President Gerald R. Ford has passed away.
Ave Atque Vale-Hail and Farewell, President Ford!
Most people feel that your pardon of Richard Nixon was a good thing, allowing our nation to heal. At one time, I felt that way myself.
I now believe that Gerald Ford's pardon of Richard Nixon was the flashpoint for all of the problems we have now with the Republican "culture of corruption," and George W. Bush's flouting of our Constitution.
Carl Jung once stated that mental illness is the avoidance of necessary pain. The pardon of Richard Nixon allowed our nation to avoid the pain of a trial and conviction that would have truly proven that our system works: No man-not even the President-is above the law, and the American people are sovereign. Our nation has not been the same since Nixon's pardon.
President Ford's September 8, 1974 pardon of Richard M. Nixon prevented any real healing of the deep, national wound that was Watergate. It scabbed over, and eventually a thin sheath of skin covered the ulcer, without excision of the necrotic tissue underneath.
That necrotic tissue was the tentacles of fascistic corporatism; a corruption of the American soul in the name of profit, under the guise of National Security. This abomination has made our nation less secure, politically and economically, than at any time since the Great Depression, perhaps even the Civil War.
In the interest of full disclosure, I voted for Gerald Ford for President in 1976. Jimmy Carter's being a "born again" Christian scared the crap out of me. My personal experience with "born again" Christians had not been good. I despised their arrogant self-righteousness, their elitist attitudes, their blind unquestioning belief in Biblical literalism, and their willingness to fabricate facts to support their views.
Four years of Jimmy Carter's Presidency showed me that not all "born again" Christians were willfully ignorant, self-righteous, lying elitist bastards. The Camp David Accords and his forthright energy policy had won me over to Jimmy Carter's side. I did fear that his seeming failure with the Iran Hostage Crisis (together with the extreme measures he and Fed Chairman Paul Volcker had to take to end the "stagflation" that Carter had inherited from President Ford) would result in his defeat in the 1980 Presidential Election. Little did I dream that, despite my vote for Jimmy Carter in 1980, the beginnings of Iran-Contra, via the George H.W. Bush-William Casey engineered "October Surprise," would ensure President Carter's defeat.
Because President Ford had pardoned Nixon, men like George H.W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Casper Weinberger, and Oliver North assumed that the rules had changed. They could commit any dirty trick, undertake every politically corrupt practice, and ignore the Constitution, institutional custom, and every other moral restraint with impunity, as long as their party had a President in office to grant them a pardon if needed. The other "lesson" these jokers learned from Watergate was that it was the "betrayal" of President Nixon by men like John Dean that was the problem, not the illegal actions that had been committed by Richard Nixon and his cohorts. Loyalty to the President and their ideological brethren (in much the same way corporations demand loyalty to the corporation and its shareholders, and the Mafia demands omerta) replaced loyalty to the United States and its laws, as the highest standard of moral conduct.
We saw the first examples of this new understanding in the Iran-Contra scandal under Reagan in the 1980's. The laws of the United States were flouted to sell TOW antitank missiles and spare parts to the theocratic government of Iran, provide weapons and other covert aid to the right wing contras in Nicaragua, and use the trafficking of cocaine to fund additional illegal covert activities in Latin America and around the world.
The United States has had a long history of supporting corrupt, murderous dictators and plutocratic oligarchies throughout the Third World, exchanging support of a nation's wealthy elite for sweetheart deals on that country's exports, at the cost of the oppression and beggaring of the majority of that nation's citizens. The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund have been the publicly benign instruments of this oppression, with the CIA and the U.S. Military acting as contract enforcers and collection agents. These corporate shylocks and their government leg breakers make the disreputable symbiosis between Rome's tax farmers and its legions pale in comparison. (See John Perkins' Confessions of an Economic Hit Man for more on this phenomenon.)
Marine Corps General Smedley Butler stated in 1935 that "War is a racket,"in the eponymous monograph he wrote after his retirement. Like those Roman legionaries twenty centuries earlier, Butler had served his country around the known world: from Haiti to China and Mexico to France; usually in support of American business interests. He twice won the Medal of Honor, and was responsible for beginning the development of the Marine Corps' close air support doctrine in China in the late 1920's. General Butler probably should have become the Commandant of the United States Marine Corps; but President Herbert Hoover disliked Butler, due to an incident between the two men dating back to the Boxer Rebellion in 1900.
General Butler would have agreed with President Harry Truman that war profiteering is a form of treason. He points out in War Is A Racket that the First World War created 21,000 new millionaires and billionaires in the United States. Thirty-five million pairs of the standard military hobnailed shoe (as General Butler described them, actually a low cut ankle boot if I remember correctly) were produced for an American military of fewer than five million service men. Twenty-five million pairs of those shoes were surplus at the end of the war.
