When an short story anthology calls itself “the best” without specifying which genres it is (e.g., horror, fantasy, romance, western, etc.), you know it’s got to be literary fiction, which doesn’t consider itself a genre, even though it is.Continue reading
George Washington not only raised, trained, and led a militia against the greatest superpower in the world, he also refused payment for leading the army. (It helps that he was rich.) He surprised the world by giving up power after winning the American Revolution. He set precedents like having a presidential cabinet and only serving two terms.Continue reading
Al Carroll’s book has an appendix examining what presidents did after they were no longer president. Some presidents died in office or shortly after leaving office. Some, like Truman, lived decades after leaving office but didn’t do anything of note. Others accomplished quite a bit.
After leaving office, Carter became one of the greatest humanitarians in world history. He founded the Carter Center dedicated to peace keeping, human rights, and ending global hunger, poverty, and disease. The Carter Center has likely prevented 13 coups or civil wars. Carter himself prevented two wars. In 1994, he negotiated a treaty that led to a dictator in Haiti stepping down. In 2007, he helped prevent a war between the two Koreas. The Carter Center has one of the greatest records in fighting disease including malaria, mumps, rubella, measles, lymphatic filariasis, and has almost completely eliminated Guinea worm. The Carter Center has also helped end malnutrition by teaching 8 million farmers in Ghana better farming techniques. Carter also founded Habitat for Humanity, which has helped build homes for over 4 million people in 16 nations. He’s likely saved millions of lives.
After leaving office, Herbert Hoover dedicated his life to feeding the hungry of Europe both during and after World War II, feeding millions of children.
John Quincy Adams became a congressman for 17 years after his presidency, and became a persistent critic of slavery.
Clinton founded the Clinton Foundation which has helped treat 750,000 AIDS patients. The Clinton Global Initiative has exaggerated how many people it’s helped, but it has worked to end global warming, helped 5 million children get medical equipment, and treated over 30 million people for disease.
Teddy Roosevelt worked on progressive causes the rest of his years, founding the Bull Moose party. Many of their ideas became law such as recalls, referendums, primaries, income tax, direct election of senators, votes for women, and the eight-hour workday. The Bull Moose party was a big influence on his cousin Franklin’s New Deal.
Millard Fillmore became the only ex-president to support terrorism. He ran as candidate of the Know Nothings, a terrorist group responsible for killing at least 50 Catholics.
John Tyler is the only ex-president to commit treason. He became part of the Confederate government, although he died before taking office.
Nixon lived a comfortable life, getting $7 million for the Frost interviews. He accepted a full pardon from Ford, meaning he admitted to committing 13 criminal felonies.
George W. Bush is the first ex-president to face criminal indictments. There are 147 nations he cannot travel to without risk of being prosecuted for torture.
George H. W. Bush went back to being a businessman, taking advantage of classified information, in order to make money and aid his investments.
Towards the end, Carroll reminds us that presidents can’t control the economy, not even dictators can. The only reason to vote should be the candidate’s stance on war and what they’ll do to improve as many lives as possible. I agree that we should all set politics aside and instead focus on electing the most humanitarian candidate, regardless of their party affiliation.
Carroll includes a fascinating section hypothesizing what would happen if different people had become president. Any of these scenarios would make for a fascinating alternate history novel.
For example, Jackson was nearly killed in the Creek War, but a Cherokee warrior named Junaluska saved his life. Had this not happened, John Quincy Adams would have been president instead and the Trail of Tears would not have happened.
Jackson nearly won in 1824. If so, the Trail of Tears would have happened earlier with a higher body count. Without Adams as president during this time, war with both France and Mexico would have been more likely as well.
John Tyler was almost accidentally killed by an explosion on a Navy ship in 1844. Willie Mangum was next in line and would have become president. Tyler pushed for war with Mexico in order to conquer Texas (which Polk later carried out), but Mangum was opposed to this. If he became president during Tyler’s term, Polk, an unlikely candidate who came from behind, wouldn’t have been elected. California would also have remained Mexican territory and the Native Californian genocide would be prevented. (Mexico would still kill natives, but they focused more on assimilation than genocide.) Without the take over of Mexican land, Utah might have become its own country with Mormons remaining socialist. Oregon would still become part of the US. In this alternate universe, Mexico would benefit from the Gold Rush, becoming as wealthy as the US.
Lincoln’s biggest mistake was switching vice presidents in order to appeal to southern voters. Hannibal Hamlin, Lincoln’s first vice president, would have prevented most of the 50,000 racist murders that Lincoln’s second vice president Johnson allowed to happen. Hamlin wouldn’t have taken land away that was given to former slaves and the Freedman’s bureau would have been expanded. Many lynchings and other racial strife wouldn’t have happened.
If Andrew Johnson had been impeached in 1866, Benjamin Wade would have been president and also wouldn’t have sabotaged Reconstruction. Wade was even in favor of women getting the vote.
McClellan, who was opposed to freeing slaves, was nearly elected instead of Lincoln in 1864. The Confederacy never had a chance of winning the Civil War, but with McClellan as president, it would have lasted longer. In the worst case scenario, McClellan would allow the scant territory held by Confederates to be independent. If the Confederacy gained independence, slavery would have continued. However, the Confederacy wouldn’t have much territory. Half of southern white men dodged the draft, sometimes forming gangs to drive away the Confederates. Two thirds of Confederate troops deserted. One of every eight slaves escaped during the war. Most Southerners were opposed to the Confederacy which censored the news, punished abolitionists with death, and banned political parties. (There was often only a single candidate on the ballot.) There were over 4,000 political prisoners and mass executions of dissidents.
Presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan was against the US-Filipino War that cost 200,000 to one million deaths. He was also opposed to conquering Hawaii.
If Custer hadn’t died at Little Bighorn, there’s a good chance he could have been president in 1880. He would have been horrible. At the massacre of Washita, he murdered women, children, and elderly after the Cheyenne had signed a peace treaty. His men even ripped open the bellies of pregnant women. The Cheyenne men were mostly away at the time, but Custer prevented the few there from attacking by using women as human shields. He also failed to protect black civil rights during Reconstruction when he was stationed in Texas. Custer’s brutal tactics would have prolonged war with the Apache. Why would they surrender if he was going to kill them either way? The US didn’t invade Latin America between 1859 to 1890. Custer the glory hound would have invaded a decade earlier. The Spanish American war may have happened sooner as well. The campaign against the Philippines would have been more brutal. He would also likely have made Cuba a US colony.
If McKinley had survived his assassination, his vice president Roosevelt wouldn’t have become president. McKinley was against unions, environmentalism, and against limiting corporate power. He wouldn’t have ended the US Philippines War, causing an additional tens of thousands of deaths. Roosevelt created the FDA, saving lives by making sure food and drugs are safe. McKinley wouldn’t have done this.
The American Liberty League plotted to overthrow Franklin Roosevelt. Some businessmen were so opposed to the New Deal, they wanted to use a private army to install a fascist government. The founder was white supremacist Irenne Du Pont. They were also in favor of eugenics. Because arresting them might hurt the stock market, they were never punished. If the plot hadn’t been exposed, it would have caused a second civil war, more destructive than the first. Possibly as many as 3.6 million would have died. If the fascists won, the US may have remained fascist until the 1970s as Spain did. Smedley Butler revealed the conspiracy, saving millions of lives.
Like Lincoln, Roosevelt made a huge mistake by replacing his vice president. Henry Wallace, Roosevelt’s first vice president, was extremely popular. He helped modernize farming and convinced 12 Latin American nations to fight the Axis. However, Roosevelt replaced him with Truman who started the Cold War responsible for 6-7 million deaths. Wallace was opposed to the Cold War and colonialism. If he had been president, millions of lives could have been saved.
Douglas MacArthur was a great military leader, although he made mistakes and suffered a few humiliating defeats. He called for using nukes during the Korean War which would have been disastrous. MacArthur was insubordinate and was fired by Truman. He actually sought permission from the Joint Chiefs of Staff to use nukes without the President’s approval, although he was against nuking civilian targets like Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He ran for president three times. Truman only barely won in 1948. If MacArthur had won, he would have authorized using nukes in the Korean War resulting in hundreds of thousands of deaths and it could have escalated into a nuclear war with the USSR.
When Stalin died and Khrushchev took over the Soviet Union, he denounced Stalin, allowed some freedom of speech, allowed western tourists for the first time, cut troops by a third, gave up plans for a large navy, and abolished special tribunals. Eisenhower and Nixon thought all this was a trick and kept the Cold War going. However, if presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson had beat Eisenhower in the election, things would have turned out differently. Stevenson was against the Cold War and nuclear testing. He would likely have established peace with the USSR 30 years before Gorbachev accomplished it. The Cuban missile crisis and the Vietnam War wouldn’t have happened.
If Robert Kennedy hadn’t been assassinated, he would have beat Nixon in the election. (Hubert Humphrey only barely lost to Nixon because he pledged to continue the war and anti-war voters stayed home on election day.) Robert Kennedy would have ended the Vietnam War five years earlier and would not have committed genocide in Cambodia, saving up to 3.3 million lives.
Reagan came close to being president in 1976. If so, he wouldn’t focus on human rights as Carter did. He might have bombed Vietnam, would likely have intervened in Angola, would have supported South Africa making apartheid last longer, and would have ignored the genocides in East Timor and Cambodia. He probably would have invaded Nicaragua to stop the Sandinista revolution. He would not have returned the Panama Canal to Panama. The Cold War would have lasted longer as well.
Ross Perot had a chance of being president in 1992, but he was a conspiracy theorist who thought George H. W. Bush was covering up evidence of US POWs in Vietnam. He thought “a six man Viet Cong-Black Panther hit squad” was after him. With no party in Congress, he likely wouldn’t have accomplished much, except making the War on Drugs worse. Perot favored harsher punishments for drugs and blocking off minority neighborhoods and searching house to house for drugs. He may have even went to war with Mexico and Colombia over drugs. Perot was erratic and prone to mood swings. He’d likely refuse to intervene in Bosnia, Somalia, and Rwanda, before suddenly reversing himself.
Al Gore actually won the 2000 election, but the Supreme Court appointed George W. Bush instead. Had this not happened, Gore would not have went to war with Iraq, wouldn’t have bungled the Afghanistan war, and not nearly as many would have died during Hurricane Katrina. Over a million lives would have been saved. Gore would have focused on Afghanistan, sending in more troops without the distraction of Iraq. Al Qaeda and the Taliban would have been defeated sooner. The US would have captured Osama Bin Laden in December 2001 if Bush had just sent more troops. Gore wouldn’t have invested in preventing AIDS in Africa like Bush did, though. (Carroll doesn’t mention this, but I wonder if 9/11 wouldn’t have happened at all with a President Gore. He certainly wouldn’t have ignored the intelligence reports like Bush did.)
