How much say should people have in a war?

In this thread about the war in Vietnam:


It might be argued that while the U.S. ‘lost’ the war (we didn’t win, but we weren’t defeated), Americans ‘won’ the conflict by using the democratic process and the Bill of Rights to ‘force’ the politicians to withdraw. That is, the People had their say.

Ideally, we should not go to war at all. But sometimes it is necessary. How much should the People be involved in the decision to go to war? Certainly there are cases when time is of the essence. But there seems to have been plenty of time for analysis prior to our involvement in Vietnam. For example, we knew (or should have known) that the leaders of South Vietnam were corrupt. There were years of American ‘advisors’ before our massive build-up when people might have objected. (On the other hand, if I remember my History, the People may have thought that Communists were worse than corrupt politicians – which can also be seen in our support of some South American regimes.) After the WTC attacks, we supported the invasion of Afghanistan. But there was a year and a half before we invaded Iraq when many of us, as well as some military leaders, intelligence services and politicians, pointed out that Iraq had not attacked us and was not a threat.

The decision to go to war is in the hands of our elected leaders. We assume that they aren’t going to lie to us to get us into a war. But assuming that they do not lie to us, and we have time to evaluate whether a war is ‘necessary’, how much say should the People have in the decision to go to war? Once we’re in, how much say should we have in the decision to stay in?

Moving thread from IMHO to Great Debates.

[QUOTE=Johnny L.A.]
In this thread about the war in Vietnam:

You can’t really “win” or “lose” a war when no war has been declared and thus there is no real accountability.

If Congress ever decides not to grant Presidents blank checks to conduct military operations on an indefinite basis, by forcing a real debate and putting their names on a declaration of war according to constitutional principles, then the People will really have their say.

A great deal. Wars are ostensibly conducted in the name of the people and for their benefit and protection. People who don’t approve of what’s being done ‘for’ or ‘by’ them, or how it’s being done, should definitely speak up. Especially when you consider the cost of war.

The “popularity” contest Operation Ripper refers to, with apparent derision, is part of our electoral process. Three million dead Asians and tens of thousands of dead and maimed soldiers didn’t give them a lot of pause during the course of the Vietnam war, but the threat of losing office did. That’s exactly why citizens need to be vigilant when it comes to war. Why did politicians support the Iraq war three years ago? Because they had no political reason to oppose it, or even consider opposing it, and as a result few had the conscience to bother. Almost four years later, Iraq is a mess.

I think the people, through their elected representatives, should have a great deal of say in the decision to go to war, which should include an affirmation of specific war goals and aims.

I think the President should have the discretion granted to him by the War Powers Act to handle short, small conflicts, but by the time we’re talking about an invasion of a country with a hostile government, or an action involving say, over 50,000 troops, a supermajority (3/5? 2/3?) ought to be required for such an action. A major war requires the support, not just of a bare majority of the Americna people, but of a pretty substantial majority. It would take a constitutional amendment, but I’d like to see one that required a supermajority in Congress to authorize war, whether by formal declaration of war, AUMF, or whatever.

Why do we assume that?

Vietnam and Iraq were both founded on lies (Gulf of Tonkin / WMDs).

Naivete and a deep-seated belief that America is fundementally decent and can do no wrong?

What’s the theme of the OP. “You’re Americans, so do what your leaders say!”

Is that how democracy works? News to me!

I imagine I’ll get some flak here but what the hell…

Isn’t America fundamentally decent?

I think so, but that’s just me

The people of the United States are fundamentally decent, which is true of most people, of course.

The government of the United States generally is not, which is true of most governments, of course.

What RickJay said. I wouldn’t argue with you if you said the people were fundamentally decent, but ask someone in Vietnam or Iraq about America itself.

I certainly believe we should all be involved in the politcal process by voting and expressing our opinions to our leader, but with that said, I’m a little afraid of “The Will of the People.” 'Twasn’t so long ago that the Will of the People decreed that those with dark skin should be relegated to second-class status and brutalized if they dared speak against it.

Human beings are stupid and short-sighted. Unfortunately, many times, people’s choices are often made on emotion or what’s most convenient at the time with nary a thought for the impacts on the future. Politicians take gross advantage of this, knowing that by giving the people what they want, they stand a good chance for re-election now and by the time the side-effects are felt, they’ll be past their term limits.

Is there a solution? I sure as hell can’t think of one. I’m a fan of democracy even though it’s got the fatal flaw of having to rely on the good judgement of all of the people, not just the smart ones.

I just finished reading Robert A. Heinlein’s new book, For Us, The Living, and he addresses this issue (and many others) in the book. His take on it was like this:
In the U.S., Congress was not allowed to declare war without it passing a referendum.
The only people who are allowed to vote on it are people who are eligible for military duty (male and female).
Those who vote for the war are automatically enlisted in the first draft.
Those who didn’t vote are in the second draft.
Those who voted no are in the third draft.
If the U.S. is invaded, all bets are off and the President and/or Congress can declare war on their own.