So there is nothing new about profiteering and wastage by American corporations during war time. Corporations like Halliburton and Bechtel have simply taken the perfidy to a new level in Iraq, by the privatization of the military's support services. War profiteering may be customary, but this does not make it more palatable or less reprehensible. Rather, it makes it even more reprehensible when the government encourages the act.
Gerald Ford represented the evils of expediency as much as any American President since James Buchanan. His work on the Warren Commission has muddied the waters of JFK's murder for four decades. Even if Waldron and Hartmann are completely correct in their book Ultimate Sacrifice-that the cover up was instituted solely to prevent a thermonuclear holocaust, a claim made long ago by Chief Justice Earl Warren-he could have admitted fully to his part in that necessary cover up before his death.
An even more telling example was Gerald Ford's insistence (in a 2004 interview with Bob Woodward) that his opinions about the Iraq Occupation not be revealed until after his death.
Conservatives of almost every stripe become outraged when you talk about withdrawal from Iraq. Many of these same conservatives are still in denial about the outcome of the Vietnam War, and will tell you we could have won if we "had the will," and used the "proper force" against the Vietnamese people. These myopic conservatives claim it was liberals and other leftists who cost us that woeful war.
These rants sound to me like the litany of complaints about the First World War by the right wing elements of the Weimar Republic.
We had one member of our military in South Vietnam for every thirty South Vietnamese in early 1968. We used weapons of mass destruction against the Vietnamese people (Agent Orange and Napalm), dropped more tons of bombs than we did in the Second World War against all three Axis Powers on Indochina, and engaged in atrocities that would have done the Nazi SS or Soviet NKVD proud. Almost sixty thousand Americans died in Vietnam; between two and three million Vietnamese, Cambodians, and Laotians also died as a result of that war.
How many on both sides would have been sacrificed for us to "win" in Vietnam? I am reminded of Gandhi's statement of a simple fact: that 400,000 British cannot dominate 400 million Indians without their permission. I do not believe that anything short of near genocide would have permitted us to "win" in Vietnam. That is a cost that no sane person should ever be willing to pay.
The United States was never close to winning the Vietnam War. The war had started as an attempt to reimpose French colonial control over Indochina, and evolved into a war to establish a tighter cordon of containment around Communism in general, and Red China in particular. The Vietnamese people were fighting for the right to decide their own form of government, no matter how evil and wrongheaded we thought their choice might be. The Iraqi people are fighting us for those same reasons.
Vietnam cost the American Treasury over one trillion of today's dollars (not counting interest on the National Debt), and it made American corporations huge profits. The military aid we provided to the South Vietnamese, the replacement items for our expended, lost or destroyed munitions and equipment, and construction of "permanent" bases, including the harbor at Cam Ranh Bay built by Kellogg, Brown and Root, fed those corporate profits. The war permitted many American industries (like the steel, automobile, and machine tool sectors) to continue manufacturing profitably with increasingly obsolescent equipment, while the rest of the world upgraded their industries to outproduce the moribund American corporations. This laziness by American business caught up with them in the 1970's.
Beginning with the bailouts of Lockheed and Chrysler, the United States Treasury became an institution whose primary function seems to be welfare for the largest corporations, their officers, and their stockholders. At the same time, the Federal government has become a means to finance the export of millions of high paying jobs overseas, in the name of ever greater corporate profits. The modern corporate mantra seems to be "maximize your profits, make the Federal Government absorb your expenses."
The Roman orator Cicero once noted that "The sinews of war, (are) a limitless supply of money." The National Debt rose from a little under one trillion U.S. Dollars when Ronald Reagan took the oath of office in 1981, to more than four times that amount when George H.W. Bush left office in 1993. In that same time period, the United States went from a net exporting nation, to a net importing nation, despite a decline in the price of petroleum. Much of that money was spent on rebuilding and upgrading our military, but billions were also wasted on defense programs like SDI and the Sergeant York anti-aircraft vehicle. We are now wasting untold billions on the war in Iraq, and wrecking the military we spent those billions of dollars on to build up. Almost half of our National Debt is coming to naught, because of the Bush Administration's abuse of our military.
I would like to present you with a truism: It is easier to do evil than it is to do good; but it is easier to do good than it is to undo evil. The road to Hell is paved not only with good intentions, but with every action undertaken in the name of expediency. I feel that moral courage is always far more difficult than its physical counterpart: This is because if you screw up in an act of physical courage, you usually are not around to experience its aftermath; If you screw up on an act of moral courage, you and everyone around you will be paying for it for the rest of their lives.
This is the legacy of Gerald R. Ford: his failures in moral courage have led us further down the road towards fascist dictatorship, corporate aggrandizement, and national bankruptcy. He was doubtless a kind man, who would never knowingly cause anyone harm. His pardon of Nixon may have saved the Republican Party, but it also permitted the GOP to grow into the malevolent, cold hearted creature whose master is not the American people, but giant conglomerates. You sir, were definitely not a Lincoln.
Ave, atque vale, Gerald R, Ford.