George W. Bush was almost assassinated in 2005. If this happened, Dick Cheney would have become president. Cheney wanted to bomb Iran, but Bush was against it. A war with Iran would take two or three times as many troops as Iraq. Fighting three wars at once would have been disastrous.
Presidential candidate John McCain was very pro-war. He called for bombing Serbia, Iran (to the tune of a Beach Boys song), and called for staying in Iraq “maybe 100 years”.
Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton was also pro-war. In favor of invading Iraq, Iran, and Libya. She presented a plan for arming Syrian rebels. She was also opposed to immediate national health care, favoring a gradual approach.
As governor, Romney was a moderate who created the model for Obamacare, balanced the budget of Massachusetts by ending corporate loop holes, was pro-choice, and favored gay rights. All that changed when he ran for president. He spoke of nuking Iran and arming Syrian rebels who were al Qaeda allies. If history has taught us anything, it’s that arming groups that hate the US always backfires. He spoke of returning troops to Iraq. He was also in favor of torture and against national health care. He wanted to turn Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security over to private companies, stealing from the poor to give to the rich. Studies show Medicare saves more lives than private insurance. Many elderly people would have died under Romney’s plan.
Franklin Roosevelt did not allow Jewish refugees to the US, condemning many to death in the Holocaust. He also could have lessened the atrocity by attacking Germany sooner than he did. (Incidentally, Henry Ford owned the best selling newspaper in the country and used it to spread anti-Semitism. Ford Auto company was also a haven for Nazis and he promoted their views on company grounds. Ford even received a special award from Hitler.)
113,200 were falsely imprisoned during the Japanese-American internment. Some died from poor healthcare. 6 were killed by guards for trying to escape. 2 were killed in a riot. Their property was often seized, lost, or sold for tiny amounts. (While many west-coast cities have Chinatowns, most no longer have Japantowns.) 57 Aleut (not Japanese, but interned because racists thought they were genetically similar) died from disease while in the camps. German and Italian Americans weren’t imprisoned and neither were Japanese Americans living in Hawaii, indicating the internment was more about racism than protecting the country.
On the plus side, Roosevelt was one of the few US presidents who didn’t invade Latin America. There were 35 invasions of Latin America in the 42 years before Roosevelt, but not a single invasion during his 12 years in office, saving thousands of lives. In 1938, Mexico took control of US oil companies in Mexico and Americans called for war. FDR instead found a diplomatic solution, getting Mexico to pay the oil companies without a costly war.
World War II is the only justified war in US history besides the Civil War. By the US joining, the Axis powers were defeated, saving tens of millions of lives. (The Soviet Union gets most of the credit for defeating the Axis, but the US helped.) Ironically, the most liberal president in US history was also the best wartime president. Roosevelt’s New Deal anti-poverty programs led to longer life expectancy for Americans.
The US-Vietnam War killed 1 to 3.8 million including 200,000 to 500,000 civilians. Truman, Eisenhower, and Kennedy sent advisors to Vietnam, funding the French attack against Vietnam. Johnson had a macho attitude, bragging about his penis size, holding meetings on the toilet, and refusing to admit defeat with regards to Vietnam. Nixon dragged the Vietnam War out an extra five years and increased the bombing campaigns just to be reelected and convince people he was anti-Communist.
Lyndon Johnson and Nixon were both responsible for the Phoenix Program which was designed to end Vietnamese support for the National Liberation Front through bribery, spying, blackmail, and torture. 20,000 to 40,000 mostly civilians were falsely accused of being communist. Torture included beating, whipping, hanging, water torture, electrocution, dog attack, gang rape, and rape using animals such as eels or snakes. Many deaths resulted.
On the plus side, Johnson’s Great Society program kept poverty from rising to 31% to only 15%. Poverty among children dropped from 20% to under 6%. The Civil Rights Act put an end to intimidation and violence at the polls. Johnson said he passed it as tribute to Kennedy, but Kennedy wasn’t actually that big on civil rights.
George H. W. Bush
The Gulf War resulted in 2,500 to 205,000 deaths. Sadam Hussein was on the CIA payroll since the 1950s. In 1989 he met with US Ambassador April Glass and asked permission to invade Kuwait. She didn’t say no and he took this as a yes. Everyone, including Bush’s own cabinet and advisors, were surprised when he invaded Kuwait. The US public was opposed to the war. Bush spent 20 million on PR to try to convince the public. A member of the Kuwaiti royal family posing as a nurse lied on the floor of congress, claiming babies were ripped out of incubators and left to die.
However, after the Gulf War, Bush aided Kurds fleeing Iraq, saving perhaps 200,000 lives. Clinton and George W. Bush continued the rescue efforts. George H. W. Bush saved the lives due to outside pressure, so he did the right thing for the wrong reason, but he still gets credit. Also, in 1991, George H. W. Bush pulled US nukes out of South Korea, defusing tension between the Koreas.
Continuing a George W. Bush program, Obama ordered drone assassinations against Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Obama assassinated suspects without trial in Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen. 11-98% killed were innocent civilians. 1,800 to 3,521 died.
On the other hand, his New START treaty reduced nuclear weapons. The end of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan saved tens of thousands of lives a year. (The war in Afghanistan didn’t officially end until 2021, after this book was written, but I think Carroll’s referring to the end of combat operations in Afghanistan.)
Obama avoided war in Iran, saving thousands if not tens of thousands of lives. The Arab Spring and preventing another Great Depression also saved lives. And, of course, Obamacare saves 30,000 lives a year.
Zachary Taylor wanted California to be a free state and threatened slavery advocates with hanging when they called for secession, getting them to back down.
