War is hell, but it’s a hell we’ve learned to live with. For America, perpetual conflict has become the status quo. It wasn’t always this way, and Rachel Maddow’s Drift: The Unmooring Of American Military Power, examines how things have changed, and lays out reasons the country needs to abandon this new, bloody normal.
The host of MSNBC’s The Rachel Maddow Show is openly liberal, and she makes no apologies for it in her first book. While she points out that President Obama is guilty of using his office’s newfound ability to wage war with little congressional oversight or debate, her main targets are Dick Cheney and Ronald Reagan. She paints Reagan in an especially harsh light, describing him as a politician who never let facts get in the way of a good story as he fanned Cold War fears into a firestorm that blew him into the White House. In her view, he spent his presidency using the paranoid ramblings of unqualified advisors to justify covert hostilities and ballooning military spending.
The transformation of America’s military-industrial complex is a heavy topic, but Maddow manages to make Drift an easy read through witty writing and bizarre, entertaining anecdotes, like how an ink-spitting flightless bird has allowed America to continue its operations in Pakistan, over Pakistani objections. The often-grim laughs frame impressive research, which includes facts culled from the memoirs and diaries of government leaders, declassified military documents, and Maddow’s experiences as a reporter in Afghanistan. Unfortunately, the humor sometimes gets in the way of the thesis. While she tries to establish ties to her points on America’s military spending spree, her final chapter on the country’s aging nuclear arsenal has little to do with the rest of the text, and seems to have made the cut because Maddow wanted to share stories of lost nukes and bombers with wing-fungus.
The real problem with Drift is that it spends its 252 pages drifting through too many topics. The chapters on America’s use of private contractors are fascinating and horrifying, depicting how the government’s attempts to save money on daycare for military personnel led to the hiring of companies that defrauded the government and engaged in sex trafficking, yet still managed to keep getting funded by taxpayers. It’s a topic that could fill its own book, which makes it all the more disappointing when Maddow quickly moves on.
One of the arguments in Drift is that America has stopped talking about war as much as it should. Drift is sure to have its harsh critics, but there’s no doubt that the book will get people talking.