Nationwide protests had
erupted over police killings of black people. Near
the White House, tear gas and rubber bullets ejected
peaceful protesters from a park to clear the way for
President Trump’s now-famous church photo. Trump
threatened military force nationwide.
But top military leaders
have pushed back against Trump’s aggressive
impulses, several invoking the Constitution.
A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff,
apologized for joining Trump on his walk to the
church for a political picture. Milley issued a memo
to chiefs of the Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force,
etc. that said in part:
Every member of the U.S. military swears
an oath to support and defend the Constitution
and the values embedded in it. This document is
founded on the essential principle that all men
and women are born free and equal and should be
treated with respect and dignity [except slaves
– ed.]. It also gives Americans the
right to freedom of speech and peaceful
As members of the Joint Force ... you
embody the ideals of our constitution, Please
remind all of our troops and leaders that we
uphold the values of our nation, and operate
consistent with the national laws and our own
high standards of conduct at all times.
similar statement, pointing o the constitutional oath,
was issued by the Army, signed by Secretary of the
Army Ryan D. McCarthy, General James C.
McConville, et al. The fact of the oath also
entered a message from General Joseph L. Lengyel,
bureau chief of the National Guard. Other top
officers made statements defending the protests.
Secretary of Defense Mark T. Esper, who had urged
governors to “dominate the battlespace,” resisted
one of Trump’s extreme proposals. Trump thought of
invoking the Insurrection Act, of 1807. He would
deploy U.S. military and “quickly solve the
problem” if any state did not “dominate,” end
rioting by “thugs,” and restore law and order.
Esper said the Act would not be needed, except as
a last resort.
Lawbreakers in the
“supreme law of the land,” the Constitution
(Article I, Section 8, Paragraph 11), reserves the
power to “declare war,” i.e. initiate war, to the
Congress alone. That clause was generally
respected for the first 163 years after the
Constitution went into effect on June 21, 1788.
of the Constitution’s framers clearly document
their intention. A few examples:
Hamilton: “The Congress shall have
power to declare war”; the plain meaning of
which is, that it is the peculiar and exclusive
power of Congress, when the nation is at peace,
to change that state to a state of war. [“Lucius
Crassus” 1, 1801]
... [C]ommander-in-chief of the army and
navy ... would amount to nothing more than ...
first General and Admiral ... [while the power]
of the British king extends to the declaring of
war and the raising and regulating of fleets and
armies,—all of which by the Constitution under
consideration, would appertain to the
legislature. [The Federalist 69,
Madison: The power to declare war ...
vested in the legislature; ... the executive has
no right, in any case, to decide the question,
whether there is or is not cause for declaring
war. [“Helvidius” 4, 1793]
Wilson: This system will not hurry us
into war; it is calculated to guard against it.
It will not be in the power of a single man, or
a single body of men, to involve us in such
distress, as the important power of declaring
war is vested in the legislature at large. [To
the Pennsylvania ratifying convention, 1787]
the system lacked any enforcement mechanism to
make sure that one man would not hurry us
into war. So on June 30, 195o, President Harry S.
Truman, already infamous for his two atomic
massacres in Japan, plunged the U.S. into a
three-year war in Korea that killed over 2.5
million civilians, mostly through U.S.
starting his war, Truman had no congressional
permission whatever. Thus began the cult of the
president as war-maker. Every subsequent president
has imitated Truman, overtly or covertly or both.
went on to cause humanitarian disasters in
Vietnam, Iraq, Panama, Yugoslavia, Libya, and
elsewhere. Congress never authorized America’s
longest war, begun by Bush Jr. on Oct. 7, 2001,
and still terrorizing Afghans after nearly 19
every chief executive acts as though his job were
that of chief executioner. And the technology of
executive killing—though not the law—permits one
man to destroy all mankind with a few bombs. It
gives him absolute power over life and death of
How seriously do they
take the oath?
like Obama before him, proceeds to
“modernize” nuclear weapons,
for over a trillion dollars. The supreme law
governing the declaration of war has not been
modernized. It remains a relic from 1787,
disregarded by presidents and most others.
George Washington presiding, fifty-five
exceptional men met in Philadelphia for sixteen
weeks and drew up the best constitution they
could. Rejecting the monarchal model, they decided
that it would take a legislature to
declare war, rather than the top man. But they
never set up any machinery to stop the executive
from assuming dictatorial rule over war.
is open to question what mechanism would work—and
whether a one-man presidency inherently bears the
seed of tyranny, particularly when coupled with a
Trump, on his own whim, ordered the bombing of,
say, Iran or Venezuela, it would of course violate
the constitutional war power, along with U.S.
treaties banning aggression. Would military
officers carry out that order, knowing it
breached the document they have sworn to uphold?
2011 and 2012, citizen Trump repeatedly predicted
an attack on Iran by President Obama to help his
reelection. As Trump’s poll numbers continue to
sink and he grows desperate, he may resort to the
same kind of act he thought Obama would commit.
June 20, 2019, Trump did order
the bombing of Iran, supposedly to retaliate for
the downing of a spy drone. Military officers
did not ignore or nullify that order. A
possible catastrophe was averted when Trump
changed his mind minutes before the order was to
go into effect. Last January 3, his order to murder a top Iranian general
visiting Iraq was carried out. I know of no
unfulfilled belligerent order by Trump, despite a
consistent lack of congressional authorization.
passed a joint resolution to prevent any attack on
Iran without congressional authorization, but
Trump vetoed it on May 6.
repeatedly pledged peace
in a campaign speech on April 27, 2016, promising,
“War and aggression will not be my first
instinct.” Yet they indeed seem to be his first
made Afghanistan his war. On April 13, 2017,
twelve weeks after inauguration, came news that MOAB (massive ordnance air
blast), largest non-nuclear bomb in the U.S.
arsenal, had been exploded in Nangarhar Province,
adjoining Pakistan. Even the Bush Jr. Pentagon
avoided using it, lest it hit many civilians.
Hamid Karzai, former Afghan president, condemned
“the inhuman and most brutal misuse of our country
as testing ground for new and dangerous weapons.”
with a record-breaking eight years of illegal
war-making in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and Syria,
has met his match in the ferocity of Trump’s bombing
campaigns, waged in Iraq, Somalia, and Syria as
well as Afghanistan. Minimal restrictions under
Obama yielded to Trump’s policy of “bomb the s---
out of them.” Consequently, civilian casualty
tolls have soared.
full extent of Trump’s war-making is yet to come
out. Secret operations in Africa—including
Kenya, Niger, Somalia, and Tunisia— have been
aids the Saudis in its attacks on civilians in
Yemen, which have gone on for over five years.
Congress voted to forbid U.S. involvement in Yemen,
but Trump vetoed the measure in April 2019.
recently announced another $500 million in
guided-bomb sales to Saudi Arabia;
the deal would let Raytheon build the bombs in
Arabia. He claims to want it because arms sales
provide U.S. jobs. Would you want to work in a
factory whose product is used to slaughter the
occupants of schools, buses, homes, and hospitals?
a ground operation nine days after Trump took
office, his forces invaded a village in Yemen and,
according to Human Rights Watch, killed twenty-five
argued repeatedly, as a private citizen, against
attacking Syria, on April 6, 2017, President Trump
bombed a Syrian airfield, killing sixteen,
including nine civilians. (See above link.) His
reason? An allegation that Syria had used gas
weapons, since disproven.
June 1, 2020, as widely reported, Trump’s
administration itself used gas weapons—to disperse
peaceful protesters near the White House
Paul W. Lovinger
June 16, 2020