Ivan  Parkins

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©Ivan W. Parkins 2008,  All articles, text, web pages property of Ivan W. Parkins.  Use of any material requires permission of the author and can be obtained by contacting info@americanpoliticalcommentary.com

About Ivan W. Parkins:

Dr. Parkins is a retired professor of Political Science from Central Michigan University.  He received his PhD from the University of Chicago and is a graduate of the United States Naval Academy.  Dr. Parkins served as a naval officer during WWII aboard the battleship Alabama.  He is a recent widower with three daughters, 3 grand children and 2 great grand children.  Dr. Parkins has written extensively, having authored 3 books and a newspaper opinion column for many years. 

Front Page  Archive 2008

 Archive 2009

Page 2,  Disassemble the House

Page 3, RE-RUNS

Page 4, More RE-RUNS

Page 5,  Book Reviews


The America that I have known will one day be remembered for its military achievements, especially for how effectively we managed costs to ourselves.

World War II was, in many respects, the greatest and most costly in world history.  America entered late, suffered over 400,000 fatalities, spent almost 40% of its gross product for three years, and emerged one of the victors.  We were then able to nourish the recovery of many other combatants, both allies and enemies.  Because we entered the war from depressed economic conditions, much of the economic cost was absorbed by the full employment of recently-idle labor and industrial capacities.

A decade later, America again was at war, in Korea.  That cost us nearly 40,000 lives, and at the peak, 13% of our gross product.  It prevented a totalitarian conquest of South Korea, a nation now free, friendly and prosperous.

In Vietnam, after expending over 50,000 lives and product at a rate that approached 10%, we withdrew.  That choice was a political one, not a military defeat.  There, the subsequent cost in lives to our former allies was more horrendous than anything that we ourselves have suffered.  The high cost to America’s political unity and social order is still evident.

For most of the last half of the twentieth century we were engaged in a cold war with the Soviet Union.  Except that the wars in both Korea and Vietnam were related to our contest with the Soviets, the cold war was nearly fatality free.  It did, however, require us to maintain high military outlays.  We prospered in spite of those expenditures; the Soviets were unable to keep pace and their system collapsed.

Now, we are at war with radical Islamists.  They declared it; they attacked us at home; they vow to destroy us.  Our military costs, in lives and in treasure, are moderate when compared to those during most of my lifetime.  Our response remains incomplete.

The graph to the right , by the Office of Management and Budget, demonstrates that in the 1990’s a very large part of the Clinton Administration’s savings came from national defense.  Those savings have made the war in Iraq more expensive than it might have been had an earlier level of military, and intelligence, spending been maintained.

If you look at similar graphs for the period of the Vietnam War, you will find that, at it’s most expensive around Tet, 1968, military spending rose only slightly above the previous decade of Cold War spending.  Much of  national defense costs are for maintaining, training, and improving the readiness capabilities of our forces, whether at home in peace or abroad in some limited conflict.  Especially, in the earlier battles of WWII we paid in extra lives for our lack of readiness.  The old saying that, “if you want peace, you should prepare for war” has merit.  The Swiss and Swedes have done well at it, but only recently.   During WWII our Navy relied heavily upon the 20mm and 40mm machineguns of Swiss Oilercon and Swedish Bofors armament companies.  Both the Swiss and Swedes had violent histories in earlier centuries; both maintained high states of preparedness; and both avoided active involvement in WWII.  The United States is far too large a player in the world to expect such easy choices.




Reading History,



One joy of reading history is noting the parallels of past and present politics.  In James R. Gaines' FOR LIBERTY AND GLORY, I've just encountered how Lafayette, 225 years ago, sought to convince his king that freer trade laws vis-à-vis America would benefit France.  If that reminds you of some things now being said by President Bush, please keep in mind that the response of Louis XVI's ministers was about as "progressive" as that of present day Democrats.



Admiral Fallon, History Repeats Itself

The recent retirement of Admiral Fallon from Central Command, apparently over disagreement with the Administration’s policy, is entirely consistent with the American tradition that the military serves under civilian leadership in pursuing matters of national interest and strategy.  It was the essential basis of President Truman’s firing of General MacArthur.  Unfortunately, that principle is not as clear or simple as it sounds.

Our Vietnam experience should have helped us to clarify such matter; it only demonstrated for future enemies our greatest vulnerability.  Shortly after that war,  I had a brief exchange with Colonel Harry Summers on that matter.


column, The Morning Sun, 10/19/83

by Ivan Parkins

“On Strategy: A Critical Analysis of the Vietnam War,” by Col. Harry G. Summers Jr. is used as a text at the Army War College and in other officer training programs.  It is a sober piece of military scholarship, built around the thesis that strategy begins with a clear and attainable military objective and that such an objective must be derived from national policy.

             Col. Summers regards the making of national policy as civilian function.  He contends that in Vietnam our national policy was unclear and so was our military objective.

             What Col. Summers calls for is consistent with both classical military theory and the American constitutional system.  Our Army’s leaders should consult with civilian makers of national policy and recommend strategies.  It is up to Army leadership to say what objectives the Army is capable of attaining and at what probable cost.

