#769 – Dick Bernard: Uncle Frank, Annelee's father, Syria, the President and US Congress

As I write, Secretary of State John Kerry is testifying to a Senate Committee on the Presidents request to Congress regarding response to the contention that the Syrian Government has used Chemical Weapons against its own people.
I strongly support the Presidents request for debate, and I have written my U.S. Senators and Congresswoman about the issue (what I said at the end of this post).
This is a crucial debate, with room for differing opinions. Each of us can weigh in. We have equal access to our elected representatives: two U.S. Senators and one U.S. member of Congress.
Our nation is extraordinarily complex and is now over 225 years old.
Recently I’ve shared with my own friends the pertinent language of the U.S. Constitution on the general topics of War and Defense: here are the relevant section of Article I Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution “The Congress [Senate and House of Representatives] shall have Power…”To define and punish Piracies and Felonies committed on the high Seas, and offenses against the Law of Nations; To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water; To raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years; To provide and maintain a Navy; To make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces; To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions; To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States, reserving to the States, respectively….[other assorted powers]”
Of course, this is the foundation document for our nation, but subject to interpretation.
In the last 50 years the major problem (in my opinion) has been continuing resolutions that essentially have ceded war-making powers to the Presidents, from Vietnam to, most recently, Iraq and Afghanistan. This abrogation of authority is a luxury to Congress, which can deflect its own responsibility for war-making, and blame whomever is President for the results.
Of course, to war or not to war is a decision with consequences.
World War II began about 1939, but the U.S. did not enter until after Pearl Harbor, Dec. 7, 1941, because Congress would not authorize U.S. entrance into the War. My Uncle Frank died at Pearl Harbor, and the next day, Congress declared War. Not long after, our friend Annelee’s father was conscripted into the German Army, and died at some unknown place late in that war. And we essentially destroyed Tokyo, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and in all millions upon millions of people were killed worldwide. Maybe entering WWII earlier would have shortened the war and reduced the carnage. Whether or not is speculation.

Frank Peter Bernard, USS Arizona, pre-December 7, 1941

Frank Peter Bernard, USS Arizona, pre-December 7, 1941

Making war is not a game. It solves nothing, and it is ever more deadly.
There is a process for making decisions about such war powers in the U.S., and it is the Congress, which in turn is answerable to US (thus the subject line, “US Congress”,”US” as in, “we, the people”).
Do your duty as a citizen and weigh in on the Syria issue with your representatives; and stay engaged.
My own thoughts on the proposed Syria action, conveyed to my representative and senators: “I am glad Congress is being forced to go on record on this issue. History proves that war never solves anything, and bombing as an instrument of war makes the long term problems even worse. Look for other ways to solve such problems. NO BOMBING! Ditto on the Continuing Resolutions that have so vexed us since Vietnam. Congress by the Constitution is the only agency that can make war. I know this is a difficult issue. Think Peace.”
UPDATE Sep. 4, 2013: In addition to below, two other responses have been filed on this post. Click on “response” tab at the very end.
Overnight came this interesting and long summary of commentaries about the debate now beginning in Washington D.C., and what it might all mean…which depends on who’s doing the talking. Emphasis is placed on the War Powers Resolution of 1973, referring to this interesting link.
Going way out on a limb: my guess is that no American bombs will drop on Syria. President Obama is not a war-making adventurer; rather he is caught in the residue of situations like Iraq and Afghanistan that preceded his administration. This doesn’t mean that the process of revising our long standing habits will be easy. But it is not impossible.
The relationship of the United States to War is analogous to an addicts relationship to his/her drug of choice: we know it’s a dangerous relationship, but we’re hooked. War is the solution to every problem, but it is killing us. Before we can change, we need to deal with our denial of this unpleasant fact.
The people – ourselves – must speak on this issue, and on any issue, if we hope to change anything in D.C. I think the President deliberately is giving us this opportunity.
I hope we take it, people to their representatives, and to each other, face-to-face.
from Corky M, Sep. 4, 2013:
Thanks Dick for informative reading. A junior in HS in our house provides for interesting conversation with their peers. If you can’t remember the casual “grunts” of teens, their interest in technology makes for interesting “very late night” debate with their friends. The high schools of today appear to encourage much conversation among the students on current issues.
from Wilhelm R, Sep. 4, 2013: I read your article with interest and I feel to make some comment. I do not know whether you want this or not , but since you sent the article to me …. may be I miss something here . Your thoughts seem to be focused on the constitution of the US and not the subject itself. Your arguments only ‘kick in’ after a war is justified which you do not seem to question. The discussion is not a US internal discussion based on some document , however revered it might be, but on Justice or better Right as in the right thing – not expedient thing – to do. This is where the discussion has to or should be. President Obama on all accounts seem to follow the footsteps of his predecessor pretty well and seems to try to even out do him albeit somewhat smarter. Drones strikes, Libya, now Egypt, Yemen, the list goes on seems to me to be a pretty conclusive track record. what makes you think that the evidence presented for going to war this time is any different in purpose than previous ones? ( Kuwait Babies thrown out of incubator , Iraq1; Saddam’s WMDs, Iraq2; etc don’t we ever learn? or are we able to hide behind meaningless phrases such as conspiracy theory indefinitely where we can replace in our discussions facts with slogans, where slogans will trump facts any time?} the discussion in Washington is not a discussion of facts and attempts to do the right thing it is and always will be a negotiation between different interests. In that context of course the constitutional document – the document that sets the rule of how these negotiations shall be conducted becomes important however it has nothing to do with doing the right thing. Sorry for my long and unsolicited rant.
Later followup from Wilhelm: Here is a suggestion: Why not proposing a 1 hour (or whatever) nationwide work stoppage or slow-down with the threat to repeat it. The slow down could be or should be done by going by the “book” since in most cases going by the book or according to regulations will just about bring work to a halt. The German postal workers, who are prohibited by law to strike used and implemented this strategy very effectively. Such a coordinated and publicized approach might be highly effective and ….
from Dick, in response to Wilhelm: No need to apologize for “unsolicited rant”. It’s all part of a necessary conversation.
from Michael K, Sep 4, 2013: I was so pleased to see your comments to your representatives in Congress. On this issue we are in total agreement.
from Annelee W, (whose Dad is mentioned in the above post, and whose books are very interesting) Sep 4, 2013: I always remember uncle Pepp when he said in 1943, [in Mitterteich, Germany]:
UPDATE Sep. 7, 2013
Dick Bernard

