Are We in a State of War?

Kevin Drum just took the neo-cons to task over the recent Bush domestic spying flap. He argues that Americans wouldn’t have batted an eyelash if FDR had used the same techniques during WWII, and then continues with:

But aside from World War II, what else counts as wartime?

If you count only serious hot wars, the United States has been at war for over 20 of the 65 years since 1940. That’s a lot of “wartime.”

However, if you count the Cold War, as conservatives generally think we should, the tally shoots up to about 50 years of war. That means the United States has been almost continuously at war during the past 65 years — and given the nature of the War on Terror, we’ll continue to be at war for the next several decades.

If this is how we define “wartime,” it means that in the century from 1940 to 2040 the president will have had emergency wartime powers for virtually the entire time. But does that make sense? Is anyone really comfortable with the idea that three decades from now the president of the United States will have had wartime executive powers for nearly a continuous century?

Somehow we need to come to grips with this. There’s “wartime” and then there’s “wartime,” and not all armed conflicts vest the president with emergency powers.

He came close to getting something really important, but changed the direction of his article at this point. The reality is that there is “wartime” and there is “not wartime”. Since WWII ended, the United States has not been officially at war. Not in Korea. Not in Viet Nam. And certainly not in Iraq and Afghanistan. If you don’t believe me, just check wiki.

The congressional authorization for Bush to act in the Middle East carries the same relative weight as similar authorizations for our War on Drugs and War on Poverty. Does this mean we can intercept phone calls between civilians without a warrant to track down suspected marjuana growers? Are we free to tap the phone lines of poor people, since they are the obvious target in a War on Poverty?

There is already talk of a new war. What happens if we ever declare a War on Obesity? I don’t want the government eavesdropping on my private conversation with the local pizza delivery company.


Stephen Gordon

I like tasteful cigars, private property, American whiskey, fast cars, hot women, pre-bailout Jeeps, fine dining, worthwhile literature, low taxes, original music, personal privacy and self-defense rights -- but not necessarily in this order.

  1. Don’t forget the War on Christmas. Declaring war on something is America’s way of declaring its serious about something. Back in the 80s when war was declared on drugs, it was the government’s way to declare its seriousness about fighting drug crimes. But declaring war on everything it belittles the word war. May be the word operation should be used instead. The Operation Against Drugs. Operation Against Poverty. The war in Iraq was over when Sadam was caught. It is now a police operation. The war on terror should be an operation against terror.

    Another side of declaring war is the fear factor. A president can use the fear of war to make major changes in the government. Over hyped fear leads people into false security. Over 40,000 people die in car accidents each year. Compare that to terror killings. There seems to be no war on cars.