Wednesday, October 7, 2015
A Proposed New Constitution Article 8, Renouncing War
Article 8-Renouncing War
“1. The United States shall not go to war except in self-defense, and permanently renounces wars or acts of military aggression.”
War is not healthy for living things, not just people, but democracies.
The historical record is clear: Most Americans have long opposed most wars most of the time. Yet Americans keep getting maneuvered, pushed, pulled, prodded, lied to, deceived, conned, forced into, or propagandized into one destructive and often useless war after another.
The Constitution was supposed to require wars be preceded by a declaration of war from Congress. The military was put under civilian command, and the US military for most of its history was very limited in size. Even as late as the 1930s, the US Army was only 140,000 men. Many of the founders argued strongly against a standing army of any kind as leading to tyranny.
So how did we wind up with a very large powerful permanent military, and the dangerous industrial complex Eisenhower warned us about? How do US troops keep getting sent to nations many Americans have never even heard of, much less believe it important to invade them?
It was not always this way. Up until the 1890s, the main wars the US fought were against American Indian tribes. The big exceptions were wars against Britain (1812), Mexico (1845), and the Civil War, the last one begun by Confederate aggression.
But there were a series of invasions, called filibusters, that most Americans don't know about today. These were private armies, mercenaries, led by American warmongers willing to invade other nations on their own to gain profit, territories, or power. Often they hoped to drag the US into wars, get nations or pieces of a nation taken away and made into part of the US. Filibusters invaded Canada and their allies provoked the War of 1812. They also invaded California and Texas many times. They gained an ally in slave owners who wanted to make Texas a slave state, and so they provoked the war with Mexico.
This was not what most Americans wanted. Congress passed half a dozen neutrality laws over 30 years making it illegal for private citizens to invade another nation. The laws proved difficult to enforce because of the size of the US and slow communications over great distances at the time.
Public anger and horror over the huge loss of life in the Civil War ended these private invasions, and US wars with other nations. Even “Indian wars” declined. US Grant had a Peace Policy that reduced battles with Native tribes by three fourths. But by the 1890s, the Civil War generation had died off and war enthusiasts like Teddy Roosevelt led a new push for empire and territory.
The US took Guam, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and Samoa by force. Self righteous scientific racists like T. Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson insisted they knew how other nations of mostly nonwhite people should be run more than the people there themselves did. Between 1890 and World War II, US troops invaded ten Latin Americans countries over 30 times, sometimes taking over a nation for up to 20 years at a time, other times installing a dictatorship to run the nation on US orders.
The Cold War saw American invasions in Latin America and Southeast Asia, dozens of US sponsored overthrows of governments, assassinations of national leaders, and outright genocide and democide in Cambodia and Indonesia, respectively. This has been done by US presidents on both ideological sides, Lyndon Johnson as well as Reagan, Obama as well as both Bushes. The only two US presidents in the last 125 years to not overthrow a non-aggressive nation's government were FDR and Carter.
Since World War II, there has not been a single declaration of war by Congress. Though there have been dozen of nations attacked by US invasions or bombings, there have been only three authorizations to use force; the notorious Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, Bush Sr. receiving authorization (which he said publicly he did not need) for the Gulf War, and GW Bush's for the Iraq and Afghan Wars. The last has since been stretched by Obama to claim it covers him in warring against ISIS. Congress, including both parties, agreed to Obama's claim and declined to even meet to discuss any kind of an authorization, much less a declaration of war. (For the Korean War, Congress only authorized funding. Truman relied on a UN resolution as his military authorization.) Congress's failure is the strongest argument for making war more difficult, and demanding the public hold veto power over the start of wars or bombing other nations.
Political and media elites have the contemptuous habit of leaving the public out of war decisions. Both parties are guilty of it. There is the saying that “partisanship stops at the water's edge.” What this means in practice is that congressmen from both parties are expected to support a president's wars without reservation or criticism. For the only criticism accepted of wars by most of Congress or much of the media is that the president is not warlike enough, not willing to go to war on a hair trigger or bomb just to show dissatisfaction or crush other nations' leaders should they show independence.
For quick invasions and interventions, bombing campaigns or missile strikes, the public will briefly rally around a president by instinct and then move on, as long as there are no heavy American losses. For longer wars, the same stampede effect is used, often preceded by heavy propaganda to promote fear of the latest “greatest threat ever.” Then once the war starts, public opinion is ignored. Nixon and GW Bush both publicly said they ignored antiwar demonstrations, the biggest in America's history. Media elites also often ignored public opinion, or caricatured demonstrators as atypical when they came from across the spectrum of American opinions and backgrounds.
We should seek a model in Japan. After World War II, the nation looked at its shameful history, renounced warfare as an instrument of policy, and forbade armed forces used except for self defense. The US should do the same. On this issue even many Republicans and conservatives agree. For all the calls for wars by right wing media, they are out of touch with their own base. Most Americans of all ideologies and backgrounds want fewer wars, and never without just cause. Build such a stance directly into a new constitution.
“2. The United States, its government, agencies, or agents shall never try to overthrow another nation's government again unless directly attacked by said government.”
It must also be made far harder for the president to send troops, bomb other nations, or by any other ways try overthrow other governments, including in secret. Many Americans are aware that the US has invaded other nations or overthrown other governments. But most do not know just how often.
