To Declare or Not to Declare, that Is the Question – Part VIII

In last week’s essay (To Declare or Not to Declare, that Is the Question – Part VII) I alluded to the fact that the United States has forgotten how to wage war.  We have forgotten what the nature of war is and the purpose of it.

The purpose of war is not to facilitate “nation-building”, nor is it to “spread democracy.”  Unless a nation is a bent on conquest and subjugation, free nations engage in war only as a defensive matter of self-preservation.  When it comes to self-preservation war is a matter of kill or be killed, and all options should be on the table as they were in WWII.  Today we try to wage “polite war”, but no such thing exists.  We are too concerned about political correctness in how we conduct military actions.  War is horrible and should be resorted to only as a last measure due to the suffering it causes on both sides of the conflict.

My take on the approach to waging war is what I term the “Mr. Miyagi Philosophy of War.”  In the movie “Karate Kid III”, the wise Mr. Miyagi has taken a young teenage girl named Julie under his tutelage.  One evening while walking home alone she is accosted by a group of boys in a judo club and harassed.  Off to the side you hear this soft, quiet voice say to them, “Leave girl alone.”  They look, and begin laughing at and taunting this little old man telling them to back off.  If you’ve seen the movie, you know that that little old man defeats all of the boys who run off with their “tails between their legs.”  Julie gets all excited about how Mr. Miyagi “kicked butt”, and here is the wisdom in their conversation:

Juile: That was great, Mr. Miyagi.

Mr. Miyagi: Not great. Miyagi always look for way not to fight. Miyagi hate fighting, was most unfortunate.

Julie:  Unfortunate? Come on! Aren’t you glad you kicked some guy’s butt?

Mr. Miyagi: Not want to kick anything. Was most unfortunate their butts attached to small brain.

Julie: Mr. Miyagi, come on admit it. We kicked some butt.

Mr. Miyagi: Julie-san, fighting not good. But if must fight… win.

As related to our subject matter, to paraphrase that last line, “War is not good.  But if must fight…win!”

Consider what we did in WWII.  On February 13, 1945, the allies fire-bombed the city of Dresden, Germany, killing an estimated 135,000 civilians (or more) in one night.  On March 9, 1945, the US fire-bombed Toyoko, Japan and killed at least 130,000 civilians.  Then of course there were the two nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  The purpose was to try and force those nations to sue for peace and bring an end to the conflict and to preserve American and allied lives.

Today, in our war against those seeking to do us harm, in a formal declaration of war Congress should make it plain that as horrible as it may seem, we will unleash all of our might against those enemies and anyone who aligns themselves with them, shelters them, or remains in their vicinity may very well suffer the same fate as them.

General William Tecumseh Sherman understood how horrible war was, but it didn’t stop him from being ruthless in prosecuting it.  I leave you with some of his words of wisdom about war and how to wage it:

“War is the remedy that our enemies have chosen, and I say let us give them all they want.”

“I would make this war as severe as possible, and show no symptoms of tiring till the South begs for mercy.”

“My aim, then, was to whip the rebels, to humble their pride, to follow them to their inmost recesses, and make them fear and dread us.”

“War is cruelty. There is no use trying to reform it. The crueler it is, the sooner it will be over.”

“War is at its best barbarism.”

“If the people raise a great howl against my barbarity and cruelty, I will answer that war is war, and not popularity seeking.”

 “There’s many a boy here today who looks on war as all glory but it is all hell.”

 And finally,

“Every attempt to make war easy and safe will result in humiliation and disaster.”

 Would that more of our leaders had the attitude of General Sherman; then maybe there would be fewer American servicemen and women losing their lives and we as a people could dwell in peace and safety.  As Mr. Miyagi said, “if must fight…win!”

-June 23, 2017

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To Declare or Not to Declare, that Is the Question – Part VII

We now understand that the power to declare war (see To Declare or Not to Declare, that is the Question – Part VI) can mean either to formally recognize that we are in a state of war after an adversary has attacked the US, or to formally announce that we intend to commence hostilities against an adversary.  But against whom do we declare war?  Just who is an “adversary” against whom war can be declared?

