Readers React: How Congress has been giving up its war powers since Thomas Jefferson

A bust of Thomas Jefferson at Monticello in Charlottesville, Va., in 2009.
(Steve Helber / Associated Press)

To the editor: Daniel Depetris’ contention that Congress abandoned its war-making function with President Truman’s entry into the Korean War is misplaced.

Violation of Congress’ war-making obligation goes back to Thomas Jefferson’s 1801 dispatch of U.S. warships to combat the Barbary pirates. It was evident when President Polk incited the Mexican-American War by committing U.S. forces into disputed territory without congressional consent.

Presidents authorized occupations of Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Panama, Honduras and Mexico all without declarations. Then there remains the fact that since Korea, presidents repeatedly turned to Congress for authorizing war-making resolutions and, most significantly, appropriations to keep troops in the field.


Lawmakers have endorsed U.S. combat in Vietnam, Kosovo, Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, ripping apart the idea that Congress has not been complicit all along in our military interventions.

Bennett Ramberg, Los Angeles

The writer served as a policy analyst in the Bureau of Politico-Military Affairs in the George H.W. Bush administration.


To the editor: Our government has no greater power over an individual than requiring a citizen to relinquish his creator-given right to life by having him fight in a war. That is why the Constitution gives Congress, the branch of government that most represents the people, the exclusive power to declare war.

Given that, it seems to me that Congress can take back its war powers from the president — which it has not exercised since it last declared war in 1941, amounting to a betrayal of trust — simply by answering this question: Can Congress legally give up its constitutionally mandated, exclusive power and duty to declare war without a constitutional amendment?

If the answer is, as it should be, that Congress cannot, then it should have any military conflicts, interventions or wars against other nations initiated by the president declared unconstitutional and, therefore, illegal.


Ricardo Nicol, San Clemente


To the editor: Career politicians assure their re-election by producing jobs and profits. One way to do this is to create war.

War, however, has inconvenient side effects, like dead or maimed Americans and the creation of groups of people around the world who would love to do us harm. So politicians who want only the benefits of war let the executive branch take the blame.

This is not what our founders intended. The military industrial complex was not yet established, and politicians were not yet careerists, so the founders thought Congress would have no valid reason to make war unless it was a real emergency.

Times have changed dramatically, and there is no turning back. The professional politicians are going to push more and more responsibility to the executive branch for decisions that may turn out badly.

Dan Krimgold, Manhattan Beach

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