Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

June 22, 2010

“We are not at war.”

Filed under: Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Christopher Bellavita on June 22, 2010

Faisal Shahzad pleaded guilty yesterday, the first day of 2010’s summer, to using weapons of mass destruction in last May Day’s Times Square bomb attempt.

According to Ron Scherer’s report in the Christian Science Monitor, Shahzad said he

was “a Muslim soldier” avenging the deaths of Muslims killed by Americans overseas, and that he didn’t care that his bomb could have killed children.

“It’s a war. I am part of the answer to the US terrorizing the Muslim nations and the Muslim people….”

Today’s post was written by Daniel W. O’Connor. He wrote this before Shahzad’s plea.


Recently Chris and I had a brief discussion about the Nation and whether it was at war.   My contention was and is that we as a Nation are currently not at war.   I’m not cynical about it, but based on the evidence I say we are not at war.  The Department of Defense is fighting,  but even whether they are at war is debatable.

I believe that as a Nation we have not been at war since August, 1945.

Firstly, War has not been declared.  Article one, Section eight of the Constitution says “Congress shall have power to … declare War….” There is no guidance in the Constitution about what form a declaration has to take.  But the Constitution could not be clearer: it is Congress that declares war.  And that has not happened.

Further, we have not mobilized, shared sacrifice, lived an austere life, or contributed as a whole.  While our National preeminence has grown in the last 65 years, so to0 has our culture of consumption, consumerism, expectation, and entitlement.   Also, the costs of our growing social programs and our international aid programs only increases.

The maintenance of a highly expensive, very technical, and mostly capable, yet potentially hollow armed forces continues to grow as well.

Combined with the exponentially growing debt — a debt not owned by Americans  but primarily China and Japan — we are clearly spending trillions of dollars for something not considered a war.

What are we suppose to do during a war? Can we even define it?  We do not conserve anything to help the ‘boys’ and now girls, “over there.”  There is no rationing of fuel, natural resources, robust recycling, or transition to a pure wartime economy.   There are no war bond drives to raise capital to fund our Nation’s war machine.   There has been no repositioning or purposing funds for a war.  We have not changed any of our behaviors, and we become contrite when the prospect is broached.

World War II challenged and confronted the citizens of this Nation. The government deemed it necessary to ration food, gas, and even clothing during that time. They went so far as to collect grease drippings from neighborhoods to render glycerine from glycerol so it could be made into nitro-glycerine for bombs and explosives.

Obviously, today is not the America of the post depression, 1940s. In those days of war, Americans were mandated to conserve everything. With not a single person unaffected by the war, rationing meant sacrifices for all.

Most Americans cannot fathom this.  They cannot fathom the costs of a real war.

Today, the price in blood is no longer spread over the majority of the populace.  The price has been paid by a select few who volunteer and by a new group: contractors.

The price in dollars has been financed entirely by borrowing. Taxes have not been raised to pay for it.   So if we are borrowing money for bullets, band-aids, bombs, and benefits what good is that?

Deficit spending gives the illusion that the laws of economics can be repealed, that we can have guns and butter and welfare and medicaid and everything all the time. But of course the laws are not repealed. The costs of the war are real and even if deferred, are coming due.  And we cannot pay!

It is even debatable whether the Department of Defense is at war. How can you compare Army and Marine Units living in the frontier villages of Afghanistan with the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) pilots living in Nevada?   This disparity breeds resentment and demonstrates a removal from the human devastation of warfare.    What about the multiple deployments of these “volunteers”?

Do we even have an enemy?  Do we have an end state?   Do we have a purpose?   What happens if Osama bin Laden is captured or simply surrenders?  Does anything end?

If we are not mobilized, not sacrificing, not rationing, and not drafting, we are not at war.

Clausewitz said, “War is not merely a political act, but also a political instrument, a continuation of political relations, a carrying out of the same by other means.”

So I guess we are borrowing money for political means?

Is this our future: ugly, ill conceived, scrapes in third world places? Is this an outcrop of globilization and the price of lone superpowerhood?    As complexity and friction increase, will we be able to continually fight this kind of skirmish?

If we are not at war, the approximately 118,000 service members who have lost their lives since WWII had no reason to sacrifice.

If we are not at war it must be concluded that terrorism is not the threat it has been purported to be, but simply a nuisance to endure.

Clearly, if terrorism were the existential threat we’ve been told it is, our Nation would be united and driven to make sacrifices for the greater good.

But that is not the case.

We are not at war.