The meaning of what it is to be “at war” has been muddied up over the past few decades.  We hear such phrases as “War on Poverty”, “War on Drugs”, the “Cold War”, and most recently, the “War on Terror.”  I think that the reason we have not been as successful in recent military conflicts in which we’ve engaged is because we have lost sight of what war is all about and what it truly is.

The object of a declaration of war, if it is to be understood and carried through to victory, must be specific.  In WWII, we declared war against Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy and the Empire of Japan.  It was easy for the citizens at that time to focus on and crystalize exactly who we were at war with and what it was going to take to win and return to a state of peace.  Yet the examples I gave above are nebulous to say the least.  Is it any wonder that we don’t seem to be making much headway?  We still have poverty after trillions of government spending/waste.  The drug epidemic is spreading like a prairie fire, we’re still at odds with Russia despite the dissolution of the old Soviet Union, and the so-called “War on Terror”?   Well……

I find all of these “wars” to be misnomers; an inaccurate use of the term and concept of “war.”  Consider the “War on Terror.”  Just who is the enemy?  Some might say it’s ISIS, Al Qaida, the Muslim Brotherhood, etc, but that is not the enemy we’ve tied to the use of the word “war.”  Terror is a means to an end, and therefore cannot be an enemy against which you declare war.  Winston Churchill did not declare war against Blitzkrieg when Poland was invaded.  No, he asked the British Parliament to declare war against Nazi Germany, the adversary who was utilizing the method of Blitzkrieg to attack a neighboring country.  So it must be with us today in how we approach this Muslim menace today.

President Trump should go to the Congress and ask for a declaration of war against the organizations who are perpetrating terror around the globe.   The declaration should state that we have been attacked by these adversaries over the years (the Marine Barracks in Lebanon, the USS Cole, the WTC buildings to name a few) and that we will take whatever means necessary to eradicate them.  By making this formal declaration it should also put other nations on notice that should they harbor, aide or abet these organizations they will also be considered to be adversarial to our safety and will be subject to incurring whatever damage and suffering might result when we attack these groups that are within their territory.  In effect, we are declaring to be at war with them in an indirect manner.  This way they are on notice and if they fail to take action themselves to root out those organizations, then the consequences will be on them, not on the US.

To fail to realize exactly who we are at war with and formally stating such will keep us in the condition we have been for the past almost three decades, namely mired down in politically correct battles with no clear victory or peace in sight.  Next week, a look at what war really is and how it should be waged.

-June 16, 2017

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To Declare or Not to Declare, that Is the Question – Part VI

Having examined (in the previous five installments of this series of essays) the background and the constitutional positing of the power to declare war in the hands of the legislature, we can now look at answering the question “What did the founders mean by the phrase ‘declare war’?”

There are two basic schools of thought on its meaning. One is to declare war is simply a formal announcement to the world that the US is in a state of war with xyz country(ies) – that is the war is already in existence. This would be the case with FDR’s call for Congress to declare war on the Empire of Japan after its attack on Pearl Harbor. The other interpretation is that Congress has the power to initiate war – to put a country(ies) on notice that the US considers itself to be on a war footing with them and will commence hostilities against them. The follow up question is then, which is it? Interpretation one, or two, or perhaps both?

In trying to define something it is many times helpful to look and see if the same concept has been expressed in other places using different words or phrases. If we take this approach it will help us to understand the founders’ frame of mind and in grasping what they intended when they wrote in the Constitution that “Congress shall have the power to…declare war.”

In the Articles of Confederation, written by many of the same men who later wrote the Constitution, three different phrases were used. In Article VI, the Congress was given the power to “engage in any war,” and to make “a declaration of war.” In Article IX it stated that congress “shall have the sole and exclusive right and power of determining on peace and war.”

In the original draft of the Constitution, in listing the enumerated powers of the legislature in Article VII, it had the simple phrase “to make war.” Going back to Madison’s essay of August 24, 1793, writing under the pseudonym “Helvidius” (see part III of this series, To Declare or Not to Declare – Part III), Madison used the terms “make war” and “declare war” interchangeably.

