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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