Checks and Balances

I recently finished reading R.A. Heinlein’s “first novel”, For Us, the Living: A Comedy of Customs, and while it had many suggestions for the structure of society and the economy that either didn’t interest me or are beyond my ability to evaluate, there was one that I thought was worthwhile.

In our world, it theoretically requires the consent of Congress for the US to declare war.  In practice, Congress is a pushover, and we’ve given the President the power to deploy the military in “police actions” for up to sixty days without Congressional approval.  We don’t even need a declaration of war to be at war – which is why some fools go so far as to claim the US has never lost a war (because technically the conflicts we came out poorly in were never declared to be wars in the first place).

Heinlein’s world required a majority vote of the entire populace to declare war, with the nature of each citizen’s vote recorded, and if war was voted in everyone who voted ‘yes’ would be immediately inducted into the armed forces. If more were needed, those who were neutral or didn’t vote were drafted next, finally followed by those who voted ‘no’.

That’s not the interesting part – as here, the President had special power over military activation.  But instead of being able to unilaterally initiate conflict, the President had the power to withdraw us from it.

Why not?

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One Response to “Checks and Balances”

  1. Could people abstain? Because there are likely people who have no business being in the armed forces and hypothetically going to war still might be the smart thing to do.

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