WASHINGTON – This holiday is now by custom preserved for family gatherings. And sport; and for those lucky enough to live near glorious Lakes Erie and Ontario, all kinds of water sports. But for a shrinking number of Americans, it is still a day for mourning this nation’s hundreds of thousands of war dead.
Memorial Day could be a day for us to persistently demand answers as to how our nation was plunged into bloody wars of opportunity such as Vietnam and the second Iraq War in 2003. Mysteriously, we don’t bother. The direct culprits in these horrific enterprises are our 535 members of Congress.
It is the solemn constitutional duty of each member of the House and Senate to authorize the president to send young, eager men and women into battle, and often to their untimely death. But since the Vietnam War, Congress has assiduously ducked this responsibility.
In 1964, Democratic President Lyndon Johnson lied to Congress that North Vietnam attacked a U.S. naval vessel. Congress, still in a tumult over the assassination of President John Kennedy nine months earlier, slavishly passed the resolution that authorized the country’s longest war, until recently. In the Senate, only two members voted no.
Later, when the war turned sour and drove Johnson out of office, Congress took votes on 50 measures to end or curtail the war. By then it was too late. The military-industrial complex that President Dwight Eisenhower warned of had risen to obscene levels of power and influence in Congress.
Nearly every congressional district contained a manufacturer of war materiel, with local chambers of commerce considering them a valuable constituency, growing in importance as civilian manufacturers fled the country for Asia.
Some veterans passionately argue that left-wingers, particularly the media, forced 450,000 American service personnel to quit Vietnam, some dangling from helicopters. But was it worth it in terms of blood, treasure and the hardening of American politics? Absolutely not.
It took only 25 years for American jingoists to try it again. With Vice President Dick Cheney egging him on, President George W. Bush manufactured an excuse to invade and occupy Iraq. Our involvement was a total waste of life, money and amity. Not only deaths in the fields of battle, but suicides in our neighborhoods. According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, 7,200 veterans take their own life every year. Even with the cloud of Vietnam hanging over them, the Senate voted 52 to 47 for war in Iraq, and the House approved war 250 to 183. A narrow vote considering what the terrible stakes were.
Behind this adventure were segments of the Israeli lobby, which cherishes any U.S. military involvement near the Middle East, and the now powerful, nearly omnipotent military-industrial lobby. The militarists have now committed Americans to close brushes all over the world – from the South China Sea, to the Black Sea, Syria, the coast of Alaska, North Korea and Afghanistan, where a field commander, not the secretary of defense, according to BusinessInsider.com, authorized the dropping of the “mother of all bombs” on an ISIS hideaway.
Can it not be argued that through the laxity of Congress, America has become the most militaristic country in the world – like the 19th century British, and Germany, 1914 and 1938 versions? President Barack Obama and President Trump used “military use of force” resolutions passed almost a generation ago, in the aftermath of 9/11.
Two senators, Tim Kaine, D-Va., and Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., want to rein in the president’s seeming perpetual war-making powers and bring Congress more closely into the process, where it ought to be. Their bipartisan bill would give the president the power to fight ISIS and require him to formally report to Congress on the progress of the campaign every six months. The new resolution would sunset after three years unless reauthorized by Congress. Wish them luck.