Carroll considers Lincoln to be the best president in US History. He freed 4 million people from slavery and saved between 120,000 to millions of lives. Slaves had double the infant mortality rate of free blacks. Ending slavery saved thousands of lives a year. The Confederacy would have brought international slavery back. 10-50% of slaves died during the Midwest Passage. The Confederacy also planned wars against Mexico and the Dominican Republic, and planned to take Cuba and Puerto Rico from Spain which could have resulted in over 124,000 deaths.
The Civil War is one of only two righteous wars in US history (the other is World War II) that had to be fought for the good of humanity. Emancipation also ended the genocide of California natives. Unlike the treasonous Confederates, 300,000 southern Unionists stayed loyal to the United States and fought as part of the Union army. Lincoln also spared 263 Dakota sentenced to death for taking part in a battle.
Martin Van Buren
Van Buren avoided war with Britain, saving perhaps 20,000 and delayed war with Mexico saving perhaps 19,000. He also delayed the genocide of California natives, saving 120,000 to 300,000 lives. Van Buren was the first US-born president and the only US president to speak English as his second language.
Independence fighters in Canada recruited Americans to their side, provoking a possible war with Britain. Van Buren passed a law to make it illegal for Americans to invade another country. A year later, a conflict broke out over a territory dispute in Maine. Rather than go to war, Van Buren signed a treaty which also helped stop illegal slave trade, saving thousands of Africans.
Americans in Mexican territory, despite living there less than a year, declared the land theirs and declared Texas a new slave state. They were so incompetent, insurgents at the Alamo and Goliad were completely wiped out. Santa Ana, the president of Mexico, forgot to post sentries at San Jacinto, and the insurgents captured him and forced him to sign over Texas. Van Buren didn’t recognize Texas, delaying a war with Mexico. At the time, the US had conflicts with Britain and was losing the Second Seminole War. Most of the US Army was involved in removing Cherokees. A war with Mexico at this time would have been even bloodier than the later war.
Carter put pressure on dictatorships and withheld military aid to fix human rights abuses. He made 25 countries more democratic, saving as many as 150,000 lives. He saved 1,000 lives in Argentina and 1,200 in Chile. In Cuba, Castro released 3,600 political prisoners due to pressure from Carter. Carter prevented a military coup in the Dominican Republic by threatening a boycott. He negotiated a peace between Israel and Egypt, perhaps saving 80,000 to 100,000 lives and earning him the Nobel Peace Prize.
Carter pressured the dictatorship in Honduras to have elections and pressured Haiti to release political prisoners. Indonesia released 30,000 political prisoners who likely would have been executed. The Shah of Iran, responsible for 80,000 deaths, was overthrown partly thanks to Carter. Political violence dropped off in Jamaica after First Lady Rosalyn Carter promised Carter wouldn’t try to overthrow the government as Nixon and Ford had.
Pakistan released 11,000 political prisoners. Carter returned the Panama Canal, preventing future riots and improving US relations with all of Latin America. The Soviet Union released political prisoners and allowed 160,000 Jews to immigrate to the US. Carter was partly responsible for the fall of the Soviet Union, although most of the credit goes to Gorbachev and other dissidents. Carter also signed a treaty to limit nuclear weapons. The white racist minority in Zimbabwe was pressured into holding fair elections. Carter was the only truly anti-war president. He was one of the few presidents to not invade Latin America. Not a single US soldier died overseas on his watch.
Ulysses S. Grant
Battles between the US army and native tribes dropped from 101 in 1869 to just 15 in 1875. Lives were also saved due to improved conditions in reservations and KKK terrorism declined in states where Grant sent troops.
This book is a good conversation starter, although it’s possible for different people to come up with different rankings since lives lost or saved are often estimates. Carroll ranks deaths caused by malice as worse than deaths caused by neglect, which in turn are worse than deaths caused by ideological blindness or incompetence. Someone else could easily count all deaths the same regardless of the motivation behind them. After all, Carroll counts all lives saved the same regardless of whether the president in question saved lives for the right reason or not.
Clinton not only didn’t try to stop the Rwandan genocide, he pushed for the UN to withdraw and denied a genocide was happening. Clinton could have saved 300,000 to 600,000 lives if he’d sent just 5,000 US troops to intervene.
Right-wing terrorists murdered at least 288 people from 1995 to 2012 and attempted to assassinate Clinton, George W. Bush, and Obama. Clinton’s mishandling of the Branch Davidians, Randy Weaver, and the Republic of Texas militia led to more recruitment for right-wing terrorists.
On the plus side, Clinton delayed North Korea from developing nuclear weapons for a decade. He also sent troops into Somalia, saving 100,000 lives. However, Clinton withdrew as the civil war continued, resulting in 1,500 to 3,000 deaths.
Indonesia invaded East Timor in 1975 and committed genocide there until 1999, resulting in 90,000 to 300,000 deaths. Gerald Ford supplied arms to Indonesia and supported it. (Jimmy Carter continued selling weapons to Indonesia and covered up Ford’s actions. Clinton also supported Indonesia before cutting off support.)
Harry S Truman
During World War II, German and Japanese civilians were targeted, resulting in 305,000 German civilians and 500,000 Japanese civilians dead. 40,000 French and 25,000 Poles were also accidentally killed by Allied bombing that deliberately targeted civilians. Britain and the US bombing was done on a much greater scale than German or Japanese civilian bombing. 9 out of 10 cities with the highest death tolls during World War II were victims of Allied bombing. US troops in the Pacific Theater executed POWs, mutilated enemy dead, massacred civilians, and collected body parts as trophies.
