on March 27, 2012
Ms. Maddow, a Rhodes Scholar and liberal MSNBC Talk Show host, has provocatively tapped into a rich vein of public debate pointing to what in recent years has come to be known as "normalized governmental corruption," involving the "mother" of all corrupt organizations, the military industrial (and now National Security) complex.
This is an issue that none other than the illustrious solid Five Star Republican General, Dwight D. Eisenhower warned us about in his Farwell Address more than a half century ago. The reader may recall that in one of Ike's most solemn speeches as he was leaving office, he said in part that:
" ... In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together."
The author of this book takes a politically balanced point of view, since it is clearly the case that all sides of the political spectrum have been caught "slopping" at the same government trough. Carefully researched but with a hint of "lightness and humor" that can sometimes be "off-putting" -- betraying a lack of seriousness -- she nevertheless hones in on several interrelated themes:
(1) that the military-industrial complex has drifted away from the ideals of the nation into the realm of perpetual war for the sake of war (spelled for the sake of profits);
(2) that wars are fought by soldiers who today are more like mercenaries, since they fight along side and on an equal footing with heavily funded military contractors, to whom our wars are now often being "outsourced to;" and
(3) that the burdens of fighting our wars is not shared equally, with the poor families of our voluntary army carrying the lion's share of the load.
I was mildly disappointed in the fact that the author seemed not to have closed the circle between her thesis about our "changed way of war" and its connection to our political authorities' larger attempt to "privatize everything" in our society? Otherwise she undoubtedly would not have missed that the single link in the chain that connects them are:
(1) the wide-scale corruption of our political process by weak sycophantic politicians,
(2) the missing predicates that places all the responsibility on us that is mentioned in the penultimate line of Eisenhower's Farewell address.
To wit: that "only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together."
That we as a citizenry have fallen down on the job since Ike's warning, seems all but self-evident now, and in itself is shameful. However, the point I think Ms. Maddow has missed is just how prescient General Eisenhower really was: Since his warning, this cancer has spread from the security industrial complex, to the Wall Street cabal, to the prison-industrial complex, to the medical, drug and Pharmaceutical-industrial complex; and will soon be moving on to the health and education industrial complex. In a short time nothing will be left that has not been turned into a globalized profit center, including every individual American?
Once our democracy has been completely strangled by mindless and immoral profitmaking privatizers, we will of course by then have reached the point of no return, far down the road to fascism. And make no mistake about it the potential for sliding into Fascism was exactly what General Eisenhower was warning us about.
These disingenuous attempts by "raiders of democracy for fun and profit" in order to place major aspects of our national functions under the complete control of some form of profitmaking enterprises, and then acting as if this is a patriotic act, have in the process neutered our democracy, outsourced our jobs, stripped away what is left of the social safety net, and rendered our nation infinitely more insecure both socially and militarily. That is precisely why those who are anxious for commercial enterprises to take over every function of our government and every aspect of our democratic freedoms, are also the ones quickest to assail the very government upon whose largesse they depend? They want no controls, no responsibilities and no obligations except to their stockholders' bottom line. But saddest of all, Ike would be considered a "flaming liberal" on today' severely "right-shifted" political spectrum. Three stars
on June 1, 2012
This book is a study of how America drifted into a position where it is easy to go to war. The author, Rachel Maddow, analyzes military events over the past few decades. Specifically, she examines Vietnam, Grenada, Iran Contra, the Balkans War, and Desert Storm. This book, however, has a liberal bias. Any reader with a liberal viewpoint will love this book. Likewise, any reader with a conservative outlook will hate it.
Unfortunately, the book lacks a bibliography. This would have allowed the reader to check some of the facts. That said, the book does contain a section on the research for each chapter. This section shows where some of the facts might be verified. The acknowledgment section also makes reference to a "fact checker." Taken together, the reader can assume that the events noted in the book are at least somewhat accurate.
For example, the author claimed that the British were not given prior notice of the invasion of Granada. The operation was kept secret despite the fact that Granada was part of the British Commonwealth. Although this may be true, there is insufficient documentation to support an assertion that seems incredible given the close relationship between President Regan and Prime Minister Thatcher.
Later in the book, the author makes an interpretation based on a lack of evidence. On pages 104-105, the author asserts that President Reagan maintained complete secrecy in the Iranian "arms for hostages" initiative. Reagan was so secretive, that he kept this information out of his personal diary. Subsequently, Reagan claimed ignorance of the entire affair. The author implies that Reagan knew about the deal but that he deliberately kept any information out of his diary. An equally valid assumption was that the diary lacked any information because Reagan really did not know about the initiative. Put simply, the author made an interpretation that was unsupported by the facts noted in the book.
