One of the most important tools tyrants use to keep their subjects under control is maintaining a continual state of war. As George Orwell famously wrote in his novel 1984, “Oceania had always been at war with Eastasia.” In 1918, Randolph Bourne, an opponent of World War I, published an essay best known for its remarkably succinct opening sentence: “War is the health of the State”:
It automatically sets in motion throughout society those irresistible forces for uniformity, for passionate co-operation with the Government in coercing into obedience the minority groups and individuals which lack the larger herd sense. The machinery of government sets and enforces the drastic penalties, the minorities are either intimidated into silence or brought slowly around by a subtle process of persuasion which may seem to them to really converting them. [Emphasis added.]
The Original Plan
The Founders built into Article I, section 8, cl. 11 of the Constitution what they thought would be protection against endless wars, by giving the Congress, not the President, the sole power to declare war. The Federalist Papers reveal that the Framers anticipated that each branch of government would zealously guard its own powers, and when one branch usurped the powers of another, the offended branch would use its powers to resist. Those tools are available, but rarely used.
If Congress actually wanted to resist a President carrying out a military adventure, it could simply turn off the money. But Congress has acquiesced, yielding great power to Presidents. Members of Congress like it this way. When Presidents take popular military action, Congressmen take credit. If things go wrong, they blame the President. Meanwhile the President does as he likes, as most Americans are not focused on foreign policy. When things go badly wrong, Presidents blame someone or something else.
Father of our Constitution and President James Madison warned about the path he hoped the country would not follow:
Of all the enemies to public liberty war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other. War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes; and armies, and debts, and taxes are the known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few…. No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare. Those truths are well established … in every page which records the progression from a less arbitrary to a more arbitrary government. [Emphasis added.]
Sadly, we took the path Madison warned against. The truth is that the United States has been engaged continuously in war or some form of serious military hostilities during the entire lifetime of every living American. But shockingly, the last official declarations of war by Congress occurred in June 1942 — against Bulgaria, Hungary, and Romania who were allied with Germany in World War II.
The Korean War was technically a “police action” carried out under the auspices of the United Nations. The Vietnam War in which 58,220 Americans died, was never officially declared. Rather, it was merely sanctioned by Congress in its August 1964 “Gulf of Tonkin Resolution” that authorized President Johnson to repel and prevent communist aggression. Only in recent years has it become widely known that the predicate for that resolution was a fraudulent report of an attack on U.S. Navy ships.
To be sure, Congress approved the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but only by rushing through Congress in the days immediately after the September 11 attacks an “Authorization for the Use of Military Force” — which is still in effect. Still, there was no declaration of war. And, who can forget Secretary of State Colin Powel repeatedly lying that Iraq had “Weapons of Mass Destruction.” That AUMF authorized the President:
to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks … on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any further acts of … terrorism against the United States….
Note that there is no enemy specified in the 2001 AUMF and no expiration date. The President is granted authority not just to retaliate against those who he says attacked America, but also to do anything the President chooses to do to prevent further attacks. That “prevention” authority is even used to conduct surveillance against Americans.
Only one member of Congress had the foresight to see how this unlimited delegation of power could be misused — a liberal Democrat, Barbara Lee (D-CA) — and courageously voted against it. Her vote was prescient, as the AUMF has been used by every President for most of a quarter century to justify all manner of military adventures.
Financial Benefits to Politicians
Military spending is a terrible drain on the economy, but it is sold to the people as being good for the economy. One of President Biden’s justifications for spending another $60 billion or more on the Ukraine War was that the money would be spent in the United States, helping our economy. When war spending requires deficits and borrowing, it generates inflation that robs everyone of wealth. But, when money is handed to a defense contractor, the Congressman claims credit for “bringing home the bacon” to his district — and military contractors and subcontractors are spread across the country to generate maximum political support. Even though defense spending “is bleeding the country dry at a rate of more than $32 million per hour,” Americans are usually grateful for finally getting their share of the pie.
