unforgetting the republicAstonishingly, flabbergastingly, unbefuckinglievably, we are now as a country having a debate -- a debate! -- over whether or not Congress has the authority to control the disposition of American military force. Revealing their limited character to the world in a way that you just can't ever take back, even some members of Congress have said that they can't legally refuse further funding or more troops for the war in Iraq. For a favorite example, Rep. Nancy Boyda, a Democrat from Kansas, recently told an ABC News interviewer that she couldn't stop the "surge" because Bush "is the commander in chief, Charlie. We don't get that choice. Congress doesn't make that decision."
Comments that stupid just make you want to smack people with your shoe or something. Maybe a rolled-up newspaper. And, yes, thank God that I drink.
Trying bravely to argue that Congress does have the authority to control funding and troop deployments, the Center for American Progress coughs up a laundry list of examples going all the way back to the 1970s.
So, okay. In March of 1783, a year and a half after the British surrender at Yorktown, a group of officers from the Continental Army loudly suggested that they would refuse to disband if Congress didn't properly (meaning "lucratively") compensate them for their role in the Revolutionary War. This course of events reflected the normal pattern of the day: Soldiers fought for the sovereign, and at the end of the war the sovereign made it worth their while to have fought. Colonel George Washington, for example, spent the years before the Revolution trying to get the British government to make good on the land he was promised for his services in the Seven Years War. And so, after the Revolution, American military officers demanded to be dearly paid for having fought, and a cash-strapped Congress refused, and the officers more aggressively reasserted the claim. Our new nation faced a very vague and half-assed threat of a military coup.
But in this case, General Washington called a meeting to remind his officers that times had changed, and the assumptions underlying military service in the new American republic had changed with them. He successfully urged them to give up their financial claims and submit to the decision of their political superiors. As the Oxford Companion to Military History summarizes the Newburgh Conspiracy, there was "no reason to doubt the power of Washington's leadership. At Newburgh, he reasserted the principle that Congress controls the army, the cornerstone of the American military tradition."
The cornerstone of the American military tradition, now open for debate. Beyond belief.