Tuesday, June 26, 2012

DRIFT by Rachel Maddow

This is not a book review. It is a plug. If you are an American, you should read Drift.

At first glance, Drift did not call my name. Its subtitle, The Unmooring of American Military Power, sounded wonky (by the U.S. definition): more than I wanted to know about a topic that didn't grab me. I picked up the book anyway, and by page 2, I was hooked. Maddow leaped nimbly over my highest bar for a nonfiction writer: she got me to care about a topic that previously left me indifferent.

That's fine for a left-coast liberal like LaVonne, some of my friends may be thinking, but I don't read people who have an eponymous show on MSNBC. Hey, we all have the right to our own prejudices, but consider these perhaps surprising facts:
  • Maddow begins by deploring government spending gone awry
  • She frequently appeals to the framers of the Constitution
  • She believes the executive branch has entirely too much power
  • She finds fault with decisions made by Johnson, Clinton, and Obama as well as by Reagan, Bush, and Bush (and plenty of other people of both parties)
Maddow's point? That our founding fathers intended to make waging war difficult.

That is why they authorized Congress, not the President, to declare war: warmongering is just too attractive to Presidents Who Would Be Kings. And that is why, when our American forbears did go to war, they used (mostly) citizen soldiers, not a professional standing military force--men who had to leave their fields, factories, and offices when they put on their uniforms, and who were more than happy to return to them just as soon as the fighting was finished. But since the 1960s, the power to declare war has shifted - unconstitutionally - from the legislative to the executive branch, and waging war has shifted from citizen soldiers to private corporations, and war has gone from being rare to being the dull background of everyday life--a thriving industry, in fact.

Drift answered a question that's been troubling me for years. In books or films set during World War II, the whole nation seems to be involved. Sons, husbands, and lovers leave for the front. Women take over factory jobs and grow victory gardens. Everybody drives less, makes do without coffee and butter, and buys war bonds. Families gather around huge radios to listen to news about the war. Victories inspire ticker-tape parades and dancing in the streets. Born three years after that war ended, I've lived through lots of wars, and they didn't feel a bit like those tales of sacrifice and heroism, loss and jubilation. Have I been seeing World War II through a haze of nostalgia? Or has something fundamentally changed?

Something has definitely changed, says Maddow, who is not only a TV presenter but also a Rhodes Scholar with an Oxford DPhil in political science. There has been no conspiracy, but there has been a lot of secrecy. With good or at least pragmatic intentions, our leaders have put us in a situation that could have unimaginably tragic consequences--and one of these days probably will, unless we inform ourselves and act to restore our founding fathers' vision.

Drift has been heavily discussed elsewhere: Google it and enjoy the reviews. Or just get yourself a copy. Still want to know more? Here, let Maddow explain it:

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