Truman was a member of the KKK with a documented hatred of blacks, Jews, and especially Asians. Nuking Hiroshima and Nagasaki resulted in 200,000 to 220,000 immediate deaths and 370,000 severe long term injuries or early deaths. The bombing was unnecessary. A blockade would have worked better to end the war and the bomb didn’t make Japan surrender anyway. Japan surrendered when Soviets conquered more Japanese territory in 5 weeks than America did in 4 years.
Truman also started the Cold War. Truman’s Marshall Plan sent $13 billion in aid to Western Europe to stop Communism and made an enemy of the USSR. The Cold War includes: the Greek Civil War 1946-49 which killed at least 150,000; the Korean War which killed at least 2.5 million; the massacre of Indonesian dissidents in 1965-66 which killed 500,000 to 1 million; the US-Vietnamese War which killed 1-3 million; the Cambodian genocides which killed 1.7 to 2.2 million; and two Central American civil wars and the Guatemalan genocide which killed at least 325,000. There was an average of 180,000 deaths a year between 1950-1989, over 7 million deaths altogether. There were nearly 20 nuclear standoffs during the Cold War as well.
Immediately after the Spanish-American War, McKinley ordered the conquest of the Filipino people the US was supposedly there to liberate from the Spanish. 200,000 to 1.4 million civilians died. US troops also tortured rebels and civilians including using water boarding for the first time. They put Filipinos into concentration camps called “zones of protection”. The Philippines remained under US control until 1946. McKinley also ordered the conquest of Guam, Puerto Rico, and Samoa.
George W. Bush
Nearly everyone agrees Iraq was an unnecessary war and a complete failure. Afghanistan is more disputed. Up to 1 million Iraqi civilian deaths, 110,000 Iraqi combat deaths, 6,800 Americans, 1,500 other coalition deaths, 2,600 mercenary deaths. Unknown number of Afghan deaths. Even though Iraq clearly had nothing to do with 9-11, didn’t have weapons of mass destruction, and didn’t want America to liberate them, Bush attacked anyway. He even publicly admitted he didn’t care about finding Bin Laden. The cost of the wars was $4 trillion. Bush also ordered torture. Because he had trouble getting enough troops, Bush hired unruly mercenaries. One drunken Blackwater mercenary killed the bodyguard of Iraq’s vice president.
1,836 to 3,500 died during Hurricane Katrina due to the incompetence of Bush. Despite Louisiana being far more damaged by the hurricane, three quarters of federal funds went to Mississippi. Bush punished Louisiana because the governor criticized him and rewarded Mississippi because the governor praised him. Bush also hired Michael Brown to head FEMA despite him not being qualified simply because he was the friend of a friend. Hurricane Sandy, a more powerful storm hitting a more populated area (New York and New Jersey) only had 109 casualties because competent people were in charge that time.
Bush was also responsible for at least 108 torture deaths, most of them falsely accused of terrorism. 92% of Guantanamo prisoners were not terrorists. Most were local residents or refugees. Some were aid workers or missionaries. Five were British citizens. The torture also didn’t save any lives or prevent any attacks. Suspects being tortured said anything they could think of to stop the torture, giving lots of false intelligence which diverted resources to try to stop imaginary attacks. However, Obama didn’t prosecute Bush for his war crimes.
On the other hand, Bush saved hundreds of thousands to millions of lives through anti-AIDS programs in Africa. (Later, Obama expanded the program, helping 4 times as many people.) Due to his Christian ideology, the program wasn’t perfect. It emphasized abstinence, which evidence shows doesn’t work, and it also provided circumcisions even though condoms are much better at reducing the spread of AIDS and are cheaper than circumcisions. Gays, prostitutes, and IV drug users were often left out. It didn’t have a needle exchange program even though they’re effective. The program could have been much better, but it did save lives.
75 to 112 million Europeans intentionally spread disease amongst Native Americans with infected blankets and by poisoning wells. The US government paid people to kill buffalo, reducing the population from hundreds of millions of buffalo to less than a thousand by 1900. Starvation made natives more likely to die of diseases. Andrew Johnson and Rutherford B. Hayes failed to stop this act of the army.
50,000 died during Reconstruction in the 5 years after the Civil War. Blacks, Mexicans, and anti-racist whites were murdered by white supremacists. The Confederate Secret Service also killed 2,000 Americans bombing over 200 ships and assassinated Lincoln. Johnson was the most racist president in US history, a drunk, petty man, the last president to be a slave holder. As a congressman, he took away free blacks right to vote in Tennessee.
One of Johnson’s first acts as president was to pardon almost all the Confederate traitors. He allowed states to take the vote away from blacks and fired blacks working for the post office. He vetoed the first civil rights bill. He often gave speeches while drunk and compared himself to Christ. Congress was eventually able to override his vetoes, but he tried to delay the 14th amendment as long as possible. He did nothing to stop the lynchings and rapes of black people by white terrorists. He fired US generals who tried to enforce the law and took land away from blacks and gave it to former slave owners. He even tried to form his own army to intimidate Republicans (who were the liberal party at the time). Johnson was almost removed from office. Impeachment was only one vote short because he bribed senators.
Roosevelt was a bored rich man who liked playing soldier. He invaded Latin America several times to collect business debts: Panama in 1903, Honduras in 1903, 1905, and 1907; the Dominican Republic in 1903; Mexico in 1905; Cuba in 1906; and Nicaragua in 1907.
