Tag Archives: Lyndon B. Johnson

The 10,000 Day War and Ken Burns’ Vietnam War PBS Series

by Rick Bretz

Before analyzing these two documentaries, it is important to note the definition of a documentary.

From the Oxford English Dictionary–Documentary: Using pictures and interviews with people involved in real events to provide a factual report on a particular subject.

Documentaries strive to be objective but their reliance on human beings makes that goal honorable but a little out of reach. People have their own views and biases as witnesses to history and those who write their first draft of history are subjective.  Documentaries are the truth according to who produces them. In the end, documentaries can be a source for information but just like all forms of research, a scholar must seek other sources and make his or her own conclusions.

Vietnam War (1)

Many Vietnam War documentaries have been produced but two stand out.  One was done more than 30 years ago while the other aired recently on PBS.   One was produced by a Canadian journalist and narrated by Richard Basehart while the other was produced by the noted documentary producer Ken Burns and narrated by actor Peter Coyote, airing recently on PBS.




The Vietnam story goes back centuries before the United States became a nation. The people of  Vietnam were conquered and abused by the Chinese and French before the American government and military were major players in the Vietnamese struggle for independence.  Ho Chi Minh wanted to speak with Woodrow Wilson after World War II in Paris.  However, politics and diplomacy married with class defined government protocols can be complicated.  Not seeing then how Ho Chi Minh could be a leader is understandable.  What is not excusable is how the United States could ignore the Vietnamese leader after working with him during World War II to defeat the Japanese.  It’s only because they believed France’s Charles de Gaulle when he suggested the communist ideology would be taking a foothold in Western Europe.   Leaders saw the dominoes falling and became worried about the Red Menace.  This was also the time that the United States government thought that communism was infiltrating American society from Hollywood to the local unions.  The Korean War and the influence of Communist China was also dominating foreign policy strategy during the early 1950s.


They documentaries interview key players or use interviews recorded years ago.   The 10,000 Day War is less passionate and more forensically produced.  It tries to stay away from making judgments and conclusions.  The recent Ken Burns documentary uses more editorial language and interviews veterans and other key players to illicit an emotional response.  Both of them use archival news footage and photographs.

They were both ambitious in their attempt to explain why the world, an especially the United States, became entangled in a war many people thought we had no business waging.  They both make the point that our commitments to our allies like France’s Charles de Gaulle and the strict following of the Truman Doctrine led to sending advisers that eventually led to more than a half million servicemen fighting there in the 1960s.

In both documentaries, the Presidential Administrations that were a part of the Vietnam problem don’t look good.  The early administrations, Eisenhower and Kennedy, look better than others because they were wary of the South Vietnamese leadership in the early stages.  In addition,  the US wasn’t fully committed yet and the early administrations conclusions were that “this is their war and the South Vietnamese were going to have to win it.”

The one criticism of The 10, 000 Day War is that it is a US dominated production and doesn’t give any other country’s diplomatic view, and that it doesn’t take to task the French Government’s insistence in occupying Vietnam after World War II when France was liberated themselves from Nazi rule.  The Ken Burns’ series points out that the only reason France wanted to control Vietnam was national pride and the economic exploitation of its resources.  The PBS series points out that the French occupiers treatment of the local population gave rise to Ho Chi Minh’s recruitment efforts.  The Burn’s PBS series also makes a better attempt to explain the North Vietnamese and South Vietnamese points of view.

Ho Chi Minh for is part couldn’t understand why the Americans couldn’t see his side of wanting to gain his country’s freedom from colonial rule.  He reasoned the United States was in the same position 200 hundred years ago so they must be able to relate to his struggle.  He didn’t count on America’s fear of communism and the spread of it across the globe. What is fascinating to know from the PBS series is that Ho Chi Minh’s influence in the decision making process was diminished late in his life.

The 10,000 Day War documentary is called that because it lasted that long.  Scholars might say the United States is still fighting the war by the decisions they make concerning other wars and because they are trying to make up for the ill-treatment of the Vietnam veterans after they came back.  The PBS series does a good job of telling the veterans story and their experiences there.

