This morning former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher died from a stroke at the age of 87. Serving as the first female Prime Minister in the U.K., Thatcher won three general elections for the Conservative Party and shaped British politics for a generation. We culled through the archives of the Miller Center's Oral History Projects and present in this post key excerpts from the interviews in which former administration officials recollect the relationships between Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush and “The Iron Lady.”
Last week, the media reported that President Barack Obama is likely to nominate Caroline Kennedy as the Ambassador to Japan. Kennedy was an early supporter of the Obama’s 2008 presidential bid and she served as a co-chairwoman of his 2012 re-election campaign. The appointment would continue a tradition since the 1970s of appointing well-known American political figures to the post, including former Vice President Walter F. Mondale, former Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield and former Speaker of the House Thomas S. Foley. If confirmed by the Senate, Kennedy would also leave her own mark as the first woman to represent the United States in Japan.
Recruiting members of former first families to serve in diplomatic posts is nothing new. As a telephone conversation from the Miller Center’s presidential recording archives reveals, President Richard Nixon attempted to recruit two of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s sons for ambassadorships in 1972. Although he didn’t recommend it because it was “probably a pain in the neck,” Nixon asked James and John Roosevelt whether they would like to undertake an ambassadorship:
But there are areas of the world where having somebody who has, frankly, prestige, so forth, could mean a great deal to us. And I have found in my own travels around that, while we have some good State Department bureaucrats who are ambassadors, that there are many places, and I think John agrees after his travels abroad, where having somebody who's directly responsible to the President and holds his allegiance to the President, as well as to the State Department, is very important. Now, I just throw that out as something to think about. What do you think?
An individual's personality and past experiences contribute in a significant way to their approach of public office. (And in the case of the presidency, it's a very public office.) For today's Friday Feature, here's an excerpt from the American President essay about James K. Polk.
The eldest of ten children, James K. Polk lived in a tidy and well-organized household supervised by a stern mother, Jane Knox Polk, who believed in raising her children according to the strict Presbyterian "gospel of duty." But he was not a healthy child. The trip west had taken its toll on him, and James suffered most of his youth from one sickness or another, especially gallstones. This, along with his staunch Calvinist upbringing and education in Presbyterian schools, accounts for James's determined and even unhealthy work ethic. He seemed to work and study as hard as possible to make up for his real or imagined physical defects.
Today marks the anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. At 6:01 P.M. on April 4, 1968, Dr. King was shot at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. He was pronounced dead at 7:05 P.M. At 9:07 P.M. that same evening, President Johnson read a short statement for radio and television broadcast from outside the entrance to the West Lobby of the White House:
America is shocked and saddened by the brutal slaying tonight of Dr. Martin Luther King. I ask every citizen to reject the blind violence that has struck Dr. King, who lived by nonviolence. I pray that his family can find comfort in the memory of all he tried to do for the land he loved so well. I have just conveyed the sympathy of Mrs. Johnson and myself to his widow, Mrs. King. I know that every American of good will joins me in mourning the death of this outstanding leader and in praying for peace and understanding throughout this land. We can achieve nothing by lawlessness and divisiveness among the American people. It is only by joining together and only by working together that we can continue to move toward equality and fulfillment for all of our people. I hope that all Americans tonight will search their hearts as they ponder this most tragic incident. I have canceled my plans for the evening. I am postponing my trip to Hawaii until tomorrow. Thank you.
The Reagan administration played a key role shuttling between the parties leading up to and during the war. The Reagan administration played a key role shuttling between the parties leading up to and during the war.
This week marks the 31st anniversary of Falklands War. On April 2, 1982, Argentinian forces invaded the Falkland-Malvinas Islands, as part of a protracted historical dispute over the sovereignty of the islands. Argentina claims that the islands have been part of the country since the 19th century and Britain lays claim to islands based on colonial negotiations with Spain in 1770. The 74-day war cost 649 Argentine and 255 British lives.
