- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 15, 2000

As Florida legal wranglings continue, frustration mounts


If Vice President Al Gore had won enough states to give him the election without Florida being a factor, would Jesse Jackson still be orchestrating demonstrations in Palm Beach? Would anyone care about how many votes Pat Buchanan got? Would a battalion of trial lawyers be trying to find loopholes in the law? And would anyone be talking about voter "confusion" or "disenfranchisement"?
I find it hard to imagine that the Democratic Party would give a hoot about the people in Palm Beach or anywhere else if its candidate had been the clear winner of the election.
STEVE BASSETT
Columbia, Md.

Allow me to point out four important facts concerning the role of Palm Beach County in the presidential election:
In the 1996 presidential election, about 14,000 ballots were disqualified in that county because of voter errors. This was public knowledge, but neither the voters nor the elected officials thought it was a serious enough problem to do anything about it.
They could have allocated funds to upgrade their voting machines to use ballots that would be less confusing and error prone and could be recounted accurately numerous times without damaging or degrading the ballots. They chose not to address this problem. Apparently, at that time, they had other priorities.
All public election officials in Florida are aware that Florida statutes mandate that all counts and recounts be completed within seven days of an election. I assume Palm Beach County officials are intelligent enough to have realized it would take about six days to recount by hand all of their ballots in a presidential election.
Therefore, we can conclude (and they should have concluded) that doing a hand count of a presidential election in Palm Beach County within the statutory time limit is a near impossibility. To accomplish it, they would have to start on the day following the election, which is quite unlikely. County officials did not seek to have the state change its statute.
If the election officials had given this any significant thought, they should have realized that their county was in a vulnerable position a hand count of any race on a presidential election ballot was basically impossible. If a hand count ever were required, they would need to be granted an exception to the state statute. This is obvious, but the granting of an exception always seemed highly unlikely (barring a natural disaster).
Before this election, that was a risk they were willing to take. Now, in retrospect, I wager that they would make a different choice.
Other counties in Florida have invested in modern voting equipment. They use optical ballots and scanners. They considered voting to be an important activity that needed the proper infrastructure to be done quickly and accurately, and they budgeted and acted accordingly. When these counties did recounts, the numbers did not change.
This may not yet be a fact, but you can bank on it. For the next presidential election, Palm Beach County will have modern, up-to-date voting equipment that will be fast and accurate. The voters will have learned (the hard way) the lesson other counties in Florida already know, which is that voting is important and counties that are negligent in this area put themselves and the voice of their residents at risk.
In summary, the rest of the nation should not be held hostage to the careless negligence of the elected officials of one county. The law is the law. Everyone knew the law before the election. People had plenty of time to prepare. Some chose to prepare wisely, and some did not.
SHAE MURPHY
Williamsburg

Give us seniors a break. I'm 70, and my wife is 66. We had no trouble filling in our ballots or finding the candidates of our choice. In our lifetimes, we've used voting machines, filled in ovals, punched holes and made X's in appropriate boxes.
The ballot mistakes in Florida's Palm Beach County were either deliberate omissions or were made by inexperienced voters. Few seniors are inexperienced or first-time voters. The noises being generated originate with a band of die-hard partisans who will do anything to win. These partisans are not limited to Florida, but see a larger window of opportunity here.
Please, don't blame us seniors for this display of idiocy.
LEON J. DECKER
Port St. Lucie, Fla.

Conventional view of Korean War no longer adequate


Alan Gropman's ad hominem review of my book "Odd Man Out: Truman, Stalin, Mao, and the Origin of the Korean War" (Brassey,2000) is a transparent attempt to defend the conventional wisdom and suppress discussion of a new interpretation of the war ("Views of the Korean War, from strategy to its toll," Books, Nov. 5). Mr. Gropman charges that I provide no evidence for my thesis that Josef Stalin decided upon war in Korea to serve a larger objective to forestall the emergence of a Sino-American rapprochement. Contrary to Mr. Gropman's apoplectic invective, that is what recent Soviet archival material shows. Moreover, I am not the first to say so. I give credit for that insight to Sergei Goncharov, John Lewis and Xue Litai, who made it seven years ago in their book "Uncertain Partners: Stalin, Mao and the Korean War" (Stanford 1993). Subsequent archival releases have only confirmed their assessment.
More obviously, Kim Il Sung was Stalin's creature, not vice versa, and did not determine Soviet foreign policy, despite Mr. Gropman's assertion of which there is no evidence. The documents in the Cold War International History Project (especially no. 6-7, Winter, 1995/96) as well as the recollections of Yu Songchol, chief North Korean operations planner, who translated Stalin's war plan from Russian into Korean, make the originator of the war certain. There should be no further uninformed discussion of this point.
Mr. Gropman challenges my view that the Korean War shaped big-power politics from 1950 to the present, asking whether I missed Richard Nixon's trip to China in 1972. It is, of course, elementary to observe that without the Korean War, which placed China and the United States on opposite sides, there could not have been a Nixon trip to China, or what followed.
Mr. Gropman's claim that I view Mao Tse-tung as some sort of puppet misses the point, like everything else in his review. Indeed, one of the main theses of my book is that Mao's choice to seek relations with both East and West precipitated Stalin's decision for war, and the first step in his plan alliance with Moscow prompted President Harry S. Truman's decision to change to the global containment strategy expressed in National Security Council Document No. 68 (NSC-68).
This brings me to one of the most important points of my book: U.S. strategy. The United States under Secretary of State Dean Acheson had spent the better part of a year from the spring of 1949 through early January 1950 attempting to forestall the emergence of a Sino-Soviet alliance relationship. This was the so-called "wedge" strategy, which failed when Mao opted for alliance with Stalin. The Sino-Soviet alliance, backed by the earlier-than-expected Soviet acquisition of an atomic capability, left the United States with no choice but to extend European containment to Asia. That was NSC-68, the blueprint for global containment.
It is, incidentally, incorrect to argue, as Mr. Gropman does, that Mr. Truman did not "accept" NSC-68 until after the war in Korea erupted. Mr. Truman accepted it when it was presented to him in mid-April, and he immediately directed relevant agencies to begin cost estimates for the new strategy. What is true is that these estimates were under way but not completed when the war broke out.
Did the United States know the war was imminent? The conventional wisdom, of course, is that the United States was taken totally by surprise. That is Mr. Gropman's view, with which I differ. I point out that the substantial record is consistent with Truman's foreknowledge. Indeed, no less an authority on the war than Gen. Matthew Ridgway, who succeeded Douglas MacArthur, has questioned the conventional view. As he noted about the prewar intelligence reporting, particularly the report of June 19, 1950: "[H]ow anyone could have read this report and not anticipated an attack is hard to fathom."
Honest men can differ and should discuss the big questions of the war that had such a formative impact on the United States. We are far enough removed and have more than enough evidence, both direct and contextual, to assess dispassionately the complex interactions among the major actors. One thing is certain, however. The conventional wisdom that Kim talked Stalin into the war, that the war related solely to the Korean peninsula, that Mao was Stalin's faithful ally, and that Truman was totally surprised by the war, can no longer be sustained.
RICHARD C. THORNTON
Professor of History and International Affairs
George Washington University
Washington

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