Vietnam veterans are looked upon wrongly as fighters who went over, lost the war, were there to do drugs and commit war atrocities.  As with many events, negative headlines become the perception and finally the reality.  The movies from Hollywood never helped the perception.  This is far from the truth.  The majority of Vietnam veterans were honorable and went over there to do a job and come back alive. They were put in a situation they had little, if no control, over. They made the trip, they didn’t skip out or make excuses.  Some of them came back alive but 58, 220 didn’t make it.  That’s a high price to pay for a generation.

Both documentaries are worth watching but they are both just additional sources. Do your own research and make your own conclusions.  You walk away from both of them shaking your head and wondering why decisions were made and why opportunities were not explored, especially after World War II.

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The Presidents Club-A Book Recommendation

The Presidents Club

by Rick Bretz

Sometimes, a book appears in stores or online that catches my eye. I know just by reading the book title that it will be a page turner or for some people a “finger swiper” on our digital readers.

I have been reading the “The Presidents Club, Inside The World’s Most Exclusive Fraternity” for a few weeks now. With a length of more than 650 pages, I have been taking my time reading it. The book is well researched and written by Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy and published by Simon and Schuster. Nancy Gibbs is a graduate of Yale University and the University of Oxford. She is Managing Editor of Time Magazine. Michael Duffy is a graduate of Oberlin College. He is Washington Bureau Chief and Executive Editor for Time Magazine.

Right from the first Chapter, they caught my attention and kept it all the way through. I actually read some chapters twice just to retain some of the information they revealed in the book. They discuss the history leading to the formation of the President’s Club but it begins to get interesting when they write about President Harry Truman asking for help from former President Herbert Hoover. The top Democrat asking for help from a Republican most democrats didn’t want to be associated with in any way. But President Truman was different. He knew how to use resources and Herbert Hoover was just the right guy to prevent starvation in Europe after World War II. There are many stories like this throughout the book.

It travels through history covering all of the Presidents to the current sitting President Barack Obama and how they viewed the “Club” and, more importantly, how they used the members of the exclusive fraternity.

I would recommend this book to any history scholar or presidential historian looking for a different perspective on the use of power. It might change your view on several Presidents and how they operated. After reading this book, I changed my opinion on a few Presidents. One President I gained even more respect for during the my reading, Harry Truman. One President the authors elevated his stature in my mind, Herbert Hoover. I knew that former President Richard Nixon was a diplomatic and foreign policy guru and the authors prove it in the book. The book also reveals how certain former Presidents can be difficult at the least.

After reading the book, you can entertain your own conclusions.

The Curtain Remains Closed

Richard Nixon being inaugurated as the 37th Pr...
Richard Nixon being inaugurated as the 37th President of the United States (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

by Rick  Bretz

Today’s writers have to admit that past investigative journalists (Woodward, Bernstein, and others) who went after President Richard Nixon after the Watergate break-in have a bit of irony to live with today.  In a classic law of unintended consequences, since Gerald R. Ford’s Presidency, historians and journalists have been denied the fascination of looking back at an Administration’s legacy by listening to oval office audio tapes.  The zealousness of attacking Nixon and forcing his resignation has deprived  journalists and authors of pulling back the curtains to see how the White House brokers exercise power.

President Johnson meets with candidate Richard...
President Johnson meets with candidate Richard Nixon in the White House, July 1968 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I write about this because of the current story in the headlines concerning President Lyndon Johnson’s latest audio tape release that shows how Johnson dealt with President Nixon’s perceived interference with the Vietnam peace talks before the 1968 Democratic Convention and Presidential Election.  The tapes reveal that Johnson knew that Nixon used a proxy to approach the South Vietnam ambassador to tell him to hold off on accepting peace terms from the Johnson administration because he could get them a better deal.  Johnson ultimately decided not to make this public due to security issues but did tell candidate Vice President Hubert Humphrey, who never used the information thinking that he had the election won.

Nixon announces the release of edited transcri...
Nixon announces the release of edited transcripts of the Watergate tapes, April 29, 1974. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s a fascinating bit of history in a long line of Presidential audio tapes.  The history of audio tapes recording power broker meetings in the oval offices dates back to 1940.  President Franklin Roosevelt got the tape rolling in a word and every President until Nixon used it since that time.  The total hours for these audio tapes amounts to just under 5000, recording for history telephone conversations and meetings from both political parties.  President John Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon were prolific in their use of the audio recordings.  A discussion concerning what is on those tapes is for another day.  Look at what the media and learning institutions could have been pouring over with a critical eye if audio recordings would have continued. Journalists and lawyers won the battle but lost the war. They proved a point that politics is a dirty business  but at the same time they short-changed history.  Because of what happened to Nixon, no President since has wanted to put himself in that kind of situation by having that kind of evidence used against him.  And for good reason, since Nixon, gotcha journalism has ruled the headlines in addition to  24/7 television and internet media outlets. There’s an empty space everyday that media professionals have to fill.

