For the last three days I have been utterly engrossed in Dr. Rachel Maddow’s new book, Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power. Even when I was not physically reading the book, the ideas it contains consumed my thoughts; it was very difficult for me to actually think about anything else. Drift deftly chronicles how the military industrial complex was allowed to consume our nation, and also explains just what we can all do to help realign our country’s priorities back to the vision espoused by our founding fathers.
Thomas Jefferson did not want a standing army. He feared if the United States had a permanent military force, that we would be too tempted to use it, and indeed it appears that his fears were well founded. On page ten of her book, Maddow explains that in Jefferson’s sixth annual presidential message he gave this prescient warning to Congress:
“Were armies to be raised whenever a speck of war is visible in our horizon, we never should have been without them. Our resources would have been exhausted on dangers which never happened, instead of being reserved for what is really to take place.”
Drift clearly illustrates how our nation has hocked the American Dream for a permanent war economy. War has strangely become normalized, as well as far removed from the day to day reality in most of our lives. Instead of suffering when our country goes to war, raising taxes, buying war bonds, coping with the grief of losing loved ones, and patriotically conserving valuable resources, war has now become a compartmentalized “other” — far removed from our lives, thoughts and daily existence.
Rachel extensively researches just where we went wrong in exquisite, and sometimes painful detail. As I was reading through some newly declassified minutes from one of Reagan’s clandestine meetings during the the Iran-Contra scandal, I nearly threw up. Attorney General Meese repeatedly admits that what they are plotting are impeachable offenses; everyone clearly knew that selling weapons to Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini was treason, but they blindly blustered ahead with their heinous and arrogant crimes regardless.
My weekend was spent contemplating the expansion of presidential power, looking up details referenced, and sifting through my own memories of the historical events that Maddow so vividly relates. Rachel frequently references cultural icons, like GI Joe and military recruitment commercials, to reflect how our society’s attitude toward war has shifted over time. When one considers how testosterone laden recruitment ads are these days, this John Travolta Army commercial from 1973 seems rather quaint:
Maddow’s writing is brutal and honest, fair and unforgiving. Her last chapter also offers genuine hope for the new path that our nation can forge out of our military and economic quagmire; because investing in permanent war and over 700 military bases abroad has come at a tremendous cost for the United States. Our infrastructure, social safety net and education systems are all crumbling — this has got to change.
The cost of war extends far beyond monetary expenditures — it infects every part of us, whether we are aware of the damage or not. Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power sickened me, but also inspired me to work harder to return our country to its roots, and reclaim the values of our founding fathers. We can end war if we take the profit out of it. And speaking of war profiteers, did I mention that Drift is dedicated to Dick Cheney?
The theme of Rachel’s book, as well as the many specific visceral historic details which it contains, inspired me to search out this speech given by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at Riverside Church in New York City. Here is a brief excerpt from his eloquent and powerful “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence” address given on April 4th, 1967:
“A true revolution of values will lay hand on the world order and say of war, ‘This way of settling differences is not just.’ This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation’s homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into the veins of peoples normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice, and love. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.
America, the richest and most powerful nation in the world, can well lead the way in this revolution of values. There is nothing except a tragic death wish to prevent us from reordering our priorities so that the pursuit of peace will take precedence over the pursuit of war. There is nothing to keep us from molding a recalcitrant status quo with bruised hands until we have fashioned it into a brotherhood.”
Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power will be released on March 27th, 2012