In Latin America alone, over a dozen nations were invaded by the US. Nearly three dozen nations had their governments overthrown by the CIA, or attempted overthrows, bought, stolen, or disrupted elections, and hundreds of assassinations of government leaders. Castro alone survived hundreds of attempts on his life. This pattern includes overthrows or attacks on nations that might surprise many people, like the CIA orchestrating the firing of Australia's Prime Minister in 1975, or stealing Italian elections for over 30 years.
This has continued in recent years, under both parties, with assassination orders, drone attacks from Colombia to Pakistan, interference in elections in Venezuela, recognizing a coup in Paraguay, and a potential next president, Hillary Clinton, whose election advisers played a role in the coup in Honduras. This must end. Any nation the US is not at war with, the US should never try to overthrow, with presidents explicitly forbidden to try.
“3. Unless under direct and immediate attack, the United States shall not go to war or deploy troops without an official declaration of war by Congress. Unless under direct and immediate attack, the declaration of war by Congress must then be approved by a vote of the American public within 30 days. Failure to get approval by the American public makes the declaration of war overturned.”
It must be made far harder to go to war. The only effort Congress ever made to control presidents' warmaking was the War Powers Act. In theory a president has two days to tell Congress about an invasion or attack, and 60 days to withdraw. It has never worked. Presidents ignored it, even argued it to be unconstitutional, and Congress never used the act.
Wars need to be made very difficult to start and far easier to stop, when right now the reverse is true. Unless the American nation, armed forces, embassies, bases, or other installations are being directly attacked, or citizens are needing rescue, the President shall be absolutely forbidden to deploy troops. Congress must declare war first. Period. Always. End of discussion.
Without exception also, a declaration of war must be followed by approval by the public. A 30 day period is best since the rush to judgement and sometimes public hysteria is often very brief. A 30 day period is deliberately intended to give enough time for opposition to wars or bombing campaigns to build.
“4. The US President can deploy troops to rescue US or other citizens and must prevent genocide or other large scale atrocities. But the president must report to Congress on such action within 7 days and Congress must approve the deployment of troops within 30 days.”
The one exception to the proposed article is to prevent genocide, other atrocities, or mass humanitarian catastrophes. As a nation which itself committed genocide against American Indians, by the Trail of Tears, by outright systematic genocide in California during the Gold Rush, by deliberate starvation tactics when slaughtering the buffalo, and by the slave trade of both American Indians and Africans, the US should have a special commitment to ending, limiting, or preventing genocide elsewhere, if possible. One cannot stop genocides entirely. But genocide or other mass atrocities can often be limited, and many people can be rescued. It is inhumane and morally callous to not try.
And often American presidents have not even tried. Three US presidents deliberately avoided trying to end or limit genocide at least three times, during the Holocaust, in Bangladesh in the 1970s, and Rwanda in the 1990s. Most Americans have not been taught about these moral failures. Scholars do know, and we need to teach and reach the public on this issue far more. In Rwanda's case, Clinton himself has admitted his wrongdoing, that he could have easily saved 300,000 Rwandans by sending in as few as 5,000 troops. For both the Holocaust and Bangladesh, one tenth of the lives lost could have been saved, but were not. In both those cases, the far more effective way of halting genocide than militarily would have been to publicly denounce it, offer refuge, and declare the guilty would face war crimes trials.
One may understandably ask, why the US? Why not other nations too? The obvious answer is we don’t control other nations, only our own. But we can and should ask other nations to work with us to halt atrocities when possible. In practical terms, less than half a dozen nations have the military power to end atrocities in other parts of the world, though perhaps a dozen other nations have the power to stop or help stop regional wars.
This already happens with peacekeeping forces around the world. It is not too widely known, and some may scoff because they don’t know this. But the United Nations does stop or shorten most wars most of the time. The obvious recent failure was the Iraq War. It was an exception, one caused by deliberate obstruction and falsehoods by GW Bush's administration. The UN currently keeps the peace in 15 nations, and has caused a 40% drop in wars in the past 20 years. Limiting wars, and certainly halting or limiting genocide, are vitally important humane, ethical, and (take note, conservatives) Christian goals. These also agree with most Americans' sentiment. Many Americans sincerely believed in some of the wars fought because they genuinely wanted to help others and opposed dictatorships and atrocities. The new constitution should reflect that, and limit US troop actions to only that and self defense.
“5. The US government is forbidden to go to war or use war as an opportunity to enrich in any way any American businesses, corporations, or individuals. Family members of government officials shall not be exempt from military draft, nor sheltered in special units, or in any other way.”
“The flag follows the dollar” in Smedley Butler's words, is one of the main reasons for war. Wars are often fought to enrich the already wealthy. Few things unite people on all sides of the ideological aisle in disgust as much as undeserved advantage and profit in wartime. The profit motive must be removed from warfare, and businesses and persons forbidden from getting wealthy often literally over the dead bodies of servicemen.
It is also true that there are few congressmen's children in wars, less than a single percent during the Iraq and Afghan Wars. The class bias in who was drafted during Vietnam was especially notorious. So were special “champagne units” set up to shelter children of privilege from the draft. This must not be repeated or allowed.