If not for Nixon’s poor decisions and paranoia, the media and lawyers working the circumstances, today’s writers, authors and college professors would have been analyzing and listening to meetings and phone conversations detailing a number of historical events.  I am not saying that Nixon was without fault, but as a historian it is regrettable that major events are not on tape for others to analyze today.  Reading someone’s words is not the same as hearing a President or Chief of Staff or Cabinet member at the moment with the personality that comes with speaking the words.  One only has to listen to President Johnson’s tapes to understand that.

These are just of a few events lost to history.

English: Presidents Gerald Ford, Richard Nixon...
English: Presidents Gerald Ford, Richard Nixon, George Herbert Walker Bush, Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter at the dedication of the Reagan Presidential Library (Left to right). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

President Ford-The Nixon pardon, the national recovery from Nixon’s resignation, the economic recovery, the Middle East peace process, the 1976 Election.

An argument could be made that if Nixon wasn’t forced to turn over the audio tapes, there never would have been a Ford Administration.

President Carter-The Panama Canal Treaty, the Shah of Iran overthrow, the Iranian Hostage Crisis, the 1980 Election, The Soviet Union Invasion of Afghanistan, The Oil Embargo, The Olympic Boycott, The Taiwan Issue, Israel-Egypt Peace accords.

President Reagan-The Grenada Invasion, the Cold War strategy, and disarmament talks, the Berlin Wall Speech, the 1984 Election, The Libyan Bombing, The Economic Recovery, The Space Shuttle Disaster, the 1988 Election.

President George H. W. Bush-The Panama Invasion, General Noriega issue, the Persian Gulf War, the Kurdish situation in the North part of Iraq, the 1988 Election, the 1992 Election.

President Clinton-The 1992 Election, The David Koresh Waco disaster, the ethnic cleansing in the former Yugoslavia, The Somalia Conflict, the Haitian support operation, Osama Bin Laden, the first terrorist attack on the twin towers, the 1996 election, the 2000 election.

President George Bush-The 2000 Election, 9/11 Terrorist Attack, the Afghanistan Invasion, The Iraqi Invasion, Osama Bin Laden strategy, the defense build-up and strategy, the 2004 Election, the Financial Crisis, the 2008 Election, Hurricane Katrina.

President Obama-The 2008 Election, the economic crisis, the Osama Bin Laden decision, the gun control issue, the 2012 Election.

Those are just a few events from each President since Nixon. There are several more topics that would have been enlightening if there would have been an audio recorder in the Oval Office.   The point is, due to past events, we, the public, have missed out on many behind the scenes decisions. The curtain remains forever closed where the great and powerful work behind.

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From the Porch to the Information Superhighway-The Path to the Presidency

It’s President’s Day February 18th.  With that, it’s worth discussing the gradual, double-edged communication sword candidates have had to integrate into their campaign to get their ideas to the voting public. Today, information technology has given candidates faster, easier ways to present their solutions and ideas to Americans. It also means the news cycle is quicker and reaches a wider audience if there is a slip up in their strategy or if a candidate misspeaks or gets some facts wrong.

English: Seal of the President of the United S...

George Washington never campaigned openly for the Presidency. He was ambitious but thought brazenly crusading for the office to be uncouth. He was a master at working behind the scenes, talking to the right people, while appearing to not covet the office but would accept it for the betterment of the nation.  As history shows, Washington was the perfect person to be the first President because he didn’t want any royal titles and his leaving after two terms set the standard for years to come.

In 1836, William Henry Harrison  first used a train to campaign across America.  Later in 1840, William Henry Harrison was the first to openly campaign for the Presidency running against incumbent Martin Van Buren with the slogan “Tippecanoe and Tyler Too.”  “Tyler Too” refers to John Tyler who would take office after President Harrison’s death due to sickness brought on by a one hour and 45 minute inauguration speech in the freezing, cold, Washington, DC, winter.  Harrison served one month before Tyler assumed the office.

