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No U.S. Soldier Should Have Died in Korea (or Vietnam)

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As the Los Angeles Times reported, four days before Christmas last year 94-year-old Clara Gantt received the remains of her husband, whom she had married in 1948. Army Sgt. 1st Class Joseph Gantt had gone missing during the Korean War and had always been presumed dead. Although he had told Clara to remarry in the event of his death, she never did. She instead waited for him to return. Last December, he finally did.

The episode should cause Americans to reflect on another of the many negative consequences that came with the adoption of the U.S. national-security state apparatus in the aftermath of World War II. That consequence is the omnipotent power of the national security state to sacrifice American citizens for the sake of foreign regimes.

U.S. involvement in the Korean War clearly violated the provisions of the U.S. Constitution, the higher law that the American people imposed on the federal government when they called it into existence. The Constitution prohibits the president from involving our country in a war unless he secures a declaration of war from Congress. No declaration, no war, no matter how much the president wants it.

That’s why there were congressional declarations of war in World War I and World War II. That’s the law, the law that the Framers constructed in the Constitution.

Yet, President Truman secured no congressional declaration of war before sending American men into the Korean hellhole. He didn’t need it, he said, because the Korean War wasn’t really a war. It was, he said, a “police action,” which entailed U.S. soldiers serving as international policemen rather than as soldiers fighting in a war.

Even worse, the president said that he had secured authorization to sacrifice American men in Korea from the United Nations, the international body composed of political and bureaucratic hacks from foreign governments all over the world. Since when does a UN resolution substitute for the U.S. Constitution, especially when the lives of American citizens are concerned?

This was the time of great deference to authority on the part of the American people. The national security state—the huge standing army, the military industrial complex, and the CIA—convinced the American people that the communists were coming to get them. Fear of communism was the coin of the realm, even more deeply seated than the fear of terrorists today. If American soldiers weren’t sent to fight the communists in Korea, the Pentagon and the CIA declared, it wouldn’t take long before the communists were taking over the federal government and running the IRS and the Interstate Highway System.

It was all deadly and destructive nonsense. The Korean War was a civil war, no different from the Vietnam War that would follow it. If the North Koreans won, that would mean that Korea would be governed by a communist regime, just as Vietnam ended up being governed by a communist regime after the U.S. government was defeated there. It didn’t mean that the communists would soon be conducting IRS tax audits on the American people or establishing toll booths on the Interstate Highway System.

Did the communists take over the United States after the U.S. defeat in Vietnam? Nope. All the hype about the dominoes falling turned out to be false. Today, Americans travel to Vietnam as tourists.

It was no different with the Korean War. If the communists had won, Korea would have ended up being governed by a communist regime. The communists wouldn’t have taken over the reins of Congress, the federal judiciary, and the presidency.

Would it have been a good thing for the North Korean communists to have prevailed? Certainly not from the vantage point of South Koreans. It would have been a disaster for them, just as it was a disaster for South Vietnamese, Poles, East Germans, Czechs, Chinese, Russians, and others who have suffered under communism.

But why does it follow that the U.S. national security state should have the omnipotent power to send American soldiers to fight and die in the defense of foreign peoples who are suffering civil wars or communist aggression? Certainly, our American ancestors, who despised the concept of standing armies and secret intelligence forces, did not have that notion in mind when they called the federal government into existence.

The founding idea for America was this: We Americans will not permit our government to wage war on behalf of foreign people who are suffering tyranny, oppression, or war. Instead, we will open our borders to enable people suffering these things to have a permanent sanctuary. That’s what open immigration was all about. Americans would devote their efforts to bringing into existence a free society that would serve as a model for the world.

Did that mean that Americans couldn’t help foreigners like the South Koreans and the South Vietnamese or anyone else? Of course not. Americans could send money or, even more significantly, they could travel overseas and join the armed forces of those who were resisting communist aggression, just as many Americans fought in the Spanish Civil War. My hunch, however, is that not too many Americans would have been willing to voluntarily give up their lives in the Asian wars. It took the national security state and (forced) conscription to accomplish that.

America’s founding principles were corrupted and destroyed by the adoption of the national security state. Today, the president wields the power to send the entire nation into war on his say-so alone. The higher law of the Constitution that requires a congressional declaration of war is simply ignored, and the federal judiciary, whose job is to enforce the Constitution, doesn’t dare issue such a ruling, given the overwhelming power of the military, the CIA, and the NSA.

Moreover, the U.S. government wields the authority to police the entire world and the power to send American soldiers to the deaths for the sake of foreign nations, some of which might even be governed by pro-U.S. totalitarian or authoritarian regimes. Even today, the U.S. government maintains U.S. troops in South Korea who serve as a “tripwire” that will guarantee U.S. entry into another war in Korea should the civil war be resumed. If that were to happen, young American men would, once again, be conscripted to be involuntarily sent to Korea to die in another Korea War, one that U.S. officials would once again sell as protecting America from being taken over by the communists.

It’s time for Americans to reflect upon and reevaluate what the national-security state apparatus has done to our nation and to its founding principles. The ones who have benefited from the revolutionary change in America’s governmental structure have been the military, the CIA, and the NSA, all of which have become ever larger and more powerful, along with their legions of war contractors who have made a financial killing on these wars. The losers have been the American people, not only those who have lost their lives in these foreign wars but also the citizens who have survived them, given the enormous loss of freedom, sovereignty, and economic well-being that has accompanied these wars.

Joseph Gantt, and all the other U.S. soldiers who died in Korea and Vietnam, had the right to live their normal lives without being sent to faraway lands by the U.S. national-security state. It’s too late to save the dead. It’s not too late to save the living.

This post was written by:

Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. He was born and raised in Laredo, Texas, and received his B.A. in economics from Virginia Military Institute and his law degree from the University of Texas. He was a trial attorney for twelve years in Texas. He also was an adjunct professor at the University of Dallas, where he taught law and economics. In 1987, Mr. Hornberger left the practice of law to become director of programs at the Foundation for Economic Education. He has advanced freedom and free markets on talk-radio stations all across the country as well as on Fox News’ Neil Cavuto and Greta van Susteren shows and he appeared as a regular commentator on Judge Andrew Napolitano’s show Freedom Watch. View these interviews at LewRockwell.com and from Full Context. Send him email.