We Must Require Declarations of War

The last time America declared War was December 8, 1945. We won that one, as you may recall. (For Baby Boomers and their children and grandchildren, this was called “World War 2.”)

Since then Truman (D) put us in Korea without a declaration, committing American men and equipment to a “limited war” under the auspices of the United Nations. Did the war need to be fought? Probably, and with the UN authorization, one can make the case it was a legitimate use of US forces.

Result? Containment of the Soviet Union and China, then still allies of one another. And basically status quo ante on the ground. And 34,000 KIA.

Vietnam? A Democrat-led Congress and a Democrat President made up the Tonkin Gulf incident and put troops in Vietnam with neither a Declaration of War nor UN authorization. Result? We won the battles, the enemy won the war and took South Vietnam by force. And 58,000 American fighting men and women died.

Kosovo? A Democrat Congress and a Democrat President, lacking even UN authorization, committed troops in 1995 – for ‘a couple of years’ (still there in 2008). No Declaration of War. No UN authorization.

(In fact, Congress voted to require the President to obtain Congressional authorization before deploying troops to Bosnia – not even a Declaration of War, just authorization. He ignored them, deployed anyway, and tens of thousands of American troops have been there ever since – now going on 10 years. This was arguably the most egregious violation of the Constitutional requirement for Congress to approve putting forces into harm’s way.)

The Gulf War? A Republican Administration huffed and puffed, the UN passed a couple of resolutions – but lacked any force with which to back them up, and a Democrat-led Congress said, yeah, go ahead and send troops, but lacked the guts to declare war. 147 dead.

And now the Iraq War. No Declaration of War. No Korea-like UN authority. 4,085 dead (through 28 May 2008).

The problem here is this. The Constitution does not allow the Commander in Chief to commit forces to hostilities abroad – for whatever reason – absent a Declaration of War. The President can huff and puff and Congress can bloviate and yammer, but sending American fighting men and women into harm’s way requires a Declaration of War. And no one since FDR has asked for one, even though we have committed troops to foreign combat in a major way three times (not counting Korea due to the UN).

The issue isn’t whether or not these wars ought to have been fought. Those are reasonably argued and not the purpose of this discussion.

The issue is that if the President – Democrat or Republican – thinks we need to commit forces to combat, then a Declaration is required.

If the President feels the need to commit forces, he or she must sell Congress and the American people on it. If that can’t be done, then forces cannot go.

Sorry if a lot of people die through our lack of engagement, but if Congress and the people don’t want to commit, their will must be respected; that’s the law.

And they’ll need to bear the responsibility for not acting.

As Historian Douglas Brinkley has noted, “The commander in chief –the president–has to constantly sell the American people on the idea of the war.”

The GOP can no more insist on committing troops for our “security” while standing in America for the rule of law – and violating the Constitution, than the Democrats can pretend to have done the President’s bidding by voting to use force, and then whining when force is used. A Declaration is required – that means not optional.

It’s great when the President insists that a large foreign military operation is necessity for American Security, but if he or she can’t sell that to Congress or the People that war will just have to go un-waged; by law.

Yes, we live in a world in which Washington could disappear in a mushroom cloud before we knew we were at war. This just means better intelligence and an understanding that pre-emptive strikes sometimes are required. But those strikes require a Declaration – or the American public is not on-board.

(There’s nothing wrong with a Declaration that comes up for a vote with a B2 already miles above the target, with the initial bombs falling seconds after the vote to approve, BTW; timing is everything.)

If the Public is not on-board, society is split and America continues to fight within itself, continuing to pull down this great nation. The government cannot be the cause of that.

People are, somewhere, sometime, somehow going to die from America’s lack of involvement. That’s unfortunate, but not reason enough to overturn our Constitution. It is certainly reason enough for Congress to take its role seriously – something our current – and last several – Congresses have been unwilling to do.

Suppose that, based on what he or she believes to be credible intelligence, a President wants to strike pre-emptively, and Congress declines, and an America city is hit.

Congress will need to take responsibility for that. They were told, they refused to sanction. Americans died. 

The President will need to take responsibility for not being a good enough salesman or saleswoman.

The People need to hammer both remorselessly for their lack of foresight. 

This is not scapegoating. It is not ill-placed blame. It is called “maturity,” taking responsibility for both one’s actions and inactions. It seems beyond the Baby Boomer, but perhaps the next generations can learn the right lessons from this set of Boomer mistakes.

Of course, our Baby Boomer Presidents and Congresses know nothing of responsibility – one can see that in fiscal irresponsibility alone.

And in thousands of killed American fighting men and women with no Declarations of War.


About Alex Scipio

About Alex Scipio: Alex moved out of the People's Republic of California to the Free State of Arizona, finally tiring of the lack of the Bill of Rights, the overgrown idiocracy, and the catering to non-Americans & welfare recipients. He still wonders how America got from Truman, Eisenhower, and Daniel Patrick Moynihan to the Liberal and Conservative extremes so badly managing America today. And, yes, islam DOES need to be annihilated. And doing what he can to get folks away from the extremes of political life.
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