In the days following the deadly attacks of September 11, 2001, Congress, like the rest of America, was in the grip of fear and rage. Both houses voted to pass a bill giving vast war-making powers into the hands of then President George W. Bush. In light of today’s partisan squabbling, the House vote was remarkable: 420 to 1. Here is what that one lone voice said:
“Mr. Speaker, I rise today with a heavy heart, one that is filled with sorrow for the families and loved ones who were killed and injured in New York, Virginia, and Pennsylvania. Only the most foolish or the most callous would not understand the grief that has gripped the American people and millions across the world.
“This unspeakable attack on the United States has forced me to rely on my moral compass, my conscience, and my God for direction. September 11 changed the world. Our deepest fears now haunt us. Yet I am convinced that military action will not prevent further acts of international terrorism against the United States.
“I know that this use-of-force resolution will pass although we all know that the President can wage a war even without this resolution. However difficult this vote may be, some of us must urge the use of restraint. There must be some of us who say, let’s step back for a moment and think through the implications of our actions today — let us more fully understand its consequences.
“We are not dealing with a conventional war. We cannot respond in a conventional manner. I do not want to see this spiral out of control. This crisis involves issues of national security, foreign policy, public safety, intelligence gathering, economics, and murder. Our response must be equally multifaceted.
“We must not rush to judgment. Far too many innocent people have already died. Our country is in mourning. If we rush to launch a counterattack, we run too great a risk that women, children, and other noncombatants will be caught in the crossfire.
“Nor can we let our justified anger over these outrageous acts by vicious murderers inflame prejudice against all Arab Americans, Muslims, Southeast Asians, or any other people because of their race, religion, or ethnicity.
“Finally, we must be careful not to embark on an open-ended war with neither an exit strategy nor a focused target. We cannot repeat past mistakes.
“In 1964, Congress gave President Lyndon Johnson the power to ‘take all necessary measures’ to repel attacks and prevent further aggression. In so doing, this House abandoned its own constitutional responsibilities and launched our country into years of undeclared war in Vietnam.
“At that time, Sen. Wayne Morse, one of two lonely votes against the Tonkin Gulf Resolution, declared, ‘I believe that history will record that we have made a grave mistake in subverting and circumventing the Constitution of the United States … I believe that within the next century, future generations will look with dismay and great disappointment upon a Congress which is now about to make such a historic mistake.’
“Sen. Morse was correct, and I fear we make the same mistake today.
“And I fear the consequences.
“I have agonized over this vote. But I came to grips with it in the very painful yet beautiful memorial service today at the National Cathedral. As a member of the clergy so eloquently said, ‘As we act, let us not become the evil that we deplore.'”
–Rep. Barbara Lee
California 9th Congressional District
September 15, 2001
(Hegel was right. The only thing we learn from history is that we learn nothing from history.)