Monday, February 07, 2005


More lessons of history

Hitler's offensive against France, launched on May 10, 1940, was a foregone conclusion by June 10, when Paris fell to the Germans. That same day, Mussolini's Italy declared war on France, like a vulture hoping to grab some meat off the bones. John Lukacs, in The Duel: The Eighty-Day Struggle Between Churchill and Hitler, describes Hitler's reaction thus:
The fall of Paris had been forseeable for a week at least. Hitler had made no particular remark on it that day. He was privately critical of Mussolini for having resorted to a formal declaration of war [on France] on the 10th of June. Declarations of war were an "antiquated and hypocritical" practice:

“That will be the last declaration of war in the history of the world. Attack and march! That is the right and healthy way. I shall never sign a declaration of war. I shall act!”
There are some ironies here. The United States, of course, declared war on Japan and German 18 months later, but that is the last declaration of war in the history of the United States. No war was declared on North Korea, North Vietnam, Iraq (either for Desert Storm or this last time around) or any of our other armed conflicts since World War II.

While our presidents are quite eager to declare metaphorical wars -- on poverty, on drugs, on crime, on terrorism -- they actually lack the power to declare real war. That power is given by our Constitution to Congress in Art. I, sec. 8, clause 11. The pattern since World War II in which presidents commit American forces to combat on a large scale and get after-the-fact ratification by Congress; or receive pre-approval for commitment of troops to armed conflicts of vaguely defined scope represent a troubling shift of power from Congress to the president on this most important national question.

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