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Where The Buck Stops
February 1961 | Volume 12, Issue 2
Which brings us down to the present day—in which things are vastly different. Such Presidents as Lincoln, Wilson, and even Roosevelt could do without a great mass of technical and scientific knowledge; today’s President cannot. He must distinguish, for instance, between kiloton and megaton weapons—the difference between which, as Mr. May remarks, “is roughly that between Bronx Park and Bronx County.” He must know a good deal about rocketry. He must have broad knowledge about the intricate military organizations that have been built up around these awesome weapons. He must know so much, indeed, that the question is often raised: Is the joint burden of the Presidency and the command-in-chief so great that it must be divided? If so, just how can the division be made? Do we go back to the system of the Roman republic and have, in effect, two consuls, a President and an almost equal deputy? Must our President, in future, be commander in chief in name only?
Mr. May thinks not. The basic decisions still have to be made by someone, and strategy must continue to remain the servant of policy. Whether they were right or wrong, wise or stupid, all of our Presidents who have waged war have done so as politicians, with a final sense of responsibility to public opinion. To Mr. May, it finally comes down to this: “The issue is not only whether one man can stand the double strain of the Presidency and the command-in-chief, but also whether the nation can stand to have any man except one, the President and commander in chief, determine what its fate shall be.”