Daily Archives: 10/08/2012

#38: Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power by Rachel Maddow

This one is really hard to review because I had the audio version and couldn’t tag parts I wanted to talk about when I sat down to write my review.  I’m worried I’ve got it all jumbled together and I know I have facts wrong.  Feel free to call me out on my version of the facts.

This is a really important book and I’d like to see it become required reading.  While everyone knows Rachel Maddow is part of the liberal media, hell bent on world domination and probably destruction, I didn’t feel like this was a liberal “Fuck You!” to the world.  Although if it was written by Rush Limbaugh, I’m sure I would say the entire thing was right wing bullshit.

What fascinated and scared me about this book was how quickly the interpretation of the Constitution was able to change in just a few presidential terms.  Lyndon Johnson was able to reinterpret the definition of war, simply by not calling up the Reserves.  If he wanted them, he would have had to go to Congress.  If he went to Congress than they would have had to formally declare war in Vietnam.  Instead, he kept it a police action and left the Reserves at home.  The draft was cranked up and everything changed.

The Reserves were meant to seriously inconvenience America if they were called up.  These were (in this case) men who held jobs in the community and if Congress decided it was time to pull them in, the effect would be felt.  Life for civilians would be impacted and because of the absence of Reserve members, civilians would notice what was happening and potentially question the government’s actions.  This was not a mistake – it had been designed this way to keep a standing army small and make long term wars difficult.  By skipping this part, Johnson redefined the armed services and paved the way for Ronald Reagan to do pretty much whatever he wanted.

Reagan was, to say the least, an interesting man.  If he said something, he believed it, even if everyone else in the world knew he was wrong.  He’d keep saying it and believing it until a few other people started to believe it too.  Then he’d say it even more and louder and to more people, and suddenly it became the truth for many people.  This is what politics is about, and you can see it today with the belief in Welfare Queens and subsidized housing that’s better than expensive apartment in the Upper East Side of Manhattan.  Reagan said it, he believed it, and he got elected.

This is the section of the book that I really wished I was able to tag.  Reagan surrounded himself with people who would agree with him and help him “interpret” the Constitution so he could pretty much do whatever he wanted with the armed services.  This led to the Iran-Contra Affair and weapons for hostages.  That second part not only didn’t work, but weapons were returned to us for not being good enough.  Ouch.

The saddest/scariest part of Reagan’s presidency is his Alzheimer’s.  When called in to testify, he honestly didn’t know who he had talked to or what he had done.  The parts he did remember, he of course knew he had done the right thing because he said it was the right thing.  It’s impossible not to wonder how lucid he was during strategy sessions.

As interpretations of the Constitution shifted, the most important decision was the definition of the Commander In Chief.  Reagan and his advisors decided that if the President of the United States of America truly was the Command In Chief, then he did not have to go to Congress to get permission to do anything in regards to the military.  He was in charge, so screw everyone else.

Apparently there is an unwritten rule that when you become president, you do not give up any power that was given to the Office by the presidents who came before you.  Even if this power goes against the spirit of the Constitution, you keep it and you do your best to make it bigger.

It’s insane to me to comprehend at how the military was seen during WWII and the post-war role of a standing army to our lives now with ongoing war.  Maddow really wanted to explain what in the fuck happened.

She continues following the path of Bush, Clinton, and Bush the Second.  They all continue to redefine the military, the role of the president, and how war will now work.

The privatization of war is fascinating to me.  According to Maddow, it’s the fault of toddlers.  I knew kids couldn’t be trusted!!!  Members of the military were entitled to benefits for themselves and their families.  A major part of this was childcare.  The government realized how much it was spending on this and was not happy.  They realized they could turn over operations to private companies who would take their money and step in to run things.  From dining facilities to housing to support for families back on base to childcare, the government was able to step further and further back while private companies grew richer and richer and took more and more control.  This led to the business of war and the continued privatization of destruction worldwide.  Companies would hire ex-military and send them to countries to train leaders in non-warfare topics like how to run your first democratic election.  And then, later, if there just happened to be a military action in that country, and say, for example, the winners somehow used tactics that mimicked American tactics and were able to crush their opponents, then… huh, well that was weird.  The government certainly didn’t have anything to do with it since we aren’t over there and the private companies certainly didn’t have anything to do with it since they are only there to build voting booths.  How strange.

This, of course, is seriously hurting our global image.  The States has decided it has no legal power over companies that aren’t in our country, and the companies have decided that the country they are in has no legal power over their employees, so there exists a free-for-all.  Sex slaves are commonplace and the locals can’t do anything about it.  How odd that they hate all of us.

I got this book on audio because I wanted to hear Maddow read her own words.  The way she explains things is smart but accessible.  Although I feel like I don’t understand any of this, I feel more informed about how things have changed, and that’s a start.

Oh, and I’ll leave you with this.  The United States officially admits that we have lost eleven nuclear bombs some where on the planet.

That’s just our country.  And our official number.

Good luck sleeping tonight.

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