May 29, 2017 Memorial Day means little without always advancing liberty, human rights & justice
Memorial Day — a day of remembering those American military members who died in war — is filled with parades, weekends away, pool openings, cookouts, and retail sales.
I have experienced my share of military pomp and circumstance, including marching while playing my trumpet in nine Memorial Day parades; and attending numerous West Point football games and reunions with my father, who graduated there. However, war is not pomp and circumstance. It is bloody, chaotic, filled with too many atrocities, and killing too many innocent civilians. With nuclear weapons in the hands of governments, Kim Jung Un, and possibly terrorists, the fallout from war is all the more risky.
I am not a full pacifist, but believe that the American government has for too long had too hair-trigger an approach to war and too little focus on diplomacy to avoid war in the first place. The American government and the electorate have allowed the military to be overgrown, far beyond the overgrowth that existed when then-president Eisenhower warned, in his farewell address, of the risks of the military-industrial complex.
One of the nation’s best military lawyers, Eugene R. Fidell, is also a devoted civil libertarian. The two are not at all mutually exclusive, which is why I always am honored to assist my criminal defense clients in obtaining results that reduce the risk to their military careers and security clearances.
No American war since World War II has been formally declared by Congress, as provided by the Constitution in Article 1, Section 8. This means that the subsequent Korean War, Vietnam War, Gulf Wars I & II, Afghanistan War (ongoing), and the many other American military attacks and invasions have proceeded without official Congressional war declarations, all amounting to keeping and consolidating extraordinary power in the presidency. The most extraordinary war power of the president is in launching nuclear war, which, if it happens, will not be by a Congressional declaration.
While politicians repeatedly point to soldiers as protecting our freedoms, war is antithetical to civil liberties. The so-called war on terrorism that followed the September 11, 2001, murders has exacted a heavy toll on our civil liberties, including with the PATRIOT Act.
War is antithetical to the concept of due process governed by the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. In the American criminal court system, nobody is executed without having a chance first to have a trial and next to pursue the appellate process. In war, we put guns and other weapons in the hands of soldiers– many of whom do not have the sufficient experience, care nor maturity in using arms — to fire at people they know nothing about other than that they are wearing the enemy’s uniform or are identified with a particular enemy or terrorist group.
Not all soldiers are thrilled to be soldiers, making them a higher risk to be soldiers. That was so with soldiers who were drafted, right through the Vietnam War. That remains so with soldiers who keep getting torn from their families and homes to serve multiple assignments in war zones. That also is the case with soldiers who were more motivated by a career option and with government payments for college than a devotion to serve the country and a readiness to fight in combat.
War can be good for the coffers of weapons manufacturers and other military contractors. War can assure that we have battle-experienced soldiers for the next war, and can test new weapons systems and military strategies on the battlefield. War comes at a heavy price.
Jimmy Carter was the only president since World War II who avoided having the United States military fire even a single bullet, and favored saving the hostages and Iranian civilians, versus attacking Iran and thus improving his chances at re-election. No matter how weak Carter was viewed by so many, he had the strength to pursue and promote diplomacy and other non-war options both as president and thereafter.
Yes, soldiers make tremendous sacrifices and often the ultimate sacrifice. The government sends them to war, and a high number get killed, physically wounded, and deeply psychologically scarred. Their sacrifices, nonetheless, do not justify elevating thanks to soldiers and veterans over continually striving for minimizing the dangers of our overgrown military-government-industrial complex, elevating diplomacy over hair-trigger military actions, and pursuing expanded civil liberties.