War and Responsibility
Constitutional Lessons of Vietnam and Its Aftermath
Twenty years after the signing of the Paris Accords ending the Vietnam War, the constitutional ambiguities of American involvement in that conflict remain unresolved. Now John Hart Ely analyzes them in the context of U.S. military actions since Vietnam, up to and including the Gulf War. He examines the overall constitutionality of America's role in Vietnam from the year 1964, when fighting began in earnest, as well as the legal problems raised by specific incidents such as the American ground incursion into Cambodia, the inconclusive repeal of the Tonkin Gulf Resolution, and the U.S. government's continued bombing of Cambodia between the final withdrawal of American troops on April 1, 1973 and August 15 of the same year. Arguing that the hubris of the executive branch was aggravated by legislative irresponsibility, Ely shows that Congress authorized each new phase of American involvement in Vietnam, without committing itself to the stated aims of intervention. The "secret war" the CIA (and Air Force) fought in neighboring Laos throughout the 1960s and the secret bombing of Cambodia in 1969 and 1970 were different, however. There, Ely demonstrates, Congress was largely kept ignorant and thus could not have provided the constitutionally required authorization. Ely proposes a revised version of the War Powers Resolution that would force the president to seek congressional authorization before (or, if necessary, simultaneously with) sending the nation's troops into armed combat, and suggests specific ways in which the federal courts can and should induce Congress to reassume unequivocally the obligations so plainly entrusted to it by the Constitution. Written in the lively style familiar toreaders of Ely's Democracy and Distrust, this is a work with broad implications for the conduct of U.S. foreign policy in the years ahead.
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What Reviewers Are Saying
"In this splendid volume Ely gives us the mature, ripened intellectual fruit of at least a quarter century's thought and the reflection by a leading constitutional law scholar on [a] most divisive public issue."--Daniel J. Kornstein, "New York Law Journal" "In this short but compellingly reasoned book, John Hart Ely argues that the congressional effort to regain its constitutional power has essentially failed. . . . With clarity and sophistication, [he] walks us through a mine field of legal and political nuances. . . . Ely's fine book should be seen as part of a revival of scholarly commitment to the separation of powers and to the theory of governing that undergirds it."--"The Annals of the Academy of Political and Social Science" "This is scholarship with a difference. . . . Now that this book exists, no one should engage in discussions about war and U.S. responsibility or the War Powers Act without having first consulted it."--James Finn, "Commonweal" "John Hart Ely has done a remarkable job in taking a series of elegant and sophisticated legal arguments and presenting them in an unusually concise and readable form. More important, he has breathed new life into the War Powers Resolution with a handful of suggestions that could bring the war power back to where it was intended, the representatives of the people."--Melvin Small, "History: Reviews of New Books" "[T]he most signal quality of this book is its shining integrity. Ely's patient, careful, but never tedious examination of Congress's role in the authorization of the Vietnam War is an inspiring antidote to the indulgent amnesia of so many who ought to know better."--Philip Bobbitt, "Michigan Law Review"