Sunday, August 19, 2012

A thought about U.S. elections

I have been reading about decision making in the governments headed by Hitler, Stalin and Tojo.

  • Hitler's Germany bears more responsibility than any other country for starting World War II. The decision to do so turned out very badly for Hitler and Germany. Germany lost the war. There was a huge loss of German lives and destruction of German property. Hitler committed suicide at the end of the war.
  • Tojo's Japan declared war on the United States, the British Empire, France, and other countries, while already at war with China. The decisions to do so turned out very badly for Tojo and Japan. There was a huge loss of Japanese lives and destruction of Japanese property. Tojo was hung as a war criminal after the war.
  • Stalin's USSR failed to take effective action to prevent Hitler's Germany from starting World War II. The USSR suffered huge losses of life and destruction of property during the war. Stalin's policies had led to famine in the USSR before the war and he had conducted purges that killed citizens in large numbers. It has been suggested that his death was caused by his subordinates.
The reading reminded me that countries can make very bad mistakes in the leaders that they install or allow to install themselves. I am reminded of the people of the American south who led their states into secession and the Civil War. They too led their people into a hugely destructive war.

Incidentally, while we tend to talk about Hitler, Stalin and Tojo as if their thinking was that of their governments and as if each bears all of the responsibility for the actions of their governments, in each case there were groups of people in leadership who influenced the actions of government, if only by influencing the information that got to or did not get to the head of government. Moreover, in each case the action of the governing clique was enabled by the culture of the people of the country.

I don't think that either of our parties is now or in the near future likely to put up a candidate for president who is nearly as dangerous as those I have been reading about, but given the power of the United States, the difference between the better and the lesser candidate has huge impact on the world. Yet many of our citizens don't vote and our elections seem not to be effective in choosing the candidate with the best character, the greatest competence, and the best policies.

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