The Power of Language

This morning one of my students asked why the Democrats "are so weak on defense."  I responded by asking the student to look up the political affiliation of the president at the beginning of every major conflict in the twentieth century.

Note: I know Eisenhower was president at the very beginning of our involvement in Vietnam, but let’s give credit to Kennedy and Johnson for the significant escalation.

Update: You may have trouble believing this, but the student in question actually came back by the end of the day having completed my little assignment.  She brought a list that included the following:

Woodrow Wilson, Democrat: World War I

Franklin Roosevelt, Democrat: World War II

Harry Truman, Democrat: Korean War

Lyndon B. Johnson, Democrat, Vietnam (I made sure to explain the role that Eisenhower played.)

When she asked why the accusation is so pervasive I asked her to think about the nature of the language.  In other words to think about the role of politics in shaping public perception.  I suspect that we will have another conversation tomorrow.  I will update if anything does indeed transpire. 

4 comments… add one
  • Shane Christen Feb 15, 2008 @ 21:41

    At the beginning of WW1 the US was woefully unprepared for war.

    At the beginning of WW2 things were even worse.

    And Korea… the military had been cut to the bone and a bit further.

    Politicians created a mess, and the military did its best in trying circumstances. Reagan rebuilt the military and Clinton kicked it to the curb. Traditionally Demorcratic Presidents have neglected the military wheras Republican have been forced to rebuild.

    I think w/ the exceptionof Carter & Clinto Democratic presidents have done well enough by the military… those two though never hid their contempt for the soldier.

    Far too uch rhetoric in politics today. Give us honest politicians, a dream I know, and I think the US would be a better place.

  • Kevin Levin Feb 12, 2008 @ 18:36

    Pat, — Thanks for writing. You make an excellent point, which I think in the end reinforces the point that the initial claim that I was responding to is absurd. Americans have traditionally had a fear of standing armies which I suspect helps explain the lack of preparedness before WWI. Thanks for the comment.

  • Pat Reilly Feb 12, 2008 @ 18:15

    Being president when the nation goes to war does not always equate to being “strong on defense”. While Democratic presidents often had strong interventionist foreign policies, these policies did not always mean that those presidents had equivalent robust defense policies. Consider the weaknesses of the American military, particulary the Army, before the United States entered World War One and the Korean War. More examples are the defeats the U.S. suffered in the first year of American entry into World War Two, which are understandable considering the small size of the American military throughout most of FDR’s presidency.

  • Woodrowfan Feb 11, 2008 @ 20:43

    Also have your student check whoch President founded NATO. And somewhere online is a list showing which members of Congress (and other political figures) served in the military.

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