The Reagan administration played a key role shuttling between the parties leading up to and during the war. In 2003, the Miller Center’s Presidential Oral History Program conducted the "Falklands Roundtable" in conjunction with the Institute of Contemporary British History (ICBH). The Falklands Roundtable was designed to capture the recollections of key participants from the Reagan administration who were involved in the Falklands crisis. Participants included former Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger; Jeane Kirkpatrick, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations; David Gompert, a key member of Alexander Haig's mediation team who served as the Deputy to the Under Secretary for Political Affairs; Lawrence Eagleburger; Harry Shlaudeman, U.S. Ambassador to Argentina; Edward Streator, the Deputy Chief of Mission at the Court of St. James; General Paul Gorman, who was Assistant to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the time of the Falklands crisis; Admiral Thomas Hayward, the Chief of Naval Operations from 1978-1982; and Admiral Harry Train, the Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. Atlantic Command and the Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. Atlantic Fleet.
In this post, we highlight some excerpts from the "Falklands Roundtable" transcripts regarding the role of the United States in the conflict and how the conflict influenced America’s reputation in the region.
Today’s guest post comes from Rebecca Lim, a Miller Center Student Ambassador and a second year student at the University of Virginia double majoring in East Asian Studies and Political and Social Thought.
On this day 96 years ago, President Woodrow Wilson delivered an address to Congress requesting a declaration of war against Germany. The request was approved, and four days later, on April 6, 1917, the United States officially entered World War I. The U.S. had remained neutral since the outbreak of the war in 1914, and American public opinion highly opposed entering the war. Just three years later, however, a series of events infuriated the American people and galvanized public opinion in the opposite direction: the revelation of the German empire’s decision to recommence unrestricted submarine warfare on February 1, under which German submarines, called U-boats, could attack both military and non-military vessels without warning; and the interception of the infamous Zimmermann Telegram.
The Zimmermann Telegram, sent by German Foreign Minister Arthur Zimmermann to the German ambassador in Mexico, Heinrich von Eckhardt, in January 1917, was intercepted and decrypted by British intelligence and shared with President Wilson. In it, Zimmermann notified Eckhardt of the plans to resume submarine warfare, and the prediction that this action would pull the United States into the war on the side of the allies. Upon U.S. entry into the war, he instructed Eckhardt to propose a military alliance with Mexico in exchange for the return of formerly Mexican territories of Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. Finally, they were to broker an alliance with the Japanese Empire.
Wilson understood that war could no longer be evaded. Still, he recognized the gravity of his decision and the effects the war would have on the nation and the world. In his appeal to Congress, Wilson mentioned not only Germany’s offenses, but also the implications of the country’s actions as “warfare against mankind” and “a war against all nations.” Wilson recognized a cause worth fighting for beyond national security—he saw it as America’s duty to not only protect its own borders, but to be the “single champion” of human rights, to which Germany posed a grave threat.
On Monday April 1, 2013, the First Family will host the 135th annual White House Easter Monday Egg Roll. The White House expects some 35,000 people to attend the event on the South Lawn (that’s still not as many as the more than 51,000 who attended in 1941). The event has become increasingly elaborate in modern times, incorporating celebrities, musical talent and more organized activities. This year, the event will also include more sports activities and cooking demonstrations related to First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move!” initiative. Here are some fun tidbits from our archives about the history of the Easter Monday Egg Roll.
Did you know? Although stiff and formal with acquaintances, Benjamin Harrison opened up with his family. During his one term as President, he spent as little time as possible in the office, usually working only until noon. He loved to play with his grandchildren, many of whom had moved into the White House with their parents—Russell Benjamin Harrison, age thirty-six in 1890, and Mary Scott McKee, age thirty-two.
Perhaps most interestingly, the children were allowed to keep as many pets on the grounds as they wanted, including a goat whom they named Old Whiskers. One memorable story told of Harrison chasing the goat down Pennsylvania Avenue with his three grandchildren in tow and top hat in hand while waving his cane. Harrison also tried to escape Washington as often as possible, frequently going on hunting trips in secret. One trip made the national press when he shot a farmer's pig by mistake.
On March 30, 1981, barely two months into his presidency, President Ronald Reagan was the target of an assassination attempt, which left him and three others seriously wounded. Press Secretary James Brady suffered a gunshot wound to the head that would leave him permanently injured, while Secret Service Agent Timothy McCarthy was shot in the chest and Washington, DC police officer Thomas Delahanty was hit near the spine. As Reagan was rushed to George Washington University Hospital for emergency surgery, administration aides downplayed the severity of the injuries. However, inside the operating room, the situation was anything but humorous as Reagan lost nearly half his blood supply and had to endure hours of surgery to remove a bullet lodged less than an inch from his heart.
