Interview with Richard Barnet
BROADCAST: Feb. 20, 1990 | DURATION: 00:54:11
Discussing "The Rockets' Red Glare: When America Goes to War| the Presidents and the People," (published by Simon & Schuster) with the author Richard Barnet.
Tap within the transcript to jump to that part of the audio.
Studs Terkel Once upon a time there was a country in which people, citizens, were informed as to the events of the day, especially foreign policy, and they debated it on streets and taverns and churches and where people gathered. Hot arguments, actual talk, actual debate, talking not about experts on TV, long, long before TV, long before radio, there were arguments about should we back France or Britain or whatever it was. What should we do? We're talking about the United States at a certain time and this is more or less how this quite remarkable book begins, a very informative book, but more than that, informative in the word, an exciting book to read by Richard Barnet. And Richard Barnet, who is a member of the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, remember his previous book "Global Reach", has written a new one called "The Rockets' Red Glare" and the subtitle is "When America Goes to War, the Presidents and the People". And who decides what? Since we live in a democracy, the assumption is the people decide. And this book tells of a wholly different story how by virtue of, some would call it default, have abandoned this right that once upon a time was debated in the streets of towns all over the country. Richard Barnet is one of the best social observers we have around and about. That's more or less the theme of the book, isn't it?
Richard Barnet That's it. And it's struck me how now when we are facing some of the most important decisions that probably the country's ever faced where the path is open, we don't quite know where to go. There is so little debate, to compare this today with citizens, how little citizens talk to each other and debate and argue and make their views known to their elected officials. Compare that with what it was like when we began. It's--
Studs Terkel Well, let's say 1800. There was an election campaign. Thomas Jefferson versus John Adams. You know, that was the campaign and everything was going on then, arguments, debates, the Alien and Sedition Acts were being challenged, but they were debating, weren't they? Jefferson was called a name, a Jacobin, wasn't he?
Richard Barnet Right. In those days the question of the French Revolution, what should be the attitude of Americans to the French revolution, really dominated our politics. The citizens in Boston would gather and they took the names of the French Revolution. They called each other citizen and citizeness and they changed the name of Royal Exchange Alley to Equality Lane. They began--they believed that democracy had started in the United States and it had spread to France. And most people were excited about it. And then a minority were very frightened by it. So this is the growth of godlessness and challenging authority.
Richard Barnet Oh, absolutely. It's very similar and I think the two periods, the 50s and the 90s, the 1790s, are very similar in that foreign policy was a metaphor for domestic policy. That is, if people get excited about France, not just because France, because of the idea of the Revolution, but if you were for the Revolution it meant you were for democracy in the United States and if you were against it, it meant that you really favored what Alexander Hamilton favored, an aristocracy bringing the elegant patrician culture of Britain to America. That's what the new country should be.
Richard Barnet Absolutely. They would meet in coffee houses, and there were all kinds of symbols that people wore, certain kinds of hats of different color which showed their allegiances were, what they believed in, and they made their views very powerfully known to presidents. They didn't hesitate to burn a treaty in effigy. They did this with the Jay Treaty or even--
Richard Barnet Ordinary
Richard Barnet Now it's interesting that the people who are actually citizens are as a very small percentage of the population, maybe only 5% voted. You had to own property, you had to be the right religion in--
Studs Terkel White
Richard Barnet Most states, and of course you had to be white and you had to be male, so that cut a few people off. But those who were citizens really acted the part and they took it very seriously. I was very much struck by the institution of the political clubs. These had started in the Revolution, people meeting to read the political philosophers, Rousseau and the others, Locke, and try to think about the philosophy of government and what kind of a society they wanted and that continued. These political clubs continued. They were called Democratic Clubs or Republican Clubs. And one of their purposes was to look down--look over the shoulder of their representatives in Congress. They didn't just elect them and go away. They wanted to study the legislation. They made their views known and they were extremely active.