Despite the use of mass transportation such as trains, Candidates James Garfield in 1880 and William McKinley in 1896 won their elections by just sitting on the porch and welcoming visitors and serving drinks. While they were visiting, the candidates had the opportunity to present their ideas and give campaign speeches. McKinley was also reportedly the first to use the telephone to make campaign calls.

After the turn of the century, President Teddy Roosevelt was the first to be documented on film delivering campaign speeches. His bombastic, fist pumping style was perfectly suited for silent film.

Hardings and Coolidges - The President and Vic...
Hardings and Coolidges – The President and Vice-President of the United States with their wives, standing in front of automobiles. Left to right: President Warren G. Harding, hat in hand, with walking stick; First Lady Mrs. Florence Harding in fur coat and feathered hat; Mrs. Grace Goodhue Coolidge; Vice President Calvin Coolidge. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Soon afterwards, radio broadcasts appeared on the political scene.  President Calvin Coolidge used radio to deliver addresses in the early 1920s.   Later, the 1924 election featured the candidates Coolidge and Democratic candidate John Davis delivering campaign speeches on the radio.

The Presidential debates and conventions in 1952 were the first to use the television medium to get their ideas to the public.  Eisenhower’s campaign created the first TV ad.  The catchy tune, “We Like Ike.”  Later, President Lyndon Johnson used the television medium effectively for the “Daisy” campaign ad that ran only once but was effective in beating Senator Barry Goldwater in 1964’s election. Before the development of cable and 24 hour news channels, candidates planned their strategy with the realization that fewer television channels and reporters existed.  However, the audiences were larger per channel. Even so, the Public Broadcasting System didn’t begin until 1970.

Senator John F. Kennedy and Vice President Ric...
Senator John F. Kennedy and Vice President Richard M. Nixon during the first televised U.S. presidential debate in 1960. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today the press pool is larger and news channels and producers require a constant news cycle with pressure to fill the air space and get ratings.

Presidential Candidates have to negotiate several cable news organizations as well as local affiliate news reporters and anchors.  In addition, the internet, YouTube, Twitter, blog writers, mobile media have given candidates more information streams. Candidates also use or have to make themselves available for the morning talk show circuit on radio and television. Talk radio has also entered the world of campaigning that can keep a story alive well after the initial news cycle.

The 1996 campaign was the first to use the internet to send out literature such as brochures and other media.  The 2000 campaign candidates, Governor Bush and Vice President Gore, each created and maintained their websites. Since then, the internet, with ads, email, and other informational sites, has continually evolved to be a significant part of a campaign.

Despite several additional communication sources to reach the voting public, there is no substitute for face to face, personal exposure–the shaking of a potential voter’s hands. The modern age has seen the use of trains as a recurring theme for presidential candidates.  Besides Harrison being the first, others that have used the rails are Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan, William Clinton, Jimmy Carter, George H. W. Bush and most famously, Harry S. Truman on his whistle-stop tour.

All of this means that candidates and incumbents have more ways, more paths, more streams to influence voters, get their ideas out, and communicate how they are better for the country than the other person.  With these tools for discovery, it is entirely possible  voters will elect a woman to the highest office, and soon.

The other side of the coin is that with more opportunities to reach and more hours in the day speaking on the public stage, the chances for a mistake or a misstep increase.  The good news is; it is easier to correct it if you have a counter strategy.  Technology is here to stay and the days of a candidate sitting at home on the front porch waiting for voters to arrive to hear him speak are long gone.

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Eight Great Presidential Performances

By Rick Bretz

In recognition of the inauguration this week, I have listed what I consider the best presidential portrayals on film and the small screen.  My criteria are simple.  Did the actor capture the spirit of the President’s personality?  And, was I able to watch the presentation without being aware that someone was trying too hard to play that particular president? Most of the performances on this list present a narrow window in a President’s life.  The more difficult portrayals involve playing the person over a lifetime.  A good example of this is Paul Giamatti’s portrayal of John Adams and Barry Bostwick’s performance in the George Washington miniseries. Below is the actor followed by the President portrayed and then the  film or television title.

