The Case Against a President's War

The author's site with the original text (1968) and updated author's commentary and license to print.

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What is the (Political Question) in the case against a foreign policy war?

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The Case Against a President's War is the booklet I wrote and distributed forty-four years ago in March 1968, nearly five years following the assassination of JFK, nearly three years following President Johnson's authorization of the Vietnam War in July of 1965, and just one month prior to the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., and three months prior to the assassination of RFK in June. That was 1968, the tail end of the sixties, the decade when Americans were supposedly into "Do your own thing." Was the CIA doing their own thing? What about that nut case J. Edgar Hoover? Was he doing his own thing? Was United States Naval Intelligence doing their own thing? When JFK's body was brought to the hospital in Dallas, someone asked "Who's in charge here?" A U. S. Navy Admiral responded, "I am." Why was he in charge, and what was he in charge of?

When the Vietnam War was over, many people said the United States had lost, but I knew better, as any political scientist did. The government of the United States had achieved its goal, which was not to exercise control over territory, but to prove to the world, in particular two large Asian countries, that in a contest between our armed forces and a determined native population, our kill ratio would be 20 to 1. They killed 50,000 of us, while we killed 1,000,000 of them. That was why General Westmoreland gave the Congress the "body count." That was the foreign policy goal of the war: demonstrate kill ratio. Not only did we achieve a ratio of 20 to 1, we did it with a war that the American people hated. To say the war was unpopular by 1968 is a crass understatement. Millions of Americans actually believed that we were fighting the war on the wrong side, that we should have been on the side of Ho Chi Minh, who was a national hero of the Vietnamese war against Japan during World War II.

Anyway… I did the research necessary over a period of eighteen months and discovered what I had expected, and discovered that it was more clearly documented than I had expected: the War in Vietnam was a President's war. It had not been authorized by the Congress. It was not a congressional war. It was not a war of our nation against another, but described by both President Johnson and the Congress as a foreign policy war, a war that we were engaged in because we were providing troops to the Southeast Asian Treaty Organization. This situation created a problem with the meaning of conscription. We had "conscription without representation" because when citizens serve as soldiers in a foreign policy war, they are not engaged in a war where the territory and people of the United States are under attack, or where the armed forces are being employed to defend the territory and the people. In a foreign policy war the armed forces of the United States are being employed to pursue a foreign policy goal and the soldiers are serving the President, the Senate, and the Department of State. That is not the same thing as serving the nation. That is why in our own time half the American soldiers in Afghanistan, including generals and other high-ranking officers, have stated that we are engaged in fighting where we are trying to achieve political goals by military means and it is wrong and it is predicted that it will not work. After we leave, everything will return to normal. Our foreign policy purpose in Iraq was to protect our access to oil and to have a military presence on the doorstep of Iran and Pakistan. Our purpose in Afghanistan is to make it possible for Russia and other Asian nations to sell natural gas and oil, by pipeline, to India, and for us to have a military presence to discourage a war between Pakistan and India. These may in fact all be worthy goals, and crucial to the continuance of the economic systems, based on fossil fuels, of both Asian and European nations. But the issue is still a live one that cannot be persuasively settled until the future -- are these foreign policy goals justified? Is using our young citizens this way justified? How much does it add to the price of a gallon of gas, in money and in blood?

When will the next foreign policy war come? Under which President? When will the government rely upon memory loss and try to use conscription again, forcing American citizens to fight, kill and die in a foreign policy war? Is that "conscription without representation?" I still say it is, and if you want to know how it happened in the 1960's, you need to read The Case Against a President's War.

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