Studs Terkel I was thinking, these people who took part in this and they read, I mean, they actually were informed. And we're talking about--wasn't that the basis pretty much on which this country is formed, the word "citizen" also included, being knowledgeable with what's going on. I mean, the responsibility
Richard Barnet Absolutely. Educable and willing to educate oneself. You know, you read what John Adams wrote about the people and it is rather contradictory. He wrote the voice of the people can just as easily be the voice of the devil as the voice of God. And at times you could find him saying people are just foolish and easily led and corrupt. But basically he accepted the view every bit as much as Jefferson, who was more sanguine about public opinion that you had to trust the people.
Studs Terkel Well this is the undercurrent of your book, by the book. We're talking about the early days of the country, the formation, the idea that since it is a new form of government, never was one such as this before, those who do take part in the electoral process are informed and arguing, and that becomes--and you go all the way up to Vietnam and after, for that matter, almost Nicaragua, certainly World War I, II, Spanish-American, 1812, Mexican War.
Studs Terkel But the undercurrent of all is that debate. Can you trust the people? And you've got whether--you have Acheson, who more or less, was a Cold War architect, saying "of course you can't". Says he, in striped pants.
Richard Barnet Well, only at the end of his life. I mean, it's interesting--Lippmann, if anything, was the philosopher of elitism. He believed not only were the people a bad force, but he also attributed to them enormous power. He said they have the power, really, to destroy politicians and keep them from the wise policies that they would otherwise pursue. At the end of his life, he found himself in the opposition on Vietnam. And that premise that he had never really challenged during his career when he was really the spokesperson of the establishment. At the end of his life he said, well, having seen what--the obsession of Lyndon Johnson with the war, that notion that leaders are wise and should be left alone, he began to
Richard Barnet He
Richard Barnet Yes.
Studs Terkel Now Samuel Huntington, best remembered for the phrase "there's something dangerous in this world, democratic distemper", a phrase he used. We don't let the people know too much, isn't that it?
Richard Barnet Yes.
Richard Barnet That's right. And we've had people on both sides all through. But I would say that the dominant view of those who have actually governed has been the elitist view that the people really cannot be trusted with
Richard Barnet Right.
Richard Barnet And they've sold that idea to a lot of people because it is an easy way to avoid responsibility as a citizen to say, "well, I guess the president we elected in, he has access to all the information, he knows best".
Studs Terkel That, of course, is the theme, the subtitle of your book, "When America Goes to War, the Presidents and the People". The book is "The Rockets' Red Glare". This is primarily about foreign policy, we're talking, where this stuff has taken place in its most grotesque form, that is the misuse of that power. And that's more or less been the theme. And so, throughout is the manipulation of public opinion, which of course eventually leads to the polls.
Richard Barnet Well, it's a struggle of presidents to manipulate and of certain people acting as citizens not to be manipulated. And sometimes we underestimate the power that the people really do have. We've seen that this power has become much more visible and effective in recent years, certainly in Vietnam, and most recently with respect to South Africa. We forget that it was citizens acting locally, sometimes in local governments, that withdrew funds from the investment in South African business at a time when the national government, when President Reagan was pursuing the policy of constructive engagement. And you had people willing to go to jail demonstrating in front of the South African embassy, and this effort changed the mind of people in Congress, changed the policy and ultimately I think led to the beginning of real change in South Africa.
Studs Terkel That's the other theme of your book. Richard Barnet is my guest and the other theme of the book is precisely that, that there can be relatively few people if they're fervent enough and open enough in expressing their opposition or questioning authority and they think it's wrong, especially foreign policy. It eventually has an effect. It is more of an effect than they think. I suppose the--while the opposition to the Vietnam War began as a minority movement, it began as a minority
Richard Barnet Very much so. I remember talking--I was invited to a law firm where Fortas, Abe Fortas worked, and he was at a time when he was Johnson's closest adviser. And we were asked to come. I was asked to come with my colleague because we were such a rare bird, people who were against the war, this was very early on. And it was a small number of people who spoke out in campuses and began to use their positions as columnists and to raise the issue, and then gradually as the reality came through on the television and the bodies came back and the claims that the president made that the war was soon going to be over, it was a war of light against darkness. When all that seemed to be incredible, public opinion began to change.