1.  Kenneth Branagh-Franklin Delano Roosevelt-Warm Springs

I was skeptical before making time to see this show that the actor could pull it off.  I was wrong.  Kenneth Branagh captured the force of Roosevelt’s personality and his physical and emotional fight with the crippling polio disease.  He also does a great job of relating to the people who have the same disease while rehabilitating at Warm Springs.  His supporting cast is terrific and he shows us why Roosevelt related to so many people.

2.  Daniel Day Lewis-Abraham-Lincoln-Lincoln

Enough has been written about Lewis’ choice concerning how Lincoln sounds when he speaks compared to other portrayals. If you watch Henry Fonda’s “Young Mr. Lincoln”,  the voice pitch comes close to what Lewis used in Lincoln.  What cannot be disputed is that he does capture Lincoln’s modest confidence and his sharp political mind.

3.  Paul Giamatti-John Adams-Johns Adams

 Paul Giamatti captures Adams from all directions.  He is spot on in his portrayal in many aspects.  His love for his wife Abigail, his mercurial temper, his difficult personality, his love for his family, his ego, and most of all, his sense of duty, fairness, and love for his country. Giamatti’s choices show the president from all sides while weaving his multi-layered personality into the presentation of Adams. He also plays him as he ages from a young man to his death which is difficult to accomplish.

4.  Frank Langella-Richard M. Nixon-Frost/Nixon

 Langella’s acting puts a human face on Richard Nixon in this Ron Howard directed film.  He sparred with David Frost through a majority of the movie and showed Nixon’s toughness, intellect, political savvy and his personality weaknesses.  This performance is remarkable because it keeps the audience interested despite knowing the outcome.  It explains history without getting into the minute details so the audience’s eyes don’t glaze over like sitting in 9th grade history class memorizing dates.

 5.  Jeff Daniels-George Washington-The Crossing

 Jeff Daniels does a terrific job showing people what it must have been like serving under George Washington.  Daniels gives us a performance that shows Washington cool under fire, a master at finding quality people to serve under him and how to manage them, and how to get soldiers to fight for him in the most extreme circumstances. Daniels as Washington shows the General as calm leader looking to find answers instead of assessing blame.

6.  Anthony Hopkins-John Quincy Adams-Amistad

 My favorite scene in this movie is when Adams is supposedly sleeping during a congressional session.  Then the speaker asks him to comment on the previous discussion. Adams speaks up immediately repeating the last exchange and giving his own caustic opinion about the matter and the current session itself.  Hopkins is a master at losing himself in roles and this is one.  His other Presidential portrayal of Richard Nixon is good as well but this one is fascinating especially with the final summation in court at the end.

7.  Randy Quaid, Lyndon B. Johnson, LBJ; The Early Years

 Randy Quaid shows Lyndon Johnson with his loud voice, over-the–top personality and his energy to accomplish his own goals and fix what needs to be fixed.  This is another performance that shows the actor aging through several years from a young man to his days in congress.  Quaid gives an outstanding performance showing how Johnson dealt with people and how Johnson used his force of personality to get his legislation passed when he was a leader in congress.

8.  Henry Fonda-Abraham Lincoln-Young Mr. Lincoln

This movie was released in 1939 and it shows a young Henry Fonda at his best. Fonda gives us the Lincoln personality in the salad days of his lawyer career.  He takes on a case early in the movie that everyone believes is a lost cause.  Throughout the movie, Fonda shows the audience the Lincoln wit and his art for storytelling.  He shows us why Lincoln became President while  using his political savvy and intelligence.  Fonda’s acting also shows us an underlying sadness to his personality and an innate understanding he might be destined for great things.

Those are my favorites.  Do you agree? Leave a comment?

 More great characterizations:

David Morse-George Washington-John Adams; Edward Herrmann-Franklin Delano Roosevelt-Eleanor and Franklin; Barry Bostwick-George Washington- George Washington (The Mini-Series);  Bill Murray-Franklin Delano Roosevelt-Hyde Park on the Hudson; Gary Sinise-Harry S. Truman-Truman;  James Whitmore-Harry S. Truman-Give ‘Em Hell Harry; Raymond Massey-Abraham Lincoln-Abe Lincoln in Illinois; Brian Keith-Teddy Roosevelt-The Wind and the Lion

The Top Eight Quotes Spoken by Presidents

The Presidents of the United States have been in office during the successful years and the difficult times.  There are websites devoted to the men who served in the office and what words they have spoken while occupying the position.  The following are the most intriguing quotes from these men and what I think they wanted to say to the American people.  This post is a subjective exercise.  I am listing the ones that impress me.


