Thursday, March 17, 2022

Studying War

America Needs to Start Studying War
Nicholas Johnson
The Gazette, March 17, 2022, p. A4

Remember the song, “Ain’t gonna study war no more”?

We’ve taken it to extremes.

We need to study war more, not less; to review and reshape our defense spending and strategies. Now’s a time to, as they say in the theater, “Take it from the top.”

America’s founders wanted to avoid wars. Because the burdens in lives and dollars fell hardest on the people, and the House was closest to the people, it was the body to declare war.

But that brake only works if there is a draft of our youth, from families rich and poor, and members of Congress accept their constitutional duty to debate and declare war (or not).

The draft fueled public opposition to the Vietnam war. Realizing this, the powerful political forces President Dwight Eisenhower labeled “the military-industrial complex” successfully went about abolishing the draft.

Public opposition is further dampened by using corporate warriors – at one time one-half our fighting force in Iraq, and over 5800 in Afghanistan (suffering more deaths than the military).

House members, applying former Speaker Sam Rayburn’s advice, “to get along, go along,” take the campaign contributions, and defer their constitutional war powers to the branch our founders most feared: the executive.

If the war is not here, the public has even less reason than the House to become informed (polls show we’re not), let alone care. Only 1 percent of our population does the fighting; no WWII-style sacrifices (remember the post 9/11 advice “go shopping”?); we don’t buy “war bonds;” or see the bills put on our grandchildren’s credit cards.

The consequence? Our “defense” budget and resources evolve into something the size of the next ten nations combined, millions of Americans fighting forever wars costing trillions.

Are some military actions warranted? Of course. But “don’t do stupid stuff.” On a trip to Saigon as Maritime Administrator I was asked to report my assessment of the war. My concluding line: “You can’t play basketball on a football field.” Colin Powell’s questions to ask and answer before going to war (including “exit strategy”) make a similar point. Military’s “best and brightest” keep us out of wars.

Recently there were about 200,000 U.S. troops abroad (“lowest in decades”) on 750 bases in 80 countries. Reductions make sense. But when Japan and Germany each have over 30,000, why couldn’t we have left 10,000 in Afghanistan?

Now, like the officers who didn’t intervene to prevent George Floyd’s death, we’re playing “Let’s you and him fight; I’ll hold your coats” with Vladimir Putin and Volodymyr Zelenskyy. How are those sanctions working for Ukrainians?

We told Putin we wouldn’t fight. Didn’t want WWIII. Especially with nukes. OK, so does that go for NATO nations as well? If you see a bully seriously injuring a kid half his size, do you not intervene unless the victim goes to your school? What if we had put our troops along the Ukrainian border, instead of telling Putin we never will? Would he invade? Go nuclear?

America needs to “study war.”
Nicholas Johnson, former U.S. Maritime Administrator, had shared responsibility for sealift to Vietnam. Contact:


Ain’t gonna study war no more. Down by the Riverside,

Take it from the top. “Take it from the top; idiom,” Merriam-Webster Dictionary, Military’s “best and brightest” keep us out of wars.

Founders and Declaration of War. “Power to Declare War, Origins & Development: From the Constitution to the Modern House,” United States House of Representatives,

"If America was going to survive as a republic, they reasoned, declarations of war required careful debate in open forums among the public’s representatives.

“there was a growing sense that such monumental responsibility belonged with the legislative branch.”

“Like George Mason of Virginia, the founders felt that war should be difficult to enter, and they expected congressional debate to restrain the war-making process.”

“to declare war against a foreign power is to send their constituents, their neighbors, their family, and even themselves into harm’s way.”

“Congress has not declared war since 1942”

Google search: Federalist Papers AND House of Representatives AND declaration of war

Federalist No. 29, “Concerning the Militia”

William Van Alstyne, “Congress, the President, and the Power to Declare War: A Requiem for Vietnam,” U Penn LRev, vol 121, No 1, Nov 1972, p. 7

Draft creates war opposition; Draft abolished, Selective Service kept. Elliott Ackerman, “Why Bringing Back the Draft Could Stop America’s Forever Wars,” TIME, Oct. 10, 2019, (“Although the draft was abolished in 1973, the Selective Service registration requirement was resumed in 1980 . . ..” “Congress has also taken a renewed interest in the draft, having created in 2016 a bipartisan National Commission on Military, National and Public Service charged with two missions. . . . The second is to ‘explor[e] whether the government should require all Americans to serve in some capacity as part of their civic duty and the duration of that service.’”

