I’m currently a Presidential Leadership Scholar.
Over the past two days, I’ve had the opportunity to hear Robert Gates speak, as well as many thoughtful presidential researchers. All of this has taken place at Mount Vernon, and there has been a focus on George Washington’s presidency.
It’s been quite stimulating, as well as useful to step out of the education bubble.
See below for some reflections on American warfare, of which I’m not an expert.
Also, none of the below should be mistaken as opinions of any of the speakers of the program.
1. George Washington relinquished twice. First, when he gave up being the head of the army after the revolutionary war. Second, when he stepped down after serving his second term as president. At either point, he had the opportunity to make a run for King of the United States of America, but he did not. This is a great contribution to our nation, and perhaps to future education leaders, especially future superintendents.
2. Robert Gates did not call on me during Q&A, but this would have been my question: from LBJ onward, what wars did we fight that we should not have fought; and, were there any wars we should have fought that we did not? My personal answer would have been numerous on the former (Vietnam; our excursions in South America; Iraq; to name a few, and I could go on) and zero on the latter. Rwanda would be the only situation to make me think twice about a war we should have entered but did not. Even there, it’s hard for me to predict what our intervention would have accomplished.
3. Some of my biggest questions around warfare have to do with counterfactual scenarios of just wars. Clearly, in both the Civil War and World War II, the victorious side was also in the moral right. However, this does not mean that war was justified on utilitarian grounds. Perhaps sustained political efforts would have ended slavery in the next few decades without a civil war. Perhaps Hitler’s land grab could have been slowly unwound over time without armed resistance. I don’t know. But I think these scenarios need to be grappled with deeply; and, in the lay media at least, I don’t think they are given enough serious consideration.
4. Here would be my advice to future presidents: when in doubt, don’t go to war; when confident, don’t go to war; when certain, consider the fact that many president have erroneously been certain before.
5. People whose stock is rising on my brilliant strategist list: Martin Luther King Jr., Gandhi, and the Dalai Lama.
Again, none of this reflects the opinions of those who run or participate in the program.
These are simply my reflections on a few days worth of programming.