Seal of the President of the United States Esp...

1.”Few men have virtue to withstand the highest bidder. “
George Washington

He was pointing out that most men have a price.  When someone is prepared to give the highest bounty you have asked, few men or women can say “no.”   The historical record is littered with people who have compromised their integrity for money, power and influence.  Most have paid a price of some kind in either loss of reputations, loss of wealth or loss of freedom and sometimes all three.

2. “A government big enough to give you everything you want is a government big enough to take from you everything you have. “
Gerald Ford

This is perfect quote that demonstrates how government can take on a human dynamic.  A government that is big enough to provide you with everything you need or desire can also use power to take those things away and then some.  Most communist or socialist governments try to provide their citizens what they need but in exchange the society is  forced to relinquish freedoms, like free press, free movement within boundaries, rights to privacy and slanted judgments within the judicial system.
3. “It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit. “
Harry S Truman

Every program manager and leader in America should have this hanging on the wall somewhere.  If one person decides that their ego is above a certain goal, then accomplishing a goal just got that much more difficult.  The tough part is getting a team to “buy in” to that idea.  It is fine to deliver kudos and credit afterwards.  That is what capitalism is all about.  However, if you want to get somewhere fast, then build a team with one thought in mind and that is delivering an excellent product on time and within budget. Today’s congress, state and local governments should take a lesson from this.
4. “As man draws nearer to the stars, why should he not also draw nearer to his neighbors?”
Lyndon Johnson

Despite President Johnson’s intentions it seems that technology has pulled us away from each other.  He is right.  Just because we have all of this technology for our benefit doesn’t mean we as American’s can’t take time to get to know neighbors at home or strangers on the subway. He also might be speaking about getting to know America’s neighbors in the world, as in making an effort to know other countries cultures.

5. “Democracy is worth dying for, because it’s the most deeply honorable form of government ever devised by man. “
Ronald Reagan

President Reagan nailed it.  Democracy in action may have its faults but it is the most effective and successful form of government produced by people.  There are many forms of democracy but any shade of it is much more effective than an autocracy, theocracy, monarchy or oligarchy.

 6.”The middle of the road is all of the usable surface. The extremes, right and left, are in the gutters.”
Dwight D. Eisenhower

This piece of wisdom is perfect for today’s political climate.  Extremes are where nothing ever gets done.  There has to be some compromise so people can move forward and not let their goals end up stalled in a ditch somewhere.  It’s easy to be inflexible.  It is much more difficult to find common ground with your ideological opposite.

7. “True individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made. “
Franklin D. Roosevelt

If you want capitalism and democracy, you have to make it work.  As the late, former Speaker of the House Tip O’Neal used to say “All politics is local.”  A politician can deliver and distribute many loft ideas about how government should operate.  To most people striving to make a living and take care of their families, the measure of success is:  Do I have a JOB?  How much am I paying for gas? Can I afford groceries this month?  Can I live comfortably and can I retire?   If you don’t have these, then you have people willing to change the system to something else, like a dictatorship.

8. “Our problems are man-made; therefore they may be solved by man. No problem of human destiny is beyond human beings. “
John F. Kennedy

President Kennedy had one trait that makes great leaders, “A can do spirit.”   He was saying, what we destroy we can rebuild.  What we break, we can fix.  What problems we create, we can solve.  Everything that is around us was built, engineered, and invented by man.  So with this in mind, he states, that man can solve these problems through the continuing ingenuity of man.

Honorable Mention

 9. “People ask the difference in a leader and a boss. The leader leads and the boss drives. “
Teddy Roosevelt

President Roosevelt states here that real leaders motivate people.  A boss drives or “works” his people through fear or intimidation.  Leading and motivating people will get you to your goal a lot sooner.  This, of course, is a lot more difficult to put into practice. Some people learn it, some just have it, and others never learn the lesson.

What quote do you like?  Leave a suggestion and tell me why?

