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John R. Turner
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Thoughts for January 13, 2019

Repeatedly Bacevich makes the point that war has become the main activity, for the average citizen, of displaying loyalty to the United States. Backing our military adventures is how one shows his, or her, supposed devotion to country. That’s because there is no more solid symbol of country than American men in soldier suits marching through foreign lands ready to destroy any forces that dare to get in their way. Or as Bacevich puts it:

Principled opposition to war ranks as a disqualifying condition, akin to once having belonged
to the Communist Party or the K.K.K.


Thoughts for January 12, 2019

Basevich, as much as any military historian I have read, is acutely aware of the ironic status of the American armed forces. They are widely accepted as being the most powerful soldiers in the world today, and perhaps more greatly superior to any potential foe than any other army has ever been. And yet, their condition doesn’t seem much to matter so far as diplomatic status exists. Here is how Basevich puts the case:

The acknowledged standing of the country’s military as the world’s best trained, best
equipped, and best led force coexisted uneasily with the fact that it proved unable to win.


Thoughts for January 11, 2019

Bacevich is one of the few analysts critical of the nation state who continues to be concerned with the national debt. For years the Republican Party harped about the spiraling debt, but when they held power the debt increased more rapidly than it did under the Democrats. The GOP seemed to think that debts incurred for military adventures didn’t really count. But Bacevich is aware that a huge debt forces spending in a single direction. It allows Republicans to scream state security and then spend money with no accounting for it. Bacevich reminds us what the numbers actually are:

The countless sums of money wasted -- few in Washington evince interest in tallying up
how much -- have contributed to the exploding size of the US national debt. It stood at
approximately $4 trillion when the Cold War ended, has risen to $20 trillion today, and
is projected to exceed $25 trillion by the end of the decade.


Thoughts for January 10, 2019

Another thinker Bacevich calls to our attention as someone penetrating enough to see through American myths of moral superiority was Reinhold Niebuhr. He is best remembered for his analysis of 1952, titled The Irony of American History, in which he sketched the process by which U.S. self-glorification pushed it towards its most grievous sins. One might say that a nation willing to delude itself as Cold War America was, would eventually be willing to do almost anything as a means of perpetuating its bloated vision of self. Here is how Bacevich describes Niebuhr’s undercutting of America’s prime myths:

Reinhold Niebuhr helps us appreciate the large hazards embedded in those myths and
delusions. Four of those truths merit particular attention at present: the persistent sin of
American Exceptionalism, the indecipherability of history, the false allure of simple solutions,
and, finally, the imperative of appreciating the limits of power.

And then:

All men are naturally inclined to obscure the morally ambiguous element of their political
cause by investing it with religious sanctity.


Thoughts for January 9, 2019

Bacevich spends considerable time reminding readers of scholars and thinkers who, at a time when dominant attitudes portrayed the US as the great defender of freedom and morality, painted a much darker picture. One of these was William Appleman Williams, a diplomatic historian who published several notable books from the late 1950s until the early 1980s. Though these volumes were valued mainly by professional scholars, and never secured a wide public readership, they nevertheless laid the foundation for a more critical view of what sort of nation America really was. Among them, probably the best known were The Tragedy of American Diplomacy, The Contours of American History, and Empire as a Way of Life. Bacevich highlights one of Williams’s judgments that should have been emphasized more than it was, and if it had, might have steered the nation onto a far more healthy path than the one it actually took:

Although to cite any single moment when America forfeited its virtue would be to
oversimplify, Williams might have pointed to the overthrow of Iran’s Prime Minister
Mohammed Mosaddeq and the restoration of the Shah to the Peacock Throne, engineered
by the C.I.A. in 1953, as illustrative.


Thoughts for January 8, 2019

For many Americans the election of 2016 was seen as a weird detour from the norm. But Bacevich disagrees. For him it was merely one more step into a pattern that he perceived as having been firmly established in the interest of promoting the warfare state. The horror of Trump was all on the surface. Underneath, he would deliver about the same result as his opponent. Or, as Bacevich says:

The reality is this: The election that so many saw as promising salvation was rigged. Its
outcome was predetermined. Whichever candidate won in November and whichever party
ended up governing, the State was guaranteed to come out on top.


Thoughts for January 7, 2019

A distinction Bacevich makes frequently is one Randolph Bourne is known for emphasizing, the one between the country and the state. The difference is obvious but I suspect it’s one most citizens never think about. I myself have discovered that when you ask people what they think the United States is they’ll stare at you in perplexity as though they can’t imagine what you’re asking about. Is it a stretch of geography, I’ll inquire, or a population, or a power structure, or a government, or a theory of government, or a set of ideas, or a history? And what I usually get is a completely blank expression. Here’s a statement by Bacevich that helps clarify the problem somewhat:

The state, meanwhile, has fattened itself on seven years of plenty (since the beginning of
the 21st Century). Unlike the Biblical cycle, when the abundance gave way to want, this
pattern seems likely to continue. With the long war projected to last for decades, if not
generations, the ascendancy of the state bids fair to become a permanent condition.


Thoughts for January 6, 2019

A point Basevich makes repeatedly is that people who are called conservatives by modern journalism aren’t conservative at all. They spend their time destroying things rather than conserving them. He thinks of himself as being a conservative, but he wants nothing to do with modern right-wing freaks. Here’s a comment he makes about Christopher Lasch who was the same sort of conservative he wishes to be:

Lasch expressed complete contempt for those styling themselves as conservative while
worshipping at the altar of capitalism, employing conservative-sounding tropes to justify
a worldview profoundly antagonistic to conservative values.


Thoughts for January 5, 2019

As a former soldier, Bacevich is irritated by the near worship common sentiment declares should be directed at people in the military. I feel that way myself. Often when I see signs directing me to support our troops, I find myself asking, almost involuntarily, “Support them to do what?” Here’s a passage which shows fairly well how Bacevich feels about this creepy form of sentimentality:

In recent years otherwise free-swinging critics have generally given generals and admirals
a free pass lest they appear to violate that ultimate diktat of present-day political correctness:
never do anything that might suggest less than whole-hearted support for our men and
women in uniform.


Thoughts for January 4, 2019

One point Bacevich is consistent on is the complete screwup of the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Everybody involved in it was stupid as hell. Here, for example, is his judgment about one of the principal figures in the early stages of what ended up dragging on far longer than any of its proponents ever predicted (you should at least be able to remember the boots he tramped around in while wearing a business suit):

L. Paul Bremer, Rumsfeld’s choice for the position of US proconsul in Baghdad, turned out
to be arrogant, insubordinate, and dishonest.


 



 
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