The Imminent Danger of a Presidential War

Today, I am posting without comment a text by my friend, Paul Berg, also a Vietnam veteran. He’s the author of Sandra’s Hands: A Reflective Journey from the Vietnam War to the Siege of Wounded Knee (CreateSpace, 2016). I’d welcome readers’ reactions.

The Imminent Danger of a Presidential War

In the year 2000 I worked for several days on a project with Ramsey Clark, Attorney General under President Lynden Baines Johnson. During this time I took the opportunity to ask Mr. Clark about his experiences working under LBJ during the Vietnam era. And I expressed to him my anger at LBJ for sending me and hundreds of thousands of other young Americans off to fight an unnecessary and useless war [in Vietnam].

At one point I asked, “Mr. Clark, what do you see as the major threat to American security in the 21st century?” Without missing a beat he replied, “That’s easy—Presidential wars.” He went on to explain that there are several major reasons for this.

First, according to Mr. Clark, is the fact that most Presidents are aware that it is wartime Presidents who are remembered in the history books. According to Clark, this was an important factor in LBJ’s continuing expansion of the war in Vietnam. Clark related that LBJ was frustrated by his limited three month WWII experience in the backwaters of the Pacific during WWII. “If the Joint Chiefs of Staff had wanted to romp across Eastern Europe, LBJ would have gone along with it.” I protested that this could not be a universal characteristic, because I saw no indication of this in President Clinton’s behavior. Clark agreed, saying that Clinton was very much a part of the peace movement of the 1960’s.

Secondly, Mr. Clark explained that many men who reach middle age and who have little or no wartime experience are prone to relishing the role of “warrior prince” once they are elected to high office and have an opportunity to use the most powerful military in the world.

Clark further explained that the United States was an exception on the world stage by concentrating war making authority in the hands of one man—the President—despite the constitutional restriction on the President’s war making power. He explained that the other major world powers rely on a collective decision making process for going to war and that our concentration of war making power in one person added to the risk of unnecessary war.

Clark concluded by emphasizing that based on his experience, our major threats in the 21st century were not external, but internal and that most prominent among these is the threat of Presidential wars.

More tomorrow.

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