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Posts Tagged ‘George Washington’

El asalto al Capitolio por partidarios del Presidente Trump el 6 de enero de 2021 ha provocado infinidad de comentarios. Muchos lo han visto como un evento excepcional que no retrata ni refleja a los Estados Unidos.  Nada más alejado de la realidad.  En este artículo publicado por el diario La vanguardia, el escritor Francisco Martínez Hoyos  examina casos previos de violencia política y de intentonas golpistas.

Captura de pantalla 2021-01-14 a la(s) 16.36.23

De Newburgh a los Proud Boys: el golpismo antes de Trump

FRANCISCO MARTÍNEZ HOYOS

El mundo entero presenció los hechos con más o menos incredulidad. En Estados Unidos, la democracia más antigua de cuantas existen en el planeta, una horda de partidarios del presidente Trump irrumpía en el Capitolio mientras el Congreso ratificaba la victoria electoral de Joe Biden. Tras los incidentes planea la inquietante sombra del golpismo. Por sorprendente que parezca al tratarse de una república como la norteamericana, con una arraigada tradición de libertades, no es la primera vez que se lanza allí una amenaza contra el poder emanado del pueblo.

Cuando se produjo el primer peligro para la república, la conspiración de Newburgh, aún no había terminado la guerra de Independencia contra los británicos. En marzo de 1783, las tropas del ejército patriota estaban descontentas porque llevaban meses sin cobrar y no habían recibido de las pensiones vitalicias prometidas, que consistían en la mitad de la paga. Se difundió entonces una carta anónima que proponía resolver el problema con un acto contra el Congreso que no llegaba especificarse.

Ante la gravedad, el general Washington intervino de inmediato. En un emotivo discurso, emplazó a sus oficiales a mantenerse fieles al poder legislativo. Todo quedó en un susto cuando el Congreso satisfizo algunos atrasos a los soldados y les ofreció, en lugar de la proyectada pensión, cinco años de paga completa.

La estabilidad política norteamericana volvió a verse amenazada a principios del siglo XIX. Esta vez, el responsable fue un antiguo héroe de la guerra de la Independencia, Aaron Burr, protagonista de una carrera política tan polémica como turbulenta. Tras ocupar la vicepresidencia en el gabinete de Thomas Jefferson, entre 1801 y 1805, intervino en un plan para crear un nuevo estado con territorios mexicanos que serían arrebatos a España. Tal vez, esta hipotética nación también estaría integrada por territorios del Oeste de Estados Unidos, que se desgajarían de la Unión.

Retrato de Aaron Burr, por John Vanderlyn

Retrato de Aaron Burr, por John Vanderlyn.  Dominio público

¿Intentó, además, derrocar por la violencia al gobierno de Washington? Él aseguró que no, pero todo el asunto era lo bastante turbio como para que nada se pudiera dar por seguro. Uno de sus amigos y cómplices, el general James Wilkinson, que resultó ser un espía al servicio de los españoles, acabó por denunciar sus actividades. Burr sería juzgado por traición, aunque declarado inocente. Desde entonces, su controvertida figura ha suscitado un amplio debate.

A nivel estatal

No todo el golpismo se encaminaba a un cambio de poder en el conjunto del país. También se dieron intentonas en algunos los estados de la Unión, como Arkansas. Fue allí donde Joseph Brooks perdió las elecciones para gobernador en 1872. Al estar convencido de que su derrota no había sido justa, dos años después decidió alzarse en armas contra su antiguo rival, el también republicano Elisha Baxter. Contaba con el apoyo de una milicia de más de 600 hombres frente los 2.000 que respaldaban a Baxter.

La pugna violenta entre los dos líderes obligó al ejército federal a interponerse entre sus respectivos partidarios. Brooks acabó destituido, pero el presidente Grant le concedió un cargo en la administración de Correos de Little Rock.

Fue también en 1874 cuando la Liga Blanca, una organización paramilitar de antiguos confederados, se rebeló contra el gobierno de Luisiana en nombre del supremacismo blanco. Para sus partidarios, dar más oportunidades a la población negra significaba ejercer una tiranía. Ante los disturbios, las tropas federales tuvieron que intervenir y obligar a los rebeldes a retirarse.

