, it seems to be saying that a law that grants religious exemptions ends up imposing religious beliefs on other people.

    Would this be relevant in the case of the law allowing pharmacists to refuse dispensing medications due to their religious beliefs? Or charities or hospitals to not fund their employees health insurance (or a portion thereof) due to their religious beliefs?

    More that the exemption was for the specific practice of “day of rest”; and emphasizes the neglect of consideration of impact that the practice may have on the business or fellow workers, and contrasts the “reasonable accommodation” alternative. It’s also focused more on employer/worker relationship than business/customer relationship. Some subtle economics-based questions might be raised about the distinction, but probably wouldn’t be of legal substance. Still, it would probably not impact the pharmacy question; my (non-lawyer) impression is a good lawyer could try such argument, but would have no serious prospect of it working.

    On the other hand, it might well impact the health insurance question. There’s still the ministerial exemption – religious employers can treat “ministers” quite badly, and that includes teachers with religious instruction duties. Still, for a (laity) librarian at Notre Dame, it might offer some basis of protection from a law granting religious employers special privileges, as opposed to religious employees. Contrariwise, seems different enough that I doubt you’d get five supporters on the current SCOTUS.

    YMMV. =)

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