From Gary J. Bass’s review of America’s Path to Permanent War by Andrew J. Bacevich in the New York Times September 3, 2010:
“In 1947, Hanson W. Baldwin, the hawkish military correspondent of this newspaper, warned that the demands of preparing America for a possible war would “wrench and distort and twist the body politic and the body economic . . . prior to war.” He wondered whether America could confront the Soviet Union “without becoming a ‘garrison state’ and destroying the very qualities and virtues and principles we originally set about to save.”
No critic of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan could have brighter conservative credentials. He is a blunt-talking Midwesterner, a West Point graduate who served for 23 years in the United States Army, a Vietnam veteran who retired as a colonel, and a sometime contributor to National Review.
Bacevich has two main targets in his sights. The first are the commissars of the national security establishment, who perpetuate these “Washington rules” of global dominance. By Washington, he means not just the federal government, but also a host of satraps who gain power, cash or prestige from this perpetual state of emergency: defense contractors, corporations, big banks, interest groups, think tanks, universities, television networks and The New York Times. He complains that an unthinking Washington consensus on global belligerence is just as strong among mainstream Democrats as among mainstream Republicans. Those who step outside this monolithic view, like Dennis Kucinich or Ron Paul, are quickly dismissed as crackpots, Bacevich says. This leaves no serious checks or balances against the overweening national security state.
Bacevich’s second target is the sleepwalking American public. He says that they notice foreign policy only in the depths of a disaster that, like Vietnam or Iraq, is too colossal to ignore. As he puts it, “The citizens of the United States have essentially forfeited any capacity to ask first-order questions about the fundamentals of national security policy.”
Bacevich is singularly withering on American public willingness to ignore those who do their fighting for them. He warns of “the evisceration of civic culture that results when a small praetorian guard shoulders the burden of waging perpetual war, while the great majority of citizens purport to revere its members, even as they ignore or profit from their service.” Here he has a particular right to be heard: on May 13, 2007, his son Andrew J. Bacevich Jr., an Army first lieutenant, was killed on combat patrol in Iraq. Bacevich does not discuss his tragic loss here, but wrote devastatingly about it at the time in The Washington Post: “Memorial Day orators will say that a G.I.’s life is priceless. Don’t believe it. I know what value the U.S. government assigns to a soldier’s life: I’ve been handed the check.
Bacevich is less interested in foreign policy here (he offers only cursory remarks about the objectives and capabilities of countries like China, Russia, North Korea and Iran) than in the way he thinks militarism has corrupted America.” (My emphasis.)
National security abuses committed during the Vietnam war were exposed, debated and legislation was passed to correct for them in the future as a result of the Church Committee in the Senate and the Pike Committee in the House. The corruption of our values in the war and those we learned about that were developed in the years intervening to the present day were largely seen as a result of well-intentioned but unreflective policy-makers. Oliver North was seen by many as having lied to Congress through some misunderstanding on his part of what it really meant to be a patriot. Admiral Poindexter could later propose a program intruding on people not suspected of anything through an excess of zeal, not as a member of any broadly-held anti-constitutional set of policy sentiments.
1. Know how hollow were the reasons posed for justifying our going to war in Iraq,
2. Know the Attorney General (Gonzales) was willing to stonewall Congressional inquiries about national security and torture,
3. Read the occasional accounts of the comments and behavior of the vice-president and of his chief of staff in support of a close to omnipotent executive,
4. Heard Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz say that the presence of Weapons of Mass Destruction in Saddam’s control was almost cavalierly adopted as a justification for war,
5. Saw the Pentagon take on more and more intelligence functions,
6. Noticed that after the first appointee, only military men have been chosen to be Director of National Intelligence,
7. Learned that the Obama administration is prepared to support the assassination of an American citizen wherever he may be without any judicial process or determination of his posing an imminent threat.
8. Have seen that the TSA just adds more costly screening devices to their processes, giving little sense that they actually have a strategy in mind for public safety. Then they implement their procedures in an often thoroughly public-alienating manner. How much of a sign of growing public concern should it be (it does not appear to be any) to the authorities that much of this is now commonly referred to as Security Theatre?
9. Know the government will work with newspapers to redact the names of those who might suffer retaliation for cooperating the US before publication of WikiLeaks documents but it won’t work with WikiLeaks when offered that chance before publication. (It will also deny it was offered the chance until the documentary evidence to the contrary is produced and published.)
10. Hear the government speak of “blood on the hands” of WikiLeaks only later to acknowledge that there is as yet no reported incident of retaliation toward those whose names were included in the earlier large document dump.
I’ll stop here although there is more that could be adduced to support the conclusion that there are a large number of people in policy roles in our government who do not see the constitution as something to be preserved against the most challenging of threats but to be set aside in those times, as if our rights are to be upheld only when we do not need them.
Worse still is to see the number of Americans who seem to agree with that or at least, who do not want to be “confrontational” about it. (Do you notice how many people want to avoid confrontation at almost all costs, as a survey of New Yorkers suggests in pointing out that a majority of those surveyed agreed with the right of the Moslem group to build a center in downtown Manhattan within a few blocks of Ground Zero but a larger number thought they should decide not to do so to avoid offending those opposed to it?)
The US I grew up in was one in which one expected to defend, if called upon by circumstances, the nation and its values and the actions of the government were largely in support (with partisan variations across what now seems a narrow spectrum) of those values.
We never tested Hanson Baldwin’s 1947 suggestion of the consequences of war with the Soviet Union but we may be testing them now: Substitute war against radical jihadists.
“He wondered whether America could confront the Soviet Union “without becoming a ‘garrison state’ and destroying the very qualities and virtues and principles we originally set about to save.”