             “Nation Building,” as in Vietnam, does not qualify as a clear and attainable military objective.

             Lyndon Johnson bears the brunt of Col. Summers’ criticism-for our uncertain policy, especially for not invoking the will of the American people in support of the Vietnam effort.  Apparently, Col. Summers believes that a formal declaration of war would have forestalled most of our problems there.

             The chief weakness of both the book and our actual strategy in Vietnam is one imposed by our constitutional tradition.  Our military leaders are obliged to accept policies which the American political system, especially the President, define for them.

             Is the American political system capable of doing what it failed to do in Vietnam; can it actually choose and maintain, a clear policy?  It is easy to sympathize with Col. Summers’ view that, in Vietnam, the Army was let down by its commander in chief.  However, I doubt that military demands for a more clearly defined policy, as a basis for strategy, could have contributed much more to American success in Vietnam.

             What Army demands for clearer national policies, might have been  achieved during the Vietnam War, and they may yet achieve in the future.  They may sharpen constitutional conflict at home.  And a domestic showdown over how American policy is made and sustained, may be overdue.

             On one hand, after noting that the mass media were a source of much embarrassment to efforts of our military in Vietnam, Col. Summers says (p39), “censorship is not the answer.”  He then observes that it is difficult to reconcile the realities of the battlefield with American idealism.

             On the other hand, Col. Summers concurs in the traditional theory that national will is a vital constituent of national strength.  How can America be strong if its media does not help to rationalize its policies, i.e. to relate its ideals to realities of this world?

             The central fact of American politics and policy regarding Vietnam was that an influential minority of Americans set out (most of them not until after the nation was committed) to discredit and disrupt our war effort.  They included many leading academics and journalists, and their views dominated the national media.

             Confusion regarding the nature of our involvement did not originate in the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution.  As Sen. Fulbright acknowledged, in answer to Sen. Cooper during debate, that document authorized the president to lead us into war.  Only two Senators, and no Representative, voted against it.

             We were defeated in Vietnam, because we lacked a clear policy and the national will to pursue it.  We lacked these because so many of the instruments of opinion formation, especially our institutions of higher education and mass communication, were employed, not to help clarify policy and strengthen will, but to destroy them both.

             The increased size, autonomy and influence of higher education and mass communication constitute the most fundamental change in the American political system during this century.  Neither our constitutional tradition nor Col. Summers book explains how change of such magnitude can be accommodated.

             So far, the presidency of the United States has been the principal bulwark of traditional and popular leadership.  Congress, when blitzed by the media, has shown little sense of its responsibility to either the most recent election results or to its own previous commitments.  Of that, Vietnam remains a prime example.

             Much as Col. Summers and the Army may wish to accept the American tradition and to ask only what policies they should help execute, they cannot really avoid the growing dilemma of American politics.

             Indeed, the Army must ask the political system for a clear statement of policy before it fights.  But, should it ask only the president, or the president and Congress, or must it now consult the mass media, too?  If a prompt and substantial agreement among all of those is not forthcoming, or if, as in Vietnam, the agreement collapses, should our Army fight?


Now, one point has been made clear by the terrorists; they mean to destroy  us.  Avoiding a fight is not one of our options.  The remaining issues are reduced to when, where, and by what means.  Our military is adapting well to enemy challenges.  Our political system is where our enemies expect us to fail.  Will we, again, prove them right? –Ivan Parkins, 3/08

I owe an apology to THE WALL STREET JOURNAL, from which I took the "War on the Cheap" graph.  I misinterpreted the Journal's attribution to OMB; that was for dates and GDP figures only. The graph belongs to the Journal.

I.W. Parkins



   “Sticks and stones will break my bones,

   But words will . . .?


One completion to that old bit of doggerel is . .

    . .  .only break my heart.”


     I noted, in June 1971, that both a University of Michigan study and a National Commission had reported on their findings regarding violence.  Both had demonstrated a disagreement between the more and the less “intellectual” portions of our public regarding the extent of the term “violence.”  Surprisingly the less educated Americans applied a broader range of meanings, and one more in keeping with major dictionaries, than that preferred by “intellectuals.”


     There has been, since World War II, a noticeable tendency among academics and journalists to speak and write against violence, but to apply the term only to physical assaults upon persons.  Older and wider usage, plus many dictionaries, apply “violence” also to destruction of property, to some kinds of language, and to abuses of customs and institutions.  By those broader meanings, quite a lot of “intellectual” activity is violent.


     Should the “breaking of hearts” pass without social or legal remedy with only flesh and bones deserving protection?


    Recently, I watched a very scary documentary on the Valdez oil spill.  One of the most scary parts was pictures of the thick black mess that engulfed animals, birds and shoreline.  Those pictures were of the Exxon Valdez spill several years ago.  The commentator added that the more than ten million gallons of oil had covered ten thousand square miles.  Thick black goo and ten thousand square miles?
    Think of that! But don't do the math,  there are a lot of square
inches in ten thousand square miles.  And, even ten thousand gallons of oil at 231 cubic inches per gallon get very thin.  I figure an average depth of less than 6 ten thousandths of an inch if the thickness were uniform.  The problem is bad enough.  Why not present it accurately?