Garry Wills: The Modern Presidency and the National Security State

Conversations with History - Garry Wills

Garry Wills; Emeritus Professor of History, Northwestern University

Conversations host Harry Kreisler welcomes historian Garry Wills for a discussion his new book, Bomb Power. Wills recalls the formative influences on his work as a writer including his Catholic faith and education; William Buckley and the editors of The National Review; the Vietnam War protests and the Civil Rights movement. Wills discusses the origins of one of his early books, Nixon Agonistes: The Crisis of the Self Made Man. He explains the roots of his interest in leadership and reflects on other themes in his writing. Wills compares Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, Abraham Lincoln, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. He explains why, after supporting the candidacy of Barack Obama, he has become a critic of the President. Wills then analyzes the impact of the atomic bomb on the U.S. constitutional system. After World War II, the national security intrusions on the Constitution were in the main not rescinded. The making of the atomic bomb and its subsequent maintenance and development set the pattern for consolidating a national security state characterized by an enlargement of Presidential power at the expense of other branches of government. Also there was a failure to restore constitutional safeguards. What followed was an increase in secrecy, waging of undeclared wars, decline of accountability, and an acceptance of the President as Commander in Chief. Wills concludes with an assessment of the possibilities for diminishing the national security state in the future.

Key Words: Historians, U.S. Presidents, Nuclear Weapons, Cuban Missile Crisis, Presidents
Garry Wills
Publication date: 
February 9, 2010
Publication type: 
Conversations with History