How U.S. wars became endless

War used to be something that the U.S. had to officially declare.

“The President is hereby authorized and directed to employ the entire naval and military forces of the United States and the resources of the Government to carry on war against the imperial government of Japan,”
Congress wrote in 1941, after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

World War II was the last time we officially declared “war” against a country. Oh, the good ol’ days, when wars had a targeted enemy and they actually ended.


Things have now changed. Congress passes “resolutions” and they can be very broad. Now instead of declarations of war, it has become vogue for Congress to pass an “authorization to use military force” or AUMF.

In the days after 9/11, legislators passed an AUMF that launched the war on terror. It led to the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq. It also justified the opening of Guantanamo Bay, drone strikes across the Middle East and Africa and now air strikes in Syria.

Here’s what war used to look like for Americans:

Length of U.S. involvement: 1 year, 7 months

Length of U.S. involvement: 3 years, 9 months


But the country’s longest wars have sprung from resolutions.

When Congress passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution in 1964 , it gave President Lyndon B. Johnson authority to use any means necessary to keep the peace in Southeast Asia. It had no time limit, and only vague geographical boundaries.

Length of conflict: 10 years, 2 months

The 60 words in the AUMF after 9/11 have now been used to justify an unceasing number of operations in the Middle East, as well as military actions against “terrorism” around the globe.

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