War Without Representation

“The Congress shall have power to … declare war.”
– United States Constitution, Article I, Section 8

In America, 2011, history is given yet another example of a nation in which one person, in this case called “the president,” can launch all of his subjects into war merely on his whim. Granted, if one reads the nation’s Constitution it plainly states that something called “Congress,” not the president, has the sole power to declare war.

Yet in America, like in all nations, the politicians respect no boundaries other than those they are forced to respect, and in America, as pure a democracy as history has ever seen, they are forced to obey no law but those embodied in opinion polls. Opinion polls in America are, almost without exception, highly favorable to war. So again, despite what the written law may state on the subject, in America today one individual gets to launch all the wars that popular opinion will let him get away with.

It’s taking a toll. America has devolved into a militarized frenzy, involved in so many wars, each following the other, all piled up on top of the previous ones, that being in a war (or wars) has become a normal, unremarkable way of life for its people. Attacking another country is just an accepted fact—it’s what we do—so much so that nobody even discusses it around the water cooler any longer.

If you think this harsh and are American, I ask that you think to yourself a moment… do people at your job follow maps of the U.S. Marine Corps’ progress through the quagmire of Kandahar province? When was the last time you even thought about the ongoing war in Iraq? Do you even know where Kandahar is? The U.S. drone attacks against Pakistan are supplanted in the average American mind by worries over jobs, rooting for sports teams, and lurid spectacles embodied by Charlie Sheen and his goddesses. Another war, you say? Pile it on top of the others, over there in the corner.

I should know. I’m a 40-year-old American and have known nothing my entire life but war or the threat of it. Now here we are, a solid week since the latest Decider (this one’s named Obama) launched us into yet another war (this one against Libya), and, as if to prove my point about the lack of the rule of law in this land, a check of my local congressional bigwigs’ web pages yields nothing, not even a mention of this latest war or the blatantly unconstitutional manner in which it was launched. Like the Americans they represent, members of Congress don’t consider this attack on Libya important enough to take up any bandwidth.

Instead, my House representative has his nose to the grindstone handing out other people’s money for a landfill, “saving” a local museum (also with other people’s money), lauding the Red Cross, and announcing his approval of National Patient Safety Awareness Week. My Senate grandees are also busy pushing to bring unmanned military drone testing to a local airport, tweaking laws for fishing licenses, drawing up FEMA flood maps, and handing out $6 million of other people’s money to buy fruits and vegetables for the wee children. This new war, normal and unremarkable like all the others, passed them by like a ship in the night. So it goes for all of us.

America was started on this path to endless war by President Truman’s decision to send American troops into the Korean War without first obtaining a congressional declaration of war (an act that a spineless Congress accepted without a fight). Had he been (rightly) impeached for it, publicly shamed and driven from office, and had his final resting place beneath a public restroom as a warning to all future presidents, we may have avoided Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, and, now, Libya. Even more important, the rule of law would have been upheld.

Sadly, it wasn’t, so this habit of allowing one man to declare war for our entire nation, in direct contradiction to the clear intent of our Constitution, has continued down to this day. Recently, a long-tenured political barnacle named Peter King (R-N.Y.) opined that the Constitution allows the president unilateral power to make war, a stunning (and stunningly ignorant) statement, even for a congressman. In Article 2, which outlines the president’s powers, the word “war” is not mentioned a single time.

In the Federalist Papers No. 69, it was made clear by our Founders: “The President is to be commander-in-chief of the army and navy of the United States. In this respect his authority would be nominally the same with that of the king of Great Britain, but in substance much inferior to it. It would amount to nothing more than the supreme command and direction of the military and naval forces, as first General and admiral of the Confederacy; while that of the British king extends to the declaring of war and to the raising and regulating of fleets and armies—all which, by the Constitution under consideration, would appertain to the legislature.”

The American Revolution was triggered because of the imposition of taxation without representation. In modern America, we have war without representation, and nobody cares. The overwhelming majority of Americans, both among the common men and the elite, have long ceased to concern themselves with holding politicians to the rule of law, even in the all-important matter of war. This will have dire consequences for us. In fact, it already has.

In the Federalist Papers No. 41, our Founders warned us, “The liberties of Rome proved the final victim of her military triumphs.” The Romans would come to rue the day they did not crucify Caesar for crossing the Rubicon with his 13th Legion. No nation in the world has ever had the power to destroy America’s liberty, but there’s no need for any foreign attack.

We are doing the job quite nicely all on our own.

Author: C.J. Maloney

C.J. Maloney lives and works in New York City. All opinions expressed are his alone. He blogs for Liberty & Power on the History News Network and Daily Kos. His first book, Back to the Land: Arthurdale, FDR's New Deal, and the Costs of Economic Planning, published by John Wiley and Sons, is now available for purchase. He may be reached at peloponny1@aol.com.