The Best Defense

A midshipman asks: Before it is too late, should I refuse orders to continue the unconstitutional attack on Libya?

I certainly don't endorse all the comments posted on this blog, nor even all the guest columns. Case in point: I disagree with the argument below, because I don't think we want our corporals and lieutenants to try to be constitutional lawyers weighing each order they receive. (Or even our generals, like Douglas MacArthur, who got fired in part for following by his own reading of the Constitution.) I think people need to be taught that the issue of "legal orders" applies to war crimes and the like, not to whether one believes the executive branch has abided by the War Powers Act.

Yet I believe the column below is worth reading. If we try to crush such discussions, they will take place only furtively, and so become ill-informed.

By "A Midshipman"
Best Defense guest correspondent

I'm a Midshipman at the Naval Academy and have been talking with officers from the submarine that launched most of the American cruise missiles into Libya. We've had some interesting discussions about the legality of the operations at this point and whether the personnel still engaging the enemy there are breaking their oath to obey only legal orders. 

President Obama's decision to avoid seeking Congress's permission to continue America's role in the Libyan conflict marks one more step in the long march toward a balance of power within the federal government that is more Napoleonic than democratic. Since the Vietnam War, President's have not felt obliged to seek a Congressional declaration of war before committing American lives to conflicts abroad. Every sitting President since Nixon has ordered the military to battle without going through the channels prescribed in the Constitution.

In their decision to place the power to declare war with Congress, the writers of the constitution sought to limit the ability of the president to use military force as an autocrat. Unfortunately, the founding fathers had never seen an undeclared war and didn't foresee the emergence of such a beast. We are left to deal with this oversight.

The conflict in Libya has now continued for more than 60 days without congressional approval. Not only is this unconstitutional, but it is in direct opposition to the War Powers Act, passed in the wake of the Vietnam War.

Officers of the United States Military take an oath to obey only lawful and constitutional orders and refuse all others. The servicemen and servicewomen who are currently fighting over Libya took that oath. It is their professional obligation and ethical duty to disobey their orders until constitutional and legal requirements are either changed or met.

The pressure that a refusal of orders would place on the President would be impossible to ignore. Even if the ensuing legal debate were inconclusive, no President would likely venture to take action which could result in a similar response. The constitutional balance of power would be restored because a professional precedent would have been established within the military, if not a broader legal one.

Congressman Abraham Lincoln once remarked, "Kings had always been involving and impoverishing their people in wars, pretending generally, if not always, that the good of the people was the object. This our Convention understood to be the most oppressive of all Kingly oppressions; and they resolved to so frame the Constitution that no one man should hold the power of bringing this oppression upon us." By giving only Congress the power to declare war, the constitution takes out the personal element that was so often a cause of war in the era of Kings. While President Obama is certainly no oppressor, the trend that he is reinforcing opens up the possibility that the time will come where we will have to contend with a leader who is. 

The author is a third year student at the U.S. Naval Academy who has decided not to be identified more precisely.

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The Best Defense

Col. Black responds to his critics on the fate of the Army Heritage Center

By Col. Robert "RLTW" Black, USA (Ret.)
Best Defense bureau of Ranger affairs

Thanks to all of you who responded to my post. I appreciate your views.

I surmise that Bearcat is a Marine. A soldier would not expect the Army Museum to be dependent on the USMC museum for visitors. Your remark that Carlisle is in the middle of nowhere shows an interesting view of parts of the United States that are outside Washington D.C.

To Hunter, Please don't just drive by, visit, and make an informed judgement. It's OK by me if Tom gives you my email. I would try to show you around.

To Zac Schmidt. You are right on about my remarks on slavery. My great-grandfathers fought on both sides in the Civil War. Sgt John Wesley Black Co I, 42nd North Carolina Infantry would kick my butt for introducing that. This is the 150th of the Civil War and I'm kind of living in that era now. I'm studying more about what led up to the terrible slaughter. There were slaveholders who fathered children on black women and then sold their own children. That grinds my soul, but you are correct, I should not have mentioned slavery.