Studs Terkel So this is the book of Richard Barnet and we're going to begin--now we're going to go into the history, how the early Americans--we touched on it, and in Jefferson's time. And "The Rockets' Red Glare" is the book, Richard J. Barnet the author, and Simon and Schuster are the publishers. [pause in recording] 1800, the election. It was a tough, rough, and tumble campaign because the word "Jacobin" meaning caught a subversive, tossed around. And they had words for the other guys. And people were charged with sedition. And there was deportation changes, not too different from the end of World War I and the Palmer Raids. Again, there are analogies here, aren't there?
Richard Barnet There are. And in general, after each of our wars there's been a period of recrimination. Generally the party that opposed the war, even though the war ends up being unpopular, is punished, the Whigs, the Democrats later on. I think that the war--people find the wars difficult to understand and they finally begin to oppose it.
Studs Terkel By the way, and I'll come to that later, you find this more and more that public opinion, even though manipulated through the years and switched around, is becoming more and more a factor. Actually, that is becoming more learned.
Richard Barnet Yes, well it's becoming more of a political factor, much more important. For most of the hundred, first 150 years of the Republic, presidents had an awful lot of latitude because most foreign policy was not perceived to be foreign. This period that we were talking about, the first few years, the time of Washington, Adams, and Jefferson, people--the interest in foreign policy was alive because it wasn't perceived as foreign. The French, the British, the Spanish were sitting right across the rivers. They had forts on American territory or what we thought should be American territory, and you couldn't think about it as a distant problem.
Richard Barnet It was domestic problem. And I think this is increasingly the case, that in the postwar period whenever the government, particularly on nuclear weapons, did something to bring the threat of nuclear weapons home. That is, we tested in the atmosphere, and people found that the Strontium-90 got into the milk. Or they proposed to put anti-ballistic missiles in our cities, making them targets. Then people got excited, and actually the policies changed.
Richard Barnet That became domestic. It's only when the president can talk about it, foreign policy as something very far off, that esoteric based on secret information and create the mystique that somehow only the president has the wherewithal to talk about or think about these questions that people are buffaloed and say okay. And they give the president plenty of room until he makes some terrible mistake and then he gets punished, as Truman did for the Korean War, which went on too long. It wasn't what he said it was going to be. And, of course, Johnson and Vietnam. I think that ever since the Second World War, because we've been in a state of permanent mobilization, permanent high taxes, this means that you have to constantly go to the people. You have to sell foreign policy to get the taxes, to get the support for what is really a very frightening situation. I mean, I say in the book that we are deploying the nerves of the people as weapons, we were, to convince the Russians, the Soviets that the president would not be mobbed if you used nuclear weapons.
Studs Terkel Now, you know, just on that very point you said because we've been militarily building and building since the Cold War began, since the end of World War II. Suppose we hear the voice of Admiral Gene La Rocque, you know, whom you know--
Studs Terkel From the Center for Defense Information. He has officers, retired officers in naval and army working for him. They have everything. And he makes the comments quite stunning about ourselves, the United States and wars in which we've been or been part of and the buildup. And this becomes part of the challenge itself.
Gene La Rocque So we have a nation of war veterans. We're unique in the world. We're the only country that's been fighting a war really since 1940. The rest of the countries all stopped. We fought through World War II, and then in 1950 we fight for three more years, and then in 19--in Korea, in 1963-2 we get into Vietnam, we fight there for 10 years. We are a nation of 30 million living veterans, war veterans.