I’ve had two previous posts which emphasize Syria: May 2, 2010, and May 7, 2013.
Of course, the debate rages about whether to give President Obama the authorization to take action in Syria, or what kind of action to take, or who’s to blame.
Personally, as I said at a meeting the other night, I think forcing the debate was an act of genius on the part of the President. It is something of a “put up or shut up” declaration. It is especially putting the Republican far-right types in a quandary: how to vote in agreement with the Presidents request, while hating the President. All will sort out in the next several weeks.
But, no question, it has activated action back home, which is exactly what should happen.
(At the same meeting referenced above, I proposed a position against any kind of military action against Syria. I proposed it for debate, and by later today our particular group will have decided on the specific wording, and make our position known to our Minnesota Congressional Delegation – two Senators and eight Representatives. I have earlier predicted that there would be no bombing of Syria. There, I’ve said it again. I’m in no position to decide or know what will happen. The issues are so complex that those with more information, I would think, would be reluctant to start anything. We shall see.)
What is going on now causes me to think back to my earliest training as an organizer in 1972. (The right likes to belittle the President by referring to him as a Community Organizer in Chicago.)
Well, the tenets of this early training of myself came from the master of organizing of the least powerful, Saul Alinsky. (Alinsky had died, unbeknownst to me, a very short time before I took the training in question, in Washington DC, a mile from the White House.)
One of the Principles espoused by Saul Alinsky was very simple: “Personalize, Polarize and Publicize”. You chose a target person, you made yourself the opposite of him or her, and you publicized the daylights out of it.
If you see some comparison between todays anti-President Obama rhetoric, you are perceptive. It is the same principles.
Back then, 40 years ago, we found that it worked pretty well at first. It was sort of fun, actually, to find the enemy and make him squirm.
But like all good ideas, once it was found out, it lost all of its power. Besides, the enemy, we came to find, was actually quite often a fairly decent individual, just occupying a different role than we were.
Of course I don’t know, but I wouldn’t be surprised that the President and his advisors are simply applying the same principles to their sworn enemies. “Put up, or Shut Up.”
Just a thought on a warm Saturday.

2 replies
  1. Dave Thofern
    Dave Thofern says:

    I sometimes envy folks who are committed pacifists. The choice for them is simple: War is never the answer. But then, reality intervenes. The Holocaust, Rwanda, Idi Amin. The list is long. The concept of a “Just War” seems oxymoronic. Yet at some point peaceful efforts to end some human tragedies fail and we’re faced with the awful choice of doing nothing or unleashing the dogs of war, with all the inevitable intended and unintended consequences. As the song says, “War is not the answer.” Sometimes, though, peace is not the answer either.

  2. Harold Shuckhart
    Harold Shuckhart says:

    I do not think the US should act as “the world’s police” when something happens in the Middle East. We looked the other way when Iraq used chemical weapons against Iran, Reagan supplied Iran with missiles in the same war, 100s of thousands have been killed in Africa and we did nothing, and on, and on. My big fear is that the US will launch some drones, killed a few soldiers, and 100s of innocent civilians and this is supposed to make Assad quit killing his own people? War and bombs is not the answer. Unfortunately, I don’t know what the answer is and Congress doesn’t either.


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