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Drift

Cover of Drift

Drift

The Unmooring of American Military Power
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The #1 New York Times bestseller that charts America's dangerous drift into a state of perpetual war.

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. 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 Reagan's radical presidency, 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. Ultimately, she shows us just how much we stand to lose by allowing the scope of American military power to overpower our political discourse.
Sensible yet provocative, dead serious yet seri­ously funny, Drift will reinvigorate a "loud and jangly" political debate about our vast and confounding national security state.

The #1 New York Times bestseller that charts America's dangerous drift into a state of perpetual war.

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. 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 Reagan's radical presidency, 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. Ultimately, she shows us just how much we stand to lose by allowing the scope of American military power to overpower our political discourse.
Sensible yet provocative, dead serious yet seri­ously funny, Drift will reinvigorate a "loud and jangly" political debate about our vast and confounding national security state.

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  • Chapter 1

    G.I. Joe, Ho Chi Minh, and the American Art of Fighting About Fighting

    thomas jefferson was a lifelong and habitual fretter. He was wary of animal foods, spirituous liquors, state religion, national debt, abolitionists, embittered slaves, unelected federal judges, Yankee politicians, Yankee professors, and Yankees in general. But his predominant and animating worry was the centralization and consolidation of power--in large banks, in closed and secret societies, and, most of all, in governments: the enemy within. "There are instruments so dangerous to the rights of the nation and which place them so totally at the mercy of their governors, that those governors, whether legislative or executive, should be restrained from keeping such instruments on foot, but in well-defined cases," Jefferson wrote as the Constitution of the United States was being debated. "Such an instrument is a standing army."

    His feelings didn't much change with time. In 1792 he wrote, "One of my favorite ideas is, never to keep an unnecessary soldier." In 1799 he wrote to a political friend that he was "not for a standing army in a time of peace, which may overwhelm public sentiment."

    Classicist that he was, Jefferson was apt to bolster his arguments with well-polished (if not strictly accurate) examples of early Western history: "The Greeks and Romans had no standing armies, yet they defended themselves.?.?.?. Their system was to make every man a soldier and oblige him to repair to the standard of his country whenever that was reared. This made them invincible; and the same remedy will make us so."

    That's at best a loose military history of Greece and Rome--they did rely at times on standing armies. But you see where he's going with this. Jefferson acted on his pet "unnecessary soldier" idea when he became president in 1801. He cut the standing army by a third and left the defense against foreign invasion largely to a "well-regulated militia" under the control of the various states and localities. And he remained unmoved by what he viewed as alarmist and cynical calls for a large nationalized active military. "Were armies to be raised whenever a speck of war is visible in our horizon," he warned Congress in his sixth annual presidential message, "we never should have been without them. Our resources would have been exhausted on dangers which never happened, instead of being reserved for what is really to take place."

    Jeffersonian prudence held sway in this country for a century and a half. The professional military was an institution of limited reach and power; in times of peace we kept the regulars busy building defense works and ports and bridges. Whenever we went to war in a big way, we went to war with citizen-soldiers; the small nucleus of an active-duty army swelled with militiamen, reservists, National Guardsmen, enlisted persons, and draftees. When the United States went to war, the entire United States went to war. And no nation's military demobilized with such verve and velocity when the fighting was over. Hell, volunteers on the battlefields were legally separating themselves from the US Army while the Mexican War still raged in 1847. The War of 1812, the Creek War, the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, they were all the same: the clarion call to duty, the citizens' eager answer, the victory parades (having picked our fights judiciously, we were, by the mid-twentieth century, something like 9--0), and the return to home and hearth. Within eighteen months of the conclusion of World War I, Congress had completely dismantled the American Expeditionary Forces and reduced the active-duty military from four million soldiers back to the prewar number of less than...

About the Author-
  • Rachel Maddow has hosted the Emmy Award--winning Rachel Maddow Show on MSNBC since 2008. Before that, she was at Air America Radio for the duration of that underappreciated enterprise. She has a doctorate in politics from Oxford and a bachelor's degree in public policy from Stanford. She lives in rural western Massachusetts and New York City with her partner, artist Susan Mikula, and an enormous dog.

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