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Military Heroes

British Prime Minister Winston S. Churchill, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin at the Yalta [Crimea] Conference, February 1945

Courtesy of National Archives

The framers of the Constitution wanted to preserve civil authority over the military, and designated the president "Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy." During national crises and war, the power of the presidency has increased to include approval of military tactics, control of the economy, and authority to limit the civil rights of Americans at home.

This responsibility has grown dramatically from the time George Washington took up his sword during the Whiskey Rebellion to the day Harry S. Truman authorized dropping an atomic bomb on Japan. The burden of such awesome power rests heavily on every president.

Washington reviewing the troops
As commander in chief, George Washington reviewed the western army at Fort Cumberland, Maryland, during the 1794 Whiskey Rebellion in western Pennsylvania. The military might available to a president has increased ever since. This painting is by Frederick Kemmelmayer.

Courtesy of Winterthur Museum

President Bill Clinton in the White House situation room, being briefed by members of the National Security Council (NSC) in 1998. Established in 1947, the NSC is the president's principal forum for considering and coordinating security policy.

With any military decision, the president must balance strategic and operational issues with diplomatic, economic, and even environmental concerns. The Clinton-era NSC included the vice president, secretary of defense, secretary of state, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, director of the Central Intelligence Agency, secretary of the treasury, United Nations representative, assistant to the president for national security, assistant to the president for economic policy, and president's chief of staff.

Courtesy of the White House

Pillow cover with World War I imagery
On April 2, 1917, President Woodrow Wilson went before Congress to ask for a declaration of war against Germany, entering the United States in World War I: "The world must be made safe for democracy.... It is a fearful thing to lead this great peaceful people into war, into the most terrible and disastrous of all wars, civilization itself seeming to be in the balance. But the right is more precious than peace, and we shall fight for the things which we have always carried nearest our hearts."
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