Need for additional. “Under the military’s current standards, 71% of Americans ages 17 to 24 do not meet the physical or mental qualifications for military service.” [from Ackerman, TIME]

Military-industrial complex. “Military–industrial complex,”

Corporate warriors. Use of “private military companies” employees. “Private Military Company,” Wikipedia,

Results of Google search: What proportion of fighting forces are corporate employees (like Blackwater)

In Iraq. Peter Singer, The Dark Truth about Blackwater,” Brookings, October 2, 2007, “the private military force in Iraq, which numbers more than 160,000 — at least as many as the total number of uniformed American forces there.”

In Afghanistan. Paul D. Shinkman, “Afghanistan’s Hired Guns,” US News, April 26, 2019, (“More than 5,800 privately employed security personnel are currently operating in Afghanistan under Pentagon contracts, according to the latest report released this month that the military headquarters overseeing Middle East wars compiles for Congress.

“Of the 5,883 security contractors outlined in the latest reports from U.S. Central Command, 2,567 of them are armed private security contractors. . . . The Costs of War project has documented that as many as 2,800 contractors have died in Afghanistan – a figure that often goes unmentioned in public remembrances of the 2,400 U.S. military deaths in that war.

“Services provided by private contractors in this fiscal year amount to approximately $2.3 billion, Babb says.”

Ellen Knickmeyer, “Costs of the Afghanistan war, in lives and dollars,” AP, August 16, 2021,

Sam Rayburn. “To get along, go along.” RayBURNisms, Margo McCutcheon, “A Rayburnism a Day Keeps the Memory Alive: Sam Rayburn Quotes,” Texas Historical Commission, January 5, 2022,

Lack of public involvement. “In the aftermath of 9/11, there was virtually no serious public debate about a war tax or a draft. Our leaders responded to those attacks by mobilizing our government and military, but when it came to citizens, President George W. Bush said, ‘I have urged our fellow Americans to go about their lives.’” [from Ackerman, TIME]

“If after 9/11 we had implemented a draft and a war tax, it seems doubtful that the millennial generation would’ve abided 18 successive years of their draft numbers being called, or that their boomer parents would’ve abided a higher tax rate to, say, ensure that the Afghan National Army could rely on U.S. troops for one last fighting season in the Hindu Kush. Instead, deficit spending along with an all-volunteer military has given three successive administrations a blank check with which to wage war.

“And wage war they have. Without congressional approval. Without updating the current Authorization for Use of Military Force, which was passed by Congress one week after 9/11. Currently we live in a highly militarized society but one which most of us largely perceive to be “at peace.” This is one of the great counterintuitive realities of the draft. A draft doesn’t increase our militarization. It decreases it.

“A draft places militarism on a leash.

“In the run-up to the 2018 midterm elections, 42% of Americans didn’t know whether we were still at war in Afghanistan.”

Burden on 1%. “The burden of nearly two decades of war–nearly 7,000 dead and more than 50,000 wounded–has been largely sustained by 1% of our population.” [from Ackerman, TIME]

Number of military actions since WW2. “Major Military Operations Since World War II,”, Updated March 23, 2020, (list of 17)

Increase in Defense budget. Richard Nixon, “Annual Budget Message to the Congress, Fiscal Year 1973,” The American Presidency Project, UCSB, January 24, 1972, (“To provide this assurance, budget authority for Department of Defense research, development, test, and evaluation is being increased $838 million to an all-time high of $8.5 billion in 1973.”)

“Long-Term Costs of the Administration’s 2022 Defense Budget,” Congressional Budget Office, January 11, 2022, (2010 approximately $800 B; request for 2022 $715B)

Inability to audit. Bill Chappell, “The Pentagon Has Never Passed An Audit. Some Senators Want To Change That,” npr, May 19, 2021, (“Despite having trillions of dollars in assets and receiving hundreds of billions in federal dollars annually, the department has never detailed its assets and liabilities in a given year. For the past three financial years, the Defense Department's audit has resulted in a "Disclaimer of Opinion," meaning the auditor didn't get enough accounting records to form an assessment.”)

Npr. waste, fraud and financial mismanagement. (“The Pentagon and the military industrial complex have been plagued by a massive amount of waste, fraud and financial mismanagement for decades. That is absolutely unacceptable," said Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., who co-sponsored the bill with Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, along with Sens. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Mike Lee, R-Utah.”)

Don’t do stupid stuff. Matthew Dickinson, “Obama's Michael Brown address: I won't do stupid things,” Christian Science Monitor, August 19, 2014,, (Obama is “ a president whose operating mantra is captured in the phrase “don’t do stupid things.”)

NJ’s Vietnam report. Personal experience; report unavailable.

