by Myles Kantor
Dear Secretary Cheney:
During the October 5 Vice Presidential debate, you made the following statement: "There is no more important responsibility for a president of the United States than his role as commander in chief and the obligation that he undertakes on behalf of all of us to decide when to send our young men and women to war." This statement was not criticized by your opponent and probably did not disturb most viewers, but it is chilling nonetheless.
If anything is axiomatic in American government, it is that executive war-making is an oxymoron. Our founding fathers were acutely apprehensive about presidential power, especially when it came to martial action; they did not want their sons deployed in lethal interventions by one man. They therefore wisely and humanely vested this monumental authority in Congress.
As Alexander Hamilton explained in Federalist No. 69:
"The President is to be commander-in-chief of the army and navy of the United States. In this respect his authority would be nominally the same with that of the king of Great Britain, but in substance much inferior to it. It would amount to nothing more than the supreme command and direction of the military and naval forces, as first General and admiral of the Confederacy; while that of the British king extends to the declaring of war and to the raising and regulating of fleets and armies, all which, by the Constitution under consideration, would appertain to the legislature."
As we know, that Constitution under consideration was ratified, and with it legislative supremacy over war-making. The first president from your party appreciated this:
"The provision of the Constitution giving the war-making power to Congress, was dictated, as I understand it, by the following reasons. Kings had always been involving and impoverishing their people in wars, pretending generally, if not always, that the good of the people was the object. This, our Convention understood to be the most oppressive of all Kingly oppressions; and they resolved to so frame the Constitution that no one man should hold the power of bringing this oppression upon us." (Abraham Lincoln to William H. Herndon, February 15, 1848)
The twentieth century trend for presidents to usurp congressional prerogative in war-making has inflicted more than constitutional damage, Secretary Cheney. It has killed tens of thousands of Americans. To give but one example, over fifty thousand Americans died in Korea due to President Truman's illegal unilateral deployment. This is the consequence of scrapping the rule of law.
As a young man of twenty-one, I admit a vested interest in who decides whether America goes to war, but I believe every American has a stake in this issue. You identify yourself as a conservative, Secretary Cheney, as someone who defends American values and the Constitution that incarnates them. A fundamental American value is that we live in a republic and not a monarchy. It is therefore un-American and indeed anti-American for the President of the United States to behave like a monarch. To not only tolerate but approve of a war-making president is a betrayal of our revolutionary heritage and an insult to the Americans who gave everything to achieve our independence from a monarch's despotism.
So I ask you, Secretary Cheney: In the event that you and George W. Bush win this election, please fulfill the conservative creed you affirm and demand your President do the same. Please don't let George W. Bush kill America's youth.
Myles Kantor lives in Boynton Beach, Florida.