Our founding fathers, not wanting us to follow the old European ways of constant wars initiated by various kings and emperors, stipulated in the US Constitution (Article I, Section 8) that the people — Congress — have the power to declare war. To repose such foreign-policy authority in the legislative rather than the executive branch of government was a deliberate and dramatic break with the British model of government with which they were most familiar.
James Madison said: Those who are to conduct a war cannot in the nature of things, be proper or safe judges, whether a war ought to be commenced, continued, or concluded. They are barred from the latter functions by a great principle in free government, analogous to that which separates the sword from the purse, or the power of executing from the power of enacting laws.
George Washington said: The constitution vests the power of declaring war in Congress; therefore no offensive expedition of importance can be undertaken until after they shall have deliberated upon the subject and authorized such a measure.
Library of Congress scholar Louis Fisher, writing in The Oxford Companion to American Military History, summarizes presidential war power:
“The president’s authority was carefully constrained. The power to repel sudden attacks represented an emergency measure that allowed the president, when Congress was not in session, to take actions necessary to repel sudden attacks either against the mainland of the United States or against American troops abroad. It did not authorize the president to take the country into full-scale war or mount an offensive attack against another nation.”
The Founding Fathers envisioned a peaceful country without foreign involvement or even a standing army, so the Constitution states that appropriations for the army can’t exceed two years (Article I, Section 8). Alas, our Constitution has been ineffective in curbing the war racket. Unfortunately, the US seems to be heading toward monarchy.
Most of the over one hundred military interventions (wars) that we’ve suffered through in the last century and a half have been initiated by Presidents using “executive authority,” a concept that they dreamed up so they could act like, well, kings and emperors (even though the’re really chickenhawks). We seem to be constantly at war in various exotic lands, empowering Presidents and enriching corporate coffers, in violation of international law. How very Old World we are! Even the Germans don’t do that any more. The Supreme Court refuses to hear challenges to “executive authority,” and past Congresses haven’t been much help. The War Powers Act of 1973 gives a President authority (as if he needs such permission from the Congress) to start a war under almost any circumstances. In Korea, Vietnam and Iraq Congresses have given Presidents a “blank check.” Presidents regularly act unilaterally, however, without any permission or restraint from the other two branches of government. The wars against Iraq and Afghanistan started before any Congressional resolution, we’ve a long history of aggression in Iran, and Venezuela, our fourth largest oil supplier, is being threatened, as well as North Korea and Iran.
General Butler said: “When our boys were sent off to war they were told it was a “war to make the world safe for democracy” and a “war to end all wars.” Well, eighteen years after, the world has less of a democracy then it had then. Besides, what business is it of ours whether Russia or Germany or England or France or Italy or Austria live under democracies or monarchies? Whether they are fascists or communists? OUR PROBLEM IS TO PRESERVE OUR OWN DEMOCRACY.”
Our current dilemma stems from the postwar adoption of a military-based rather than a people-based economy. This policy, authored by Wall Streets Paul Nitze, is embodied in NSC-68, a document signed by President Truman in 1950. All US military actions from 1950 to today flow from the decision that made weapons our top industry, a decision made without the consent of the American people. There is no fundamental difference between the Cold War and todays so-called permanent war on terror; perfect fuel for our military-based economy. For 55 years, America has been waging a crime against humanity, a crime for profiteers. NSC-68 changed Americas priority from human prosperity to conflict-dependent industry profit, and elevated corporations (which rarely have a conscience) to a status above that of the people. Whether or not it was a ploy, NSC-68 changed Americas priority from human prosperity to conflict-dependent industry profit, and elevated corporations (which rarely have a conscience) to a status above that of the people .
President Eisenhower warned us forty years ago about the military-industrial complex. But Ike’s wisdom has gone unheeded. Our globally-extended military forces and our never-ending huge budgetary contributions to the armaments industries equal those of the rest of the world combined, enabling us to get hooked on the drug of war.
Smedley Butler said: In the World War, we used propaganda to make the boys accept conscription. They were made to feel ashamed if they didn’t join the army. So vicious was this war propaganda that even God was brought into it. With few exceptions our clergymen joined in the clamor to kill, kill, kill. To kill the Germans. God is on our side . . . it is His will that the Germans be killed. And in Germany, the good pastors called upon the Germans to kill the allies . . . to please the same God.”
We’ve got so much invested in our military, so many men under arms, so much for corporations to gain and so little regard for our Constitution that it’s a foregone conclusion that there’ll be a war somewhere. So the corporations which write our laws and their puppets select an economic target, a threat or provocation is concocted, the President gives a speech, we all take the pledge of ‘oillegiance’ and off we go with more war subsidies for our corporate welfare state.
Smedley Butler said: “All of them are looking ahead to war. Not the people–not those who fight and pay and die–only those who foment wars and remain safely at home to profit.”
Like any corporate product, the war has to be marketed. It’s easy to do. Defense contractor General Electric, for example ($9.5 billion in tax relief in three years), gives marching orders to its propaganda subsidiary, NBC News, which promotes the new line using perverse language (e.g. Iraqi defenders become anti-Iraqi insurgents or terrorists), staged events and carefully chosen spokespersons (no critics, thank you). We never see the slaughter of the innocents or the broken lives of our young people because it would debase the sanctity of our grand crusade for the holy dollar, while the media whips up a frenzy for the next ‘good’ war.