The term “Commander in Chief” brings forth images of leaders like President Thomas J. Whitmore from the movie Independence Day. Bravely leading the heroes into battle, and getting their hands dirty. Let’s take a dive into historical instances where US Presidents have stacked bodies.
Before we begin, this is not a comment on morality, party affiliation, or policy review. I just want to talk about history, not politics.
To begin, let's focus on some of the Presidents who were personally responsible for making the grass grow.
President Zachary Taylor fought in four American wars, earning the nickname “Old Rough and Ready.” President George H.W. Bush was just a teenager when he was dropping bombs in the Pacific during his 58 combat missions. President Theodore Roosevelt was awarded the Medal of Honor during the Battle of San Juan Hill. Famously being the first man to reach the enemy position, and smoking the first person he saw with his sidearm.
President Andrew Jackson fought in the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812. He also fought in over 100 pistol duels, many were to defend his wife’s honor. Jackson also held a personal determination to kill as many Native Americans as he could, directing his soldiers to target women and children. In one letter, he described killing 170 Native Americans after one battle alone.
Second and Third Order Effects
Similarly, I would like to make the distinction between killing people yourself, and ordering others to kill. There are not many historical accounts that Presidents George Washington, James Monroe, William Henry Harrison or Harry S. Truman personally liquidated the enemy, but they commanded military units that did so.
**Points at enemy position** “Yeah f*** those guys, open fire!”
However, they were present for many battles over their careers, so it is a distinct possibility they canoed a few domes themselves.
Many presidents have authorized drone strikes, bomb runs, and other attacks that have filled more cemeteries (if there was anything left to be buried) than anyone one person could in a lifetime. In that vein, President Obama authorized 542 drone strikes that killed an estimated 3,797 people. President Truman authorized the atomic strikes on Hiroshima and Nagasaki that are thought to have ended nearly 200,000 lives.
Additionally, you might also count deaths caused by policy. For example, President Theodore Roosevelt’s policies during the Philippine-American War is thought to have doomed hundreds of thousands of civilians. The exact number being a matter of debate, depending on what scholarly line of reasoning you prescribe to.
At the end of the day, the President has the power to end many lives. However, some presidents were doing that long before they swore into office.