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Why We Should Limit and Strictly Define the Start of US Wars Using a New Constitution
By Al Carroll
The following is from ...
American Indian tribes. The big exceptions were wars against Britain (1812), Mexico (1845), and the
Civil War, the last on...
democide in Cambodia and Indonesia, respectively. This has been done by US presidents on both
ideological sides, Lyndon Jo...
After World War II, Japan looked at its shameful history, renounced warfare as an instrument of
policy, and forbade armed ...
declaration of war by Congress must then be approved by a vote of the American public held 30 days
later. Failure to get a...
during the Gold Rush, by deliberate starvation tactics of slaughtering the buffalo, and by the
slave trade of both America...
Americans' sentiment. Many Americans sincerely believed in some wars the US fought because they
genuinely wanted to help o...
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Limit the start of us wars using a new constitution

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The following is from the forthcoming A Proposed New Constitution, a call for fifteen articles to be adopted in a new constitutional convention. Currently, dozens of states have called for a new constitutional convention for a variety of causes. This proposal argues wars should always be declared and approved by the American public, and that war itself should be renounced by the United States.

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Limit the start of us wars using a new constitution

  1. 1. Why We Should Limit and Strictly Define the Start of US Wars Using a New Constitution By Al Carroll The following is from the forthcoming A Proposed New Constitution, a call for fifteen articles to be adopted in a new constitutional convention. Currently, dozens of states have called for a new constitutional convention for a variety of causes, as well as proposals from scholars such as Larry Sabato, Andrew Burstein, Nancy Isenberg, and myself. http://proposednewconstitution.blogspot.com/ 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. 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, bombing campaign, or overthrow of another government, one after another. The constitution requires wars have a declaration of war from Congress first. The military was put under civilian command, and 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 as leading inevitably 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
  2. 2. 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 two dozen 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 four times, and their allies provoked the War of 1812. They also invaded California, and Texas five times. They gained an ally in slave owners who wanted to make Texas a slave state, and so provoked the war with Mexico. This was not what most Americans wanted. Congress passed seven neutrality laws over a period of 45 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 for a time. Even “Indian wars” declined. President Grant began a Peace Policy that reduced battles with Native tribes by over 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, Samoa (and for half a century, the Philippines) 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 nations themselves did. Between 1890 and World War II, US troops invaded ten Latin Americans countries over 30 times, sometimes taking over some nations for up to 20 years, at other times installing a dictatorship to run these nations 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
  3. 3. 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 US president in the last 125 years to not overthrow another nation's government was Carter. Since World War II, there has not been a single declaration of war by Congress. There have only been 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 is now being stretched by Obama to claim it covers him in a war against ISIS. Almost all congressmen in both parties agreed to Obama's claim and declined to even meet to discuss any kind of authorization, much less a declaration of war. Congress's failures are the strongest argument for making going to war more difficult, and demanding the public hold veto power over the start of wars. 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 both parties support a president's wars without much 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 or bomb just to show dissatisfaction or crush other nations’ leaders. For quick invasions, bombing campaigns, or missile strikes, the public typically briefly rallies around a president by instinct and then moves 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. Both the Vietnam and Iraq Wars continued half a decade after public opinion turned against them. Media elites also often ignore public opinion, or caricature demonstrators as atypical when they came from across the spectrum of American opinions and backgrounds.
  4. 4. After World War II, Japan 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, and originally were opposed to the US bombing Syria. 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. 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. Dozens of nations faced coups or coup attempts against their governments by the CIA, or bought, stolen, or disrupted elections, and numerous assassination attempts of government leaders. Castro alone survived hundreds of attempts on his life. This pattern includes some that might surprise many, like the CIA orchestrating the firing of Australia's Prime Minister in 1975, or disrupting Italian elections for almost 30 years. This same pattern continued in recent years, under both parties, with drone attacks from Colombia to Pakistan, interference in Venezuelan elections, recognizing a coup in Paraguay, and a likely next president, Hillary Clinton, whose election advisers played a role in Honduras’s coup. This must end. Any government the US is not officially at war with, the US government should never try to overthrow. 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