Contra Roosevelt

Casi sesenta años después, en 1933, tuvo lugar un oscuro episodio, el Business Plot. Un prestigioso general retirado, Smedley Butler, afirmó que un grupo de capitalistas y banqueros le había tanteado para que encabezara un golpe de Estado fascista contra Roosevelt.

En aquellos momentos, en plena Gran Depresión, las gentes adineradas veían con suspicacia al presidente. Su política reformista, basada en la intervención del poder público sobre la economía, le había convertido en sospechoso de socialismo o comunismo. Lo cierto es que Roosevelt se proponía solucionar los problemas del capitalismo para que el sistema funcionara otra vez.

Smedley Butler con uniforme en una imagen sin datar

Smedley Butler con uniforme en una imagen sin datar
 Dominio público

Se suponía que Butler debía derrocar al gobierno al frente de una organización de veteranos de la Primera Guerra Mundial. En esos momentos, el descontento cundía entre los antiguos soldados. Un año antes, un movimiento de protesta había reclamado en Washington el pago de los bonos prometidos por el Congreso. El general MacArthur, futuro héroe en la lucha contra los japoneses, reprimió sin contemplaciones a los manifestantes.

Según Butler, los conjurados buscaban a un hombre fuerte al servicio de Wall Street. Partidario convencido de la democracia, el antiguo militar se negó en redondo a proporcionarles cualquier tipo de apoyo. Sin embargo, las personas a las que implicó negaron su intervención y finalmente no pasó nada. La prensa restó importancia al asunto, como si todo hubiera sido una fantasía.

En 1958, el historiador Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. señaló que pudo existir un plan sobre el papel sin que se diera ningún intento de llevarlo a cabo. Otros autores han concedido mayor relevancia a la conspiración. En 2007, Scott Horton, abogado conocido por su labor a favor de los derechos humanos, afirmó que entre los cómplices del Business Plot se hallaba Prescott Bush. Este banquero fue el padre del presidente George H. W. Bush y el abuelo de George W. Bush. Su implicación, a día de hoy, es un tema controvertido.

La intentona fracasó, pero fue más seria de lo que muchos quisieron admitir. Para cuestionarla se argumentó que era inverosímil que un grupo de extremistas de derechas se pusiera en contacto con un hombre como Butler, de conocido antifascismo. Pero para Roberto Muñoz Bolaños precisamente su fama de progresista lo convertía en una figura interesante para los artífices del plan. Se trataba, según este historiador, de “crear una situación de inestabilidad, que permitiera un cambio político radical y un giro autoritario en el sistema político”.

Nikita Kruschev y John Kennedy en un encuentro de 1961.

Nikita Kruschev y John Kennedy en un encuentro de 1961.

La mayoría de militares estadounidenses se han distinguido por su obediencia a las autoridades civiles, pero eso no significa que estén desprovistos de influencia. En 1961, al abandonar la presidencia, Eisenhower hizo un conocido discurso en el que advirtió a sus compatriotas contra los peligros del “complejo militar-industrial”, una alianza entre los mandos del Ejército y los fabricantes de armas. Unos y otros habían alcanzado el suficiente poder como para inmiscuirse en las decisiones de los políticos elegidos por el pueblo.

Este peligro se hizo patente durante la crisis de los misiles, en la que Estados Unidos y la Unión Soviética estuvieron al borde de una guerra nuclear. Miembros de la cúpula militar presionaron para que el presidente Kennedy respondiera a Moscú con la máxima contundencia por la instalación en Cuba de armamento atómico. Si eso significaba el uso del arsenal nuclear, que así fuera.

En el momento de mayor tensión, Kennedy avisó a Jruschov, el mandatario ruso, de que el Pentágono podía patrocinar un golpe en su contra si no se encontraba una salida a la pugna entre ambos países.