The Reagan Oral History Project examined this event with each participant that was in the administration at the time of the shooting. Read on for excerpts of these officials' reactions to the assassination attempt and how each responded to the early phase of the crisis.
Amity Shlaes new book, Coolidge, has proven that it is vital to examine all the presidents, even the obscure, to fully appreciate historical developments we see today. Shlaes asks why such a popular president in his own time became largely forgotten. She argues two main points: his personality was not a big one, especially compared to the likes of Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, and Lyndon Johnson, and Coolidge’s presidency focused on economics, mainly reducing the federal debt after World War One. There are other factors, as well. Coolidge’s reputation got trashed when the Warren Harding administration faced many scandals and people blamed both Coolidge and Herbert Hoover for the Great Depression. People wanted to forget that past. In his book, Calvin Coolidge, David Greenberg adds another important element to this discussion: Coolidge did not have much of a vision for his presidency. Robert Sobel, in his 1998 book, Coolidge: An American Enigma, also argues that the popular perception of Coolidge is as an accidental president, someone who had no agenda. Coolidge was buried under a new active presidency that began with Theodore Roosevelt and was fully realized by his cousin Franklin.
Sobel writes that Coolidge believed in a “passive executive branch” (pp. 14). For Shlaes, “Coolidge is our great refrainer” (pp. 9). For modern readers, this is hard to comprehend, a president who does not act or waits to act. This usually means trouble for a modern president.
Shlaes correctly draws our attention to the fact that Coolidge did do something. Coolidge wanted to balance the books. He represented fiscal discipline in an environment where people around him, mainly members of Congress and Hoover, wanted to spend federal dollars. Yes, you read correctly, Herbert Hoover. Near the end of his term, Coolidge did not favor Hoover, because he worried that Hoover would ruin his budget legacy by spending money on the Colorado River dam project, among others. By the time Coolidge left office in 1929, he had managed to cut over $10 billion of debt in eight years. To do this, he had daily meetings with his budget director, Herbert Lord, held the line against Congressional spending, and spent a large amount of political capital on tax reductions with the help of Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon.
This week, the Miller Center will host an international workshop on "Rethinking the Triangle: Washington-Beijing-Taipei.” The workshop is an attempt to bring the three sides of the Washington-Beijing-Taipei triangle together to discuss the possibility of moving from the Cold War model of an exclusive security triangle to a more realistic inclusive, opportunity-driven triangle. Public sessions on Thursday, March 28 will feature three perspectives from experts from China, Taiwan, and the United States in an attempt to explore a new paradigm for these interrelationships based on inclusiveness and opportunity rather than each hedging against increasingly unlikely crises.
Brantly Womack, the Miller Center’s C. K. Yen Chair, Professor of Foreign Affairs at the University of Virginia and the workshop’s organizer, recently published an article in the Asia Times Online explaining the need to rethink the relationship between China, Taiwan and the United States. Although the Cold War defined the relationship between the three states for several decades, since 2008, the relationships have become fundamentally unstable and more complex. According to Womack:
The rivalry in the relationship between Washington and Beijing has become more global but also more cautious since each needs the other in many facets of global governance.
Meanwhile, the relationship across the Taiwan Strait has become a mainstay of Taiwan's economic prospects, and avoiding crisis is now vital to the careers of the leadership on both sides. The Washington-Taiwan relationship was strained by the brinksmanship of Chen Shui-bian, president of Taiwan from 2000 to 2008, and currently doubts are raised about continuing arms sales.
Meanwhile, China has developed the military capacity to render American military assistance to Taiwan either ineffective or too costly. Thus many American analysts consider "the Taiwan problem" the greatest strategic flashpoint in Asia.
Womack argues that the relationships between the states have been too focused on the security aspect and should instead shift to creating new opportunities. Womack asserts that the United States can take concrete steps to facility the transition from a security triangle to an opportunity triangle.
In Barack Obama's biography, The Audacity of Hope, the figures he praised most, except for Franklin D. Roosevelt, were Republican icons: Alexander Hamilton, Abraham Lincoln, and Ronald Reagan.
