Monday, February 21, 2011

Happy Birthday, Mr. President

It's Presidents' Day.  Hip, Hip, whatever.

A good question is why, exactly, do we celebrate presidential birthdays?  An honest review of the past dozen or so Presidents would teach us that very few merit anything other than jail time for the crimes they committed while in office.

Here's a quick test:  How many of our US Presidents in the past 70 years never committed a war crime?  This is not a trick question.  During World War II America fire-bombed civilian populations (Roosevelt); dropped atomic bombs on civilians (Truman); bombed anything that moved in Korea (mostly during Truman's administration, but Eisenhower was also Supreme Commander in Europe during WWII); dropped "regular" bombs in Southeast Asia along with cluster bombs, napalm and Agent Orange -- including dropping more explosive tonnage on neutral Laos than was dropped on Nazi Germany during WWII (Johnson, Nixon); and thousands of civilians in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan have been killed by a decade of American air strikes and ground warfare, to say nothing of the illegal kidnappings and torture of civilians (GWBush, Obama).

Those are just the obvious highlights.  Kennedy covertly ordered the illegal invasion of Cuba.  Reagan illegally sold weapons to our sworn enemies in Iran and used the money to support his proxy army slaughtering civilians in Nicaragua.  Reagan also helped Iraq's Saddam Hussein develop and use chemical weapons (aka, "weapons of mass destruction") to kill at least 50,000 Iranian troops during the war that Iraq had started.  Reagan continued his support for Hussein even after it was revealed Iraq had used these chemical weapons against its own Kurdish citizens.  George HW Bush was comparatively careful during the first Gulf War, as was Clinton during the NATO air war in the Balkans.  I didn't say they were worthy of a national holiday, let alone acted like angels while in office.  It's just that the bar is set so low for American presidents that merely acknowledging the existence of the Geneva Conventions puts you near the top.

So by all means, let's enjoy the day off.  But try not to think about who, exactly, our Presidents have been and what, exactly, they have done with the trust and power placed in their hands.  Because nobody likes a party-pooper.

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