Donald Trump ha alentado actitudes golpistas al anunciar que no estaba dispuesto a acatar el resultado de las elecciones de noviembre. Poca duda hay de que su política populista ha ahondado en Estados Unidos una fractura social con incalculables consecuencias. ¿Qué salida cabe? El asalto al Congreso nos hace recordar una conocida cita de Jefferson, acerca de los deberes de todos los demócratas: “El precio de la libertad es la eterna vigilancia”.

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 The Surprising Evidence hat Woodrow Wilson Was Suffering from a Brain Malfunction Before the Stroke that Crippled Him

Richard Striner

HNN   June 15, 2014

This is part three of a three-part series distilling the thesis of Richard Striner’s new book, Woodrow Wilson and World War One: A Burden Too Great to Bear, published by Rowman & Littlefield in April 2014. (Click here for Part 1 and here for Part 2.) Mr. Striner is a professor of history at Washington College. His other books include Father Abraham: Lincoln’s Relentless Struggle to End Slavery and Lincoln’s Way: How Six Great Presidents Created American Power.   – See more at: http://hnn.us/article/155787#sthash.W5bIvaw3.dpuf

 

Almost everyone who knows anything about Woodrow Wilson agrees he was a tragic figure. But the admirers and detractors of Wilson have differed sharply down the years as to whether Wilson’s tragedy was essentially his own fault. One critical fact about the tragedy was obviously not his fault: the stroke that he suffered on October 2, 1919. And due to the underlying condition of arteriosclerosis (diagnosed as early as 1906), distinguished medical observers have theorized that Wilson suffered from a progressive cerebro-vascular deterioration resulting in episodic dementia as early as 1917.

As one studies the historical record in detail — a record set forth in magnificent abundance by the editorial team led by the late Arthur S. Link that produced the 69-volume Papers of Woodrow Wilson — there is much to support the belief that he was hampered by his medical condition.

Wilson’s judgment seemed grossly impaired by the war years. He was extraordinarily petulant and irrational by 1918, and contemporaneous observers who were in a position to know commented often on his strange and quirky ways.

In 1919, Wilson’s pre-existing medical and mental conditions arguably led to a breakdown months before his paralytic stroke, which occurred on October 2. The nature of this breakdown could be seen as early as February, in a series of words and actions that prefigured his behavior of November and December, at which point he was clearly out of his mind.

When Wilson sailed to Europe aboard the USS George Washington, he had — typically — no substantive strategy for preventing the kind of vindictive peace that he had warned against in his 1917 “Peace Without Victory” speech. One of the advisers recruited for the U.S. peace delegation, Yale historian Charles Seymour, recalled that Wilson turned to him during the voyage and asked, “What means, Mr. Seymour, can be utilized to bring pressure upon these people in the interest of justice?” It was very late indeed for Wilson to be thinking in these terms, especially after the many missed opportunities in 1917 and 1918 to build the political pre-conditions for “peace without victory.”

John Maynard Keynes, at that time serving as an adviser to David Lloyd George, argued in his best-selling book The Economic Consequences of the Peace that Wilson could have come to Europe with a formidable basis for pressuring the allies. Keynes wrote that “Europe was in complete dependence on the food supplies of the United States; and financially she was even more absolutely at their mercy. Europe not only already owed the United States more than she could pay; but only a large measure of further assistance could save her from starvation and bankruptcy.” Referring to Wilson, Keynes wrote that “never had a philosopher held such weapons wherewith to bind the princes of this world.”

If Wilson had explored the possibility of offering a debt moratorium to the allies, the reparations that the British and the French would inflict upon the Germans might have been far less severe. But Wilson never seriously considered that option in 1918 or 1919, as the historical record demonstrates.

The negotiations over reparations and territorial settlements were grueling, but Wilson consoled himself with the fact that the League of Nations won general approval at the Paris Peace Conference in January, though the task of hammering out the details of its overall plan and structure was difficult. Wilson returned briefly to the United States in late February to sign legislation that the lame-duck Congress had passed in its final session. Here was an opportunity to test and adjust the domestic politics regarding both the League and the overall treaty.