Thirty years ago, President Ronald Reagan delivered an address to the nation on national security. On March 23, 1983, President Reagan used the bully pulpit of the presidency to convince the American public that Congress was cutting too much from his proposed defense budget. Reagan asserted that his increased defense budget, which he had submitted to Congress the previous month, was designed as “part of a careful, long-term plan to make America strong again after too many years of neglect and mistakes.” He urged the public to lobby Congress to “restore” the nation’s military strength:
There is no logical way that you can say, let's spend x billion dollars less. You can only say, which part of our defense measures do we believe we can do without and still have security against all contingencies? Anyone in the Congress who advocates a percentage or a specific dollar cut in defense spending should be made to say what part of our defenses he would eliminate, and he should be candid enough to acknowledge that his cuts mean cutting our commitments to allies or inviting greater risk or both…
The calls for cutting back the defense budget come in nice, simple arithmetic. They're the same kind of talk that led the democracies to neglect their defenses in the 1930's and invited the tragedy of World War II. We must not let that grim chapter of history repeat itself through apathy or neglect.
In addition to outlining his budget to bolster defenses, Reagan announced a new major program, the Strategic Defense Initiative (also known as “Star Wars”), as part of the president’s broader efforts to build up America’s defense image. The president framed the need for SDI as providing defense from the threat posed by Soviet missiles. While Reagan believed that the United States should continue to negotiate with the former Soviet Union on the mutual reductions of nuclear weapons, he also believed that steps were necessary to deter aggression by means other than the promise of retaliation. President Reagan had come to abhor the policy of mutually assured destruction (MAD). He told the nation:
My predecessors in the Oval Office have appeared before you on other occasions to describe the threat posed by Soviet power and have proposed steps to address that threat. But since the advent of nuclear weapons, those steps have been increasingly directed toward deterrence of aggression through the promise of retaliation…
I've become more and more deeply convinced that the human spirit must be capable of rising above dealing with other nations and human beings by threatening their existence. Feeling this way, I believe we must thoroughly examine every opportunity for reducing tensions and for introducing greater stability into the strategic calculus on both sides.
Forty years ago today, White House Counsel John Dean told President Richard Nixon, “We have a cancer within-close to the presidency, that's growing.” During a taped conversation, Dean recapped the history of the bungled bugging and burglary of the Democratic National Committee headquarters and the subsequent cover-up for the President. Dean advised Nixon to remove the cancer by coming clean to the public on the Watergate scandals, otherwise his presidency would be in danger. Instead, Nixon continued the cover-up and doled out hush money in attempts at damage control, and Dean’s warning proved painfully correct.
Listen to the “Cancer Close to the Presidency” conversation in the Miller Center's Presidential Recordings Program archives here.
Today’s guest post is by Nicholas Sparks, a Miller Center Student Ambassador and intern in the Presidential Recording Program. Sparks is a fourth year student studying History, Political Philosophy, Policy and Law at the University of Virginia.
This week marks the tenth anniversary Operation Iraqi Freedom. On March 20, 2003, a U.S.-led invasion force entered Iraq through the Persian Gulf and began to secure southern port cities and oil fields in a quick and decisive operation. By April 9, Baghdad had fallen and Saddam Hussein’s 24-year reign was over. The Iraq War, however, would not end until late 2011, by which time it had claimed countless Iraqi lives, over 4,400 American lives, and cost the U.S. economy trillions of dollars, not to mention other geopolitical side effects.
For good or for bad, the War in Iraq will forever be tied to the legacy of President George W. Bush. In his last year in office, Bush marked the ongoing war’s fifth anniversary by praising the coalitions forces that had “removed a tyrant, liberated a country, and rescued millions from unspeakable horrors.” Explaining broad, long-term strategic goals, Bush argued that by nurturing democracy in Iraq, “we will help free societies take root [in the Middle East].” He had stressed similar themes in his 2004 State of the Union address, framing the mission as a means of building goodwill and defeating seeds of terrorism in the region. “As long as the Middle East remains a place of tyranny and despair and anger,” Bush explained, “it will continue to produce men and movements that threaten the safety of America and our friends.”
Ten years later, Operation Iraqi Freedom leaves a complicated legacy for many Americans. Liberal New York Times columnist Paul Krugman remembers the lack of critical media coverage during the initial months of the invasion in 2003. To oppose the war in the media ten years ago, Krugman writes, was a “career-ending” decision. International news outlets continue to grapple with the ramifications of the Iraq War as well. This month, for instance, London-based The Guardian reported a public inquiry regarding the treatment of Iraqi prisoners by British and American forces in 2004. More noticeable, though, is the general lack of intense media coverage of the anniversary. Krugman calls it suspect. Perhaps it is the product of a people that is eager to move on.