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Thomas Jefferson and George Bush on War

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By Ben Cohen

Last week, I posted some comments from a reader about Thomas Jefferson’s views on religion. The article caused a bit of a storm, with literally thousands of people spreading the article around the net.

It got me thinking, why do the words of a man dead for almost 200 years mean so much to Americans today?

I am convinced the reason Jefferson still inspires many Americans is because he causes them to believe in the country the current Administration is doing its best to annihilate.

It is the contrast between the bombastic rhetoric of the Bush Administration, and the reasoned, thoughtful words of the man almost universally as one of the countries greatest presidents that gives Americans hope in their nation.

Where Bush uses war as an instrument of policy, Jefferson saw it as an affront to humanity.

“I love peace”, he said, “and am anxious that we should give the world still another useful lesson, by showing to them other modes of punishing injuries than by war, which is as much a punishment to the punisher as to the sufferer.”

Where Bush sees debt and war as the engine of American society, Jefferson saw the ruining of a nation:

"Having seen the people of all other nations bowed down to the earth under the wars and prodigalities of their rulers, I have cherished their opposites, peace, economy, and riddance of public debt, believing that these were the high road to public as well as private prosperity and happiness."

Where Bush sees the value of ‘Shock and Awe’ tactics to spread democracy, Jefferson saw futility.

"I do not believe war the most certain means of enforcing principles”,
he would say. “Those peaceable coercions which are in the power of
every nation, if undertaken in concert and in time of peace, are more
likely to produce the desired effect."

Above all, he also saw it as hypocrisy.

"War is an instrument entirely inefficient toward redressing wrong; and multiplies, instead of indemnifying losses."

Where Bush sees violence as a cleansing force for good, Jefferson saw it as an unnecessary facet of human life: 

"The evils which of necessity encompass the life of man are
sufficiently numerous. Why should we add to them by voluntarily
distressing and destroying one another? Peace, brothers, is better than
war. In a long and bloody war, we lose many friends, and gain nothing.
Let us then live in peace and friendship together, doing to each other
all the good we can."

When President John F. Kennedy hosted an event for 49 Nobel Prize
winners to the White House in 1962 he said, "I think this is the most
extraordinary collection of talent and of human knowledge that has ever
been gathered together at the White House—with the possible exception
of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone”.

With the current President saying things like, "My job is a
decision-making job, and as a result, I make a lot of decisions," it is
not hard to see why Americans find solace in a dead one.