Gene La Rocque That's right, they've all stopped the very first time they've got involved. None of them have been involved as we have. So we have built up in our body politic a group of old men primarily who look at military service as a very great noble adventure. It was kind of fun, it was the big excitement in their life, and they'd like to see young people come along and share that excitement. But we are unique. The other thing is we've always gone somewhere else to fight our wars. So we've not really learned about the horror of war yet and it fascinates me. You see, the nation was born sort of fighting to break away from the American Revolution. Then it doesn't take long, just about 20, 30--20 years we're involved in the war of 1812.
Richard Barnet Right. No, I think he's absolutely right. The fact that--I think he explains why Americans tend to shout Hurrahs and rally around the flag when the war starts, but very quickly lose enthusiasm for the wars when they go on very long, and when they go on longer than say Panama or Grenada, they don't--they begin to see that there are costs to war. We tend to see war in this country a bit as fantasy because we have not had that terrible experience that totally transformed [the Russians?].
Studs Terkel Now, before we come to the War of 1812, as you go back to the beginning, Admiral La Rocque was mentioning 1812 following the American Revolution and the most unpopular war until Korea. You mentioned, of course, Vietnam. But there's one point you mentioned Panama and Grenada. Now, I can't help but believe that the average American who has a sense of fair play knows that those two are jokes. I mean, he knows that Grenada's Luftwaffe is not going to bomb American cities tomorrow. He knows that Panama is not going to send its great Panzer battalions to rough shot over Kansas. They know that.
Richard Barnet Of course they do. But in fact, most of our allies in Europe see those spasms as not evidence of strength, but weakness. If in fact the United States can somehow feel--"standing tall", that was Reagan's expression, if we can somehow stand taller for having clobbered a little island that had no longer had a government functioning, that had been abandoned by Cuba, that had destroyed its own revolution. We can feel confident about that, or if we can really believe that going after the central casting villain and in Panama we were going to--
Richard Barnet Absolutely our creation. Whose real past was concealed from the American people for a long time. The--that somehow we can--that will solve the drug problem, that we will restore peace to Panama that we've destroyed through economic blockade, through mass bombing of neighborhoods. I think people--I think that 90% or 80% approval rate, if you take that again in a year, it won't be there.
Studs Terkel So let's begin, the country's established people are debating, arguing. The French Revolution comes, goes, something else happens, Napoleon. And now we're talking about Madison as president, the War of 1812. And here we come to something, don't we? How'd that begin? Who decided that?
Richard Barnet Well that's a very interesting story because Madison was in many ways one of our more pacific presidents, he had a very good idea. He wrote that if every--if we had a "pay as you go" policy on wars, that is, if the generation that fights the war has to pay for it and not put it off onto the next generation or the one after that, we'd have fewer wars. And he was concerned trying to keep the peace, but the British were impressing our sailors, it became a political issue. We had the election of the so-called War Hawks in Congress. But most historians now believe that Madison had control of that decision. He wasn't forced into war. The people who wanted to go to war ultimately were the leaders including Thomas Jefferson, who believed that this was the occasion. First he had to teach the British a lesson or they would never leave us alone. And also we could pick up Canada, which is something that people very much wanted. Well it turned out to be very unpopular in Massachusetts and other New England states. They lowered the flag to half mast, the funeral bells tolled, and they didn't get anything like the recruits for the army that everybody was counting on. The congressmen who voted for the war were hooted on the streets, hooted at, and it was a very badly managed war. And of course, it resulted in some--the most humiliating defeat. The British burned the White House and the Capitol and the president had to flee, but the war in Europe ended. Napoleon was defeated and gradually we made a negotiated settlement which did not accomplish the objectives for which the United States ostensibly went to war, that is, the British continued to--didn't promise not to impress or
Studs Terkel Now we come to manipulation of public opinion one way or another since the people obviously didn't want that war. It happened, and now I come to Jackson is in, the populist Jackson, 1815, the Battle of New Orleans, and he's a war hero. Now I come--newspapers are now coming into being too, popular, and this guy had them.
