President Trump has promised “fire and fury” for his North Korean counterpart, the dictator Kim Jong Un. Last week, Trump tweeted, “Talking is not the answer.”
On Sunday, Defense Sec. Jim Mattis, standing with Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Joseph Dunford on the White House driveway after meeting with President Trump and Vice President Pence, reacted to the North Korean detonation of a hydrogen bomb that measured 6.3 on the USGS Richter scale and just weeks after it lobbed a missile over Japan. “We have many military options, and the president wanted to be briefed on each one of them,” said Mattis. “Any threat to the United States or its territories, including Guam, or our allies, will be met with a massive military response — a response both effective and overwhelming.”
The war drums are now fully beating. Perhaps it’s time to channel our inner Andy. By this, I mean the late U.S. Rep. Andrew Jacobs Jr., author of the non-bestselling book “The 1600 Killers,” describing the war actions of the 20th century’s last 10 presidents. As a young congressman in the mid-1960s, he defied President Lyndon Johnson, becoming an early critic of the Vietnam War.
Jacobs has a relevant historical viewpoint. He joined the U.S. Marine Corps because he believed the snazzy dress uniform would attract the babes. He ended up in the Korean War.
His perspective, that it’s Congress that has the authority to declare war and not the president, came from a man who once found himself hauling off wounded Marines in a classic fog-of-war moment, staring down the guns of Chinese infantry, who inexplicably allowed him to live.
“The men with the stretcher were confused for a moment and then quickly got the point,” Jacobs explained. “It was a Chinese bazooka team who were pointing their rocket launcher at the misplaced Marines in the paddy.” Jacobs and his buddies said “final prayers and cringed,” and then looked on in amazement. “The Chinese leader was signaling to the Marines to go on, obviously because they were carrying a wounded man. The Marines waved a bewildered wave of gratitude as they rushed from the paddy up a draw in the adjacent woods.”
In making his case for Congress, Jacobs explained, “Most of our presidents have gotten away with the assertion that Article 2, Section 2, Clause 1 gives the president and not the Congress the authority to make an apocalyptic decision. That clause reads ‘the president shall be the commander in chief.’ To argue that the naked term ‘commander in chief’ supplants the specific and unambiguous language conferring the war-making authority on Congress is as far-fetched as to argue that the term ‘chief of police’ confers on that official the authority to enact criminal law.”
Jacobs related an 1848 Mexican War era letter from U.S. Rep. Abraham Lincoln to his law partner, William Herndon: “Allow the president to invade a neighboring nation whenever he shall deem it necessary to repel an invasion and you allow him to do so, whenever he may choose to say he deems it necessary for such purpose. And you allow him to make war at pleasure. Study to see if you can fix any limit to his power in this respect.”
The chilling phrase “apocalyptic decision” is operative here because it comes at a time when Trump and Kim are in a mano-y-mano showdown, their rhetoric boxing them into deadly corners or historic embarrassment. From former White House advisor Steve Bannon, we get a perspective of a potential catastrophe. “Forget it,” he told American Prospect magazine on Aug. 16. “Until somebody solves the part of the equation that shows me that 10 million people in Seoul don’t die in the first 30 minutes from conventional weapons, I don’t know what you’re talking about, there’s no military solution here, they got us.”
Trump has been quoted on the potential use of nukes nine times in recent years. Pressed by CBS “Face the Nation” host John Dickerson, who asked, “The United States has not used nuclear weapons since 1945. When should it?” Trump responded, “Well, it is an absolute last stance. And, you know, I use the word unpredictable.”
To Hugh Hewitt on CNN on Dec. 15, 2015, Trump didn’t grasp the notion of triad, adding, “For me, nuclear is just the power, the devastation is very important to me.”
In a one-page Chapter 12, “Mad Math,” Jacobs writes, “The apocalyptic prophecy is more likely to be validated when those we suppose to be educated and intelligent declare that war is a reasonable means by which to ‘achieve clearly definable aims.’”
Jacobs, who was a Democrat, asks, “Have you ever seen two grown men in a bare-knuckle fist fight on a sidewalk?” If so, he says, your reaction would be shock? Disgust? Insecurity? “Probably all three. Yet, multiply those two men by tens of thousands and intensify the violence by tons of dynamite, steel and gunpowder with the resultant quantums of blood, viscera, stone cold rigor mortis and corresponding broken hearts back home.”
In the age of shock and awe, which last went awry between 2003 and 2007 in Iraq when “Mission Accomplished” was interrupted with a deadly insurgency that killed 98 Hoosiers, we appear to be on the brink on the Korean peninsula where war never really ended, where both sides are dug in and possessing nukes is a vestige of manhood.