  5. 5. declaration of war by Congress must then be approved by a vote of the American public held 30 days later. 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 made to control presidents' war making was the War Powers Act. In theory a president has two days to tell Congress about an attack, and 60 days to show cause or withdraw. It never worked. Presidents ignored it, even argued it to be unconstitutional, and Congress never used the act effectively. Less than a decade later, Congress proved unable or unwilling to stop Reagan's invasion of Grenada, bombings of Lebanon and El Salvador, support for Contra terrorism in Nicaragua, and outright collaboration with genocide in Guatemala. Wars need to be made very difficult to start and far easier to stop, when now the reverse is true. Unless the American nation, armed forces, or installations are being directly attacked, or citizens need rescue, the President should be forbidden to deploy troops. Congress must declare war first. Period. End of discussion. Without exception also, a declaration of war must be followed by approval in a referendum. A 30 day period is best since the rush to judgment and sometimes hysteria is often very brief. A 30 day period is deliberately intended to give enough time for opposition to wars or bombing to build. This clause would not come into effect if under direct attack, and so does not endanger Americans, only arbitrary use of military power. 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 two exceptions to proposed clauses above are to rescue citizens under immediate danger, and to prevent genocide, other atrocities, or humanitarian catastrophes. As a nation which committed genocide against American Indians by the Trail of Tears, by systematic genocide in California
  6. 6. during the Gold Rush, by deliberate starvation tactics of slaughtering the buffalo, and by the slave trade of both American Indians and Africans, the US should have a special commitment to ending genocide elsewhere, if possible. One cannot stop genocides entirely. But genocide or other atrocities can often be limited, and many people rescued. It is inhumane and morally callous to not try. Often American presidents have not even tried. The US government deliberately avoided trying to end or limit genocide at least three times, during the Holocaust, Bangladesh in 1971, and Rwanda in 1994. Most Americans are not taught about these moral failures. Scholars know, and we need to teach and reach the public far more. In Rwanda's case, Clinton admitted his wrongdoing, that he could easily save 300,000 Rwandans. For both the Holocaust and Bangladesh, one tenth of the lives lost could have been saved, but were not. A military response is not always needed. In both cases, the more effective way of limiting genocide would have been to publicly denounce it, offer refuge, and declare the guilty face war crimes trials. In the case of the Holocaust, US bombings could have cut off or at least slowed the number of trains delivering victims to death camps. 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, only five nations, the US, UK, Russia, France, and China have the military power to end atrocities in other parts of the world. In practice China has never acted to halt humanitarian catastrophes. Sometimes nations like India have the power to stop regional atrocities, as India did when it halted genocide in Bangladesh. Halting or preventing wars is already done with peacekeeping forces around the world. It is not too widely known to many Americans, and some may scoff because they don’t know. 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. The UN currently keeps peace in 15 nations, and caused a 40% drop in wars in the past 20 years. Limiting wars, and certainly halting or limiting genocide, is a vitally important humane, ethical, and (I argue to conservatives) a Christian goal. It is one which also agrees with most
  7. 7. Americans' sentiment. Many Americans sincerely believed in some wars the US fought because they genuinely wanted to help others and opposed dictatorships and atrocities. The new constitution should reflect that, and limit US actions to only that. 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 often enrich the already wealthy. Few things unite people on both side of the ideological aisle in disgust as much as undeserved advantage and profit in wartime. From shoddy guns and shoes in the Civil War to formaldehyde beef in the Spanish American War to no bid contracts in Iraq and cost overruns in defense contracting at times over 300% ever since the start of the Cold War, the list of abuses is long. 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 offspring 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 units set up to shelter sons of privilege from the draft. This must not be repeated. Al Carroll is Assistant Professor of History at Northern Virginia Community College and the author of numerous articles and books, among them Presidents' Body Counts and the forthcoming A Proposed New Constitution. http://proposednewconstitution.blogspot.com/. http://alcarroll.com

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