photo & text by nacrowe
a RHODES SCHOLAR and noted host of her own eponymous show on MSNBC, RACHEL MADDOW in her first book DRIFT: THE UNMOORING OF AMERICAN MILITARY POWER (CROWN, 2012) presents an extended examination of the evolved relationship between the decision matrix regarding foreign military excursions by the executive branch and the public.
in essence the relationship between the power to go to war and the cost of it (in terms of CAPITAL, both HUMAN and FINANCIAL) was an imminent concern going back to our founding fathers, who saw our federal system with distinct powers given to each of our three branches of government, as a means of safeguarding that decision and making sure that such was never made without an engaged citizenry. they feared a standing army during peacetime as gateway to potential demagoguery as the political power of war, or the threat of such, cuts through society like few other forces can. by dividing up responsibilities, mostly between the executive and legislative branches, war was ideally only supposed to take place after an appeal to congress and the public was made explicit and duly supported on the merits.
in essence DRIFT is focused on the consequences of the deliberate untethering of our foreign military excursions from said public debate/consciousness and congressional scrutiny by the executive branch over time.
the short of it was that up until the VIETNAM CONFLICT, all wars saw a drastic reduction in our standing army post-conflict. the NATIONAL GUARD and the ARMY RESERVE swelled during times of conflict (CIVIL WAR, SPANISH-AMERICAN WAR, WORLD WAR I, WORLD WAR II and the KOREAN WAR) only to see them drop dramatically down as people moved on with their lives and spread out throughout the economy. LYNDON B. JOHNSON wasn't sold on calling up the NATIONAL GUARD and the ARMY RESERVE during VIETNAM, as he thought (correctly) that such wouldnt garner public support because those institutions were filled with more connected, career-driven sons and daughters of the establishment. utilizing such forces would inevitably invite criticism, so instead instituted a draft that swelled the ranks of the army with the less connected and less fortunate of society. in pursuing this unpopular war through the utilization of the draft, he effectively disentangled the military from the population. by skirting criticism and not seeking shared consensus and commitment from all AMERICANS, he badly damaged the relationship of each to the other.
essentially after that break in society, every president has sought to minimize the political costs of war without exception. RONALD REAGAN dramatically increased the budget to astronomical heights utilizing fear PLAN B-generated fear tactics during the COLD WAR. it has never decreased in any meaningful manner since. REAGAN also famously attempted to privatize foreign policy with his failed efforts to illegally arm the CONTRAS in NICARAGUA through profits from selling arms vis-a-vis the ISRAELIS to IRAN. this mistake nearly cost him his presidency, but subsequent presidents beginning with GEORGE H. W. BUSH made the privatization of the military into an immensely profitable cottage industry that effectively rendered the BOSNIAN and KOSOVAN efforts under BILL CLINTON and drone attacks in WAZIRISTAN under BARACK OBAMA viable.
basically if you divorce our foreign excursions from any real economic or visible costs or consequences to most AMERICANS, then you can have never-ending conflict ad infinitum. which is basically where we stand now. past efforts to reign in control over financing by CONGRESS (WAR POWERS ACT OF 1973) or military brass policy (THE ABRAMS DOCTRINE) are essentially mute at this point in time.
its a quite a petrifying scenario that is likely to continue unabated, since no executive is likely to agree to limit their own power. it is a circumstance our founding fathers feared come to fruition. this was a thoughtful, well-constructed book that made it harder to sleep at night.
regarding her writing style:
i always thought it was interesting how she structured her cable show in that she utilized a storytelling technique in which she introduced the subject of her narrative, usually in the second act of a three act plot. for television this is curious since it presumes that the audience has the patience to stay with you long enough to learn that key piece of information. cable news is notorious for satiating ever shortening public attention spans, which makes such a decision interesting. of course, i think the reason she chose this was to emphasize the specific details of her tale and the broader implications of such without being weighed down by our conditioned reactions to names and faces. again, its a technique she has honed since her show began in 2008. on television it is a bit cumbersome and longwinded but within an extended format such as a book it is perfectly suited for maximum effect, especially since she covers such entrenched topics as NATIONAL SECURITY, FOREIGN POLICY and evolving procedures regarding decisions the legal authorization of MILITARY FORCE. this technique allows her to go after the evolution of said topics without getting bogged down in the inherited hazardous debris of past official propaganda, cultural divides and controversial figures. she is able to see the forest and not the trees, which benefits the reader in understanding scope and context immensely.