Building the Panama Canal also caused over 5,600 deaths from disease and riots protesting US control of the canal. While white workers lived in posh areas with drained swamps sprayed with insecticide, non-white workers lived in tents and died of malaria at ten times the rate.
During the anti-German hysteria of World War I, 6,000 were falsely imprisoned. German-Americans were lynched, lost their jobs, and had their property seized by the government.
Wilson also invaded Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Haiti, Mexico, and Panama. (Harding continued occupations begun by Wilson. Coolidge invaded Honduras and continued occupations begun by Wilson. Hoover invaded El Salvador and continued occupations begun by Wilson.)
Truman and Eisenhower both ordered H bomb tests on Pacific Islands that killed people with radiation. Eisenhower invaded Guatemala, Panama, and Cuba.
John Tyler expanded slavery and committed treason by joining the Confederacy during the Civil War. He pushed to make Texas a slave state and opposed the Missouri Compromise because he believed slavery should be legal everywhere.
Franklin Pierce tried to buy Cuba to expand slavery and wanted to take it by force when Spain wouldn’t sell. The Kansas-Nebraska Act ended a previous compromise on slavery. He did little to stop violence in Kansas and appointed a pro-slavery governor even though the majority was antislavery. He was so unpopular, he didn’t run for a second term and was the first president to need bodyguards.
The War of 1812 began when America invaded Canada, resulting in 15,000 to 24,000 deaths. Jefferson had avoided war with Britain, but Madison was too weak to prevent Congress from voting to declare war. He only needed to get three congressmen to change their votes, but he was too timid and uncharismatic. The US troops were unregulated militia. They looted and burned York, Ontario. The British burned Washington DC down in retaliation. US troops outnumbered British, but were poorly disciplined, often fleeing battle at the first shot fired. The War of 1812 was the most devastating defeat in US history, but got painted as a victory.
John F. Kennedy
3,562 Cubans were killed by terrorists based in the US who were first organized by Kennedy and sometimes supported by the US government. There were over two dozen bombings in Miami each year in 1967 and 1968. From 1975 to 1983, there were 119 bombings by anti-Castro organizations. Orlando Bosch, who murdered 73 civilians in an airline bombing, was pardoned by George H. W. Bush.
Slaves in Haiti successfully revolted against France, and also successfully repelled invasions by Britain and Spain. Jefferson not only turned a blind eye to France’s genocide, but also worked with France to keep Haiti isolated, ensuring its long history of poverty. 170,000 died which was 40% of the island. As Washington’s Secretary of State, Jefferson sent weapons and money to oppose the Haitian revolution.
Jefferson had previously been opposed to slavery, banning the US from importing more slaves and banning it from several new states, saving 3,300 to 9,000 lives a year. However, after a journalist revealed that Jefferson had taken a slave as his mistress, he became in favor of slavery and wrote increasingly racist things.
Jefferson was a bit of a mixed bag, doing both good and bad things. He avoided wars with Britain and France, saving perhaps 20,000 lives. During the Napoleonic Wars, the British Navy impressed foreign sailors into their military and even fired upon and boarded US ships. Some Americans called for war even though the British military was far superior to the US at the time. Jefferson wisely didn’t go to war. John Adams began the Quasi War, a cold war with France, that Jefferson defused and even ended on good enough terms for the Louisiana Purchase.
When presidents of the United States are ranked from best to worse, they’re generally judged on subjective things like leadership, charisma, etc. and the lists end up merely being a popularity contest, often based on the politics of the person doing the ranking. George Washington is often listed as one of the best presidents, not because he did anything particularly noteworthy while president, but simply because he was the first.
In his book, Presidents’ Body Counts: The Twelve Worst and Four Best American Presidents Based on How Many Lived or Died, Al Carroll ranks presidents instead by who caused the most deaths or saved the most lives, which, in my opinion, is the only way presidents should be ranked.
The book was written during Obama’s presidency, so our most recent presidents aren’t discussed. The book is arranged into sections, covering topics such as genocide, wartime atrocities, chemical warfare, etc. This arrangement means the book jumps back and forth in time. I would have preferred the book be arranged in chronological order. This would have cut down on some repetition and also would have made it easier to follow. He also assumes his readers are familiar with historical events that not everybody is familiar with.
According to Carroll, the twelve worst presidents are Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, Andrew Jackson, James Buchanan, James K. Polk, Millard Fillmore, Bill Clinton, Gerald Ford, Harry S Truman, William McKinley, George W. Bush, and Andrew Johnson. The four best presidents are Abraham Lincoln, Martin Van Buren, Jimmy Carter, and Ulysses S. Grant.
Based on body count, the worst president in US history was Richard Nixon. In order to appear tough during the Vietnam War, Nixon repeatedly ordered carpet bombing against Cambodia, followed by a US invasion, even though Cambodia was a neutral nation.
The bombings were often random with no military target. Lyndon Johnson started bombing Cambodia in 1965, although he didn’t target civilians as Nixon did. More bombs were dropped on Cambodia than during all of World War II. Whether you want to call it genocide or a war crime, Nixon is the worst mass murderer in US history. 500,000 to 600,000 were directly killed by Americans between 1969 to 1973, including 50,000 to 60,000 prisoners of war who were executed.
Nixon claimed his actions killed North Vietnamese troops, but this action didn’t weaken them. In fact, it lengthened the Vietnam War. Nixon’s actions also caused the Khmer Rouge to come to power. The Khmer Rouge went on to kill between 1 to 1.7 million Cambodians and they committed these atrocities with financial support from Nixon. (Ford, Carter, and Reagan also supported the Khmer Rouge financially. Under Reagan, the US government paid the Khmer Rouge $85 million and supported them in public and in the UN assembly. The US provided satellite intelligence and military planning and fed 40,000 Khmer Rouge troops, all to get back at Vietnam for defeating the US military.)
