As we observe another Memorial Day with the lives of the American military still being wasted on imperial folly, some thoughts occurred to me about the “Commander in Chief” meme, our “projected” military capacity and our founding documents.
The constitution is pretty specific about the military of our nation, who was in charge and how it should be set up:
The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States; he may require the Opinion, in writing, of the principal Officer in each of the executive Departments, upon any subject relating to the Duties of their respective Offices, and he shall have Power to Grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offenses against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment.
Not a lot of ambiguity. The section says “when called into actual service.” Meaning when Congress declares war the president gets to put on the commander in chief hat. In that role, he commanded “the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States.”
This is important only if you back up a bit in the Constitution and see what was written first about the Congress and its powers over the military might of the nation.
To raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years;
To provide and maintain a Navy;
To make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces;
To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions;
To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively, the Appointment of the Officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress;
It very clearly says we should have state militias, funded and governed by Congressional mandate. It also says the armies raised should be limited: “no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years.”
Pretty clear language about standing armies. Makes a lot of sense, too, from a structural stand-point of a nation focused on peaceful aims. It’s a lot harder to get 50 governors to lend their militias to imperial conquests beyond our borders. We would never have had state militias in Japan and Germany for the last 60 years.
The Constitution clearly calls for a Navy, managed and controlled by Congress, to protect our borders. Basically the mission the Coast Guard performs. It clearly calls for state militias that are accountable at the local level and only under the president’s command when the nation declares war, via Congress who has that sole responsibility.
The entire way the military has been used since the end of World War II is unconstitutional. Think of the cost savings if we did the way the Constitution demands. No more multi-billion dollar war machine scattered across dozens of countries around the world. Think of the credibility we would regain by closing every single base outside of our borders and pursuing a multi-national replacement in places like South Korea and Iraq and Afghanistan.
That’s what this veteran of the US Navy would suggest as our national military strategy should anyone in President Obama’s ask once he is in a position to actually make that happen.
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