Top Eight Decisions That Changed the United States


Why the “Top Eight?” Because there are too many “Top Ten” lists published on the web today.  If you can’t say what you have on your mind in eight then don’t even try to strain your wrists typing, I say. This is a fast paced, take no prisoners culture we live in.  My contribution is to save you some time by eliminating two places on the list.  With that stated, I know people have many decisions that need to made throughout the day.  Here are my most influential decisions that changed America’s destiny.

 1. The decision to sign the Declaration of Independence.

English: This is a high-resolution image of th...
Image via Wikipedia

The document states, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are      created equal, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of      happiness.” These are just words until people back it up by putting  names to it. I consider this to be the most significant of decisions because it was made by a group of founding fathers that put the country on a course toward separation from England and the monarchy. Fifty six people signed the document including two future presidents, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. Benjamin Franklin at 70 years was the oldest to sign.  John Hancock was the most famous. Several other lesser-known signers had just as much to lose, if not more, by signing the document. Many authors have penned various reasons why this group signed the declaration. Some did it for freedom, others for business and financial incentives, and still others signed it because they were aware they were creating something that would last through the centuries  Signing the declaration achieved several purposes. The declaration moved the colonies in the direction towards independence.  And as a bonus, it agitated the British even more. If the declaration wasn’t signed, the colonies may have eventually won its freedom from England but it might have taken many more years and the results may not have been as generous.

 2. The decision to pass and sign the Civil Rights Act.  Most citizens are aware of, and some even remember, the 1964 civil right acts signed by President Lyndon Johnson.  President Johnson used some of his trademark Johnson charm to get it passed through the legislature. It continued what Congress started years earlier. Congress passed the original civil rights act in 1866 and it declares that, “all  persons shall have the same rights…to make and enforce contracts, to sue, be parties, give evidence, and to the full and equal benefit of all  laws…”  This was followed by the 14th Amendment in 1868 that stated, “”All persons born or naturalized in the US…are citizens…nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person…the equal protection of the laws.”  This led to the 19th Amendment, passed in 1920,  giving people the right to vote regardless of sex.

President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the 1964 Civ...
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President Johnson signed the 1964 Civil Rights Act that provided more rights.  These, among others, are, “prohibits employment discrimination based on race, sex, national origin, or religion.  Prohibits public access discrimination, leading to school desegregation.”  The 1866 Civil Rights Act started  America down the righteous path toward true equality..

 3. The  decision to secede from the union. This is more of a collective decision by several powerful people. The Southern states’ decision to secede from the union produced a chain of events that eventually led to the abolishment of slavery, a stronger Federal Government, General William T. Sherman’s march through the south, and finally, the actual end of the Southern slave holding culture.  According to most civil war scholars, at the end of the war, Americans began referring to themselves as being from the “United” States rather than from a particular state such as Virginia or New York. If secession hadn’t happened, it could be argued the South would have negotiated to retain some of their states rights and kept slavery in tact. Instead, southern leaders voted for secession and lost their way of life.

4. The decision to buy the Louisiana Territory. America’s RV enthusiasts wouldn’t get the thrill of driving across the fruited plane today if it hadn’t been for Thomas Jefferson taking advantage of Napoleon’s urge to conquer Europe on a shoestring budget.

Nederlands: kaart Louisiana Purchase
Image via Wikipedia

At 3 cents an acre, Thomas Jefferson struck a great real estate deal at 15 million dollars for more than 800,000 acres in 1803. The deal covers what is now Louisiana, Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska and parts of Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, New Mexico, Texas, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado and two Canadian provinces. What is intriguing about the deal is that President Jefferson originally intended for the team of James Monroe and Robert Livingston to just purchase the Port of New Orleans from France for 10 million dollars. However, Napoleon Bonaparte wanted to limit England’s influence in America and he needed money to refill his government coffers after his wars. For these reasons, he offered the Jefferson team the whole territory for 5 million more.  Sometimes the stars align and a business deal just falls into place.

