Why Democrats Seem Unpatriotic and Weak on Defense

Question: Why are Democrats viewed as weak on defense and somehow lacking in patriotism?

Wesley Clark: You know, I was a soldier in Vietnam.  I was an Infantry Company Commander.  I came back, I was wounded; came home on a stretcher in 1970.  And I did another couple of Army jobs and ended up teaching at West Point and I would read in the New York Times every day from my perch 50 miles above New York City on the Hudson.  I was kind of shocked at the anti-military attitudes that were present in the country.  

I remember in the spring of 1971, a hundred thousand people converged on the Pentagon in June of 1971.  They threw blood; I guess it was goat’s blood or something, on the steps to the Pentagon.  People were being accused of being murderers and baby killers.  You just can’t imagine the civic outrage.  Now most of these people were not wearing suits and ties, most of these people showed some evidence of being associated with the more free-thinking elements of society.  You could call them counter-culture, and you would say these people were also probably voting Democratic.  That is to say, they didn’t like their parents’ authority, they didn’t like government's authority, and they didn’t like the university’s authority.  They were more free thinking because the authority meant, in the minds of many people of this generation, "We’re gonna get drafted.  We’re gonna go into the military and we’re not gonna make it out of Vietnam." 

Some people went to Canada, a lot of people protested.  It’s also, of course, a great way to meet girls, and so if you were a young guy and you were looking to have a good time, there's nothing like a good street demonstration to do this—especially in the United States because it’s not too dangerous and people are really nice and they get along really well.  

But that was the early 70’s, and this attitude was, of course, picked up by members of Congress because people run for office.  I remember when Senator Kennedy led the fight against the supersonic transport.  We were actually gonna take the B-58 Bomber and just like the Europeans did when they built the Concord, we were going to have our own supersonic transport, and it would have been civil aircraft, but we were putting a lot of money in it.  At the time, it was, the, you know, the people against the technology and Senator Kennedy represented that. And this technology was part of the military industrial complex, it was spin-off.  It would have put us in a really world-leading position on aviation technology, even more so that we already were in, but you know, enough was enough.  

And so we decided to put out national priorities in other directions.  And the Democrats kind of became the party of this voice.  When it was discovered that there was a secret bombing campaign in Laos in 1972, Richard Nixon was the President, he was a Republican.  And it was natural that at the same time that Nixon had done the Watergate break-in, and Democrats in particular were outraged against the President’s conduct, here he was doing a secret bombing campaign against the wishes and intent of Congress. And so they became outspoken on this.  

The war ended the next year, in 1973. Our prisoners came home and Nixon resigned, and Vietnam became an item of history.  But the legacy of Vietnam was that it was the Republicans who were doing the fighting and it was the Democrats who were doing the objecting.  And the objecting was not only to the policy, it was also to the people who wore the uniform.  Now, I know, maybe Democrats don’t want to hear that today, but that’s the way it was.  And I was one of those young people who was told, you know, you didn’t have to wear your uniform, you know, in Washington D.C. too much because people didn’t welcome it.  Today, if you wear a uniform and you’re on an airplane, the flight attendant may say, let’s give a big round of applause to our men and women who are fighting in Iraq.  That was unheard of in the 1960’s.  And we had thousands of soldiers who came out of that war with PTSD exactly like the PTSD that people have today coming out of Iraq, but we didn’t even know what to call it then.  We thought they were like druggies, or hippies, or maladjustment problems.  They got washed out of the military, in reality, there were a lot of emotionally damaged and sometimes physically impaired young men who had served their country, tried to serve it well and under some difficult circumstances, and without all the support mechanisms that are in place today.  

But we didn’t understand all of that then.  And so, what happened was, the Democratic party, it had a sort of residue of... and then when President Carter was elected in 1976, the idea was to get rid of dishonesty and the criminality of government that had emerged with the Watergate case.  And unfortunately what happened was that we had the fall of the Shah of Iran, we had the Americans taken hostage in the American Embassy.  And this... we tried to mount a military rescue and the military rescue was a fiasco.  Some people claimed it was a weak military blamed on the administration, and President Carter was defeated for re-election.  Ronald Reagan came in and he became the voice of a strong, rearmed "morning in America."  And this sort of became the image set in stone.  So Democrats got tagged with not being strong on national security.  