Ms. Maddow has a humorous writing style and the book is an easy read. She makes her point quickly and the thesis of each chapter is easily understood. Bottom line: every reader will enjoy the sarcasm and wit, regardless of their political viewpoint. If viewed objectively, the reader should find that the overall analysis has merit, even if some interpretations are either questionable or inadequately supported.
on May 30, 2012
As with rival (and intellectual inferior) Bill O'Reilly, the fact that Maddow's book landed instantly on the best-seller list owes more to celebrity than content. Like its author, the book is erudite, whimsical, and sincere. But it is more a treatise than a book. Given the premise, it could, and should, have been a longer and more scholarly work.
In examining America's errant militarism from Vietnam to the present, Maddow provides a succinct if incongruous summary of America's war machine from the eye of an attentive Gen-X-er, and makes a cogent argument for radical reassessment. But given how politicians attain and retain office, it seems the chances for reform are as dismal as all our other needed reforms - campaign finance, for example. Unless all Americans (those who vote, anyway) are as engaged and informed as Ms. Maddow, it seems unlikely to happen, because the real "drift" is from democracy and a republic to oligarchy and a plutocracy. Maddow's observations are symptoms, albeit enormously consequential ones, of an even larger dilemma.
Maddow's wide attention span and busy schedule make it unlikely she will become a regular author; columnist would be more her style. But anyone who has followed her cable tv show knows she will be a major policy player for the rest of her life, whether as a commentator or in higher pursuits, such as political office. If only we could populate our Congress and other institutions with her caliber of candor, knowledge, and integrity. Truman, Ike, Senators Paul Simon, Sam Nunn et al... where are today's statesmen (and women)? At least Ms. Maddow is well on her way, and will inspire many to follow.
on April 13, 2013
I'm working my way through the book. I'm about two thirds through. The information is good and the style is low-impact, so I keep reading every few days. The problem or the feature, different people will have different perceptions, is that the style differs from most political history books. It is softer and, despite being focused, seems less focused. It's almost like being on a large and somewhat dreary landscape and proceeding through it at a snails pace. Other writers are more efficient in their prose and, well, cut to the chase more succinctly. The content of the book, which, after all, is the whole point, the content is excellent. I'd like that content in 50s and 100s instead of 5s and 10s.
on November 22, 2013
I like Ms. Maddow and was expecting more. This book revealed nothing to me that was previously not known. Seemed like a rather shallow recap of what has been happening over the years. Maybe I missed something? Where was her in-depth analysis of the why?
on July 26, 2013
Not a light read, but a page turner. I was thrilled with the level of detail and supporting documentation for each argument made. Instead of bluster, Rachel uses detailed accounts from historical sources, recent diaries and speeches alike.
on June 1, 2012
Maddow addresses some very legitimate concerns regarding the US military. Its costs, use of the Reserve Component, the role of Congress, as well as the newer realm of where such things as presidential-ordered attacks via pilotless drones and contractors fit in the mix, all require some serious attention and she is the only voice I've heard addressing these particular issues.
Most of her writing is excellent--even if I didn't agree with all of her conclusions--and she makes a decent case in many of her chapters. She cites a Congress shirking its responsibilities, an executive branch seeking more and more power since the Watergate era, and the massive expansion of contractors in war zones. And while she doesn't go out of her way to give an atta-boy to Republicans, her tone throughout (with the exception of the occasional humorous jab) is much less partisan that one would expect. Like Bernard Goldberg's concern regarding media bias, she acknowledges that it is not a conspiracy (as some have labeled the so-called Military Industrial Complex) but seems to be more laziness, group think, or just plain old incompetence which misdirects the military. And she blames Bill Clinton as much as Ronald Reagan for the drift away from using soldiers in the right way, further defusing those who will think her television personality has crept into her book writing.
Maddow cites Jefferson's distrust of large standing armies (and, to her credit, also his misperception that the Romans and Greeks did without them). At times Maddow sounds like a Tea Party conservative, lamenting the governmental waste, most recently in funding the Global War on Terror (GWOT) which is, incidentally, natural by-product of *any* government spending, not just the military and security arenas.
But the book lacks focus. While it ostensibly about how the military has lost its way, the chapters switch back and forth on subject without a natural flow. The final chapter on nuclear munitions felt like it could have been a section, rather than an entire chapter, used to show the problems with upkeep of nuclear arsenals. At times throughout, I had to keep asking myself what point she was making. Her brief review of Operation Urgent Fury (Invasion of Grenada) is an interesting collection of stories and an inside look at Reagan's rationale, but it seemed more a record of a less-than-perfectly-executed military operation than a critique on any particular aspect of military leadership, particularly in the policy arena. Also, it seemed to serve as a way to chip away at Reagan, which she seems to harp on.