Richard Barnet Yes, well he--his whole entry into power was based on a string of newspapers and he actually had his own newspaper that he ran out of the White House. His kitchen cabinet was made up mostly of newspaper mat. The big war in his administration is not usually thought of as one of our wars. It was the removal, wholesale removal of the Indians.
Richard Barnet The Trail of Tears. And because of the convention of thinking foreign policy is something out of the continental limits, we forget about the Indian wars and the treatment of the Indians. I got interested in this because here I wondered why it was. I think this is the darkest single chapter in our history. I don't know of anything worse, simply to pick up people who were living peacefully and very successfully as farmers in Georgia doing exactly what Washington, Adams, Jefferson wanted them to do. Be--
Richard Barnet Be yeoman farmers. To pick them up at gunpoint and march them to the other side of the Mississippi, about a quarter of them died. Why did public opinion support this? Here was the time of the beginning of the abolitionist movement. And so I was interested in how he did it. It's a story of complicity of people who once were the friends of the Indians for political purposes lending themselves to a propaganda campaign. The man who was the head of the Indian bureau, known as the best friend of the Indians, was--when Jackson came in, he decided that he had to make peace with Jackson and basically spearheaded the campaign to convince the country that this was the right thing to do and the necessary thing to do. And he did it by organizing the churches. The churches were--that's the churches particularly in New England, were the center of opposition to--on moral grounds and humanitarian grounds. And they developed a rival organization, an organization for the uplifting of the Aborigines. And it was supported in government contracts. They used the money from the Indian Bureau, which was supposed to be for educating the Indians, to subsidize propaganda for their removal.
Studs Terkel It's funny he, Jackson, the great populist, you know, doing what he did, being honored for it too, you see, except not among young Indians today. You ought to hear them on the subject of Andrew Jackson.
Studs Terkel No. And it's interesting that even though some who may have been abolitionists who wanted slavery ended went along for the ride, and the ride being a good deal of land, of course naturally.
Richard Barnet Oh, absolutely. That was a clear case of manipulation because public opinion was originally for it. Jackson had been elected with the substantial support of church people, particularly in those states where there was strong opposition to this crime against the Indians. But what they did, of course, was to make the argument that this was doing the Indians a favor, that--
Richard Barnet Right.
Richard Barnet Exactly. I mean, the particular irony of this one is that these particular Indians were the most assimilated. They had their newspaper, a lot of them were Christians. They were good farmers and it didn't make any difference. So it was-- that whole business was a lie. They wanted the land.
Studs Terkel Which leads to another war that's very fascinating and crazy. The Mexican War, we'll come to, that's the next lap we come to with Richard Barnet. Richard J. Barnet is my guest, who is one of the directors of the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington. One of the very few, very few liberal think tanks in the country. "The Rockets' Red Glare" is the title of the book and the subtitle "When America Goes to War, the Presidents and the People", and Simon and Schuster the publishers. [pause in recording] So far we've gone 1812, the thoughts of 1800s people arguing. The Mexican War, Polk is president. Now, again a piece of land, several pieces of land are involved here.
Richard Barnet Well, the presidents as far back as John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson had had had their eye on both Mexico--I'm sorry, both Texas and California. And Polk was elected very much with rhetoric, very much like that of John Kennedy in 1960. That is, he was the youngest man to run. He was called--and his movement was called "Young America" and it was expansionists. And this was the time of Manifest Destiny, that the United States had the destiny to expand, not only East, West across the continent, but North, South, Canada, Mexico. Who knows how far? And he believed that he had a mandate to expand somewhere or other. He set up to provoke a war with Mexico. I don't think there's any doubt that when he sent Zachary Taylor with a contingent of troops to territory that was disputed in Texas he anticipated that he would be fired on and he was already preparing his war message, which was alleging that American blood had been shed on American soil and calling for war. Now, Abraham Lincoln was a freshman Congressman and he was outraged and appalled and Daniel Webster said he
Richard Barnet But he voted for the appropriations. And everybody virtually did. And, you know, it's only in our history very rare people like Senator Morse and Senator Gruening and the Vietnam War people who not only criticize, but sought to exercise the power of Congress over the purse as a restraint on the president. It's terribly difficult to do that when American troops are under fire.
