Tonawanda News — Those who watch her nightly demolition of the political right wing on cable television would assume Rachel Maddow could write a good book. What may be unexpected about her book “Drift” is that it is not a product ancillary to her celebrity, a souvenir print version of her program aimed at fans who already agree with her.
Subtitled “The Unmooring of American Military Power,” the book offers commentary, after a uniquely Maddow-like smart-alecky review of facts, about the way the United States goes to war these days.
To wit: We go to war but never seem to raise taxes to pay for it. Unless you’re a soldier or a soldier’s relative, you have little stake in the matter. Although declaring war is the province of Congress, it’s the president who decides when, where and how long the war goes. In fact, this country doesn’t go to war anymore, it merely sends in the troops.
Presidential power has expanded as congressional power has withered, she says, and Maddow offers not complaints but a roadmap of its evolution, which leads away from decisions by Congress, in fact away from the citizenry. As waging war has become privatized and covert, the less Congress and the public know, the better.
The standard procedure for warfare these days, she argues, involves ignoring facts, ignoring the fact that the Constitution puts war in Congress’ hands, working to keep thoughts of war off Main Street U.S.A. (a reason the civilians in the National Guard, during the Vietnam era, knew they were not going overseas) and farming out as many combat-zone jobs as possible to private firms.
Thus do contractors do what warriors once did, armament builders and security companies prosper as a new war is always around the corner and Congress seems to be in the pockets of mysterious businessmen whose firms thrive in economic downturns.
“Going to war, being at war, should be painful for the entire country, from the start,” she argues.
These days it’s not, and with a military capable of pushing a button in Nevada to activate a drone aircraft in Afghanistan, war becomes increasingly remote-control, out of the citizenry’s line of sight and with little remorse or reflection once it begins.
The book, then, is not a liberal’s case against the Army, but a refreshing look at a turn of American history, how defending American soil turned into something else entirely. The Founding Fathers made it clear a standing army was to be suspected, and that war was genuinely a last resort, and to chart the upheaval of their intent, Maddow starts with Lyndon Johnson attempting to sneak a Vietnam buildup past Congress. Ronald Reagan doesn’t come off as a much of a leader, either, incidentally.
Her narrative is remarkably seductive and entertaining. Anyone who has seen her construct, then deconstruct, a news story on television will be accustomed to her methodology of presenting an argument. If a viewer appreciates her on-air snarkiness amid intellect, be assured it translates well to the page.
The book is not anti-war. It is anti-stupidity, anti-political denseness and remarkably pro-soldier (she points out “my generation of veterans” gives her hope for America’s capabilities to adapt and lead in the future). However one feels about Maddow the talking head, the book will come as a surprise.
Moreover, and fortunately, this is the work of a thoughtful, educated and blindingly astute American citizen writing her concerns about the modern use of military power. These days warfare is more of a technological exercise in search of some geopolitical advantage, and never a mutual effort to defend ourselves with that dreaded term “shared sacrifice.” Shared sacrifice is a guarantee you won’t be re-elected.
“Drift” is an informed addition to public debate, and you know how rare that sort of thing is. It is also surprisingly easy to digest and understand; credit the author’s ability to make a point with facts, logic and reason, then defend it lucidly, and only after that, toss in a few wisecracks.
is a Kenmore resident and can be contacted at EdinKenmore@gmail.com.