And today in the Democratic Party, actually if you go and look at the people who were elected into office, you say, “How many of you all served in the military?"  There’s probably more Democrats who served in the military and are veterans than there are Republicans.  And certainly that’s true amongst the youngsters.  But if you go to the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion Halls and you ask people, “What do you think about those political parties?” These World War II, Korean War, Vietnam War veterans, they’ll tell it to you straight. They don’t have anything against Roosevelt and Truman, but in the 1970s and '80s, the Democrats, they didn’t believe in a strong America, they wanted to make us weak.  It may not be true, but it’s the mythology that’s out there in the political view and it’s been aided, promoted, and taken as a theme by the Republican Party.  

They want you to believe that they’re stronger on national defense.  That’s the reason I wore the American flag lapel pins.  And, whether they’ve served in the military or not, they’re the first ones to want to throw our military into a problem because it’s tough, it’s strong, and you know, they’re the "papa party," the Democrats are the "mama party."  The Democrats are for victims, they’re for the little guy, they’re—they’re oh so compassionate, everything’s so nice… but the Republicans, they’re big and they’re tough and they’re mean and they’re... “Boy, we’re gonna get after you if you try to threaten us.”  And that’s the characterization of the parties.  And it’s out there as a sort of mythology that underlies all of the day-to-day happenings of the American political system.

Recorded September 23, 2010
Interviewed by Andrew Dermont

Today there are probably more Democratic politicians who have served in the military than Republicans, says General Clark. Yet history has branded the Dems as the "Mama Party."

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Hold your breath at Marble Arch!

Air pollution up to five times over the EU limit in Central London hotspots

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  • Dirty air is an invisible killer, but an effective one.
  • A recent study estimates that more than 9,000 people die prematurely in London each year due to air pollution.
  • This map visualises the worst places to breathe in Central London.

The Great Smog of 1952

London used to be famous for its 'pea-soupers': combinations of smoke and fog caused by burning coal for power and heating.

All that changed after the Great Smog of 1952, when weather conditions created a particularly dense and persistent layer of pollution. For a number of days, visibility was reduced to as little as one foot, making traffic impossible. The fog even crept indoors, leading to cancellations of theatre and film showings. The episode wasn't just disruptive and disturbing, but also deadly: according to one estimate, it directly and indirectly killed up to 12,000 Londoners.

Invisible, but still deadly

Image: MONEY SHARMA/AFP/Getty Images

London Mayor Sadiq Khan

After the shock of the Great Smog, the UK cleaned up its act, legislating to replace open coal fires with less polluting alternatives. London Mayor Sadiq Khan is hoping for a repeat of the movement that eradicated London's smog epidemic, but now for its invisible variety.

The air in London is "filthy, toxic", says Khan. In fact, poor air quality in the British capital is a "public health crisis". The city's poor air quality is linked not just to thousands of premature deaths each year, but also to a range of illnesses including asthma, heart disease and dementia. Children growing up in areas with high levels of air pollution may develop stunted lungs, with up to 10% less capacity than normal.

Image: Transport for London

ULEZ phases 1 and 2, and LEZ

Khan has led a very active campaign for better air quality since his election as London Mayor in 2016. Some of the measures recently decided:

  • Transport for London has introduced 2,600 diesel-electric hybrid buses, which is said to reduce emissions by up to 40%.
  • Mr Khan has pledged to spend £800 million on air quality over a five-year period.
  • Uber fares will rise by 15p (20¢) to help drivers buy electric cars.
  • Since the start of 2018, all new single-decker buses are zero-emission and all new taxis must be hybrid or electric.
  • Mr Khan has added a T-charge on the most toxic vehicles entering the city. On 8 April, the T-charge will be replaced by an Ultra-Low Emission Zone (ULEZ), contiguous with the Congestion Charge Zone.
  • The ULEZ is designed to reduce emissions of nitrogen oxide and particulate matter by charging vehicles who don't meet stringent exhaust emission standards.
  • By October 2020, a Low-Emission Zone (LEZ), applicable to heavy commercial vehicles, will cover most of Greater London.
  • By October 2021, the ULEZ will expand to cover a greater part of Central London.

Central London's worst places for breathing

Image: Steven Bernard / Financial Times

Heathrow (bottom left on the overview map) is another pollution hotspot

What worries experts is that despite considerable efforts already made, levels of air pollution stubbornly refuse to recede – and remain alarmingly high in locations where traffic flows converge.

