Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power – Rachel Maddow.
I love Rachel Maddow, at least as much as a straight man can love a gay woman. She speaks from a similar political point of view as mine. And I really like her spin on how to run a news/politics TV show: less yelling and screaming and demonizing and more reasonable discussion of the issues of the day.
So I was looking forward to her book, in which she advances the argument that we’ve drifted far from how the Founding Fathers intended for our nation to handle its military affairs. Unfortunately I think she was undercut by the realities of modern publishing and came up with a book that wasn’t nearly as good as it could have been.
Her premise is the Founding Fathers wanted it to be very difficult to go to war. Thus they built many impediments into the structure of our government to make less likely we would send troops to battle for anything short of all-out war. And that idea, for the most part, held for nearly 200 years. But it began to unravel during Vietnam, and completely came apart in the post-Vietnam era. It’s become almost easy to send American forces to battle, and in fact those who attempt to slow the march to war are cast as the enemies of the republic.
Maddow lays most of the blame at the feet of Ronald Reagan, but every president since him gets plenty of blame. Clinton began the move to use third parties that were free of government restrictions to carry out important support roles for military missions. George W. Bush violated centuries of accepted economic theory and fought two wars not only without requesting funds for them, but continually cut taxes as troops spent more time in Afghanistan and Iraq than our troops spent fighting World War II. And Obama has dramatically accelerated the use of drones.
Today presidents are dismissive of the constitutional requirement that Congress approve the use of force. They hide military actions behind layers of secrecy, in the name of national defense. They farm out work once reserved for the military to private companies where abuses of locals and cost overruns can be hidden from government auditors. They fight wars without paying for them. They ignore the safeguard the reserves were supposed to provide and deploy those troops as regular soldiers, for extended tours. And they use technology to further separate the public from the realities of war.
Problem one is she provides a lot of anecdotal evidence for these assertions. That’s fine. Too often, though, she fails to tie them together in a coherent argument.
Problem two is her solutions are a brief five page concluding chapter. If this is indeed a huge problem, the fixes will be more than bullet points.
But I think her two problems are caused by the reality of political writing today. Publishers want snappy books that can be digested quickly and offer red meat to the true believers. Maddow is a very smart woman, and her academic work was done in the international relations sphere. She knows this stuff. And I think if she had her choice, this would have been a 500 page book. Unfortunately, unless you’re pushing some bizarre conspiracy and can fill half those pages with “evidence” supporting your theory, publishers aren’t interested in dense political works these days. Which is a shame, because I think it would have been a much better book had she been able to go long on this topic.
Stay At Home Dead – Jeffrey Allen.
Based on the title alone, I couldn’t pass this up. A light murder mystery that has a stay-at-home dad at its center? Isn’t this the book I should have been writing over the past nine years?
Light is the keyword here. It’s perfectly entertaining and written to be read quickly, like on a beach or during a flight. I, in fact, knocked it out in a single day, during one of our last, warm days of the fall, mostly sitting outside while the girls frolicked in the sun.