The sad thing is — more on this below — I know many will flat-out refuse. That’s a shame.
This important book, filled with insightful commentary and clear-eyed and highly readable prose, shows how the United States went from a country with a Constitution designed specifically to make going to war a very difficult process, to our present state of near-continuous fighting around the globe.
Not a spoiler alert, but the short answer is a series of presidents after Lyndon Johnson, from both parties, who found it easier and more satisfying to make war than to develop the economy, cure poverty and disease, or reform our education or healthcare systems. Johnson actually wanted to do those things, but he was tripped up by Cold War thinking that we needed to stand firm in Vietnam, and in so many ways that’s where it all started to go wrong.
But the Executive Branch alone does not deserve all the ire. A willing accomplice has been a Legislature populated by men and women more interested in being reelected than doing the tough duty of governing. This situation has often placed the military itself in the position of being the only group in Washington DC not interested in going to war. In fact, despite a period of time in which the military is held in nearly universal esteem by the public, military action is more remote from the general public than it has ever been.
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I was born in 1961 and enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1982, so anyone my age or older will quickly recognize many of the key events Maddow uses to illustrate her points — the Cold War, the Gulf of Tonkin, Grenada, Panama, the bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut, Desert Shield/Storm, Bosnia, Kosovo and our current conflicts in Southwest Asia.
For younger generations, much of “Drift” will be a history lesson, but unlike anything likely taught in school. Much of the information Maddow presents in “Drift” is available elsewhere, but she has put it together in one neat package, with the dots connected and easy to follow. Maddow writes with a light touch, making points and moving along to the next without bogging down. You’ll barely recognize the fact that you’re learning stuff.
While presenting her case, Maddow refuses to traffic in counterfactuals — there are no “this is where we would be IF ONLY…” axes ground. Instead, she shrewdly and resolutely sticks to the facts: what is the situation now and how did we get to this point. Her summary provides some ideas on how to move forward from this point, but again, does not dwell on the past. We can argue the merits of her ideas, most of which I agree with, but not the way she presents them.
Another impressive feature of Maddow’s book is her staunch refusal to take cheap shots, even at some ripe and easy targets for derision and ridicule like former-Vice President Cheney’s connection to Halliburton, the corporation making a ton of money providing logistic support services to the military, and the trumped-up reasons President George W. Bush used to invade Iraq. I admire her ability to stick to the points she’s trying to make, and not get bogged down in finger-pointing or name-calling.
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So why do I think this gem of a book will go unread by (too) many?
Maddow is a widely recognized Capital-L Liberal, and in the our highly polarized political landscape a certain segment of the population will dismiss anything coming from the “other side.” Although I know who she is, I’ve never watched her show on MSNBC and I don’t align myself with either liberal or conservative factions. I am interested in military issues, however, and it was that curiosity which led me to pick “Drift” up.
I’m glad I did, and I hope others will find the wherewithal to look past whichever side of the political spectrum they call home to read this book and think about the points Maddow makes. Is it possible for us to return to being a country where going to war requires deep study, discussion and if found to be worthy of our efforts, pain for everyone, not just those in uniform.