Richard Barnet Well, then as the war went on, as it usually happens, people became disenchanted and opposition grew. I mean, it's ironical that as with each victory, here we're American forces sitting in Mexico City waiting for the Mexicans to surrender. And we were getting all this land. I mean, Polk's main purpose was not Texas so much as California. He had his eye on the San Francisco harbor, and even though all this fell to the Union, this all was conquest. People began to get increasingly impatient and--because it was linked up with slavery. They were afraid that this new territory would throw greater weight to the South and to the slave states. And Ulysses Grant and I think a lot of historians today would accept the view that this Mexican War ending in victory led very quickly to the dissolution of the Union and the Civil War.
Studs Terkel It's funny how one thing leads to another. Now, public opinion, we come to this. Throughout your book, there is this turbulent attribute of, I say, public opinion that should be more turbulent today than it is, quite frankly [laughing]. It was turbulent once, and there--so that's starting to make itself manifest as the Mexican War goes on.
Richard Barnet That's right. And as the casualties mounted and as the moral issue raised by people like Emerson said "Mexico will poison us". It will poison us. We will swallow it, but it will poison us.
Studs Terkel So it led, in one way or another, to the Civil War. And now we come to the big manipulation, I should say the most obvious one, that's of course the Spanish- American War. Now we come to a panic, an economic panic in the country, '93, Bryan, William Jennings Bryan, Populist "Boy Orator of the Platte" gaining among people, a Populist candidate and the Republicans, as today, the flag, waving the flag. They're stopping--trying to stop Bryan, and now Teddy Roosevelt. I think--is he VP at the time? Teddy is there, and the [kid macho, kid machismo?].
Richard Barnet Yes, it was a time, of course, when the European countries were in a mad race for colonies. In the 80s, they met and carved up Africa. Roosevelt and and [Lage?] and the imperialists believed that the United States should get into that game. And that it would do two things. First, it would prevent the European powers from gobbling up all the colonies and possibly excluding us from the markets and the raw materials. And then also, it would be a great national enterprise to take people's minds off the fact that the divisions in the country between the classes were growing. That is, the small farmers were getting thrown out off the land. Workers were in the most intolerable conditions, and this was the robber baron era where people were getting very rich, a few were getting very rich, and the middle class was beginning to disappear. And so you had a People's Party, you had a really progressive party that was a Populist Party that was going to challenge Wall Street and the banks. And one way to deflect that was to use the unifying theme of foreign policy, foreign wars, foreign adventure. And we can get everybody together irrespective of whether you are a worker making a dollar a day or a millionaire. We're all Americans. Politics stops at the water's edge. We've heard all that more recently. And that meant that--so it was a war that was supposed to unify the country and solidify the rule of the Republican Party. The Republican Party traditionally had been anti-imperialist, that is, in fact, the country had been anti-imperialist. Presidents had tried to pick up real estate. Grant tried to get the Dominican Republic in the 60s. But people didn't want that because they said that was against the American tradition. That's what England does. And also the Republican Party was against slavery, didn't want to enslave colored people, Black people, but they didn't want to acquire more of them either. So there was a kind of--also a racist tinge to the anti-imperialist movement, but it was powerful.
Richard Barnet Absolutely.
Richard Barnet On that. Yes. I mean, they built it up. I don't think they got us into the war, although they tried. But the fascinating thing about the Spanish-American War is that it starts as a little war in the Caribbean and ends up as a really terrible prolonged war in the Philippines, something that nobody bargained for.
Richard Barnet The very same kind of war except that it was on a bigger scale. And for the first time, the mass media began to carry reports of atrocities in which American forces were involved. And McKinley tried to censor and block this information, but it came out. And some of the leading people in the country, William James and others. Again, a few citizens began to call attention to this violation of law and our own best traditions.
