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Book Review - Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power
April 6, 2012
by Monica Soto

Click For Full Size This book is an engaging and intelligent read about the questions many people have about the U.S. military’s decisions and actions in recent years. Rachel Maddow seeks to understand why American society as a whole has become less emotionally invested in ongoing war. Have our recent wars directly affected civilian life? It doesn’t seem so.

Maddow herself is impressed by soldiers and their work, and she is supportive. But she understands that the separation between civilian life and the military affects soldiers, to the point that they essentially no longer fight for the American people. Instead, they fight for themselves.

Maddow, the openly lesbian host of The Rachel Maddow Show on MSNBC, is known for her political commentary. She is witty, smart and funny. She usually speaks about serious topics, but in a way that entertains as well as teaches. This holds true for her book, too, as Maddow turns her attention to a somehow largely unknown topic and does a great job
of explaining.

Reading this book makes it clear how much we don’t know about our own military. High-ranking power brokers and questionable situations have forced many Americans, including Maddow, to really wonder what is going on here. There is always much more meat to a story than the barebones headlines that bombard us daily. The situations are complex, which makes them hard to talk about. This important topic needs a whole book.

Maddow is liberal to the core, and that may dissuade those with more conservative views from reading the book. But although stark judgment of the military is seen as largely liberal, this book and the information it provides is bipartisan. The overall state of the military and the American people’s opinions about the military are not the fault of one person, one party, or a single situation. Rather, they result from a complicated timeline of events stretching further back than most people
think about.

Most often, Maddow says, the decisions that were made were attempts to make civilians feel war less and less and to make Americans not hate war so much. This is so that war could be waged without a negative public outcry, like that seen during the Vietnam War. The unfortunate truth is that we have grown content with the country being in a perpetual state
of war.

People often ask how the United States went from holding to the ideals of its founders to what is seen today. How did we “drift” from that early militaristic ideal of civilians being directly involved in war to the situation now, where war is barely felt by the people at home? Although Maddow goes back to the beginnings of U.S. military history to find answers, she focuses largely on the last several decades — from the complications of the Vietnam War to the Cold War, wars in recent years, and those important tidbits in between.

Maddow certainly brings politics into the discussion. But she doesn’t fail to add that media marketing and pop culture also helped mold public opinion and shape important decisions. This is particularly true for people like politicians, who needed public opinion to support their decisions. Along the way, Maddow even includes topics like Ronald Reagan’s acting career, G.I. Joe dolls, Top Gun, Star Wars, and John Travolta. Media has a lot to do with the big picture. Leaving that out of the discussion would paint an inaccurate picture of civilian response to political and military decisions.

My brother is a Marine, now stationed in Afghanistan. So for me, reading an argument like this can be hard, but I completely agree with Maddow. She hopes that the disconnect between the military and civilian life can be repaired. It shouldn’t be ignored, and Maddow provides a well-thought-out unveiling of this complicated issue.

Appearing in Kansas City

“A Conversation with Rachel Maddow” will be at 2 p.m. Sunday, April 22, at the Uptown Theater, 3700 Broadway, Kansas City, Mo. Maddow will be talking with Vivien Jennings, founder and president of Rainy Day Books. Tickets are $35, and the price includes an autographed hardcover copy of Maddow’s book Drift. A limited number of VIP reserved seats are available. Details at www.MainStreamCoalition.org.
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