Archive for March, 2012

Book Review: DRIFT

——– Book review ——-

The Unmooring of American Military Power
by Rachel Maddow

Chapter 1: Swift-Boaters for Truth

If this book were a blog, serialized in installments every day, praise would be effusive and overwhelming in the blogosphere. Outstanding, award-worthy, riveting — “You should redo this as a book!” the popular consensus would cry out, and they’d be right.

But “Drift” is not a blog, it is a book, but a book with the taints of being very blog-like. Conversational. Slangy. While relaying in paraphrase a lot of information based on a lot of research, it lapses occasionally into very informal style, informal tone, informal voice. Chummy. You know, blogger-to-reader informality, which is perfectly legit these days, especially in the blogosphere.

However, it does not seem scholarly. Or rigorous. This informality cheapens the book’s arguments, makes them seem one-sided, like they’re rounding off complexities. At its best moments, the author’s informality does communicate with potent force, and humor, and personality — as if one’s best friend had just said something awesome off-the-cuff, reminding you why you like them, because they think like you but can still surprise you — but in its most clanging, cringe-worthy passages, it seems unfortunately almost child-like.

There were at least two examples in the book, however, where something was put in quotes that was, in fact, not a quote, because I have memorized the actual quotes, and knew them not to be quotes, but paraphrases put in quotes. This is the laziest form of journalism I know, and I despise it the most because of that: Paraphrases put in quotes. In each case, even Wikipedia-level research could have nailed down the actual quote, but the author didn’t apparently bother to do that, and neither did the editor, or the publisher, or the copy editors, or the fact-checkers.

Not rigorous, not scholarly, not to be taken seriously. Informative and entertaining, but lightweight and casual. Perhaps that just means youthful and modern, and I am old school and out of touch, but so be it.

In other words: “Yeah, no.”

It *is* the best serialized blog about the subject any blogger has ever written, and provides a lot of information every informed citizen of the United States of America should know. This is why the casualness is so damning: it will easily not be taken seriously by a lot of people who, therefore, will not read it; and, therefore, this book will not transmit vital information to all the people that need it.

Chapter 2: Niagara Falls

The final huge problem of this book is that its climaxing chapters are unwritten. This is rather unbelievable to me. The thesis of the book is that we as a republic have allowed our Constitutional checks–on the ability to wage war without significant civilian cost, on the foundational principle that the Commander in Chief of the military *be denied* the power to wage war by unilateral decision–to erode and be discarded in the past 40 years. (“Slowly, I turned… Step by step… Inch by inch…”) It begins with Lyndon Johnson’s decisions leading to the Vietnam War, then takes a long journey through the Reagan administration, damning it with its own words (which, I hope, are more accurately quoted than the two quotes I know were paraphrased inaccurately). It takes us through Poppy Bush’s ulcerous worries about having to appease a Congress that wanted to keep its Declaration of War powers to itself, thank you very much. It tells us of the Cheney-influenced propulsion into reliance on extra-legal civilian contractors, an eerie deal-with-the-Devil that a vacillating Bill Clinton authorized with a relieved wipe of his brow.

This is all clearly leading up to everything the George W. Bush Administration perpetrated, because clearly the book is an indictment of everything that happened between 2001 and 2009 (and beyond), a CSI-type autopsy on an American princple that had been molested and then murdered: We do not go to war on the decision of one Executive, and We do not go to war without the whole nation, the entire people, and the national Welfare, being balanced into the cost.

And then, she skips it. The author writes nothing about the years 2001-2009. This seems lazy, or as if the book had been released six months to a year prematurely. This should have been the centerpiece of the whole argument of the book, and it’s not here. Why is this?

Chapter 3: Tough Love

Another petty thing that seems lazy and unscholarly is that the author will often reference a historical person (such as a journalist, a cabinet member, a military officer, or a member of Congress) by their title, but not by name. Clearly she has researched a quote from a specific person, so she knows their name, but she doesn’t write their name, she just says their job title and leaves it at that. This contributes more than anything else to the feeling of blogginess about it, that one is writing for 30 minutes to a few hours every day, being somewhat quick about it, meaning to fill in more details but one can’t recall them on the top of one’s head just at the moment but if one doesn’t keep the momentum going and get to the next sentence one will not finish writing one’s blog for the day. But, as a conscientious reader, I am moved to wonder and, further, to ask: if the author cannot be bothered to go back and fill in the names… ? Further: if that was the level of immediacy of writing, such that the author could not remember the name, merely the station, of someone she was about to quote, then — what is the accuracy of the quote that follows?

Q: If this book is in alignment with your beliefs and opinions and political leaning, then why do you have to be so *mean* to it?

A: Because not doing so would be *intellectually dishonest*.

Buy it anyway. You need to know this stuff.

)) J. Robinson Wheeler holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communication from Stanford University.

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