A War on War

Cartoon Of Modern Soldier On Battlefield Showing Stop Gesture Stock Vector - Illustration of gesture, danger: 128229929Although the United States may be said to have been born into existence by a war, there exists strong reason to conclude that it was not bred for war. In a radical few words, the framers of the Constitution departed from accepted principles of governance by vesting the authority to declare war in the Congress (Art. I, Sec.8), asserting that “The Congress shall have power to declare war.”

At the same time, however, perhaps for reasons of practicality in prosecuting armed conflicts, those same founders named the President as Commander-in-Chief of the nation’s armed military forces, including state militias (Art. II, Sec.2). These two investments of military power have drawn debate and internecine disputes to the present.

Despite the clarity of Congress’s authority to declare war, no such declaration accompanied the War of 1812, the Spanish-American War (1898), or the War with Mexico (1846-48).

Despite the clarity of Congress’s authority to declare war, no such declaration accompanied the War of 1812, the Spanish-American War (1898), or the War with Mexico (1846-48). From early colonial times forward, military campaigns were conducted over generations against Native Americans. These undeclared conflicts are often attributed to and justified by nationalist policies of expansionism.

An article in The New York Times Magazine (09/05/2021) enumerated 36 military campaigns, historically recorded as wars and undeclared, against Native American nations and tribes over a 107-year period between 1811 and 1918 (end of WW I). While Congress currently dickers and dithers over a $3.5 trillion decade’s  investment in the nation’s needs, that same body authorized $21 trillion over 20 years since 9/11 in military spending, surveillance, and interventions.

James Madison of Virginia, the father of the Constitution and the House’s most important statesman in the early Congresses, believed the House should have “an immediate dependence on, and intimate sympathy with, the people.” The House is the only branch of government that has been directly elected by American voters since its formation in 1789.

In 1793, President George Washington, first Commander-in-Chief,  issued his Proclamation of Neutrality over the war between France and Britain, threatening legal action against any who provided aid or assistance to the combatants. During his iconic Farewell Address in 1796, the retiring President declared, “It is our true policy to steer clear of permanent alliance with any portion of the foreign world.” Neutrality and sustaining peace, however, were overtaken by events. And, as the expansionist policies of the nation continued, the two military powers were not mutually exclusive.

From 1920 to the mid-1940s, the United States was a significant participant in the League of Nations and later, in 1945 at its founding, the United Nations. Not coincidently following two global multinational wars, declared by Congress, the US Department of War, which had existed since 1789, was renamed the Department of Defense in 1949. The UN charter had outlawed wars of aggression while acknowledging wars of defense. In 1950, North Korea attacked the USSR and the US supported South Korea, justifying President Harry Truman’s decision to send troops to stop the “police action.” 

By 1956, the United States was engaged in a training mission in Vietnam, and by 1964 had become fully engaged in that conflict. Neither the Korean nor Vietnam wars were declared by Congress.

By 1956, the United States was engaged in a training mission in Vietnam, and by 1964 had become fully engaged in that conflict. Neither the Korean nor Vietnam wars were declared by Congress.

The nation’s exit from the 20-year campaign in Afghanistan has reignited a long pending dialogue over when and how the United States may engage in armed conflict. The tension between Congress and the President concerning war or the use of military force has been a bitter struggle for many decades entailing debate over war powers. That contest involves Constitutional DNA and global history. No populace has ever voted for or against war to reflect Madison’s belief that elected representatives have an “intimate sympathy with the people.” A joint resolution of Congress in 1941, called the War Powers Resolution, was intended to limit presidential authority to commit armed forces abroad only with a declaration of war by Congress or in defense of an attack.

September 11, 2001, disrupted that foreign policy in favor of national interests and security. Much has been written about the validity and credibility of those interests as justifying the blood and treasure costs to the nation. Applying those resources to peace efforts might have yielded an entirely different planet. Despite these considerations and proportions, there are some in our country whose influence in the use of military force continues to be heard inside and outside the chambers where war is supposed to be decided.

It’s almost as though peace is distasteful or un-American. Recently, John Bolton, former Trump National Security adviser, UN Ambassador, and leading hawk for the foreign policy community, tweeted that the Trump-Biden withdrawal from Afghanistan was a big mistake, adding that Beijing and Moscow are laughing. Other hawks have joined the chorus, seeming to focus on demonizing China as the next test of military threat to the nation.

The saber-rattling emerges at the same time that media outlets are blustering over foreign policy and military failures, failing themselves in presenting discussion of public policy choices available to the population at large. In proportion, the antics of a few offbeat Congressfolks garner more ink than the fact that wars in Syria, Ethiopia, and Yemen continue to be supported or waged by the United States.

Were Congress to declare war on war, the United States could emerge as the enviable world leader that both hawks and doves alike advocate.

Were Congress to declare war on war, the United States could emerge as the enviable world leader that both hawks and doves alike advocate. Imagination and political will are required. It is even imaginable that, barring exigent circumstances, the United States possesses the technological capacity to field a referendum on a declaration of war before Congress needs to act. That is intimacy with the governed.



Categories: elections, International Events, Issues, National, political discourse, politics, RULE OF LAW

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