Copyright John T. Reed

Article I, Section 8 of the United States Constitution says,

The Congress shall have power…To declare war, grant letters of marque and reprisal, and make rules concerning captures on land and water;

Did Congress declare war on Iraq or Afghanistan? Nope.

Over 60,000 dead in undeclared wars
Congress did not declare war on Vietnam, Grenada, Lebanon, Somalia, Haiti, Panama, Serbia, or Bosnia either. But U.S. military personnel killed people in those countries and/or were killed in those countries during military actions—acts of war. Over 60,000 U.S. military personnel have died in undeclared wars (not counting Korea and Desert Storm) since World War II.

The Korean War and Desert Storm in Kuwait in 1991 were military actions pursued with a U.N. mandate.

The last time Congress declared war was December 8, 1941, the day after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and declared war on the United States.

We WIN the declared wars
It should be noted that we won that war.

We lost Vietnam, Lebanon, and Somalia. We won in Grenada and Panama. Haiti was and is a mess. All our other undeclared wars are ongoing and unresolved. The U.N.-mandated Korean War ended in a stalemate. The U.N.-mandated Desert Storm War was a victory.

French general Georges Clemenceau said that war is too important to be left to generals. It is also too important to be left to Commanders in Chief and nose-in-the-tent Congressional votes like the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution that essentially turned out to be a disguised declaration of war against North Vietnam.

No Vietnam, Iraq, or Afghanistan
If we only went to war after Congress declared it, we would never have gone to war in Vietnam, Grenada, Lebanon, Somalia, Haiti, Panama, Afghanistan, or Iraq. We would be better off if we had not gone to war in any of those countries. There has been some punitive satisfaction as a result of killing or capturing some big shots and their associates, but neither Afghanistan nor Iraq was going to harm the U.S. in any significant way had we left Saddam Hussein and the Taliban in power.

The 9/11 hijackers were suicide bombers, so, by definition, we do not need to punish them or protect ourselves from them. We do need to protect ourselves from and punish their backers like Osama Bin Laden and Sheik Khalid Mohammed (the 9/11 mastermind who was captured and is now in our custody). But spending a trillion dollars of taxpayers money and getting over 3,000 U.S. military killed in Iraq and Afghanistan was not necessary and does not appear to have made us safer.

Fewer wars, more victories
By going back to only fighting wars where Congress has declared war, we would be in a lot fewer wars and we would be more likely to win them. Prior to the Korean War, all our wars were declared—and won.

A declaration of war only requires a 51% vote in Congress—same as votes like the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution—but the phrase “declaration of war” gives pause. Since war is such a profoundly important decision, it ought to give pause.

The word “war” has been cheapened by politicians seeking the public support that we normally give them during times of war—real wars like World War II. Johnson declared “war” on poverty and Nixon declared “war” on cancer and Bush declared war on terrorism. So far, we’ve lost each of those undeclared-by-Congress wars or, at best, they are still ongoing. But there is little reason for much optimism in any of them.

No declaration, no war
My modest proposal? Stop going to war unless Congress declares war. Wars are extremely expensive in terms of both human cost and money. And when we get into them without declarations by Congress, we generally have regretted it. I agree with the comments Senator Robert Byrd made on the subject at

Another way to state my modest proposal would be, abide by the Constitution. It is not, after all, a list of suggestions.

Preliminary injunction
The only exception I think makes sense with regard to the need for a Congressional declaration of war would be a sort of preliminary injunction situation. To obtain a preliminary injunction from a court, the moving party must prove to the court that:

A. unless immediate action is taken, irreparable harm will ensue and
B. the moving party will probably prevail when the matter goes to a full trial

In the context of war, if there is an attack against the U.S., the president must react immediately asking Congress for a declaration of war while simultaneously initiating all necessary military action to defend the country.

Fast when they want to be
Congress can declare war quite quickly when it wants to. The Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor at 7 A.M. Hawaii time on December 7, 1941. Congress declared war on Japan at 4:10 PM Eastern Standard Time on December 8, 1941. The president’s preliminary injunction powers would only last until Congress voted on his requested declaration of war. If Congress refused to declare war, the president would have to end his military actions and explain why he thought there was danger of irreparable harmd and why he incorrectly assumed Congress would ultimately vote for such a declaration when he initiated military action without waiting for a declaration of war. If his explanation is unsatisfactory, he should be impeached and removed from office.

John T. Reed

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Link to information about John T. Reed’s Succeeding book which, in part, relates lessons learned about succeeding in life from being in the military