Tuesday, December 08, 2009

The Last Legal War

Sixty-eight years ago today the Congress of the United States fulfilled its duty under the Constitution and declared war on the Empire of Japan. It has shirked that duty ever since.

On December 8th, 1941, President Roosevelt addressed the Congress for only ten minutes. With the rest of the nation listening by radio, Roosevelt declared that the previous day's date would "live in infamy" and called Japan's strike against Pearl Harbor a deliberate, premeditated act of war. His request for a formal declaration of war by the Congress was agreed to by every member of that body, save for a lone pacifist dissenter who presumably voted his principles and did not really believe that the United States should not respond with force against the Pacific expansionists threatening our Pacific expansionism.

While the Colonel is tempted to glaze the eyeballs of you three gentle readers whose lives contain so few pressing matters that wasting time plodding through this pedantic post is of no consequence, we will dispense with the history lesson describing the geo-political tidal forces and American interventionism that alternately encouraged and then condemned Japanese self-assertion in the Orient. Suffice it to say that the Japanese leadership didn't wake up on the wrong side of their futons in late November of 1941 and launch the carrier strike force toward the Sandwich Islands on a sake-induced hung-over whim. I'm not trying to justify their actions, any more than I would attempt to justify Hitler's, Stalin's, Mao's, Johnson's, or bin Laden's. It is just important to understand that no geo-political action, no matter how heinous, spontaneously occurs independent of other factors. The only vacuums in international politics occur in the brain-housing groups of those who believe that bad actors are always "unprovoked."

However, the point of this missive is that in every instance of the use of American military power since 1945, the Congress of the United States has been negligent in the disregard of its Constitutional duty. Article I, Section 8, Clause 11 of the United States Constitution places the responsibility of authorizing and paying for war squarely on the shoulders of the Congress. The Executive Branch may have responsibility for execution of military operations to accomplish a national strategy, but it is the Congress’ role to declare that a state of war exists between the United States and another state (or non-state) entity. In this regard, Congress has been woefully remiss in its duty for nearly seven decades. In 1950, President Truman committed American forces to full scale military operations without a formal declaration of war. President Johnson did the same in Vietnam beginning in 1964. Following the Vietnam conflict, force “authorization” for which the Congress passed the unconstitutional Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, Congress sought to limit a future President’s use of military force with the cumbersome and impractical (not to mention, unnecessary) War Powers Resolution, which accomplished both an unconstitutional abrogation of Congress’ responsibilities and an unconstitutional infringement on the Executive Branch’s powers. The unconstitutional resolutions “authorizing” force against Iraq in 1990 and 2003 are further cases in point regarding a cowardly Congress bowing to an over-reaching Executive for the sake of re-election.

The Colonel would not have you think that the use of force in Korea, Vietnam, and against Iraq were not in the nation’s security interests. While cogent arguments can be made on both sides of that issue, the point is regardless the efficacy of the “vital national interest argument” in a given instance, our Constitution, and the will of its Framers, is quite clear regarding the way our nation may legally go to war. The Constitution, in Article I, gives the Congress the express authority “To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water…” Absent Congress’ formal declaration of war, the use of offensive military force by the Executive is unconstitutional—therefore illegal, and grounds for impeachment.

The constitutional remedy for congressional constitutional malpractice is, in our democratic republic, vested in the hands of the people via the ballot. The Colonel not-so-humbly suggests we use our power accordingly at the earliest opportunity, and every one thereafter.
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