Thursday, August 9, 2012

Drift by Rachel Maddow, Book Review

from here
I don't write about politics much here, but Rachel Maddow's brilliant Drift demands that I do.

America is in a weird place in regards to its military right now, and Maddow makes a compelling case that our historical moment is unique and the unintended consequence of a series of well intended decisions.

We have an all volunteer force, a political necessity as part of the post-Vietnam reaction to the draft. But part of the reason that Vietnam War dragged on was because the draft, at that point, had been watered down with exemptions. By allowing so many young men out of military service, we lessened the war's impact at home.

We've continued this trend in the years since: outsourcing security details to mercenaries like Blackwater, issuing stop-loss assignments for members of the National Guard, and acting at home (from a policy perspective) as though we're not at war abroad.

Maddow's historical analysis is cogent and concise, and it is immensely readable. This is not beach reading, but it feels lighter than its roughly 270 pages plus endnotes.

Where things get scary is when she looks to the future and begins to ask, what next? She (relatively) calmly looks at some of the near misses (and quiet misses) our nuclear program has suffered in the last decade. It makes me wonder if we have the moral and political courage to save the world from the military machine we built over the last century.

The thing I wish she had done more of was detailing how to fix the state of American military readiness. Yes, we need to get back to the attitudes and approaches that guided us from the American Revolution to the Korean War. But how?

I'm in favor of a program like this: a two-year, mandatory service that allows the conscripts to choose between active military duty, support roles, and AmeriCorp-style homefront projects. Not only might it help rebuild civic pride while reducing military costs (as anyone who has played a Civ style video game can tell you, mercenaries are expensive), it would put a chunk of the American work force, you know, to work. Novel idea indeed.

Book 30 of my book a week challenge.

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