When Did Congress Last Declare War?

by Rosa Eberly
When Did Congress Last Declare War?

173rd Airborne Brigade Battalion member Larry Wayne Chaffin, Vietnam War, June 18, 1965. Photo by A.P. photojournalist Horst Faas

Associate Professor
Dept. of Communication Arts & Sciences
Dept. of English

Article I, Section 8, Clause 11 of the U.S. Constitution grants to Congress the sole power to declare war. Do you know the last war declared after deliberation and voting by a constitutional act of Congress?

Were the current U.S. military actions in Syria or Yemen or Libya or Somalia or Niger declared by Congress? The ongoing wars in Afghanistan or Iraq: Were they declared by Congress? Was the Kosovo War in 1998 and 1999 declared by Congress? The Bosnian War, 1992-1995? Was the First Persian Gulf War of 1990 and 1991 declared by Congress? The 1989 invasion of Panama? The 1983 U.S. invasion of Grenada? The Vietnam War? The Korean War?

The answer to all of those questions is no.

The last time the United States Congress met its constitutional mandate officially to declare war by deliberating and voting for the record to engage members of the U.S. military, each of whom takes an oath to protect and defend the U.S. Constitution, was 76 years ago, in 1942. That year the U.S. declared war on Rumania (correct spelling in 1942), Hungary, and Bulgaria. A year earlier the U.S. declared war on Japan, Germany, and Italy, days after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii Territory. (Hawai’i became the 50th U.S. state in 1959.)

For a list of all 11 occasions on which the U.S. Congress officially declared war, visit the website of the U.S. Senate:

https://www.senate.gov/pagelayout/history/h_multi_sections_and_teasers/WarDeclarationsbyCongress.htm

Meanwhile, the White House earlier this year acknowledged that the United States is currently at war in seven countries, the same number as during the last presidential administration (more information here https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/14/world/africa/niger-green-berets-isis-firefight-december.html and here https://news.vice.com/en_us/article/a3ywd5/white-house-acknowledges-the-us-is-at-war-in-seven-countries ). These actions are carried out by an all-volunteer military, part of the reason many Americans pay relatively little attention to the wars carried out in our name.