We're At War. . .Or Something
I suppose during the War on Poverty we bombed anyone whose income was below the poverty line (How did Idaho survive?). During the War on Illiteracy, we bombed back into the stone age those who couldn't read (How did Idaho survive?). The War on Illegal Immigration must have been a little trickier, because our bomber pilots had to discriminate between Mexico and East Los Angeles or Sierra Madre. One wrong smart bomb a little off course and the Rose Bowl could have been toast. And now we're in the War on Terrorism. (Yes, I know I excluded the Wars on Crime and Drugs attacks. We still haven't figured out who to bomb in those. Dropping five-hundred pounders on Miami; Washington, DC; Los Angeles; Chicago; Detroit; and Athol seems a little harsh.)
Given the political rhetoric that has come from the mouths of the various Political Hacks in Chief of the United States (PHICUS - pronounced "ficus", like the tree) at the White House over time, it's hard to believe none of those were really wars. But the PHICUS can't get people excited enough to go after a social problem unless he magnifies it with the phrase "War on (fill in favorite social malady)". We'll all become obedient lemmings if the PHICUS mutters the word "war". Anyone who doesn't lemming up is just downright unpatriotic. It's unAmerican not to lemming up when he turns a steely eye to the television camera and proclaims "war".
The fact is, we're not at war. The current PHICUS likes to throw that word around very casually, perhaps because it's easier for him to pronounce than "nuclear". He trivializes war and its consequences when he says we are. The War on Terrorism is not a war.
But didn't Congress support the PHICUS "War on Terrorism?"
Yes, but Congress did not declare war, and only Congress can. The PHICUS can request a war declaration, but without Congressional approval, he cannot declare war. He can use the word, he can try and make us believe we're at war, he can belittle those who criticize his imperiousness, he can even undertake mission impossible to make us believe the War on Terrorism can actually be won, but Congress is a key player in a formal declaration of war -- at least until the current PHICUS decides to yet again simply issue a signing statement.
For the record, the last formal declaration of war by the United States was enacted on June 5, 1942, against Rumania during World War II.
So, if only Congress can declare war after approving the request from the PHICUS and if Congress hasn't done that since 1942, what has authorized the PHICUSs since then to deploy troops, drop bombs, shoot guns, and kill people in the name of ... whatever it was done in the name of at that time? The answer is that short of declaring real war, Congress can authorize the PHICUS to use military force. Not surprisingly, Congress's go-ahead is called an Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF).
The distinctions between a Presidentially-requested, Congressionally approved war and an AUMF are very consequential. On January 4, 2003, the Library of Congress's Congressional Research Service (CRS) published a 112-page Report for Congress entitled Declarations of War and Authorizations for the Use of Military Force: Historical Background and Legal Implications.
The CRS report is worth reading if for no other reason than to correct the next person who refers to the War on Terrorism. Having read the report, you will be able to say with authority, "We're not at war; we're at AUMF."
Hmmm. Doesn't quite have the same ring, does it? Never mind. Lemming up! We're at AUMF!