It certainly is easy for me to do research at AHEC, but I'm 82 and my research days are nigh over. I remember what it is like to do research at the National Archives in DC. To get a day's work in: leave before dawn, by time you hit Frederick, Maryland, you are in gridlock, finish work by 3 pm and get out or you are in bumper-to-bumper traffic. There are three interstate highways connecting here at Carlisle. It is easy to get to.

Of course I love this place. In 1948 I enlisted at Carlisle Barracks as a Recruit--we made Private after basic. After Korea, Japan, the Fulda Gap in Germany, Vietnam etc, I retired out of the Army at Carlisle Barracks with 30 years and two Combat Infantry badges. Yes, I do love this old post and the Army Heritage and Education Center. The bricks and memorial stones that honor the memories of my dead Ranger buddies are in the ground here, the American Oak we Rangers planted is here. Are they going to rip those up? I make no apology for being emotional about this. But, there is also logic to saving an existing fully functioning facility that has $48,000,000 already invested, while asking deferment on $31,000,000 to start another and considerably more expensive one.

Are we now so financially callous that when talking savings and expenditures we can only think in billions and trillions. A million still means a lot to me. What we are considering here will easily involve $100,000,000 before it is done.

I think Belvoir is the wrong place for the Army museum. I don't know why everything has to be in Washington, DC but if it does, put it on the metro. Tear down some Generals housing and put the Army Museum at Fort Myer next to Arlington. If consolidation saves money leave AHEC in support of the War College and bring the Center for Military History and the Institute of Heraldry to join AHEC.

This is like the old Willie and Joe cartoon,"The hell this isn't the most important foxhole, I'm in it." People in DC seem to want everything there and the hell with the rest of the country.

If a family comes from California, Texas, Michigan to visit Washington DC. Why would they drive down I-95? Belvoir is not on the Metro., the following attractions are on the metro and a museum at Belvoir must compete with them

Washington Monument
World War II Monument
Korean War Monument
Vietnam War Monument
Vietnam Women's Memorial
The Lincoln Memorial
The Jefferson Memorial
THE SMITHSONIAN (nearly all buildings on the national mall are Smithsonian)
National Museum of American History
National Museum of Natural History
National Museum of The American Indian
National Portrait Gallery
National Postal Museum
National Museum of American Art
Arts and Industry Museum
Freer Gallery of Art
Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden
National Air and Space Museum
The African American Civil War Memorial
Black History Recreation Trail
Emancipation Statue
Frederick Douglas National Historic Site
Mary McLeod Bethune Memorial
Mary McLeod Bethune Council House
Ford's Theater (site of Lincoln assassination)
German-American Heritage Museum
Historical Society of Washington, D.C.
Library of Congress
National Aquarium
National Arboretum
National Gallery of Art
National Building Museum
National Museum of Crime and Punishment
National Museum of Women in the Arts
National Geographic Museum
Department of the Interior Museum
The Air Force Memorial
U.S. Navy Museum
The Naval Heritage Center
United States Navy Memorial
Marine Corps Iwo Jima Memorial and Tattoo
Pentagon Memorial
Ulysses S. Grant Memorial
The Textile Museum
Anderson House (Society of the Cincinnati)
National Japanese American Memorial to Patriotism (WWII)
U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum
National Museum of American Jewish Military History
International Spy Museum
National Museum of Health and Medicine
Washington National Cathedral
The John F. Kennedy Center For Performing Arts
The Ronald Reagan Building and National Trade Center
National Theater
Shakespeare Theater Company
Washington National Opera
Union Station
The House of The Temple, Scottish Rite of Freemasonry
J. Edgar Hoover F.B.I. Building
Islamic Center
Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens
The Kreeger Museum
DC Cruises
DC Harbor Cruises
DC Ghost Tours
DC Metro Chocolate Tours
DC Metro Food Tours
C&O Canal Boat Rides
Old Town Trolley Tours
FDR Memorial
Madame Tussauds Wax Museum