Studs Terkel But the funny thing is it is a whimsical touch, not too funny, is that the myth-- three myths as they're probably known. Teddy Roosevelt, you know, riding up San Juan Hill hollering "charge" when you have a lot of buffalo soldiers, those were the Black soldiers called "buffalo soldiers". We had to lift his fat little ass on that horse and it was an effort lifting his fat little ass [laughing] on that horse. And there he goes, he pretty much does, with a little pot belly hollering "charge".
Studs Terkel And so there's war and we have to just--certainly there's World War I and World War II and Korea and Vietnam of which we know a great deal. But there is more to know. There is more to know if we are not to repeat the thing again and again. The book is a cautionary tale. It's a very exciting one then it's a hopeful one because you speak of public opinion. Few, a few people relatively, can start a bonfire of sorts. "The Rockets' Red Glare" is the book of my guest, Richard J. Barnet. "When America Goes to War" the subtitle, the presidents using power and the people to some extent, not fully using power. [pause in recording] We've touched the various wars lightly, and how public opinion manipulated, used, and yet makes itself out. And so, World War I, World War
Richard Barnet Well, that was a war in which people did not see what the interest of the United States was in getting in it. And Wilson himself was very ambivalent about it, thought quite correctly that to go into such a war would transform the country. It would brutalize the country, he thought, and it would change a lot of our democratic institutions. But he was--and as late as a few weeks before, he asked for a declaration of war. He saw the German ambassador and he wrote in his diary "I don't understand what the British are fighting about". He was not at all clear what he wanted to do. But the thing I think that convinced him was, of course, the Germans stepped up their submarine warfare. But he came to believe that he could be the deciding voice, the great moral arbiter as he put it, for the peace. And that if we would go in, we would go in, it would be short, the war would be over. And then the United States would sit at the peace table and could sell to the wicked countries of Europe a truly virtuous plan for world peace. Of course, the League of Nations was beginning to be developed in his mind, and he was a man, now it seems, who was really over his head. He went to Europe after the war to make the peace. He had written the 14 points. Walter Lippmann helped him write it, and at the peace treaty--at the Peace Conference Colonel House, his closest associate, came up to Lippmann and said, "You wrote those. Now tell us what they mean. We've got till tomorrow morning to figure out" And Wilson found himself in the midst of a maelstrom of European politics. There were every conceivable sort of interest deal that had to go into this Versailles Treaty.
Studs Terkel And thinking also of public opinion, Wilson not as bad a man in this respect as Acheson in contempt for public opinion. Wilson had ideas of his own. We know there was a strong isolationist sentiment at the beginning.
Richard Barnet Right.
Studs Terkel "I Didn't Raise My Boy to be a Soldier", one of the most popular songs. Then of course, George M. Cohan [unintelligible] "Over There", how public opinion was altered again by the press and
Richard Barnet Well, of course, in the First World War, we had our first official propaganda agency, the Committee on Public Information. Creel and he had Booth Tarkington and all kinds of writers writing propaganda to convince the American people that they should be in this war because otherwise the Kaiser would come to New Jersey and get us. And that overselling of the public really backfired in the 20s and really reinforced isolationism, reinforced the view of cynicism among the American people that government
Studs Terkel By the way, just as you say that, you are showing how at the end of each war, you're picking one that turns out to be unpopular. The ones who are criticizing it now became the victims of something, of a kind of a hunt that followed, just as following earlier days there were people who took a beating. The end of World War I came the Palmer Raids, the witch hunt.
Richard Barnet Right.
Richard Barnet Right.
