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Character flaws and circumstances in America's deadly warriors-in-chief

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                                 America's presidents choose war

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                                 Then watch it from afar

                                 Blood starts flowing 

                                 Body count starts growing

You may rightly ask after reading this article what earthly good will come of having written it? To be truthful, I don't rightly know; maybe nothing, maybe something. We live in a culture that accepts and even expects war. That must change or war will eventually annihilate humanity. To do nothing, to write nothing therefore is unacceptable to me. I like to think that seeking a better understanding of the chief warrior's deadly habit may be necessary before stopping the habit. 

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My favorite American historian, the late Howard Zinn wrote the book, "A people's history of the United States."[1] An alternate title for this article could be "A pacifist's history of U.S. warriors-in-chief." I'm one of those "peaceniks" that dangerous patriots ("my country right or wrong") love to disparage. I hated compulsory RTC in college eons ago. I've never owned or shot a gun. And, to borrow a warrior's phrase, "I take no prisoners in arguments with "warnicks." All this is to say that try as I might to be objective this article may be biased. You decide. 

I'm going to examine very briefly five issues concerning our warrior presidents and war itself. First, how many military interventions have our presidents initiated and what has been the grave count from those interventions? Second, why have our presidents been so willing to send knowingly, countless people to their graves? Third, if war is murder and since US presidents do not go into battle themselves are they surrogate murders? Fourth, is any war "just?" Fifth, can America's endless wars be ended for good?

How many "grave" choices have U.S. presidents made?

Counting declared wars and other military interventions is difficult even in the Internet age where nothing seems to go untracked and unreported, but it is impossible to get any reliable estimate of total "grave" count from those interventions. Only cemetery keepers keep reliable tabs of their own plots. So my overall impression will have to do and it's really all I need to do since one death by force is one too many. 

Military interventions were launched throughout a sizeable part of the world over 300 times by 43 of our 44 presidents. President Benjamin Harrison didn't have time or strength to flex his muscles, dying from an illness after being in office only 32 days. The death toll of Americans alone from all those interventions amounts to over two million. Between six and seven million civilians died from U.S military intervention in Korea, Vietnam, and Iraq. A former CIA agent has estimated that six million people have died from covert CIA operations alone. [2]

Why do U.S. presidents make those choices?

To understand why anyone, presidents included, do what they do requires acknowledging their gender and knowing their character and their circumstances. As an organizational psychologist turned political psychologist in retirement I am going to tell you what I have concluded from decades of studying leadership. It's been leadership outside the Oval Office, but I think what I have learned can be generalized to it. What influences CEOs and presidents alike is more similar than different.

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Need more be said? In the corporate world males sit atop the glass ceiling. Atop the political world is always a male warrior-in-chief. Wars throughout history have been started and fought by males with very few exceptions (Cleopatra and Margaret Thatcher, for example). America has always been a male dominated and aggressive society. While testosterone may play a tiny role in a president's aggression, it is to other personal characteristics and their circumstances we must look for primary explanations.


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Retired organizational psychologist.

Author of The Devil's Marriage: Break Up the Corpocracy or Leave Democracy in the Lurch; America's Oldest Professions: Warring and Spying; and Corporate Reckoning Ahead.

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