Thursday, July 12, 2012

Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power, by Rachel Maddow

Crown Publishing Group, ISBN 9780307460981, March 2012

This isn't a perfect book, but it's an important one. Maddow covers some important history that we've largely lost track of: all the effort that the Founders went through to make it hard for us to go to war.

The Founders recognized the attractions of war for the executive, and that if it was easy for one person to commit the country to war, the temptation to do so would be powerful. You can't make war by committee, and command of the armed forces was vested in the executive--but the power of declaring war, as well as funding it, was vested in Congress. They also had a strong bias against a standing army, on the grounds that an available army will be used. That bias became a part of our political culture. Each war required enough popular support that Congress would declare war, and Americans would enlist in the armed forces in large numbers to fight that war.

What this book is mainly about is how that changed, and the terrible consequences it has had. The power to make war is now almost wholly disconnected from the forces put in place to restrain it. It is no longer necessary to get Congress to declare war first, and it is not necessary to have enough public support that the reserves can be mobilized, volunteers recruited, large numbers of civilians drafted. Making war makes no impact on our daily lives.

Maddow gives us an insightful analysis of how this happened, the often well-intended decisions that  helped us along the path, and the failed efforts to stop it. And in the end, some suggestions for fixing it.

It's written in Maddow's characteristic voice, and that's sometimes a little too light and flip for the topic. This will bother some readers more than others. It's still a lucid, well-written, thoughtful book, and well worth reading.


Book trailer:

I bought this book.

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