Three Days in History that Changed the Face of War for America Forever

by Richard H. Frank

September 17, 2010 marked the 223rd Celebration of the Signing of our Constitution in 1787 as the Supreme Law of the land in the United States of America.  Supreme in the words of the document as written or only in our interpretation of those words as to the intent of the Founding Fathers.  Let us take for example Article I, Section 8 which states in part that Congress possesses the power “to declare war, grant letters of marque and reprisal, and make rules concerning captures on land and water…”  The enumeration of these powers is very specific with regard to any Declaration of War by the United States against any other nation.  Further, Article IX, Section 2 states: “The President shall be Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States and of the militia of the several states, when called into actual service of the United States.  Notice the Constitution is silent with regard to what branch of Government, outside of Congress, may in fact actually “call (our forces) into service.”

So just how and when is the President acting as Commander-in-Chief given authority under the Constitution to place our troops in harms way?  The answer is that under the Constitution, he (the President) is not accorded that authority.

Then where, you may ask, does the President acquire such authority?  The answer is simply that he takes the authority by virtue of expanding the words in the Preamble that say “insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defence…” much as Congress has usurped “promotion of the general welfare” to lend credence to many of their legislative actions.

In the history Congress has seen fit to declare war on only five (5) occasions:

  • War of 1812 on June 18, 1812
  • Mexican American War on May 13, 1846
  • Spanish American War on April 15, 1898
  • World War I on April 6, 1917
  • World War II on December 8 and 11, 1941

Additionally Congress saw fit to authorize our military on twelve (12) occasions between 1798 and 2002 to place our forces in harms way – all without a Declaration of War.  The price paid in human life for Korea, Vietnam, Gulf I and Iraq totalled over 96,600 alone.  On at least seven (7) occasions, our forces were called upon by the United Nation’s Security Forces between 1950 and 2004.   There are recorded 125 occasions over the years where the President acted without any express military authorization from Congress to wage war.  More than one forth or 28 instances were against the American Indian.  Never in our history to date has any President been challenged in court for seizing the authority to go to war which is not specifically enumerated and delegated to him under the  Constitution.  So much for this document as being the Supreme Law of the Land!

Why have our elected representatives and “We the People” allowed such usurpation of power to go on for so many years without a challenge to the Executive Branch of Government or through Amendment to the Constitution?  The answer prior to December 7, 1941 may forever remain a mystery.  However three events including the attack on Pearl Harbor have forever altered how America will go to War.  I believe the three dates that have shaped our policy for going to war are as follows:

  • December 7, 1941 – Japan’s Attack on Pearl Harbor
  • August 6, 1945 – “A” Bomb on Hiroshima, Japan
  • September 11, 2001 – Attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

The period of 1941 thru 1945 marked the last time Congress declared war and was fought conventionally against Japan, Germany and Italy initially.  With the advent of the nuclear age and our bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the face of war, Nation against Nation, was forever altered largely due to the threat of nuclear retaliation and unlimited assured mutual destruction to all parties engaged in such madness.  The nuclear standoff or stalemate continued between the great powers for almost 50 years before the fall of the former USSR and now remains at levels considered defense by all countries possessing nuclear capabilities.

Today, beginning with September 11, 2001, and the attack on the World Trade Center in New York, America knows that we are  no longer immune to attack by radical terrorist groups and organizations none of which can be identified as a nation against which Congress can declare war.  As a result they (Congress) have resorted to adopting legislation in the form of the “War Powers Resolution” empowering the President to act in his capacity as Commander-in-Chief to retaliate against aggression from terrorist organizations around the world.

To date, this legislation and power inherent within that document has yet to be challenged within our Judiciary as to the Constitutional validity of the law.

Thus, if our enemy is nameless with regard to nationality and point of origin, how are we then to ask Congress for a Declaration of War?  On the other hand, how are we to believe that any single individual acting as Commander-in-Chief should be allowed such awesome power?

The genius of our Founding Fathers does however protect us from over zealous actions on the part of any President by retaining the power of the purse with Congress.  Should all else fail to reign in misguided action by a President,  Congress still possesses the ability to de-fund any war, police action or peace-keeping force they as Representatives of the People deem wrong.

The powers inherent in the title Commander-in-Chief should not be taken lightly by the electorate.  Any candidate for the Office of President must possess credentials that qualify him to hold such auspicious power.  In recent years, the electorate has focused heavily upon domestic issues that affect their daily lives and personal security.  Today, we are faced with proliferation of nuclear weapons throughout the Middle East.  Recent administrations in the United States have all stated that we will not tolerate nuclear weapons in Iran.  Yet, we sit by and impose idle sanctions on this country with no apparent impact on their momentum to obtain such weapons.  As we approach the coming elections in 2010 and 2012 every American must understand that being a community organizer, an academian or ex First Lady do not qualify one to hold the auspicious office and responsibility of Commander-in-Chief. 

If we return to the Preamble of the Constitution, it states “We the People of the United States …, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”  As such, it is our responsibility through the serious vetting and selection of our representatives in Government to provide for the common defence and general welfare of this Nation.  Never before in history has this responsibility been more imperative.

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