The U.S. Constitution and wars in the 21st century: Are they compatible?

Tue, 07/29/2008 - 3:23pm
By: Letters to the ...

It is undoubtedly fair to say that one can judge the basic goodness of a country by examining its constitution and the degree to which its basic contents are adhered to and practiced. Take for example the following two articles from the constitution of one major country in particular which read as follows, “citizens of (this country) are guaranteed freedom of speech, the press and of assembly, meetings, street processions, and demonstrations“ and, “the privacy of citizens, and of their correspondence, telephone conversations, and telegraphic communications is protected by law.”

In its composition the foregoing guarantees of freedom of speech and private conversations/communications rival those of our own Constitution. As such, it may come as somewhat of a shock to many that what are cited are Articles 50 and 56 of the October 1977, Constitution of the then-Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR).

The above examples of the Constitution of the now defunct USSR are highlighted for one simple reason — actions speak louder than words, regardless of how well the words may sound.

The guarantees contained in the Constitution of the former USSR relating to freedom of speech, assembly, the press and private communications/correspondence were violated on a daily basis and were literally not worth the paper on which the Soviet Constitution was written.

I raise these points of discussion because of the situation in which the citizens of the United States find themselves today in terms of following the provisions of our own Constitution.

Since 1945, and the successful completion of our last congressionally declared war, we have been involved in undeclared wars in Korea, Vietnam, and now Iraq. None, to date, has turned out to be described as any type of victory.

Added to the foregoing we now have a nation, Iran, which against the wishes of a majority of the world nations may be developing a nuclear weapons capability. As a result of the actions of Iran, assuming a nuclear weapons capability may not be too far off, the United States has intimated that military force, or a naval blockade, may be necessary to preclude Iran’s acquiring nuclear weapons.

Regardless of how one views the situation, a United States military attack on the sovereign nation of Iran is an act of war. One may argue its justness, necessity and inevitability, but it is an act of war.

Now here is where the issue and, more importantly, the legality of military attacks (war) come into play. Many will cite the fact that the United States constitutional requirement (Section 8, Article I) that only Congress may declare war is in practice outmoded and will point to the foregoing examples of Korea, Vietnam, and Iraq as evidence of their contention.

Furthermore, they may argue that the current 21st century “global war on terror” negates the constitutionally mandated requirement of Congress alone having the power to declare war.

The proponents of this approach may be correct and the particulars of the Constitution may be “quaint” (to borrow a term used in relation to how some in the Bush administration view the Geneva Conventions in dealing with presumed terrorists and enemy insurgents) or simply outmoded.

It may well be time for a serious, broad-based discussion on the appropriateness, necessity, and relativity of the Constitution’s requirement that only Congress may declare war.

For, if we fail to discuss the dictates of the Constitution, which some refer to as “outmoded,” “passé” or “quaint,” how long will it be before we follow the hollow practices of the former USSR as they interpreted their Constitution?

Are we as a nation ready to accept that in the time of a virtually never-ending “war on terror,” our constitutional guarantees of freedom of speech, assembly, and privacy may also be treated as “outmoded,” “passé” or “quaint”? Should these guarantees, in view of “national security,” be treated with the same inattention and/or selective interpretation as our current practice relating to undeclared wars?

Our Constitution has served this nation extremely well and as a living, vital, flexible document deserves to be adhered to or amended, but never ignored! For, if we do so, it will be at our own peril as our basic, constitutional rights will be worth no more than those contained in the 1977 Constitution of the former USSR.

Wade J. Williams, Colonel, USA (Ret)

Peachtree City, Ga.

[Williams describes himself as “a Vietnam War veteran and National War College graduate who served as an assistant military attaché at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow from 1976 until 1978 and personally experienced and witnessed the ‘don’t do as I do, do as I say’ policies of the Soviet government as they viewed and implemented the numerous ‘guarantees/rights’ of their Constitution.]

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Submitted by PTC Observer on Thu, 07/31/2008 - 4:32pm.

Dear Col. Williams,

Thank you for your letter, I enjoyed reading it. It is thought provoking and timely. Unfortunately, our Consitution has been under attack since its inception. These attacks have all been made by lesser men than our founders and always with the best of intentions. The long march into a government of the few against the many will not stop unless good men step up against it. Our only hope is that all citizens realize that our freedom hangs by a small tread embodied in the Constitution, its foundation reason. The protections under the Constitution must not be taken for granted.

As James Madison said: "The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse."

Thank you for your past service and God bless you,


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