When Bangladesh tried to become independent, Nixon supported the dictatorship in Pakistan. He provided weapons to Pakistan and sent a nuclear-equipped aircraft carrier to keep India from helping Bangladesh. India’s ally, the USSR, sent their own nuclear vessels in response, so a nuclear war was a possibility. Between 300,000 to 3 million Bangladeshis died. Nixon couldn’t have prevented all those deaths, but he could have prevented some of them (maybe a tenth) by not providing weapons.
Between 1973 to 1990, over half a million Kurds were killed by Iraq. Nixon initially supported the Kurds, then betrayed them. 3,000 were killed as a result. Ford, Carter, Reagan, and George H. W. Bush all supported first Al Bakr and later Saddam Hussein knowing his human rights record. Although, George H. W. Bush did stop supporting Hussein after the invasion of Kuwait. Reagan gave loans and subsidies and military helicopters and weapons to Iraq, provided intelligence, and the US Navy even escorted Iraqi oil tankers, sank Iranian boats and shot down Iranian planes. Reagan even approved $1.5 billion in biological agents and equipment used to make anthrax and botulism.
In 1968, 504 civilians were murdered in the My Lai Massacre in Vietnam, almost all of them were women, children, and the elderly. Many were mutilated and raped. Only one soldier was convicted of the massacre and Nixon pardoned him. At least 14 US Army officers either took part in the massacre or covered it up. Future Secretary of State Colin Powell was among them.
Nixon’s Operation Condor supported the assassinations of dissidents by dictators in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Uruguay, and Paraguay. There was also a plot to assassinate then-congressman future-NYC-mayor Ed Koch and murders inside the US like Orlando Letelier in Washington DC. 36,000 to 60,000 dead.
Ford continued Operation Condor, Carter ended it, and Reagan brought it back. Nixon, Kissinger, the CIA, and even AT&T (who feared losing profits if the phone company should become government run), all financed overthrowing Chile’s elected government for being too friendly to Communists, even though there was no chance of a Communist takeover.
Nixon wasn’t all bad. He extending the Voting Rights Act to protect civil rights; Title IX, which helped end sexism in education; the Clean Air Act, and saved lives with workplace safety rules. He expanded Social Security and increased food stamps and unemployment benefits. He started Affirmative Action which didn’t really help black people despite popular belief, but Affirmative Action did at least help white women in the workplace. He started the EPA. He compensated natives for stolen land and gave them the right to run their own facilities. Except for Gorbachev, Nixon did more to end WMD than any other world leader. Nixon was racist, but pretended not to be out of political expediency. He often did the right thing for the wrong reason.
Ronald Reagan was the second worst president in US history. He caused more Native American deaths than any other president, which is saying something. He provided weapons, funding, CIA and military intelligence, payment of mercenaries, and bombing campaigns against several Latin American countries because some members of their leadership were Marxists.
Reagan’s diaries revealed he was paranoid of Communists and saw them everywhere. Anyone who opposed him for any reason was a Communist in his eyes. He invaded the tiny island of Grenada, somehow seeing it as a grave threat. When US troops didn’t find anything there, Reagan put out false claims of Soviet arm stockpiles.
He sided with dictators, guerrillas, and mercenaries against the democratically-elected Sandinista government in Nicaragua, a non-violent protest movement led by the Catholic Church in El Salvador, and non-violent Mayan villages in Guatemala.
Over 325,000 people died, mostly civilians. 626 Mayan villages were massacred in Guatemala. When Amnesty International brought attention to the genocide, the US Embassy accused them of being Communists! George H. W. Bush, then vice president, was informed throughout and continued support of the dictatorships and Contra terrorists during his presidency. He also pardoned all involved in the Iran Contra scandal.
Reagan blocked boycotts of the apartheid regime in South Africa and labeled Nelson Mandela as a terrorist.
Deregulation of anti-poverty, banking, public health, environmental, labor, and safety laws and blocking gun control causes up to 875,000 preventable deaths per year. It’s obvious countries with government regulation have less poverty than countries without regulation. Government health care works better than capitalism. Canada has never had a banking crash due to a strong government compared to 16 financial crashes in the US. Countries with gun control have far less deaths.
Reagan was a corporate shill for deregulation for 30 years before he was president. He invented the idea of the black welfare queen. He ended the successful War on Poverty programs of Johnson and Nixon. He gutted financial regulation leading to the $160 billion Savings and Loan Scandal. (George H. W. Bush, George W. Bush, and Clinton also caused harm with their deregulation programs. Clinton’s deregulation led to the Great Recession of the 2000s. Clinton also cut welfare.)
The War on Drugs has caused an unknown number of deaths, but the number is likely hundreds of thousands if not millions. In the US, it has caused deaths from wars between rival cartels and drug dealers, innocents caught in the crossfire, deaths due to impure or more potent drugs, overdoses for which users are unable to seek treatment because it’s illegal, and crime committed to get money to purchase drugs. When alcohol was illegal, deaths from alcohol poisoning and crime syndicates rose. Tobacco was once prohibited, and that wasn’t any more successful than the current war on drugs.
