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Emergency Management 101

By Jack Stevenson. February 26, 2019. BLOWING ROCK, NC — The building maintenance fund is exhausted, and we still have nine months to go before the next budget year.  That’s a problem.

The building fire alarm system is not working.  That’s an urgent problem.

The building is on fire!  That is an emergency.

The immigration situation on the U.S. southern border is certainly important.  It may be urgent.  It is not an emergency. 

The founders of our United States Constitution intended to prevent a recurrence of tyranny that had happen so often in human history.  Their design was to divide the powers of government so that cooperative, representative government would result.  They reserved the power to adopt laws and the power to finance government exclusively to the congress.  They assigned the power to execute those laws to the president.  The U.S. Supreme Court role determining the constitutionality of laws or presidential actions was established 14 years after the constitution was ratified. 

30 minutes travel time between launch and detonation at a target does not allow Congress time to assemble and perform its constitutional duty.

Congress has sometimes willingly forfeited its authority if the issue is controversial, and presidents have sometimes been willing to stretch the boundaries of their constitutional authority.  There have also been some difficult issues.  The constitution requires that congress declare war.  The last time that happened was World War Two.  The congress acted quickly; the members declared war on Japan only one day after Japan bombed Pearl Harbor and Schofield Barracks in Hawaii.  

But a few years after that war ended, nuclear weapons that could instantly destroy a nation and that could be delivered by rockets presented a constitutional dilemma.  The time lapse between discovery of incoming nuclear missiles and detonation was deemed to be very brief, perhaps only thirty minutes.  That would not allow Congress time to assemble and perform its constitutional duty.  It was believed that authority needed to be delegated to the president for that kind of decision.  Former President Eisenhower went even further; he authorized military field commanders to initiate a nuclear response if Washington, D.C. were destroyed or if Eisenhower were incapacitated.  Maybe that delegation of authority was warranted, but we need to consider the implications.

It had an explosion force equivalent to 50 million tons of dynamite.

The most powerful nuclear detonation was a Russian nuclear weapon called the Tsar bomb.  It had an explosive force equivalent to 50 million tons of dynamite.  It broke window panes at a distance of 600 miles.  At the height of our nuclear folly, we and the Russians, together, had 60,000 nuclear weapons.  And there is one more delegation of authority worth noting. The Russians had a “dead hand” launch system.  They placed sensing devices in Moscow that could detect a nuclear explosion.  If a nuclear explosion had been detected in the Moscow vicinity, the system would almost automatically have launched a battery of nuclear missiles at preselected U.S. targets.  We have lived dangerously. 

The concept of divided governmental power is wisdom distilled from centuries of human behavior.  It is an insurance policy for individual freedom and prevention of tyranny.  It is a fundamental aspect of American constitutional government, and it is worth preserving. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jack Stevenson is retired.  He served two years in Vietnam as an infantry officer, retired from military service, and worked three years as a U.S. Civil Service employee.  He also worked in Egypt as an employee of the former Radio Corporation of America (RCA).  Currently, he reads history, follows issues important to Americans, and occasionally writes non-exclusive commentary for Blowing Rock News.


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