Friday, March 15, 2013

Drift: by Rachel Maddow

Rachel brings us a clear, well-documented account of how our military has expanded and changed since WWII. She takes us from the entry into Vietnam, through Johnson's and Reagan's presidencies, and on through to Iraq, Pakistan, and beyond. She shows us how each step was taken that led to where we are now. And where are we?

A president can wage war now without bothering the rest of us. Fewer than 1% of US citizens are in the military, and as a rule we tend not to care about modern-day mercenaries: the employees of Brown, Kellogg, & Root, Halliburton, and Blackwater by whatever its current name is. At this time the private companies are putting more boots on the ground than is the US military. Because of sloppy or nonexistent oversight, these companies are costing us far more than just the cost overruns: they have wiped out our image in many companies, where they behave as ungovernable bullies - and in fact they are.

The privatization of war has consequences beyond even this, however. We can spend our way into and out of wars and keep going on about our business. We see no difference in our day to day lives. We don't pay for these wars in sacrifice or any other way. And therefore we have become numb to what they really are.

Years ago I remember reading an economics textbook. I remember little of it, but I remember this point: you can't have a successful economy manufacturing destruction. You have to build, not destroy. It is hard for any of us "regular folks" to comprehend the deficit we've created by waging these wars, and even harder to comprehend that payment will have to be made. In fact, it appears that collection has started. Our economy has been in the tank for a while now. It isn't just because of inflated housing.

I don't read many "political" books. I'm not a political junkie, although like many I hold strong views. This may be why I personally like Rachel so much. She does the work! And she explains it really really well. She rarely gets it wrong because she's passionate about facts. I came away from this book understanding how our constitution got to be irrelevant, how our standing army gradually and then exponentially increased, how we started farming out the work, even how we built up our nuclear arsenal, and even after the end of the cold war how we keep building it.

At the end Rachel offers us a checklist of what we need to do to get back on track. I believe that every member of congress and the president and his advisers all need to read this book and pay attention. I think it's possible that many of them are so caught up in day to day politics that they have lost the thread. It's here, it's clear, and we all need to pay attention.

I can't leave it there. Rachel brings to this tale all of her usual wit, which helps when we try to swallow.

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