Audiobook: DRIFT by Rachel Maddow

I’ve been impressed by (and envious of) the number of audiobooks that Cass at Bonjour, Cass! listens to each month. Her most recent list of books motivated me to get back on the audiobook wagon that I’d fallen off a couple years ago after my commute time went down to a mere 10-15 minutes.

However, I recently started a new job at a library that’s about 30 minutes from my house and–how’s this for synchronicity–one of my duties is to process new audiobooks. Perfect! Now I’ll have a decent commute time during which to listen to put a dent into an audiobooks and I’ll also be up on new titles coming in.

The first book I listened to was Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power by Rachel Maddow. Drift has been on my radar since it came out and I recently started listening to the podcast of Maddow’s show, so I figured it would be a good choice with which to start my new audiobook habit.

From the publisher: “One of my favorite ideas is, never to keep an unnecessary soldier,” Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1792. Neither Jefferson nor the other Found­ers could ever have envisioned the modern national security state, with its tens of thousands of “privateers”; its bloated Department of Homeland Security; its rust­ing nuclear weapons, ill-maintained and difficult to dismantle; and its strange fascination with an unproven counterinsurgency doctrine. Written with bracing wit and intelligence, Rachel Maddow’s Drift argues that we’ve drifted away from America’s original ideals and become a nation weirdly at peace with perpetual war, with all the financial and human costs that entails. To understand how we’ve arrived at such a dangerous place, Maddow takes us from the Vietnam War to today’s war in Afghanistan, along the way exploring the disturbing rise of executive authority, the gradual outsourcing of our war-making capabilities to private companies, the plummeting percentage of American families whose children fight our constant wars for us, and even the changing fortunes of G.I. Joe. She offers up a fresh, unsparing appraisal of Reagan’s radical presidency. Ultimately, she shows us just how much we stand to lose by allowing the priorities of the national security state to overpower our political discourse. Sensible yet provocative, dead serious yet seri­ously funny, Drift will reinvigorate a “loud and jangly” political debate about how, when, and where to apply America’s strength and power–and who gets to make those decisions.

From past experience I know it’s not always a good thing when authors read their own work, but as anyone whose ever watched Maddow’s show knows, the woman does not mince words. She speaks quickly, but clearly and has great inflection. And, of course, she’s intelligent and entertaining which makes this a pleasure to listen to. Did you know she has a Ph.D. in politics from Oxford?

And what she has to say in Drift is great as well. Scary, but great. I was especially worried by the sections covering our aging nuclear weapon program–how lackadaisical the attitudes of some of those who guard, maintain, and transport these weapons have become, as well has how much money is still sunk into the program. And would you believe that back when these weapons were developed no one wrote down instructions on how to create some of the components and our current engineers and scientists can’t replicate some of the technology? Doesn’t that blow your mind? We don’t even know how these weapons will age: its still a big chemistry experiment.

But the main idea of the book is how the powers of war making have gradually been shifted from the congress to the president and lack of accountability this has created. The Founding Fathers intended for it to be hard to wage war and they certainly understood the risks inherent in allowing one man to have the power to initiate and execute his own war, but this is exactly what’s happened. Instead of there being public debates and debates in congress, we now have an America public who generally feels no pain during war time and a congress that isn’t doing its job. There’s no real debate about the current or recent wars, a huge & secret anti-terrorist industry has sprouted, and oversight of private contractors is sketchy.

Administrations from Johnson to Obama are covered, with the most time given to Regan and his military actions against communist states. It’s amazing that he wasn’t impeached. It’s also surprising how much Clinton and Obama have contributed to the problems Maddow explores. The only president who gets a thumbs up for working with congress is George W.H. Bush.

Maddow offers an outline of some solutions and one of them is to bring back the draft which would re-engage the American public and force the congress to debate war and military action as well as relieve the burden of the too small number of troops that have faced non-stop war for over 10 years. I agree with her on this. If a war is worth fighting it needs to be debated by the public and the congress. If there were a regular draft again, wars would not be so easily started nor (I think) would they last as long.

In a nutshell, war has become too easy for the president to wage and the monetary cost has drained our country as well as caused us to neglect just about everything else we should be concerned about like our economy, infrastructure, and education to name a few of the biggies.

In short, war needs to be hard. Hard to start, hard to maintain, but easy to stop. At this time, we’ve got it all backwards: easy to start, easy to maintain, but hard to stop. This is an important book and one I hope many Americans will read (or listen to) because this is stuff we should all be learning, thinking, and talking about.

Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power
By Rachel Maddow
Read by the author
Random House Audio, March 27, 2012
Source: library copy


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