Richard Barnet Absolutely. Well, that was probably the clearest--the propaganda, public education is the word that they like to use, a campaign on the most massive scale because just as I think propaganda had presented an unreasonably rosy picture of Soviet Union during the war as an ally. Stalin was Uncle Joe, "Mission to Moscow" movies that showed a really unreal ally [pages turning], which we thought they had to do because this was the Democratic Alliance. Russia had to be democratic. By the time the war ended, public opinion had been convinced. Most people thought that we were going to have cooperation, very friendly relations with Russia, more so than Britain. And the--public opinion really opposed practically every principle that Acheson and company were putting together as the basis of the postwar world. And so Truman became convinced by people like Senator Vandenberg, who said "you've got to scare the hell out of the American people to get them to put money into the Marshall Plan, to rearm, and to send troops abroad". And so the Russians, the Soviet Union, was presented as the reincarnation of Hitler, whereas inside they were very anti-Soviet, of course, but they had a completely different analysis. I mean, it was a much more subtle analysis than the way they presented it. I
Richard Barnet Yes.
Richard Barnet Well, he was the architect of it to a great extent. He was the one who developed the memorandum that Truman--for the Truman 1948 campaign, which was very clear that you move to the left on domestic policy and try to pick up the New Deal. But you move against Henry Wallace and present yourself as a cold warrior.
Richard Barnet [Unintelligible] yes, and that was, I think, a watershed in which the president arrogated to himself powers that were inconceivable in the minds of the founders of the country. And there was virtually no opposition at the time. Senator Taft and a few other people raised questions. But basically it wasn't until the war went badly that people began to--
Studs Terkel As you say that, you know we're just touching on the book of Richard Barnet, "The Rockets' Red Glare", America's foreign policy. And the president and the public opinion, you said there was hardly any opposition, we come to this moment. We know that Adlai Stevenson very often post-World War II, post-Korea, Cuba, the enlightened man Stevenson, was defending him and saying there would be no attack, Bay of Pigs, of course not. He was funny and witty and brilliant at the United Nations, humiliating the Cuban emissaries, said we're going to be attacked. And the next day, the custard pie flies right in his puss.
Richard Barnet Right.
Studs Terkel And Adlai, he was the clown, the Mack Sennett comedy. He wipes the custard pie off his face instead of indignantly saying "I resign", being loyal opposition says, "I go along" and he smiles that weak sister smile. And so we have [unintelligible] in the country today, don't we?
Richard Barnet It's misguided patriotism. You think that you have to play the game, be a good soldier. And that's exactly the image, being part of a military organization in which you salute the Commander in Chief whatever he does. But that's exactly the opposite of what a democracy is.
Studs Terkel So we go way back now to the beginning. We had all those arguments in those taverns, in the streets, and in the town meetings. Wait a minute, President or not, Congress or not? Let's talk about it. And so that's the [switch?]. Now, do you see something happening now?
Richard Barnet I hope so. I could, because this is a moment unique in our history where I think we have more possibilities for peace and for rebuilding our country, for going after the neglected domestic society or economy that we've ignored for so many years because of the military expenditures. I think the moment is open for that and that we're going to have to do it. And if we don't do it, I think this country is going to be headed for very, very dark times. I don't see it happening yet. I'm just amazed that we're at a moment where everything is open. There
Richard Barnet Yeah, our number one enemy, our number two enemy is no more. And we do not have coming from the opposition. I can understand maybe why the president of office takes a cautious position. I can't understand why people aren't coming forward articulating new vision. What is this country going to make? What is our relationship? Here we are, we're heading down towards a very serious confrontation with Japan over trade. But the basic issue is that we have let our industry go. We're not in a position. Why is it that American cars and air conditioners have twice the defects of Japanese? Why don't we have an education system in which our people can work and compete? Why don't we have--why do we have slums and homeless in our country that no other industrial country has? And where is the plan? And we have a four and a half trillion, five trillion dollar economy. Why are there not people in political life who are coming forward with plans, ideas, and passion and conviction that will lead the country to a different vision and a different future?
Studs Terkel This is the challenge, in a sense, put forth by your book. Richard J. Barnet is my guest. And "The Rockets' Red Glare" is the book, Simon and Schuster the publishers, and it's a beauty. And I thank you very much.