I thought this was fascinating. I don’t know how it would work in the real world, but it really puts the power of decision in the hands of those who would actually be doing the fighting (and dying).

I was just looking for opinions, not looking for a debate.

Oh, well.

Sorry but I have to disagree. My belief is that the Govt. of the US does what it believes to be the right and proper thing at any given time.

Subsequent events may prove they were wrong.

As a general answer to your question, the people should have absolutely no direct say in these matters whatsoever. That would be the equivalent of mob rule, there is a reason that decisions of this nature are made by 536* elected officials, not by the populace of the country at large. Often times the strategic interests of the United States cannot be intelligently analyzed by the common man, sometimes the geopolitical ramifications of going to war or not going to war cannot be properly analyzed by the common man. They often cannot be properly analyzed by the President or Congress, either. That’s why there are Congressional committees which regularly meet with experts in military and political affairs, and why the President has at his disposal more professional advice-givers than any other single person on the planet.

The decision has to be in the hands of our elected leaders. Our role as citizens is basically to support our elected leaders in their decisionmaking by voting for their reelection, or to show our lack of support for the decisions they have made (and the ones they either say they will or can reasonably be assumed to make in the future) by voting against them. That is not our only role, however. As elected representatives our congressionals representation is responsible to us, and we have an obligation if we feel strongly about a current political issue to make our feelings known. If we strongly oppose the decision to go to war, we have an obligation to write letters to our leaders, to stage protests, and et cetera.

There should certainly never be a “referendum” on whether or not to go to war. I can think of many cases where such a referendum would either be counterproductive or would not have changed the end result.

The War of 1812 was a war that most will agree in retrospect we probably should not have started, but I think given the political climate of the times and the power of the War Hawks in Congress any sort of referendum on the war would almost certainly be approved. The same goes for our war with Mexico.

The American Civil War probably would not have been fought if we held a referendum on it, which I think would have been disastrous for the United States. The Spanish-American War would almost certainly have been approved by referendum. World War I probably would not have been, and World War II almost certainly would not have been any earlier than Pearl Harbor, after that it’s all but certain it would have been.

I also think that in the case of a situation like World War II or the Civil War where the Presidents in question were more than willing to fight but the populace much less so, outright lying and deception by the elected leadership to push to populace to war is more than justified and even required. As well as taking firm executive action to begin waging war with little or no regard to the greater debate at hand.

I think this is a hopeful version of events.
Remember Watergate?
And Robin Cook resigning before the Iraq war even started?

Chowder, as a U.S. President once said, doing what’s right is easy. Knowing what’s right is hard. Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, Hitler et al. all thought what they were doing was right; that doesn’t make them decent men.

The U.S. has committed open genocide, engaged in slavery, slaughtered civilians on purpose, supported horrible dictatorships and the massacre of even more civilians, supported terrorism, overthrown legitimate governments for the sake of business interests, arranged the assassination of foreign leaders, invaded other countries without meaningful provocation, and any number of immoral and unethical acts. I know it’s emotionally hard to accept these facts from the inside, but it’s all a matter of public record and it’s silly to deny it. Some governments are worse than others to be sure, but generally speaking any government that lasts long enough is soon proven to be inherently immoral and dangerous.

And the War of 1812 (at least tangentially).

And the Mexican War.

And, again at least tangentially, the Spanish-American War.

It’s a pretty common symptom.

While I agree that having direct referenda on war powers is disaster waiting to happen the current system should work fairly well. Leaders are elected and, if later proven unwise, are voted out, or their congressional support is voted out. And the elections happen is such a quick procession (every two years) that things don’t normally go off the rails before the feedback can get through.

The simple fact that Vietnam ending was strongly influenced by a concern about keeping elected office shows that this sort of feedback works. It may not be immediate, and it may still allow for Presidential adventurism, but it DOES work.

And, after all, if the American citizenry elect someone who’s prone to such adventures who do they have to blame but themselves?

I think the proper division of labor, so to speak, is pretty obvious.

The people, through their elected representatives, should be the ones to decide whether to go to war, and what the war aims should be.

The executive should be responsible for conducting the war in pursuit of those aims.

The people, through their elected representatives, should have the right to revise the war aims as necessary. Similarly, the people should have the right to conclude that it is time to withdraw from the war with all deliberate speed, and bring the troops home.

It should go without saying that a anything other than a small or brief war requires the support of the public, and here I think the Constitution has it backwards. It only takes a majority of both houses of Congress to get us into war, but if the Executive is determined to continue the war, it effectively takes a 2/3 majority of both houses to get us out, given how tricky it would be for Congress to use its budgetary authority to get us out.

The result is that we can get into a war on the basis of a very thin margin of popular support, but it takes massive opposition to get us out again. I’d argue that it should be the other way around: that it should take a substantial pro-war majority to get us into a war, but if the war has lost the support of a majority of the people for more than a passing moment in time, the majority should be able to bring about an end to the war, if that’s what it wants.