War and We the People
by James Leroy Wilson
December 25, 2003
After Pearl Harbor, FDR didn't approach Congress, tell them what happened, only to have Congress shrug and tell him to do "whatever he thinks is best". Nor did he tell us that the way to Tokyo was through Berlin, and therefore we must fight and defeat Germany first.
Does anyone think the American people would have rallied around that? What happened instead is that we the people of the United States in Congress assembled, declared war on Japan. After which, Germany declared war on us, prompting us to declare it right back at them. It is then that FDR, as commander in chief, said "Germany first."
I don't think it is a personal affront against President Bush or his supporters to say that I don't trust his decision to make war. If the Constitution itself, the rulebook for our government, doesn't trust the President - any President - to initiate war, then why should I trust him?
I don't want to come across as a romanticist for some mythical old order of Constitutional liberty. But it is inherent in the small-r republican system of government that the great issues must be decided by the great councils of the people, not by delegating their authority to one person, not even if that person won an overwhelming majority of the popular vote for President - which, of course, did not happen.
Aside from war, the other great drain and suffering of the people is taxation. If we trust one man to make war, why not trust one man to raise taxes? Why can't Congress "authorize" the President to raise taxes? Because the Founders were against that? Well, the Founders were also against Presidents deciding when to go to war.
When America declares war without a formal declaration, I think there's a feeling of robbery or injustice on the part of dissenters that isn't quite there when there is a formal declaration. When war is declared, most objectors (except the most radical) think, "Well, I think this is a mistake, but it is our war. I dissented, but we chose to fight nonetheless. We must now take measures to insure victory." This was then-Congressman Lincoln's view of the Mexican War, whose rationale, he believed, was based on lies. But since war was declared, he would vote for provisions for the troops so that they would not suffer defeat. He would not turn his back on the troops.
Ethically, there might be a problem with supporting one's country that way: "right or wrong". But in terms of political analysis, I find it much more plausible that a dissenter of a war, would actually support it or be less vocal against it, if the Congress of the United States actually, formally, declared it.
Americans are now so ignorant about what their own Constitution says, that when a President like Bush goes to war against Iraq, or Clinton in Kosovo, or when Johnson and Nixon prosecuted the Vietnam war with large internal dissent, we the people didn't actually know why these wars "felt" so wrong. Granted, Bush I's Iraq war didn't feel quite so wrong because it punished national territorial aggression, as did Truman's war against North Korea - the principle of which descends from the Second World War. But this also makes their failure to ask for a formal declaration of war, when American feelings of moral superiority would have been at their peak - entirely inexcusable. If the people of the United States in Congress assembled do not want to declare war to repel aggression of one foreign nation against another, then why should Presidents get to make the call?
So all of these Presidents are accused by anti-war critics of some form of dishonesty, some form of political self-interest, and some character flaw that "explains" why the United States is at war. Whereas the root of the problem was that the case for war had not been made to the Congress of the United States that would persuade them to a formal declaration of war. They are, of course, to blame to the extent that they abdicated their own responsibility to decide when to use force, and instead "delegated" it to the President.
Would the case for war against Iraq, in either late 1990 or early 2003, been strong enough to warrant a formal declaration of war? Likewise, would the case for war against Milosevic's Yugoslavia in 1999 warranted a declaration of war against his government by "we the people?"
And the more important question is, if we let one man decide when to go to war, for either the cause of "pre-emptive strikes" or because our enemy is a "brutal dictator", or both, are we not going down the road of dictatorship ourselves? Is the President of the United States ordained to be the judge, jury, and executioner for the entire world?
Congressmen - especially the loathesome lot that are Presidential candidates - have it cheap and easy these days. They could say, "well, I believed the Presidents case against Iraq, so I authorized the President to use powers he didn't previously have, but it never occurred to me that he would abuse those powers, or use them so stupidly. If I were President, I'd do a better job with those powers."
So I will bring up the tax issue again: what if a Congressman came to his constituents and said, "as your representative, I authorized the President to raise taxes when he thought it'd be necessary to advance the public good. But I think he deceived us as to his real purposes and designs when he asked the Congress to give him the power to raise taxes. Not that I think this was a bad idea entirely. Yes, some good came out of it, but the people deserve better than what our President is doing."
There'd be far more tax evaders and radical rebels today if Presidents were the ones who raised taxes. And of course, these people would be called anti-American and unpatriotic by the powers that be. Likewise, today there are far more vocal and angry critics of Presidents when Presidents make war. FDR absolutely crushed what is now called the "Old Right" when Congress declared war. The people spoke, and for many previous anti-New Dealers, that was enough and they resolved, "We, too, will fight."
Today's modern undeclared wars, frankly, do not and can not inspire the same courage and loyalty. This really shouldn't be surprising. Without knowing how or why (because they don't know their own Constitution), citizens feel alienated from their government. And that's because so much, from war-making to regulations affecting everything from the broadcast airwaves, the environment, and the workplace are no longer in the direct hands of Congressmen who are personally responsible and accountable for their votes one way or the other, but on the President and executive-branch bureaucrats who were unconstititonallly "authorized" by Congress to make their own laws and start their wars.
I think there's still some part of the "American Spirit" that not only respects the "will of the people" in terms of who gets elected, but also in what laws and policies are to be implemented. When the Supreme Court overturns state and local laws, the feeling emerges; the people were denied their voice in their legislative councils even in their own limited geographic area.
When the EPA denies development on a swamp, or when the BATF violently tries to raid a religious commune, for the crime that these people were exercising their Second Amendment rights, the feeling emerges. It's a feeling of bitterness and betrayal, that the government not only fails to protect life, liberty, happiness, and property, but is actually the primary enemy of our natural rights.
This feeling of betrayal applies when the President goes to war. The people have been robbed of due council and deliberation in Congress - which yes, is the fault of the members of Congress - but is nevertheless our Constitutional right. My taxes supported killing many an Iraqi child and destroying many an honest Iraqi business. And my country didn't even declare war on Iraq. It just let war on Iraq happen. Giving carte blance to the President is, to today's Congressman, the fulfillment of the powers of Congress in the Constitution. It's what "democracy" is all about.
If most of the House of People - the House of Representatives, and if most of the House of the States - the Senate, both agreed, upon the presentation of evidence, that the invasion of Iraq was necessary to the security of the of the United States, many who are now vociferously anti-war would not have been. What they saw, instead, was a great abdication of responsibility on the part of Congress. The problem of many anti-war protesters is that they don’t know why they’re so angry - they can’t articulate it. Because, being leftists, they don’t know their own Constitution.
I have my strong doubts that such “necessary evils” like war and taxation are indeed necessary. I’m not even convinced that the Constitution itself was such a great idea. But at least it placed the most important issues facing the nation to the judgment of the great councils of the people and of the states they lived in. Congress imposes taxes. Likewise, Congress declares war. Congress can’t authorize the President to initiate war any more then it can authorize the President to raise taxes.
If the pro-war position is right, it should have persuaded the people of the United States, the greatest nation with the greatest Constitution and laws. But Congress didn't declare war. Congress would only be responsible for taking some credit if the war and its aims were successful, but would give itself cover if the President led our country into disaster.
The result is, we are all losers. Another brick in the wall against tyranny has been removed, for we have seen the transfer of power to make war from the councils of the people to one man.
It shouldn’t really matter if the executive power resides in a President or a King. You don’t go to war without the consent of the representatives of the nation. No one person should be able to impose taxes on the people. No one person should plunge our people into a violent struggle with another. The more our country wages war like this, the more we become like the nations we despise.
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