Wilson’s behavior in February and early March shows clearly that a mental breakdown was beginning. Some of his behavior, to be sure, was quintessentially Wilsonian: his proclamations, for instance, that pure idealism had won the war and that power politics had nothing to do with the outcome were symptomatic of the escapism that was intermittently a factor in his thinking. In Boston, he delivered the following incantation: “In the name of the people of the United States I have uttered as the objects of this great war ideals, and nothing but ideals, and the war has been won by that inspiration.” He had engaged in this sort of hyperbole many times and it had rendered him largely incapable of strategic thinking since the war began. But some other episodes during this visit showed a new and shocking deterioration.

At the suggestion of Col. House, he sponsored a dinner at the White House to explain the preliminary terms of the League covenant to select members of Congress. The results of this meeting showed clearly that the League was in trouble on Capitol Hill. Several worried Democrats suggested that Republican feedback should supply the basis for revisions that Wilson could bring with him when he returned to Paris. But Wilson refused to consider this.

Two days later, Henry Cabot Lodge made a powerful and persuasive speech on the floor of the Senate denouncing the preliminary structure of the League. Wilson’s response was appallingly simple: he threw a public temper tantrum. In remarks at a meeting of the Democratic National Committee, he proclaimed that all who opposed the preliminary plans for the League were imbeciles. Listen to him: “Of all the blind and little provincial people, they are the littlest and most contemptible . . . . They have not even got good working imitations of minds. They remind me of a man with a head that is not a head but is just a knot providentially put there to keep him from raveling out . . . . They are going to have the most conspicuously contemptible names in history. The gibbets that they are going to be erected on by future historians will scrape the heavens, they will be so high.”

Just before Wilson returned to Paris, Lodge circulated in the Senate a document in which the signatories declared that they would under no circumstances vote for the League in its existing form. Lodge obtained more than enough signatures to show Wilson he was beaten unless he made revisions to the League.

Wilson did so when he returned to Paris, and these new deliberations were as grueling as the earlier ones had been. But Wilson refused to have any contact with Lodge and his supporters, which meant that all of his work was a waste of time, for Lodge was engaging in a simple game of payback, an exercise for the fun of it to make Wilson humble himself and give Republicans a “piece of the action.” Surely at some level Wilson sensed what was going on, but his vanity, his stubbornness, and his indignation were becoming more severe.

Wilson’s signature in 1913

 

 

His health began to give way in recurrent bouts of illness. But something drastic seemed to happen to him on April 28 — something that did not come to light until many years later, when historian Arthur S. Link was editing the Wilson documents from 1919. Let Link and his editorial colleagues tell the story: “It became obvious to us while going through the documents from late April to about mid-May 1919 that Wilson was undergoing some kind of a crisis in his health . . . . Whatever happened to Wilson seems to have occurred when he was signing letters in the morning of April 28” when his handwriting changed and became almost bizarre.

Wilson’s signature in spring 1919

 

The editors continue: “Wilson’s handwriting continued to deteriorate even further. It grew increasingly awkward, was more and more heavily inked, and became almost grotesque.” Link summoned some medical specialists who told him that in their own opinion there was simply no doubt about it: Wilson had suffered a stroke on the morning of April 28.

And then he threw away yet another opportunity to strike a blow for “peace without victory.” When the terms of the Versailles treaty were made public there was widespread outrage regarding their severity. David Lloyd George, the British prime minister, was stricken, and he called the British delegation together on June 1. Their decision was unanimous: the terms of the treaty should be softened.

But when Wilson was approached, he declared that the severe terms were perfectly appropriate. According to one account, he proclaimed that “if the Germans won’t sign the treaty as we have written it, then we must renew the war.”

