Most Americans and their elected representatives take “ain’t going to study war no more” to heart. They’re neither studying nor upset by war.
Put aside the inability to rationalize continuous wars of choice, personnel in 150 countries, the human slaughter and misery, devastated cities, death and lifelong injury to our troops. Just “follow the money.” When military-related costs exceed a trillion dollars a year, and are put on our grandchildren’s credit card, maybe it’s time to get back to studying war.
Conservatives care about constitutional “original intent.” Liberals care about sacrificed infrastructure, education, health care and other needs. Both should care why the founders gave Congress power “to declare war.”
The founders knew burdens of wars fall heaviest upon the people, those who fight and pay for wars. They explicitly rejected giving a president the unchecked power to start wars claimed by kings. They wanted the branch most responsive to the people to declare war.
As the Constitutional Convention Record reports, “Mr. [George] Mason … was for clogging rather than facilitating war.” James Madison later contributed, “No nation can preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.”
Pay-as-you-go war meant increased taxes. World War II rationing meant little or no gas and tires for cars or bubble gum for kids. The draft impacted even small towns during the Vietnam War. Without the draft we might still be there.
Not only was there no rationing during post-9/11 wars, our president told us to “go shopping.” No burden of increased war taxes. No young marching protesters, fearful of being drafted. Sacrifice fell only upon those 0.4 percent of Americans fighting the wars.
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After 9/11, given the lack of public protest the founders forecast, Congress became more complacent and compliant about executive encroachment on Congress’ war powers.
(1) In 1961 President Dwight Eisenhower warned of the military-industrial complex. Its grip only tightened as legislators became ever more entangled with their districts’ military bases and generous weapons manufacturers.
(2) For-profit private prisons create political support for longer sentences. Similarly, political support for longer wars results when for-profit contractors’ battlefield employees outnumber the military.
(3) The old Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines have competitors. The CIA, once an intelligence agency, now has its own military arm. Both CIA and Special Operations, like Delta Force or SEAL Team 6, are outside the conventional chain of command and thorough congressional oversight.
These factors contribute to President Donald Trump’s signing a $717 billion Defense Department authorization bill. Like the banks’ insistence they are “too big to fail,” the DOD is “too big to audit.” Trillions can’t be traced. Add $200 billion for Department of Veterans Affairs, war’s share of $300 billion yearly interest on the national debt, billions for Department of Energy’s nukes, other military-related expenses and the total’s well over a trillion dollars.
Whose fault is this?
Those who wrote the Constitution assumed “we the people” — not the president, Congress, or judges — would tightly leash and not let slip the dogs of war. In response to the people’s sacrifice, their paying the human and financial costs of war, they would speak up, protest, organize and otherwise clog the path to war.
War hawks and weapons makers understand they must eliminate war’s impact on we the people if they are to continue their profits from perpetual war.
However, they have not eliminated our founders’ hope, nor our responsibility to honor their hope that we will fulfill our responsibility to resist.
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As Edward R. Murrow closed his documentary about Senator Joseph McCarthy, “We cannot escape responsibility for the result. … Cassius was right. The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars but in ourselves.”
• Nicholas Johnson, as U.S. Maritime Administrator, was involved with military sealift to Vietnam. www.nicholasjohnson.org Comments: firstname.lastname@example.org