Asked whether he was certain he wanted to plead guilty, Shahzad said he wanted to plead guilty 100 times more, and warned that if the US did not leave Iraq and Afghanistan, “we will be attacking US.”

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Comment by William R. Cumming

June 22, 2010 @ 1:20 am

I would argue that the failure to declare “wars” has in many instances been so that the creeping infiltration of militarism into American life below the horizon of the American citizen and taxpayer has allowed an untrammeled National Security and Homeland Security state to continue its progress in the destruction of democracy (our Republic) by the military/industrial/academic complex. We have all sacrificed but many not so willingly because of the charade that a militaristic approach to the world, even the militarization of local policing has erroded the sinews of democracy. AS a participant in that effort through the draft I believe that the President’s since 1945 with the exception of Eisenhower have failed to see the corrosive impact of the misuse of American power.

This guilty plea described in the post is a victory but the perp in this case reflects a failure of the American dream.

Comment by William R. Cumming

June 22, 2010 @ 7:28 am

But hey we do have over 25 declared “National Emergencies” under the National Emergency Act of 1976!

The problem is those declarations yield little real new power to the Executive Branch but they do indicate the continuity of the failed policies of the last four Administrations.

Comment by John Comiskey

June 22, 2010 @ 10:27 am

Not The Pacific, but war none the same.

HBO’s presentation of The Pacific renewed my interest in World War II. The series brings to life so many lives engulfed in horror and deprivation. I recently had the opportunity to visit the World War II museum in New Orleans. The museum is two blocks from my hotel in the Warehouse district of NOLA. I am a reservist in the US Coast Guard and am part of the response team that is trying to fix and mitigate the Gulf oil spill.
The museum features two Higgins boats that facilitated the allied invasions of Normandy and elsewhere. Not known to many people outside the Coast Guard, is the fact that many Coast Guardsmen manned Navy vessels during World War II. In fact, Douglass Munroe, the only Coastguardsmen to receive the Medal of Honor, manned an early version of the Higgins Boat at Guadalcanal. Munroe is credited with putting himself and his vessel in harm’s way to facilitate the safe landing of 400 marines. His reported last words were: “Did they get off.”
The museum is something to see. Two of the guides were veterans of the War and brought back childhood memories. I was taught that World War II veterans made the world safe for me and democracy. Several of my grammar and high school teachers were veterans or spouses of World War II veterans. They sometimes, though not often, told stories of the war, the depression, rationing, and the home front. As a child I marched with my little league team in the annual Memorial Day parade behind the hallowed veterans. Afterward, we were invited into the American Legion hall for cokes and got a glimpse of the hero’s clubhouse decorated with battle streamers, photos, and plaques that provided a snapshot of the “Good War.”
I thanked them then and I thank them now. The United States had been very good to me and my second generation American family –both my mother and father emigrated from Ireland in the fifties. I know of no other place that I would rather be. I am prepared to serve and if necessary give my life for my country. My seventeen year old son tells me that he will join the Coast Guard next year. I am proud of him. I will thank him too.
In that same vein, Tom Brokaw’s The Greatest Generation tells the story of a great generation that endured the depravations of the Great Depression and the horrors of World War II. But ….as complex as World War II was, it provided a dichotomy. The Axis powers were not only inherently evil, they were an existential threat.

Never mind that the Allies included communist Russia and other unsavory characters.
Never mind that the Allies knowingly carpet bombed Dresden and other cities ….and dropped Atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Never mind that the Allies used interrogation techniques that would not withstand the prohibitions of the UN Charter.

I do not question those actions. War is hell and many other things.

I am not sure if we are at war or if I was engaged in war. As a policeman I responded to both the 1993 and 2001 attacks at the World Trade Center. In the former occasion, I got a good scare and buried and mourned some of my colleagues and friends.

The National Commission on Terrorist Attacks said of the day’s events:
On September 11, the nation suffered the largest loss of life—2,973—on its soil as a result of hostile attack in its history. The FDNY suffered 343 fatalities—the largest loss of life of any response agency in history. The NYPD suffered 23 fatalities—the second largest loss of life of any police force in history, exceeded only by [37] members of PAPD officers lost the same day.

One of those New York City Police Officers was Police Officer Vincent Gabriel Danz, Shield # 2166, New York City Police Department, Emergency Service Squad #7. Vincent was also a Port Security Officer, Second Class with the United States Coast Guard Reserve, Sector New York. Vincent and his fellow rescuers participated in the rescue of over 25,000 people in the World Trade Center on Tuesday, September 11, 2001. Vincent called home that day at 0950 hours and left the following message:

Hon, its 9:50 and I’m at the World Trade Center. I’m up in the building. Say a prayer that we get some of these people out. I’m OK but say a prayer for me. I love you.

