The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Declaration of War: an Anniversary

Today is the 74th anniversary of D-Day, when more than 160,000 Allied troops landed along a 50-mile stretch of heavily-fortified beaches of Normandy, France. This successful invasion of occupied France was the beginning of the end for Nazi Germany and its allies. We should honor all those brave men with prayers, thanking God for blessing them with the sacrificial courage they demonstrated on those beaches, especially those who sacrificed their lives so we could live in freedom today. Only a small remnant are still alive today.
D-Day at Normandy

On the Beach D-Day
But there's another little-known anniversary that was marked this week, one I believe is particularly relevant. June 4 was the 76th anniversary of the last time the Congress of the United States declared war. On June 4, 1942 the USA declared war on three nations: Hungary, Bulgaria and Rumania. At the time all three were puppet states, allies of Nazi Germany. We had already declared war on Japan (December 8, 1941) and on Germany and Italy (December 11, 1941). Prior to these six declarations during World War Two, Congress had declared war only five times: with Great Britain (1812); with Mexico (1846); with Spain (1898); with Germany (1917); and with Austria-Hungary (1917). Despite all the conflicts in which we have engaged since that declaration of war 76 years ago, Congress has not declared a state of war with any nation. 
Korean "Police Action"
There was no declaration of war with communist North Korea -- or their communist allies, the People's Republic of China and the Soviet Union -- even though well over a million Americans took part in the conflict (1950-1953) resulting in nearly 150,000 killed or wounded. The Chinese communists actually fought alongside the North Koreans and the Soviet Union provided arms, training and air support to our enemy. President Truman called the conflict a "police action" under the auspices of the United Nations. And despite the fact that his stated objective was to free North Korea from communist rule, this was never achieved and today we are living with the results of that failure. No peace treaty was ever signed and the Koreas -- North and South -- have lived under a mere "cease fire" for the past 65 years. Thanks to President Trump, this may change. I encourage you to pray for peace on the Korean peninsula. Pray that the Holy Spirit enter the hearts of all who will take part in next week's summit and bring about a long-term solution.
President Donald Trump and Kim Jong In
Neither did we declare a state of war with North Vietnam, in a conflict that involved Americans for over 20 years, from 1954 to 1975. Vietnam was another conflict with ill-defined objectives and predictable results. Ostensibly we were involved to ensure the freedom of the Vietnamese people and yet the conflict ended with the communists overrunning the entire country. This was an American political failure, resulting from gross political weakness and a failure of leadership. It resulted in a strategic military failure despite the steady stream of tactical military successes by American troops. Of the more than 2.5 million Americans who served in Vietnam during the long conflict, over 10% of them were killed (58,169) or wounded (310,000). Vietnam, of course, remains a "conflict" since Congress never issued a formal declaration of war. Personally, I have always considered my involvement in the Vietnam conflict (I was a Navy helicopter pilot) as a particularly honorable part of my life. 
Vietnam: Helicopters Rule
Since then the United States has been involved in many other conflicts, including the so-called "Gulf War" (1990-91), our response to Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait. After the terrorist attack on the United States of September 11, 2001, we engaged in additional long-term conflicts in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Despite the wishes and delusions of many of our politicians, we remain involved in both of these conflicts along with several others spawned by our half-hearted "war on terror." Given what has been happening in the world, no one can honestly declare that we have won or are winning this pseudo war. 

Given all this I suppose one can make a reasonably good case for saying we have not won a major conflict since Word War Two, the last time the United States Congress declared the nation to be at war with an enemy. Would it make a difference if Congress actually declared war on all forms of Islamist Jihadism, on all groups or nations that use terrorism or support terrorists? A declaration of war gives the president very broad legal authority. He can stop the export of any products, even agricultural products; he can take complete control of the nation's transportation systems; and he can direct manufacturing plants to produce weapons and seize those that refuse. Such a declaration also makes anyone who supports the enemy an enemy agent and liable for prosecution. These are certainly substantial powers, but there is much legal precedent for granting the president such extensive powers during wartime.

The first problem is that a declaration of war presumes that the government intends to win the war, thus creating high expectations on the part of the electorate. Only Congress can declare war, but that means our senators and representatives must live with their decision and its results. And make no mistake, members of Congress prefer not to take responsibility for anything that might threaten their reelection. Without a declaration, failure can more easily be rationalized or simply ignored. 

The second, and perhaps greater, problem is that a declaration of war demands that Congress identify the enemy. One cannot officially declare a "war on terror" because such a declaration identifies no enemy entity. Terror is a tactic not an enemy. The real enemy is that segment of Islam that desires to destroy Western Civilization. Until our government and the people who put them in power can accept and declare this, we will continue as we have since Word War Two.

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