Putting this all together I think we can draw these conclusions: to “engage” in war doesn’t really tell us whether the engagement is preemptive or reactive. The same can be said of the idea of “determining” war. Both of those terms are rather ambiguous in clarifying the idea of “declaring” war. This leaves us with the term “make” war as an alternative to “declaring” war.

In that same part of Madison’s essay I referred to above, he related the act of making or declaring war to be the same as congress making law. So we ask, “What is implied by the phrase ‘making law’?” This simplifies the matter significantly as it is easily understood that to make something is to create that which before did not exist. There is no law until Congress legislates, creates or makes the law. Hence, the US cannot be in a state of war until Congress “makes” it so.

Thus, I believe that we can safely conclude that declaring war can be a determination that a state of war exists (such as after Pearl Harbor) and that Congress formally declares to the other nations such to be the case and authorizes the President to use our military forces to “engage” in armed conflict. Or it can also mean that Congress can declare war by making war, i.e., initiate hostilities with another nation where previously no open hostilities existed.

Hence, to “declare war” can be reactionary, i.e. a defensive statement after being attacked, or it can be an authorization to commence an act of war against another nation. Either way, however, as I’ve shown in this series of essays, that power rests solely with Congress and cannot, constitutionally, be consigned to the determination of one man/woman occupying the office of the President.

Next week, in what I expect will be the final installment in this series, we will examine who it is that Congress can declare war against and what should be done regarding this “war on terror.”

-June 9, 2017

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To Declare or Not to Declare, that Is the Question – Part V

Going to war is a serious business – deadly serious, which is why our founders in their great wisdom posited the authority to commence war in the hands of those who represented the citizens who would have to finance, fight and die in it.  As I mentioned in closing last week (, going to war not only requires the legislature to declare it, but also the concurrence of the President as well.  This not only creates a separation of powers, but a second backstop against a headlong rush into an unwise war.

We have had many wars in our history of, which only five were congressionally-declared wars (six if you separate out our declaration of war against Romania in 1942 from the declaration in 1941 against the Axis powers with which Romania was allied), and only one of them was an actual declaration to go to war – the other four were in response to our having been attacked.  Until recently, all of these military engagements were viewed as “war”; now, however, they have been also referred to as “police action” or simply “conflict.”  However, to those who fought, bled and died in them, they were wars.  Two such wars that were called such were the Korean and Vietnam Wars.

In the aftermath of our disastrous war in Vietnam (which was an undeclared war), Congress passed the War Powers Resolution of 1973 in an effort to restrict the President’s ability to commit US forces into battle without first getting congressional approval.  It is an unnecessary, useless and dangerous act and cuts across the grain of the intent of the Constitution to vest war-making powers in the hands of the legislature.

The resolution gives “statutory authorization” for the President to commit US forces into a military engagement or if there is “a national emergency created by attack upon the United States, its territories or possessions, or its armed forces.”  It requires him to notify Congress within 48 hours of his action and that those forces he has committed may only remain in the battlefield for 60 days (plus an additional 30 days for withdrawal) without securing additional congressional approval or formal declaration of war.

This resolution is foolish and dangerous on two grounds.  First, it cuts against the intent of the Constitution by allowing this broad, nebulous “statutory authorization” to in fact decide to go to war.  To declare war means there must be an enemy against whom this declaration is made – there cannot, constitutionally, be this vague, blanket “statutory authorization” for the President to use our military when and how he sees fit!  Second, once the President decides, without a formal congressional declaration of war, to let our military loose in some part of the world, his action could turn into a full-blown conflagration, and then Congress would have to declare a formal state of war, even if it didn’t want to.  In effect, this strips away the separation of powers our founders intended in this gravest of acts.

Furthermore, it is unnecessary in that the President fulfills the role of the Commander-in-Chief, meaning he calls the shots with the military when we are at war.  He cannot, constitutionally, unless we are attacked and immediate response is required for our defense, go off on his own and launch us into a military conflict (which, remember, for those fighting it is a war).  Since he is already limited by the Constitution in Article I, Section 8, Clause 11, there is no need for this resolution.

Those who are elected to the office of the Presidency need to be reminded of their limitations and Congress needs to step up and take back their authority as our founders intended.  If this was to occur, then perhaps much bloodshed and needless suffering and expense could be prevented.

-June 2, 2017

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