In fact she continues to snip at Reagan throughout the book, citing Edmund Morris's criticism as his "most sympathetic biographer" (while technically and probably true, the man wrote an odd memoir and admitted he didn't understand the former president), blaming him for most of the current spending and wayward military policy, and cannot bring herself to leave the odd compliment alone when she mentions his "remarkable grace" following his near-assassination and then follows it up with "at least according to the...public relations officers." Here her critique of Reagan gets tediously distracting and only opens her up to criticism as a partisan.
While Maddow draws deserved attention to the relatively newer phenomenon of using civilian contractors to do work previously done by military personnel, she seems to have much more concern with the fact that large companies make money at this enterprise rather than whether it is needed, effective, or what the legal ramifications are.
What undermines her argument most is her lack of context. It's no what she says, it's what she leaves out. So when she mentions the massive deficits run up by Reagan (and correctly so), she fails to compare it to the deficits of Bush and Obama. Nor does she mention the rationale for that spending, from Soviet aggression in Afghanistan, the Communist takeover of Indochina, to even 9/11.
A few things she gets downright wrong. She appears to consider counterinsurgency (COIN) operations a new invention, thanks to David Petraeus and believes our conduct in fighting Vietnam was unlike any other war we've fought. In fact, the US military has conducted COIN its entire existence, Petraeus's rewrite is just the dusting off of the doctrine recorded up until Vietnam. She should know that big conventional wars are the exception, not the rule. And she seems unaware that the Army Reserve is barely 100 years old.
Finally, while Ms Maddow includes some notes on her sources at the back of the book, there is not a footnote or end note anywhere to be found, so we must either read her sources or trust in her interpretation of them.
Like any good critic, Maddow concludes her criticism with her recommendations. Ultimately, I agree with 2/3 of her recommendations. However, I cannot say, in all honesty, that she makes the case for those problems and solutions in the book.
on December 24, 2013
Reads like a junior college essay, that's not a negative comment just an opinion of how it flows. This book is obviously biased, which if you expected anything different you're ether naive or ignorant. This is an opinion pice from an opinion talk show host. I don't consider her or Bill O'Riley to be strictly news sources and their respected books fallow the same line. Could of used a bit more facts and evidence to support the arguments but it contains no gross errors.
Gets three stars for bringing an otherwise overlooked topic of shifting powers in the American government into a mainstream format, and for a fresh perspective on the topic.
on April 27, 2012
Rachael Maddow has accomplished a very rare thing. Most people have difficulty looking in a mirrorDrift: The Unmooring of American Military Powerand coming up with an accurate true generazilation of themselves. However, she did much more than that. She looked at her country and came up with a generalization that is true and frightening. The military and related components, CIA, NSA, Homeland Security all require more and more of valuable limited resources. In recent times we have gone to war to easily and to quickly and we conduct business as usual at home. Rachael Maddow's realization and understanding of this is the unique wake-up call she brings to all of us. How we as a nation reached this point is my point of disagreement with aspects of the book. Certainly our recent republican presidents have been in office when much of this happened. But to hold 5 or 6 people solely responsible for all of this is to simple of an answer.
on April 14, 2012
I was reading a book called "Only Conservatives Are In Their Right Minds" by David Fisher and recommended it on my Facebook account. My Aunt saw my post and recommended that I read Rachel's book. I read it and have to say that this is a very important topic. She presents many quotes and reasoned arguments to support her position.
I have heard rumblings about the privatization of our military, but didn't realize how far it had gone and how far we had gone as a country from what the constitution and the founding fathers had in mind in this area. I have been focusing on all of the money being wasted on other government programs that the founding fathers would abhor (and warned us about). The military was in the back of my mind. This book brought it to the front.
The one down side to this book and the reason that I gave it only 3 stars is that Rachel makes the same mistake that most political writers make. In spite of her trying to be even about the topic she puts a liberal slant and throws in those comments and jibes that prove it.
This is ok, however, if you are willing to read beyond that and get to the substance. That is why I gave it 3 stars instead of 1. I consider myself to be a conservative and get the feeling that Rachel is more of a liberal and yet I gave the book 3 stars because the topic is important and we need to deal with this.
A similar thing is true of Dave's book mentioned above. His approach is not so much reasoned as passionate. In his book he is very angry about the state of things and says so. If you are willing to read past his anger and those same types of jibes that Rachel does in her book then you will find some very important and relevant points that he makes.
I recommend this book to anyone who wants to expand their knowledge with a caution that you have to get beyond the liberal slant that she tries to avoid, but can't help.