In October 1962, my middle school principal announced an emergency plan: in case of attack, those of us who lived within a mile would walk home.
That is still the longest walk I never took; half a century later, I dream about it sometimes. It is like a faded, scratchy clip from a black-and-white episode of The Twilight Zone: empty streets; sirens echoing off walls.
Then a flash of light.
The New York Times has called the confrontation with North Korea “a ‘Cuban missile crisis in slow motion.’” But I haven’t had a chance to worry about that yet. I am still too scared by what happened on and after April 6, the day President Trump decided to throw cruise missiles at Syria. The use of military force against another country is a huge legal event. Trump has literally treated this solemn decision like a round of golf at Mar-a-Lago, and the courtiers and commentators have fallen into line.
The wise heads assure us that the Syria intervention is a good thing for all concerned. I have my doubts, but my expertise doesn’t run to the intricacies of Middle East policy.
But I do know something about law. What terrifies me about Trump’s apparently impulsive decision to strike at Syria is that it appears to be illegal under U.S. and international law; that the president will not deign to explain why he thinks his actions were within the law; and that the same wise heads TV and newspaper heads—the green-room crowd of lawmakers, think-tankers, and newspaper columnists who tell us all what to think—display no interest in the issue. Leaders of Congress display no enthusiasm for discharging their constitutional responsibility to decide when the country may go to war.