From Wilson to Obama a lesson for today

January 29, 2017

PershingThis year is not even through the end of its first month and it’s already shaping up to be a larger than normal chapter in future history books. Partly because of the inauguration of one Donald J. Trump and what his personality and policies will entail in the coming months; partly because of the end of a Presidency that pretty much ensures that 2017 will be one continuous “cleanup on aisle four”.

Anyone who was hoping that the candidate Trump would become a reserved and restrained President Trump was hoping for what never was and what never will be. Love him or hate him, President Trump is what he is and he ain’t gonna change.  To his critics, he’s the worst rogue to ever occupy the Oval Office; to his supporters he’s the businessman who represents America’s last chance to restore the balance of power between the people that pay the bills and the bureaucrats and politicians who create them.

After eight years of pretty much having its way as Obama gabbed and golfed his way through the Presidency, the Washington bureaucracy is in nothing short of shock right now.  In just this first week, the level of activity coming out of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is at a pace not seen since LBJ dreamed up his Great Society initiatives and shows no sign of easing up any time soon.

But as uncertain as 2017 may be to us living through it here in the present, the year in front of us also marks two milestones in our history that should never be forgotten.  This year marks the centennial anniversary of America’s entry into World War I in April, 1917 and from last December 7th to September 2, 2020 every day forward from here will mark a date that 75 years earlier saw that “Greatest Generation” embroiled in World War II.

A short recap of the year that was unfolding a century ago:

January of 1917 arrived with a President who as a candidate the previous year had run on the slogans “He kept us out of war” and ironically, “America First”, now preparing his countrymen to enter that very same war.

The contraption the Wright Brothers had invented just thirteen years earlier was now outfitted with machine guns and swarms of them were buzzing around like gnats in the skies above the trenches on the Western Front.

The USS Arizona, named in honor of America’s newest and 48th state to enter our union was the pride of the United States Navy and General John J. “Blackjack” Pershing was bringing his troops back to the U.S. side of our southern border after spending the last 10 months in North Mexico trying to capture revolutionary Pancho Villa for his attack on Columbus, New Mexico and the Camp Furlong Army post that killed eight soldiers and ten civilians during a nighttime raid the previous March.

While President Wilson’s stated goal of capturing Villa was not achieved, the expedition was spun as a success and would ultimately prove valuable as a training exercise for the action to come when the American Expeditionary Force was deployed to Europe to break the stalemate and bring an end to the war.

Yet in private Pershing confided to family and friends that had it not been for the restrictions that America’s first “academic” President (Wilson had been a college professor and President of Princeton) had imposed on the mission, he and his men would have succeeded in bringing Villa to justice.  A century later, those same sentiments are echoed by today’s military commanders bemoaning the Obama administration’s rules of engagement that limited their ability to fight ISIS as needed.

Two Presidents, a century of time between them, yet ironically so exactly the same.  Both heralded as the smartest of their day, yet both blinded by egos that ignored the timeless fact that mission success still boils down to the Commander in Chief and the latitude he gives his commanders in the field to adapt and deploy as needed.

Whatever else President Trump may be, he is at least a man that intends to empower, not hinder our men and women in the field.  And no matter what century we’re in, that’s good news for us and bad news for those that wish us harm.

Publisher’s Note:  A version of this column first appeared in the January 29, 2017 print edition of the Joplin Globe.

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