In 2003 I was activated by my Coast Guard unit and “guarded the coast.” During my activation I responded to threats to the homeland. I got a good scare during a vessel boarding when turbulent seas threatened to crush my legs.

Upon demobilization, I returned to my police duties and responded to several threats to the homeland including the failed May 1attack in Times Square.

I emphatically do not equate my actions with those of the Marines at Peleliu or elsewhere I salute them for their heroic actions. I was in the rear with the gear and most times close to my family and a warm meal and roof over my head.

Homeland security practitioners speak of the new normalcy wherein terrorist’s acts and Katrina-like disasters are the norm. Is the new normalcy simply an awakening to reality –a world rife with risks and threats?

Pericles’ famous funeral oration exhorts the mourners of the Greek war dead to honor the dead by living exemplary lives.

The 118,000 service members who lost their lives had plenty of reason to sacrifice their lives be it War or War by another name.

We honor them best by living exemplary lives.

Comment by Philip Palin

June 22, 2010 @ 3:46 pm

Dan, I take your main point to be that a nation is, by definition, at war only when the entire nation is engaged in some authentic experience of the war. I would prefer such wars, because I think they would be less common and, probably, of less length.

But the only member of my father’s family (I am third-generation American)who has died in uniform was my great uncle George who was a Marine killed in the US occupation of Nicaragua (1912-1933). Prior to coming to America my great-grandfather was with the British Army in the First Boer War (South Africa). Another more distant relative, Sir Philip Palin, commanded the 14th Sikh Regiment at Peshawar (of all places) in 1912-1914. He was finally involved in one of your real wars when the 14th Sikh’s was deployed to Gallipoli and then to Palestine during WWI.

I share these personal stories mostly to highlight that great powers often deploy their military — and sacrifice lives — in pursuit of efforts less than your definition of war, for better and for worse.

From previous pieces, I can tell you are a student of history, so you know all of this. You probably also know the theories of war that differentiate between the wars, for example, fought by the Roman Republic and the wars fought by the Roman Imperium.

Military motivation, objectives, and means change as the state sponsor of the military evolves.

Comment by Dan O'Connor

June 22, 2010 @ 5:33 pm


I am a 3rd generation “service member” who just finished a run of almost a century of active duty service. We have had someone in every conflict in our Nations history. Also, part of my lineage here started in steerage, Ireland to Brooklyn NY to work in a glue factory.

My motivation was not to define war from the shooters point of view. If you are getting shot at, you’re at war.

Instead, I was hoping to draw a contrast between the Nation and its shooters.

I am intimately familiar with all the nuances, terms, and degrees of conflict. You combine that with more entanglements, low and mid intensity conflict, more ambiguity, more mess, and more fighting with our National growing casualty aversion and I see a growing separation between those who do and do not.

Nations and their greatness are defined by putting something larger than themselves first. Call it selfless service or patriotism, or wanting to make a difference. Until we can over come our self absorbed motives, our insatiable appetite and consumption, I see our invariable decline. There has to be something larger than ourselves.

Are these the times that try men’s souls? Perhaps, But I see us at a tipping point between fear and anger, greatness or nadir, America or something else.

If this forum invokes or prevokes pause and challenges status quo, we are winning. If people read this and think about their points of view, great. If however, we’re pontificating to our own round table and just communicating amongst ourselves we lose.

As always, I choose us. Perhaps naive or short sided, but I believe we can do anything once we decide to act.

E pluribus unum.

Semper Fidelis and thanks for making me think.

Comment by Philip Palin

June 22, 2010 @ 7:56 pm

Dan, in regard to “I see a growing separation between those who do and do not.” Certainly true. This separation is characteristic of crucial transitions in a whole host of historic states and proto-states. The outcome is almost always profoundly unhappy and — weirdly given the number of precedents — unexpected. I am not enough of an historian to know if there are good examples of the trend being reversed once begun.

Comment by John Comiskey

June 22, 2010 @ 11:29 pm


These are times that try mens souls. Thanks for making me think too.

Wish others (those that dont do things) thought about why the doers do the things that they do.

Semper Paratus

Comment by William R. Cumming

June 23, 2010 @ 7:20 am

Correction: Natioanl ermergencies Act (50 USC Section 1601 and following)! CRS produces excellent periodic reports on all National Emergency declarations in effect.

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