Saturday, October 20, 2012

Book Review: Drift, The Unmooring of American Military Power by Rachel Maddow

Reviewer: Alan Chin
Publisher: Crown Publishers
Pages: 261

America’s forefathers, the signers of the Constitution, deliberately granted the decision to go to war to the Congress only, and not the President. They did that in order to make it extremely difficult for this nation to engage in war (knowing how difficult it is to get hundreds of senators to agree on anything.) They also put in place the idea that during peacetime, the standing army would shrink down to a skeleton force, and only ramp up during an actual war, so the population wouldn’t need to fund a high-priced army standing around on their hands while waiting for the next conflict. They knew keeping a large peacetime army would divert money from needed social programs.

In Drift, Maddow argues that we’ve drifted away from America’s original ideals and have become a nation perpetually at war and suffering from the astronomical costs of supporting, financially and human costs, all that those relatively new policies entail.

To enlighten our understanding of the dangers of these policies that undermine the forefather’s philosophies, Maddow takes a detailed look at the Vietnam War, the Cold War build up of nukes, the secret wars under the Reagan administration, the skyrocketing defense budges under Reagan and Bush H. and Clinton and Bush W. and Obama, and also the disturbing rise of executive authority to wage war without congressional approval by using private companies alongside soldiers. Ultimately, she shows us just how much we stand to lose by allowing the priorities of the national security state to overpower our political discourse.

Drift is a provocative, sobering look at how our political process has created a Frankenstein monster military/intelligence community that is severely out of control and driving this nation to the edge of bankruptcy. It is told with intelligence, humor, depth, and an eye for the absurd.  She makes the argument that our leaders, and much of our population, have become “a nation at peace with being at war” and that attitude has consequences for all Americans.

Liberals will no doubt love this book, conservatives not so much. But I highly recommend this original and refreshing glimpse into American war politics for the simple reason that this is an important—perhaps vital—topic for the two sides to debate. 

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