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Presidents Day, In War Crimes Court
January 20, 2011
by William P. Meyers

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In my theory of democracy, Presidents of the United States are executive officers. Congress writes the law; Presidents are not supposed to be policy makers.

In looking at history, however, it is easier to remember the relatively limited number of Presidents of the United States of America than to remember all the Speakers of the House, Senate Majority leaders and committee chairs, much less the other members of congress. In reality, too, Presidents have been makers of policy.

When I remember the Presidents of the United States, what I mostly recall is that almost every one of them started at least one war against another nation. I include Native American Indian nations among the nations.

The pattern of the Indian wars became the pattern for later wars. Every war had its pretext, but in every case the U.S. was in the wrong. Indians nations engaged in self-defense against the depredations of white settlers. That self-defense was labeled aggression, and used in every case for the United States to expand at the expense of the Indian nation or nations involved.

We have a modern term for this, which is war crimes. It is a war crime to start a war of aggression. There are other war crimes besides, likely engaging in war where civilians are in harms way, killing soldiers who surrender, etc. Legalistic minds would argue that early American Presidents did not commit war crimes because they had not been established in the 1700s or 1800s. That is a deceptive argument, since both religious and secular reasoning about the criminal nature of aggressive war goes back at least as far as the ancient Greeks.

Codifying war crimes at the beginning of the 20th century did not stop U.S. Presidents from committing them. Wars of aggression continued to be characterized as wars of defense. For the smaller wars, the U.S. could always find some South American or Asian puppet to pretend to be a national government and then have that puppet invite in U.S. troops.

Most Americans don't know about most of the small wars the U.S. engaged in. Despite reading extensively about them, I can't remember details of most the the wars to steal real estate from native Americans. U.S. invasions of nations in the Western Hemisphere have happened so often that, again, it is difficult for me to connect individual wars to individual Presidents. I keep meaning to make a cheat sheet.

Americans usually know enough history to recall a few big wars: the Revolution, the War of 1812, the Mexican War (actually, there were several), the Civil War, the Spanish American War, World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq I and II, Afghanistan. These big wars are all blamed on the other party, even though it takes minimal research to find that the U.S. either started them, if they were bilateral, or joined in without good cause, if they were general wars.

I would suggest we rename Presidents Day. Let us call it Apology Day. Let us apologize to the remnants of the native american nations. Let us apologize to the Canadians (the War of 1812 was actually declared explicitly to conquer Canada), the Mexicans, Spanish, the Latin American nations, the Hawaiians, the Philippines, the Chinese, Japanese, Koreans, Laotians, Cambodians, Vietnamese, Palestinians, Iraqis, and Afghans.

Before setting up Apology Day, we should also stop our current war and reduce the U.S. to a peaceable military posture. We should turn our current crop of war criminals over to fair and impartial international tribunals to be condemned and hung until dead.

With Apology in place, I think I could start to emphasize some of the good things U.S. Presidents have done. George Washington established that Presidents in a democracy should only serve two terms. Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves. Grover Cleveland refused to annex Hawaii. The nation did indeed prosper under Harding and Coolidge. Lyndon Johnson did put his prestige on the line to give all Americans full civil rights. Richard Nixon did create the Environmental Protection Agency and recognized the legitimate government of China.

But not yet. First we need to know our true past, admit it was immoral, and change our institutions so that the people of the United States can stay on the moral high road, the road of peace, in the future.

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