It's not something you'd think of, given our atmosphere's fluctuating nature, but air pollution hotspots can be extremely local – as this map demonstrates.

One important lesson for all Londoners: don't inhale at Marble Arch! Levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) are five times the EU norm – the highest in the city. Traffic permitting, quickly cross Cumberland Gate to Speakers' Corner and further into Hyde Park, where levels sink back to a 'permissible' 40 milligrams per cubic meter. Now you can inhale!

Almost as bad: Tower Hill (4.6 times the EU norm) and Marylebone Road (4 times; go to nearby Regent's Park for relief).

Also quite bad: the Strand (3.9), Piccadilly Circus (3.8), and Hyde Park Corner (also 3.8), Victoria (3.7) and Knightsbridge (3.5), the dirty trio just south of Hyde Park.

Elephant & Castle is the only pollution hotspot below the Thames and, perhaps because it's relatively isolated from other black spots, also the one with the lowest multiplication factor (2.8 times the maximum level).

On the larger map, the whole of Central London, including its relatively NO2-free parks, still shows up as more polluted than the outlying areas. Two exceptions flare up red: busy traffic arteries; and Heathrow Airport (in the bottom left corner).

Image: Mike Malone, CC BY SA 4.0

Traffic congestion on London's Great Portland Street

So why is Central London's air pollution problem so persistent? In part, this is because the need for individual transport in cars seems to be inelastic. For example, the Congestion Charge has slashed the number of vehicles entering Central London by 30%, but the number of (CC-exempt) private-hire vehicles entering that zone has quadrupled over the same period.

Cycling has really taken off in London. But despite all pro-cycling measures, a wide range of other transport options and car-dissuading measures, central London is still a very congested place. Average traffic speeds on weekdays has declined to 8 miles (13 km) per hour – fittingly medieval speeds, as the road network was largely designed in medieval times.

Narrow streets between high buildings, filled to capacity with slow-moving traffic are a textbook recipe for semi-permanent high levels air pollution.

The large share of diesel vehicles on London's streets only increases the problem. Diesel vehicles emit lower levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) than petrol cars, which is why their introduction was promoted by European governments.

However, diesels emit higher levels of the highly toxic nitrogen dioxide (NO2) than initial lab tests indicated. Which is why they're being phased out now.

As bad as Delhi, worse than New York

Image: Sanchit Khanna/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

By some measures, London's air quality is almost as bad as New Delhi's.

By some measures, especially NO2, London's air pollution is nearly as bad as big Asian cities such as Beijing or New Delhi, and much worse than other developed cities such as New York and Madrid.

The UK is bound to meet pollution limits as set down in the National Air Quality objectives and by EU directives, for example for particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide.

  • Particulate matter (PM2.5) consists of tiny particles less than 2.5 micrometres in diameter emitted by combustion engines. Exposure to PM2.5 raises the mortality risk of cardiovascular diseases. The target for PM2.5 by 2020 is 25 µg/m3. All of London currently scores higher, with most areas at double that level.
  • Mainly emitted by diesel engines, NO2 irritates the respiratory system and aggravates asthma and other pre-existing conditions. NO2 also reacts with other gases to form acid rain. The limit for NO2 is 40 µg/m3, and NO2 levels must not exceed 200 µg/m3 more than 18 times a year. Last year, London hit that figure before January was over.

Google joins fight against air pollution

Image: laszlo-photo, CC BY SA 2.0

Elephant & Castle, London.

Studies predict London's air pollution will remain above legal limits until 2025. Sadiq Khan – himself an asthma sufferer – is working to make London's air cleaner by measures great and small. Earlier this week, he announced that two of Google's Street View cars will be carrying air quality sensors when mapping the streets of London

Over the course of a year, the two cars will take air quality readings every 30 metres in order to identify areas of London with dangerous levels of air pollution that might be missed by the network of fixed sensors. An additional 100 of those fixed sensors will be installed near sensitive locations and known pollution hotspots, doubling the network's density.

It's all part of Breathe London, a scheme to map the British capital's air pollution in real time. Breathe London will be the world's largest air quality monitoring network, said Mr Khan, launching the scheme at Charlotte Sharman Primary School in the London borough of Southwark.

Up to 30% of the school's pupils are said to be asthma sufferers. Charlotte Sharman is close to Elephant & Castle, as the above map shows, one of Central London's air pollution hotspots.

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