In 1932 Albert Einstein demand from Sigmund Freud:
“Is there a way to deliver humanity from the threat of war? It is common knowledge that with the advancement of modern science, this question has become a matter of life and death for civilization as we know it; nevertheless, despite all the zeal deployed, each attempt at a solution ended in a miserable failure.
Freud replied“Any effort to replace brute force with the power of an ideal is, under present conditions, doomed to failure. Our logic fails if we ignore the fact that the law is based on brute force and still today needs violence to maintain itself.
The Einstein-Freud exchange happened on the heels of Kellogg–Briand Pact of 1928 who renounced war “as an instrument of national policy”. In 1931, Japan, a party to the treaty, invaded Manchuria. Italy, also a signatory to the treaty, invaded Ethiopia in 1935.
Kellogg-Briand turned out to be as empty as Glendower’s vain boast in Shakespeare’s “King Henry IV, part 1”:
Glendower: “I can summon spirits from the great depths.”
Hotspur: “Why, me too, or anyone can; But will they come when you call them?
The war lasts because the species craves and values power for power’s sake. In all nations the knight in armor moves through the pages of romance and poetry arousing the admiration of the crowd, the smiles of beauty and the cries of youth. The glamor of military glory turns a blind eye to the gruesome offspring of war: destruction, death and human misery. War is not rational, but neither is the species. Remember famous lines from Lord Tennyson’s book”The Charge of the Light Brigade”: “It is not for them to reason why / For them but to do and die.”
The Constitution of the United States is the deus ex machina of the endless cycle of war. It entrusts the power of war exclusively to Congress in the Declare the war clause, the branch of government without incitement to adventurism. James Madison, father of the Constitution, amplified in “Helvidius” No. 4:
“In no part of the constitution is there found more wisdom than in the clause which commits the question of war or peace to the legislature, and not to the executive department…the confidence and the temptation would be too great for one man … War is, in fact, the true nurse of the enlargement of the executive.
The framers of the Constitution rightly distrusted the President in international affairs. Alexander Hamilton amplified in “federalist » 75 that treaties had to be ratified by two-thirds of the Senate, or else presidents would betray the country like Benedict Arnold to further their personal ambitions. War power is superior to treaty power, with a corresponding greater invitation to presidential abuse. Congress has become the sole steward of power, not because its members were more virtuous or patriotic than presidents, but because they have no reason to race abroad in search of monsters to destroy. In wartime, Congress is a caboose and the President a locomotive.
The purpose of the declaration of war clause has been verified by experience. Congress declared war in but five conflicts over 230 years. On each occasion, Congress was convinced (sometimes through presidential deception) that the peace had already been broken by foreign aggression: the War of 1812the Mexican-American Warthe Spanish American War, First World War and The Second World War. Presidential actions also support its necessity. The Senate approved President Bill Clinton’s request for a declaration of war against Yugoslavia in 1999, but a Clinton-backed NATO began bombing without the approval of the Accommodation.
The declaration of war clause has become a dead letter at least since the Korean War of 1950, which President Harry Truman absurdly trivialized as a “police action.” Congress unilaterally ceded war power to the White House. Chronic and unnecessary wars ensued. Presidents instinctively turn fleas into elephants.
the whimsical domino theory – the idea that a communist country will try to take over the non-communist countries around it – was fabricated to justify the debacle of the Vietnam War. After the defeat, we became a semi-ally of Vietnam against communist China.
International terrorist risk to Americans was amplified after 9/11 to justify permanent war and unlimited presidential power to assassinate anyone on the planet. In fact, an American is more likely to die from a vending machine falling that in a terrorist attack.
President Joe Biden has repeatedly threatened nuclear weapons China with war if he attacks Taiwan and nuclear-armed Russia with war if it invades a NATO member, including countries clearly unrelated to the security of the United States. As Madison acknowledged, presidents are hungry for war in hopes of earning at least a footnote in the long annals of history.
Wars started by the United States that are not in self-defense in the face of actual or imminent aggression against American territory can be prevented. It is enough to restore the constitutional order. Additional measures could include treating extra-constitutional presidential wars as unimpeachable felonies and misdemeanors; terminate the term of any executive branch official immediately upon participation in an extraconstitutional presidential war and prohibit the expenditure of funds to support the offensive use of the armed forces of the United States, except pursuant to a declaration of war by the Congress.
For more than 70 years, members of Congress have dishonored their oaths of office by walking away from their responsibility in war like a dog that returns to its kennel when danger appears. Only the threat of losing one’s job will make members change.
The responsibility lies with American voters.
Bruce Fein served as Assistant Deputy Attorney General under President Reagan and is the author of “The American Empire Before Fall and Constitutional Peril: The Life-and-Death Struggle for Our Constitution and Democracy.”