When he returned to the United States, his mental decline proceeded rapidly. He seemed to be more and more convinced that a religious drama was being enacted, a drama that he could understand more than others. When he presented the treaty to the Senate on July 10, he declared that “the stage is set, the destiny disclosed. It has come about by no plan of our conceiving, but by the hand of God who led us into this way. We cannot turn back. We can only go forward, with lifted eyes and freshened spirit, to follow the vision.” A Democrat, Senator Henry Fountain Ashurst, reacted to the speech as follows: “Wilson’s speech was as if the head of a great Corporation, after committing his company to enormous undertakings, when called upon to render a statement as to the meanings and extent of the obligations he had incurred, should arise before the Board of Directors and tonefully read Longfellow’s Psalm of Life.” Republican responses to the speech were even less charitable.

In August Wilson came to his senses and began to engage in discussions with congressional opponents, including some Republicans known as “mild reservationists” who supported the treaty but insisted on some clarifications to the League covenant, especially in regard to the issue of military force. But on August 11, his mood changed abruptly, and he made his fateful decision to appeal to the American people on a speaking tour that would take him to the West Coast and back.

Before he left, however, he made a significant (if private) concession: he gave his preliminary assent to some secret text for a possible “reservation” to the League covenant that was drafted by Democratic Senator Gilbert Hitchcock.

The speaking tour broke his health permanently, and after falling ill in Pueblo, Colorado, he returned to Washington, where the paralytic stroke occurred on October 2. After a medical team diagnosed the stroke, Wilson’s wife made the very bad decision to conceal the diagnosis from the public. Wilson could and should have been relieved of his presidential duties. As an invalid who had suffered a severe brain injury, he became more irrational and petulant than ever before.

The preliminary showdown in Congress over the Versailles treaty and its League covenant happened in November. Lodge had drafted a series of reservations, the most important of which concerned Article 10, which pertained to collective security and the use of military force under League auspices. Lodge’s text was negative and grudging: it declared that the United States would never participate in collective security actions as recommended by the League unless Congress approved through its constitutional prerogative to declare war. As Arthur Link noted years ago, the Lodge reservation was essentially the same as the Hitchcock reservation that Wilson had secretly approved, though the tone of Lodge’s reservation was of course nasty and negative. But both of them said essentially the same thing: the United States could never be drawn into war against the opposition of the people’s elected representatives.

Wilson, however, was convinced that the Lodge reservation “cuts the very heart out of the treaty.” A caucus of Democratic senators had voted to obey the president’s wishes, so bipartisan discussions with Republican “mild reservationists” were called off. The treaty went down to defeat on November 19.

The reaction was one of bipartisan shock, especially with Republicans such as former President William Howard Taft, who supported the League and who declared that the Lodge reservation “does not modify the original article nearly so much as a good many people have supposed it did.”

So bipartisan discussions resumed in January 1920. Success was approaching as more and more Democrats rebelled against Wilson’s delusional position. Wilson ranted that he would never tolerate “disloyalty,” and he did his best to use party discipline to force recalcitrant Democrats into line. When the treaty was considered again on March 19, twenty-two Democrats broke with Wilson and voted for the treaty with the Lodge reservations attached. But that was seven votes shy of the necessary two-thirds majority. The treaty of Versailles was rejected once and for all on that spring day in 1920. And the blame must be placed where it belongs: at the bedside of Woodrow Wilson.

In the opinion of John Milton Cooper, Jr., one of Wilson’s greatest admirers among academic historians, “in the first three months of 1920” Wilson seemed to be in the grip of “mental instability, if not insanity . . . . He should not have remained in office.”

As this series has attempted to argue — and as my book Woodrow Wilson and World War I: A Burden Too Great to Bear seeks to demonstrate at length — the catastrophe of Wilson’s wartime leadership started long before his madness. For a long time, qualified medical observers have theorized that Wilson suffered from a cerebro-vascular condition that warped his judgment for several years before the stroke. To the extent that these theories are justified, Wilson was not to blame for the blunders and follies that characterized his behavior during World War I. On the other hand, if his mistakes — especially his earlier mistakes when his mind was more lucid, the mistakes that resulted from aversion to strategic thinking — sprang from character flaws that can afflict any one of us, the judgment of history must be severe.

But one thing seems certain to me after studying the record in detail: Woodrow Wilson was not the right leader for the United States during World War I.

 Richard Striner (Washington College) is a historian focused on political and presidential history.

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