Drug prohibition goes back to the 1910s, but ramped up under Reagan. Panamanian dictator Noriega was an intelligence asset, paid by the US since 1967. He worked with Reagan in the 1980s to use Panama as a base to bomb El Salvador. The US thus looked the other way when Noriega ordered the murder of his political opponent and stole the 1984 election.
(2,000 to 4,000 Panamanians were killed by George H. W. Bush in 1989. Nixon began Plan Colombia which involved US training, weapons, and aid used to fight guerrillas. It killed 20,000 to 300,000 Colombians during Clinton, George W. Bush, and Obama’s watch.)
On the plus side, Reagan was first opposed to limiting nuclear weapons until his astrologer changed his mind, so there is that.
Slavery resulted in 60 million deaths, including wars fought in Africa to obtain slaves, deaths during the Middle Passage, deaths during “seasoning”, and higher infant mortality. The US is responsible for 3.6 to 4.8 million deaths with Britain, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, and Sweden also responsible.
Compared to all the other presidents, Jackson has the worst record on slavery. He was the first president not to question slavery or have any moral qualms against it. He invaded Spanish Florida to prevent it from becoming a sanctuary for runaway slaves. He owned at least 300 slaves and had a reputation for brutality, offering higher bounties to those who would severely whip runaways before returning them. He was also a slave trader.
Jackson’s central campaign promise “Vote Yourself a Farm” was a promise to expel Native Americans. His central appeal was the fact he was an Indian fighter. Despite the Creek adopting him into their tribe and a Cherokee warrior saving his life during a battle, Jackson ordered the forced removal of Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, and Seminole on the Trail of Tears. Most of these tribes had long peaceable relations with the US, but Jackson wanted their land.
12,500 to 16,500 died from starvation, disease, cold, and warfare. 3,000 to 4,000 black slaves also died on the Trail of Tears. (Martin Van Buren continued the ethnic cleansing set in motion by Jackson and also removed Seminoles from Florida. James Monroe went to war with the Seminole.)
Buchanan’s incompetence, weakness, and defense of slavery led to the Civil War which caused at least 600,000 deaths. For those who doubt, the Civil War was indeed about slavery according to the Declaration of Causes written by Confederate states. And it was the Confederates who started the war, attacking first at Fort Sumter. They even attacked dozens of times before the Civil War, taking over federal forts and other federal buildings.
The Civil War was the result of Confederates rejecting the results of the fair election of Lincoln. Lincoln hadn’t run on an anti-slavery platform and only issued the Emancipation because the Confederates forced him to. Most Southerners were actually loyal to the Union and either dodged the draft or deserted. If Buchanan had stood up to secessionists, the war either wouldn’t have happened or would have ended sooner with less loss of life.
Buchanan was impeached for bribery, trying to get Kansas admitted as a slave state even though the majority wanted to be a free state. Instead of using troops to end the bloodshed in Kansas or stop the secessionists from building up a military, he tried to distract the nation by sending troops to Utah to end polygamy, but since the Mormons had their own army, the Mormon War ended up being a failure as well.
When Lincoln was elected, Buchanan made no move to stop states from seceding, even after the Confederates started seizing federal facilities. Andrew Jackson and Zachary Taylor, although both slave holders, stood up to secessionists and got them to back down. If Buchanan had done the same, the Civil War may not have happened.
James K. Polk
Slavery technically ended in 1865, but in some remote areas of California, enslavement of Native Americans continued until the 1890s resulting in 120,000 to 270,000 deaths. Between 1848 to 1875, 80-90% of natives in California were wiped out. Unlike native genocide in the rest of the Americas, most of this was due to violence committed by “Indian hunting” vigilantes rather than disease. The state of California issued bounties, paying over $1.5 million for native scalps. The US government reimbursed them for the money. While technically a free state, California legalized native slavery. Most of the mining during the Gold Rush was done by slaves. Presidents Polk, Fillmore, and Buchanan did nothing to stop it.
Polk also provoked the US-Mexico War in order to expand slavery. He stole half of Mexico’s land and made the Civil War more likely. He was also a slave trader and a particularly brutal slave owner. More than half of all slave children died on his plantation before age 15, a high rate even for slavery.
A group of anti-Irish, anti-Catholic terrorists known as the Know Nothings killed at least 50 people in the 1840s and 1850s. Fillmore was a member of the Know Nothing party.
Although he wasn’t a slave holder himself, he did enforce the Fugitive Slave Act. Like Polk, he also ignored the Native American genocide in California.
I quite enjoy Amazon’s short story collections, but I wish they’d publicize them more. I only found out about Trespass recently even though I’ve read these collections in the past. All of the stories this time around are worth reading. I think the theme that ties them together is each features human’s relationship with wildlife.Continue reading
Continuing my review of the Ang Aklatan…
We’re told three letters regarding Jesus Christ are included, but there appear to be only two and neither of them are written in the form of a letter.
The Gospel written by Angulu
Angulu was chosen of God at ten years of age, despite his father not being a believer in Christ. He’s told to go to Jerona. When he attains manhood at age twelve, he travels to Jerson. During the journey, he rests by the side of the stream Taborong and sees a rather Freudian vision of a rod of a tree sprouting up and a handmaiden taking hold of the rod. The rod of the tree divides a fertile land. A great tree, representing a prophet, arises out of the land, bearing fruit.Continue reading
Continuing my review of the Ang Aklatan…
The Book of Ahkman
The introduction tells us the remaining chapters of the Book of Ahkman have yet to be published, so we’ll have to stay tuned for that. Unlike Suran, this is written in the first person. It gives a list of children and grandchildren of Suran. Unlike the Book of Mormon, the daughters are named.Continue reading