Military spending also generates lots of spare cash that keeps the gravy train running. “The defense sector contributed $3.4 million to the 59 lawmakers on the House Armed Services Committee” during part of the current election cycle. In return, “the committee authorized an $839 billion budget for the Pentagon in June , $37 billion more than … Biden’s administration requested….” To grease the wheels, defense contractors keep an army of K Street Lobbyists on their payroll. By one report, “[i]n the first half of 2023, defense contractors and other defense sector players spent nearly $70 million lobbying the federal government.”
Political Benefits to Politicians
Presidents of both parties have discovered that being a war president can boost popularity and help gain re-election. After all, “you don’t want to change horses in the middle of the stream.” That old political saw is said to originate in a speech by Abraham Lincoln while seeking a second term in 1864 (“it is not best to swap horses while crossing the river.”). Mr. Lincoln’s war had many effects on the nation, including helping him get reelected by a wide margin.
President George H.W. Bush experienced record public approval of 89 percent right after the Gulf War. President Reagan’s invasion of Grenada, timed two days after the Beirut embassy bombing, shifted the polls dramatically, putting him ahead of his top two Democrat challengers.
The 1997 movie “Wag the Dog” with Robert De Niro and Dustin Hoffman served as a training film for politicians needing a quick war to win an election. In 1998, as the Monica Lewinsky matter began to brew, President Clinton ordered missile strikes on targets in Afghanistan and Sudan. “I don’t think there is a politically minded person who did not immediately question whether the president was acting genuinely in our national security interest or to get beyond this scandal and create a rally-round-the-flag phenomenon,” according to political scientist Mark Rozell. In these and many other cases, military actions burnished public patriotic opinion and enhanced the President’s polls.
Increased Power for Politicians
President Eisenhower, the commanding general in America’s greatest military victory in World War II, issued America a trenchant warning in his 1961 Farewell Address:
We must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. [Emphasis added.]
Like Madison’s cautions, Eisenhower’s words have proven true, as the surveillance capabilities necessary to prevent another 9-11 attack have been turned on Americans. An enormous military-industrial-intelligence-law enforcement cabal has been funded that know the sexual, financial, and other dark secrets of every government official. Whether by bribery or blackmail, most of our leaders can be brought to heel by the Deep State. As Senator Chuck Schumer warned, the intelligence community has “six ways from Sunday of getting back at you.”
And the Deep State’s appetite for money and power is endless. Independent journalist Glenn Greenwald details one of the most frightening costs of endless war — the loss of our liberties:
[E]ach year of endless war that passes further normalizes the endless rights erosions justified in its name. The [Bush and Obama presidencies] have been devoted to codifying and institutionalizing the vast and unchecked powers that are typically vested in leaders in the name of war. Those powers of secrecy, indefinite detention, mass surveillance, and due-process-free assassination are not going anywhere. They are now permanent fixtures not only in the US political system but, worse, in American political culture. [Emphasis added.]
In the name of “the War on Terror,” both the Bush and Obama administrations collected what eventually amounted to billions of records of metadata of Americans’ communications, all without a warrant or even suspicion of crime. Edward Snowden blew the whistle in 2013, and the government continued to deny that it was spying on Americans. Seven years later in 2020, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit finally ruled that the collection of mass amounts of Americans’ communications without a warrant was illegal. So the government has simply shifted to buying the data on Americans’ communications, at taxpayer expense, from private companies.
Lies and Death
One of the great divides in America is between those many who are eager to go to war and those few who resist the drumbeat of war. History demonstrates that when politicians are describing attacks suffered by the United States or the dangerous threats we face, they are frequently lying. There is much evidence of the saying that: “Truth is the First Casualty of War.” The Bible warns that the devil is the father of lies. John 8:44. And those who would lie our nation into war have no problem with killing. Proverbs 9:36 says “All those who hate me love death.”
Continual war is destroying the nation, and not just financially. At such a time, it is good to listen to the warriors who we have called on to fight for us, like Smedley Butler who was the most decorated Marine in U.S. History. Part of his legacy was a book about what he later learned about the real reasons behind the many military missions on which he was sent during his career — War is a Racket. Perhaps it is also time to remember the truth of the Scripture which reads: “Blessed are the peacemakers.” Matthew 5:9.
Editor’s Note: To read the articles in this series, please click here.