Powell Doctrine. “Powell Doctrine,” Wikipedia,

Military opposition to war. “Opposition to United States involvement in the Vietnam War,” Wikipedia, (“military critics of the [Vietnam] war pointed out that the Vietnam War was political and that the military mission lacked any clear idea of how to achieve its objectives.”)

While the Powell Doctrine cannot be considered “opposition to war” it is clearly a form of opposition to thoughtlessly starting wars; a checklist that, if followed, will often result in thoughtful folks abandoning the creation or participation in one. See, e.g., Nicholas Johnson, “Six Step Program for Avoiding War,” November 11, 2014,, Nicholas Johnson, “Thinking About War Before Starting One,” March 20, 2013,

Number of bases. David Vine, “Where in the World Is the U.S. Military?” Politico Magazine, July/August 2015, (“Despite recently closing hundreds of bases in Iraq and Afghanistan, the United States still maintains nearly 800 military bases in more than 70 countries and territories abroad—from giant “Little Americas” to small radar facilities. Britain, France and Russia, by contrast, have about 30 foreign bases combined.”)

U.S. troops in other countries. Kirsten Bialik, “U.S. active-duty military presence overseas is at its smallest in decades,” Pew Research Center, August 22, 2017, (Japan, 38,818; Germany, 34,602; South Korea, 24,189)

U.S. bases. Mele Mathieson, “How Many Military Bases Are in the US?” omni, September 3, 2021, (“How many military bases are in the United States?

“According to figures from the Pentagon as well as the Military Analysis Network, the United States has approximately 450 to 500 military bases. All 50 states have at least one base (Wyoming has just two, the largest of which is Francis E. Warren Air Force Base), but several have dozens.”)

Officers not intervening in George Floyd’s death. “Three Former Minneapolis Police Officers Convicted of Federal Civil Rights Violations for Death of George Floyd,” DOJ Office of Public Affairs, February 24, 2022,

Let’s you and him fight. Use as Google search. And, “Let’s you and Him Fight,” tvtropes,

Letter to the Editor

"The U.S. should ‘start studying war,’"
Jerry Smithey
The Gazette, March 28, 2022, p. 5A

Nicholas Johnson nailed it in his recent column: the “brake” in the House to declare war only works “if there is a draft of our youth, from families rich and poor, and [if] members of Congress accept their constitutional duty to debate and declare war (or not).”

Continued all-male draft registration — no active draft — means few Americans have had a personal vested interest in conflicts since Vietnam. Soldiers have either been volunteers or, in effect, mercenaries. That is not to disparage volunteers, but volunteers are very different from draftees. Additionally, most Americans don’t fully understand the economic consequences of war.

Our Congress lacks the intestinal fortitude or honesty to declare war — partly, at least, to avoid being on the record and, conveniently, to blame a president and his/her party, for perceived failures.

Drafted in 1970, I served for two years in the U.S. Army, not in combat, but I observed many disfigured and damaged Vietnam vets. With that perspective, I propose to engage Americans in war decisions by activating the draft, including women and all of a certain age range to serve in some capacity, with virtually no deferments, for a period of two years. Service could be in the military, in schools, hospitals, etc., but the wealthy, friends and children of Draft Board members, and relatives of politicians should not escape public service.

Americans “with a dog in the hunt” will then care about the decisions (or lack of decisions) members of that club called Congress.

Jerry Smithey
Swisher, Iowa

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Saturday, March 12, 2022

Snopes, PolitiFact and Zelensky's Duet

I'm kind of a stickler when it comes to sources and fact checking. Look back over the significant quantity of citations in the "Sources" sections of The Gazette columns reprinted in this blog (and sent with the column copy to The Gazette editors). You'll see what I mean -- though of course sources never appear in the newsprint or digitial paper editions of The Gazette.

March 11, I posted a video on Facebook that I've discovered misled me, and of course those who reacted (42), commented (17), or shared it (65) [as of 3:30 PM this March 12 afternoon]. (It is embedded at the bottom of this page.) [As of March 14, 2045: reactions (50), comments (29), shared (77), views (626).]

When sent to me it was represented to be Volodymyr Zelensky and his wife, Olena, playing and singing together "Endless Love." At that time there was nothing in Snopes (a fact finding Website of which more below) to indicate that was not the case. Subsequently, I came to discover that the artists were not them but rather, "The singer identified as Zelensky is actually lead vocalist Alejandro Manzano, and the woman identified as his wife is actually Connie Talbot."

Rather than take down the Facebook post I've decided to leave it up for the beautiful music it is and the joy it has brought to so many -- along with crediting the actual performers. Of course, if they should object to this posting of their performance, and let me know, I'll be happy to remove it. Under the circumstances, so long as the facts are clear, I cannot see that Zelensky, Zelenska, Manzano, and Talbot are being harmed in any way by its distribution.

