A blistering critique of the gulf between America’s soldiers and the society that sends them off to war, from the best-selling author of The Limits of Power and Washington Rules.
The United States has been "at war" for more than a decade. Yet as war has become normalized, a yawning gap has opened between America’s soldiers and the society in whose name they fight. For ordinary citizens, as former secretary of defense Robert Gates has acknowledged, armed conflict has become an "abstraction" and military service "something for other people to do".
In Breach of Trust, best-selling author Andrew Bacevich takes stock of the separation between Americans and their military, tracing its origins to the Vietnam era and exploring its pernicious implications: a nation with an abiding appetite for war waged at enormous expense by a standing army demonstrably unable to achieve victory. Among the collateral casualties are values once considered central to democratic practice, including the principle that responsibility for defending the country should rest with its citizens.
Citing figures as diverse as the martyr-theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the marine-turned-anti-warrior Smedley Butler, Breach of Trust summons Americans to restore that principle. Rather than something for "other people" to do, national defense should become the business of "we the people". Should Americans refuse to shoulder this responsibility, Bacevich warns, the prospect of endless war, waged by a "foreign legion" of professionals and contractor-mercenaries, beckons. So, too, does bankruptcy - moral as well as fiscal.
©2013 Andrew J. Bacevich (P)2013 Macmillan Audio
But I write for myself, for my own pleasure. And I want to be left alone to do it. - J.D. Salinger ^(;,;)^
Andrew Bacevich follows up on the threads he started with 'The Limits of Power' and 'Washington Rules'. In this book he explores how the post-Vietnam transformation of the military from a citizen-soldier force to an all-volunteer force has come with many unintended (but not necessarily unseen) costs. Not the least of which is the expansion of long almost perpetual wars and a limited exposure of the real cost of wars to either the politicians or general population of our country.
The last letter I received from my older brother (an Army helicopter pilot who served twice in Iraq and twice in Afghanistan) dealt with the idea of reconstituting the draft. While Bacevich doesn't actually recommend the draft, he does think a conversation about national service and the draft would be useful. We have reached a point where our nation's imperial impulses have grown dangerous, while at the same time, we have relegated the cost to either future generations (the lat two major wars were all fought with debt) and a small cadre of professional warriors (less than 1% of our nation's population). If we have no skin (financial or physical) in the game, we are more likely to allow our leaders to continue to push us into perpetual war.
I've long admired Bacevich since I read his The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism. Politically speaking, we are almost at opposite poles, but perhaps they are opposite poles of an honest, ethical conversation. Bacevich is a West Point graduate, has been a serving officer and holds a PhD in American Diplomatic History from Princeton University. He lost his son in 2008 in Iraq.
Breach of Trust takes a very thorough and deeply critical look at the evolution of America's professional (as opposed to a conscripted) military. From its inception after the Vietnam war to the present, he examines who has benefited from its evolution, how it has shaped the rise of the industrial military complex, fed and grown a voracious bureaucracy and enabled disastrous foreign policies and defense strategies.
The book takes acidic aim at a population that pays only superficial lip-service to 'honoring' those who serve, while demanding the right to sacrifice nothing and continuing to consume with relish while lives are wasted on foreign adventurism that is not only unsuccessful, but does little if nothing to ensure the security of the US.
It is essential reading for any American who truly cares about their culture, their democracy and principles of fairness. Its implications stretch far beyond the constitution of a military and address questions of what it means to be a citizen - its benefits and its responsibilities.
By necessity it covers certain parts of history in depth in order to build the author's arguments. When he offers examples to illustrate his point, he doesn't settle at one - he lists many - and because of this, there is a certain tone of academic writing to the text. This does make for dense, but it is all the more rewarding and persuasive for it.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book but, I must admit, I already new much of the history he points out. I was a little surprised he did not go into more detail about how the American public has forgotten about the military while, at the same time, use the military as political fodder. Perhaps it is because the general public does not want to be actively involved in any form so the bumper sticker is enough to satisfy their collective conscience.
Very, very important.
Andrew Bacevich continues to address, compellingly, America’s ossified and constrained approach to foreign policy and military policy since WWII. He clearly chronicles the errors in thinking and strategic mis-understanding that have caused so many problems, so much needless cost and so many needless deaths with so little productive gain in security. He is a dynamic analyst and is given particular insight given he was a career officer and West Point graduate. It is rare but not singular that a military person can escape the usual military perspective and see the larger picture as he does. He names names instead of making generalized references so we get to see the actors (generals, politicians and others) more closely for who they are and what they did.
Further he identifies officers who, like him took seriously the duty to see the military role as part of the diplomatic and peace seeking function for the nation not just for its own survival and self justification. Many do not realize that West Point teaches, not just military mastery but statesmanship as well (perhaps more directly than other ivy league schools).
The narrator while not bad lacked the necessary dynamic delivery this book needs. His narration was not without inflection but I had a sense that nearly every paragraph was read with the same emphasis, a mistake in my view. I found myself wishing the author were reading it as I’ve head him in interviews and think he would be better.
The known corruption that took place in so many ways in the Iraq war with nothing, nothing ever done about it.
I’d recommend the book to anyone but perhaps to read instead but it’s important enough to listen to in any case.
Not better than print, but equal to.
Should be mandatory reading for every high school civics class.
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