This topic idea of mine was spurred by a recent cover story in the Atlantic Monthly, but the basic idea has been building in my mind for a long-time, based on what I’ve been seeing for years in American politics and culture. At the Atlantic, the highly-respected journalist James Fallows argues that Americans have taken their natural and merited respect for the troops to a dangerous place for both our fighting men and women and our country. He says our admiration for the military has warped into a lazy and uncritical acceptance of everything the military does and support for every use of military force by our politicians.
It’s a subtle and multi-faceted argument that’s easily misunderstand or distorted. I’ll summarize it to begin our meeting, but I urge you to read it for yourselves. To me, what Fallows is saying is very different from more left-leaning people like Noam Chomsky or Chalmers Johnson have been arguing for decades. They say America is an inherently imperial and warlike nation. That is not Fallows’ view, or mine. But, honestly, I have been following foreign and national security policy for 35 years, and I have never seen our policy and national conversation so militarized. Maybe it’s just because we were attacked so brutally on 9/11 and our enemy is so vile and undetterable by non-military means.
Or, maybe Fallows – and Andrew Bacevich, who I’ve linked to below since he has made similar arguments – has a point. Maybe lazy, robotic valorization of “the troops” has become a substitute for actually caring about them and the impossible jobs we demand they do. Aaron has been arguing this in the group for years and I’m close to being persuaded.
So, please try to read James Fallow’s article, and the Bacevich one, too, if you’re not familiar with his opinions. I also include some partial rebuttals to Fallows and Bacevich, although I’m having trouble so far finding conservative rebuttals that don’t just illustrate the mentality Fallows is describing. But, I’ll find some by Sunday.
I’ll see you Monday night. And, remember, we call ourselves the “Civilized” conversation club!
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS –
- Why does Fallows argue we are a “chicken hawk nation?” What about Andrew Bacevich? Is he saying anything different?
- How different are their arguments from those of older, more left-wing critiques, like Chomsky or Johnson?
- Are you persuaded? Do these guys provide the evidence necessary to prove their points, or is that missing? What evidence rebuts them?
- If Fallows/Bacevich/et. al., are…
- Correct, then how did this happen? Having an all-volunteer military in which 99% of us never serve? The deep fear caused by 9/11? Cynical politicians (and journalists “journalists”) hiding behind the troops’ reputation?)
- Wrong, then why? Do they underestimate the threat we face? Overstate the “military-industrial complex “thing? Other?
- What to do going forward?
SUGGESTED BACKGROUND READING –
- James Fallows, “The Tragedy of the American Military.” The Atlantic Monthly, Jan/Feb 2015. Your must-read
- A reader rebuts Fallows, and he and other readers rebut back. Important.
- Shorter: America has been permanently militarized. (Different author, similar POV, shorter article.)
- Andrew Bacevich’s even grimmer POV. Read if you’ve never heard of him. Also by Bacevich:
- Conservative POVs:
Next Week: What is Wahhabism and how does it affect Islam??