Deliberative Leadership

FDRGiven the current impassioned debate surrounding Syria’s use of chemical weapons, the implications of US military action and President Obama’s handling of the situation, this is a good time to revisit a lesson from World War II.

Look at the chart below (click here for a sharper image) that details war deaths.

WW II Deaths

Just to make the central point clear, here in tabular form and focused solely on military deaths, is the same information:

Russia                9 -14,000,000

China                  3 – 4,000,000

Yugoslavia          446,000

United States      417,000

United Kingdom  384,000

Romania              300,000

Hungary               300,000

Poland                 240,000

France                 217,000

The numbers for France, Poland and several other countries would be much higher had they not been overrun within days, making formal military confrontation minimal.

Although the US was a major player in what were essentially two wars waged concurrently, the number of US military deaths, while tragic, was relatively low.  For that we can thank President Roosevelt.

A great deal of the US participation in the European war was through the supply of war materiel to other countries.  Indeed, both wars had been ongoing for years before the US became involved.  Looking at the numbers above, it is apparent that we did a lot of arms supplying and proportionately far less bleeding than many of the other combatants.

That was Roosevelt’s genius in action.  He was deliberative.  No rash decisions.  Everything well thought out.  He thought about both the intended and the unintended consequences.  There are a lot of soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen who survived that decade thanks to Roosevelt’s thorough and rigorous thinking, and that is the lesson.

The next time you hear someone whining about President Obama’s “dithering,” about his taking time to think instead of taking immediate action, about him being too “professorial,” be sure to hear that for what it is.  It is the sound of a chest thumping, “shoot first and ask questions later” pea brain without the capacity or good sense to think before doing irreparable harm.  You’ll find that you’re listening to someone without the capacity to hold more than one thimble-sized thought in his head at once, which is exactly the kind of mental limitation that gets America in trouble, like in Iraq and Afghanistan.

We tried shallow thinking for most of the past 32 years and almost without exception it has backfired.  We need leaders who have the good sense to adjust when circumstances change.  We need thoughtfulness in our leadership performed by someone with the capacity to hold several complex ideas in mind at the same time.

Deliberative leadership.  Celebrate that, America.

Note to obstructionists:  Stop whining about people being smart.  It’s a lot more valuable than people being dumb.

Copyright 2017 by Jack Altschuler
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