But I view the events surrounding this post of sufficient significance to warrant more discussion than would easily fit in a Facebook "comment."

Are Volodymyr Zelensky and Olena Zelenska Professional Musicians?

The short answer is, "I don't know." The longer answer is that the video I put on Facebook appears to, but does not, answer that question.

To the best of my recollection I have never posted to Facebook anything described in ways I knew to be false. Nor did I do so on this occasion. But I feel I should explain some of the reasons why it happened.

(a) The video was sent to me by a friend whose material has never before been questionable. (b) It was creditable. That the extraordinary personality, Zelensky, who had a prior career as an entertainer, would also be a musician seemed totally plausable. (c) Though I was then unfamiliar with his wife's appearance, the man certainly looked like Zelensky to me. (d) I am on guard with allegations that appear designed to harm the reputation of another (often candidates for office). This clearly did not appear to be that -- quite the contrary. (e) At that time, fact-checking source Snopes had published nothing about it. (f) My heart was so heavy with sorrow and empathy for Ukrainians, along with dispair at our permitting the Russians' slaugher of these innocents, and overwhelming admiration for Zelensky's leadership, that I found the thought of he and his wife singing "Everlasting Love" (for each other and their country) so moving that I wanted to share it with other Americans who felt the same way. (g) Once told of the suggestions that the performers were not Zelensky and his wife those assertions needed to be verified. (We are all, in this age of "alternative facts," well aware that what turn out to be true facts are sometimes maligned as "false (or fake) facts.")

To compare the appearance of the two couples, here is a picture of Zelensky and his wife, Olena Zelenska. See the video, at the bottom of this page, to compare them with the actual performers:

We all have a responsibility to check out the stories we pass on to others. A list of fact checking organizations and Web sites can be found here: Bill Adair, "Fake News & Misinformation: How to Spot and Verify," Poynter Institute and St. Louis Community College Libraries, June 16, 2021,

My go-to fact checking site has been Snopes (, of which the article just cited says, "Founded by David Mikkelson, a project begun in 1994 as an expression of his interest in researching urban legends that has since grown into the oldest and largest fact-checking site on the Internet, one widely regarded by journalists, folklorists, and laypersons alike as one of the world’s essential resources. Read about methodology and rating system at"

As it happened, Snopes had not, as of March 11, reported on this video. I have emailed them about it, and I'm sure they will soon post something. [March 14: Snopes' post can now be found here: ]

Another fact checker, that has already reported about the video, is PoltiFact (, about which the article, above, says: "Winner of the Pulitzer Prize. PolitiFact is a fact-checking website that rates the accuracy of claims by elected officials and others who speak up in American politics. PolitiFact is run by editors and reporters from the Tampa Bay Times, an independent newspaper in Florida. PolitiFact staffers research statements and rate their accuracy on the Truth-O-Meter, from True to False. The most ridiculous falsehoods get the lowest rating, Pants on Fire").

PolitiFact has this to say about the video:

A video of a couple singing "Endless Love," a 1981 song by Lionel Ritchie and Diana Ross, is spreading online with a surprising description: that it shows Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelensky and his wife. ... But the people in this video aren’t Zelensky, who was an entertainer prior to entering politics, or his wife, Olena Zelenska, the first lady of Ukraine. The couple has captured international attention as they have stood defiant and vocal in their resistance to Russia....We searched online for "Endless Love duet covers" and found the video was posted on YouTube two weeks ago by Boyce Avenue, a band from Florida known for their cover songs.The singer identified as Zelensky is actually lead vocalist Alejandro Manzano, and the woman identified as his wife is actually Connie Talbot."

Ciara O'Rourke, "Video shows Volodymr Zelensky singing 'Endless Love' with his wife; No, this isn’t a video of Zelensky singing a Lionel Ritchie song," The Pointer Institute, PolitiFact, March 10, 2022,

Here, then, is the video:

Along with the text with which I introduced it on my Facebook page:
Here is the couple whose lives are most at risk, from a war they did not start, and in which we told Putin we don't want to become involved. Watch the 4-minute video and then tell me if your eyes are still dry and the price of gas is still your greatest concern.

And the text that accompanied the video that I received:
"A crooner before a comedian and commander-in-chief. During this tense and horrifying moments in Ukraine, aside from intense prayer to God, let us listen to Pres Volodymyr Zelensky and wife Olena Zelenska sing 'Endless Love' not only for each other but for their beloved country Ukraine."
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