 5. The decision by President Truman to use the Atom Bomb.  

Enola Gay after Hiroshima mission, entering ha...
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The diplomacy game changed when the United States used the Atomic Bomb to end WWII.  It was the first time a weapon of that magnitude  and it let the world’s leaders know that the US government would use this type of weapon if needed to end a War.  On the negative side, the development and use of the Atomic Bomb began the build up of globally destructive warheads. This was a cloud that future generations had to live under while growing up.  President Harry S.Truman wasn’t even given the knowledge that the bomb was being built until he was sworn into the office. That was kept secret from him by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, most likely due to  “need to know” security procedures. Before the bomb was used, the Japanese proved to the world they would not surrender easily.  The Battle of Okinawa, an island south of the mainland, proved to President Truman and the military that the Japanese military upper hiearchy would fight to the end to save their empire and their culture. The fact that the US had to use two bombs tells us that fact.  President Truman didn’t take the decision lightly. He thought about the repurcussions for days.  Once he made the decision though, he never second-guessed himself. 

6. The decision to serve only two terms by President Washington.

English: Washington, D.C., (July 9, 2004) &nda...
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President George Washington set an important precedent by stepping down after two terms as the Chief Executive.  Future Presidents followed his decision to leave office after two terms despite nothing being written in the Constitution about the subject..  President Thomas Jefferson served two terms as the third President but chose to step down voluntarily.  This verified the tradition. It didn’t become an issue until President Grant thought about serving a third term. Congress denounced the idea because it broke with the tradition set by Washington.  He, however, stood ready to be drafted in 1875 and 1880 but the republican convention chose other candidates.  President Franklin Roosevelt ultimately broke the tradition by serving a third term in 1940 due to the onset of WWII. He was elected in 1944 but didn’t finish his fourth term.  Afterwards, Congress passed the 22nd Amendment limiting the President to two terms with an exemption for the current President Truman. Truman declined to run for a third term.  Congress introduced bills to repeal the 22nd Amendment during President Ronald Reagan’s term and while President Bill Clinton was in office but they both failed to pass the legislative branch.  President Washington was wary of monarchies and dictatorships so his stepping down after 8 years in 1797 was a product of that thinking.  Besides he was tired of the criticism brought on by the office and wanted to retire to Mount Vernon. .

 7. The decision to fund the Dwight D. Eisenhower National System of Interstate and Defense Highways bill. The nation’s highways as we know them today began in 1938 with the passing of the Federal Highway Act. It called for a toll based 26,700-mile interregional highway network with three highways running south to north and three more running east to west. In the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1944, the Congress acted on these recommendations. The act called for “designation of a National System of Interstate Highways, to include up to 40,000 miles “… so located, as to connect by routes, direct as practical, the principal metropolitan areas, cities, and industrial centers, to serve the National Defense, and to connect at suitable points.”  These acts didn’t specifically spell out how the system would be funded so the construction was slow.  Here’s where President Eisenhower comes in.  He led a team that figured out how to fund the highway system to build highways as the citizens of the United States know them today. The Department of Transportation documents make it clear that The Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1952 authorized the first funding specifically for system construction. Under President Eisenhower, the system funding was created so it wouldn’t increase the federal budget much. This is where the vehicle tax and gas tax enter the picture.  With the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956 it increased the system’s proposed length to 41,000 miles. From there we have several highways running west to east and north to south, with the longest running highway being I-90 at 3020.54 miles from Boston, Mass., to Seattle, Washington. The highway system has aided interstate commerce as well as the tourism industry.  It has provided a means for families and individuals to view the landscape of the United States as well as being the catalyst for many a sibling feud in backseats.

8. The decision to Land on the MoonThe decision to explore space and reach to other worlds began with the Eisenhower administration and the Mercury program.  The goal became focused when President Kennedy gave a speech on May 25th, 1961 to a special joint session of congress and stated the goal of sending an American safely to moon and return to earth before the end of the decade.

Buzz Aldrin salutes the U.S. flag on Mare Tran...
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Much of the decision involved cold war politics with the Soviet Union but also healthy dose of American bravado spirit. However, Kennedy consulted with his vice president and the NASA chief and determined that the US had a good chance of beating the Soviets to moon.  The space program created many benefits that people use today. The advancement in electronics and computers ushered in solid-state electronics.  In addition to these developments, according to NASA’s official government website, insulation technology developed by NASA engineers is used for thermal blankets.  These are just some of the many benefits the space program has yielded since its inception. Finally, Americans could boast that we were the first to land on the moon but in the name of “mankind” of course.

These are my top eight decisions.  I am sure there are people who disagree.  It was tough just to narrow it down to eight.  Let me know your top eight. .