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Declaration of War: Not Just a Good Idea, It’s the Law

The US Constitution confers upon Congress the legal power to declare war.

Or, to put it a different way, if Congress hasn’t declared war, then the United States is not, in any legal sense, at war.

No, an “authorization for use of military force” is not a declaration of war. In fact, AUMFs come right out and say they’re not declarations of war (the sections that say so are referred to as “war powers reservation clauses”).

From these facts, it follows that each and every one of the 90,000 or so US combat deaths since the final casualty of World War II — a B-32 gunner named Anthony Marchione, killed over Japan in August of 1945 — as well as all “enemy” casualties in Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq and numerous smaller conflicts, were and remain war crimes. And that the politicians responsible are, yes, war criminals.

Now, US president Barack Obama has announced yet another count in the 70-year-long chain of criminal conspiracies to kill American military men and women, as well as foreign combatants and non-combatants. He plans to send US special operations troops into Syria, ostensibly to fight the Islamic State but also, and he’s not very coy about it, to overthrow Syria’s existing government.

Disclosure: Since leaving the US Marine Corps 20 years ago, I’ve personally become more and more anti-war in temperament. But even if I hadn’t, I’d like to think that looking back on seven decades of complete lawlessness as regards US military adventurism would lead me to the same conclusion.

If Congress isn’t willing to take the simple step of voting to declare war, why should the rest of us pretend that it has done so?

Why should ordinary Americans pick up the tab in blood and treasure for conflicts that can’t garner the plain, open, unqualified support of 218 US Representatives and 51 US Senators?

Why should ordinary Americans yield the extraordinary  powers and prerogatives war portends to politicians too craven to put the thing in writing and vote its passage?

No, I don’t believe requiring Congress to declare war before waging war will end war.

No, I don’t believe requiring Congress to declare war before waging war will make war less bloody or less horrifying or more humane.

But it might make them move a little more slowly and thoughtfully when it comes to condemning thousands, even millions, to violent death.

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Thomas L. Knapp is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.

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