Mandeville, LA – Exclusive Transcript – To the Dude Maker Hotline, we will say hello to Professor Andrew Bacevich, whose book is Breach of Trust. Professor Bacevich is also a writer of high esteem about our never-ending wars and bellicose foreign policy. Check out today’s transcript for the rest…
Begin Mike Church Show Transcript
Mike: To the Dude Maker Hotline, we will say hello to Professor Andrew Bacevich, whose book is Breach of Trust. Professor Bacevich is also a writer of high esteem about our never-ending wars and bellicose foreign policy. Professor Bacevich, it’s always a pleasure to have you on, my friend. How are you?
Andrew Bacevich: I’m doing fine. Thanks for having me on your program.
Mike: You’re very, very welcome. I must tell you, I’ve been reading your writings since three or four years ago at various websites. I think we’ve had you on the show once before. This book, I actually read the introduction to this book, the part about the flyover at Fenway Park a year or so ago. I think you posted it as an essay as you were working on it. This book, Breach of Trust: How Americans Failed Their Soldiers and Their Country, is surprisingly, because it’s non-fiction, it’s a page-turner. I can’t put it down. I’ve already made it to the fifth chapter, which is rare for me. Folks, if you’re wondering what the book is about, I’ll let Professor Bacevich fill you in. It is just loaded with details and the case to be made that the United States and the people of the United States, number one, are not fighting the wars that your government tells you you’re fighting, and number two, we’re not caring for and honoring our troops in the manner in which we think we are. That’s what Breach of Trust is all about. I’ll let you describe the genesis of the book.
Bacevich: Well, the genesis is, and I’m certainly not the only person who feels this way, I just began to feel that the rhetoric of “support the troops” and put a bumper sticker on the back of your car proclaiming your high regard for those that serve in uniform wasn’t good enough, that the policies undertaken by our political leaders in Washington effectively condemned our soldiers to perpetual war and repeated combat tours, caused grievous harm (physical, psychological, emotional), and the American a people meanwhile sat on the sidelines cheering. My argument is, to support the troops is to make sure they don’t get used and abused. A further argument is, if we need to go to war, and there are times we need to go to war, we have a heck of a lot better chance of succeeding if the people are engaged in that war effort rather than simply turning things over to the one percent of our fellow citizens who happen to serve in our so-called all-volunteer force. I want to get the American people to once again pay attention to our military system and to our military policy.
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Mike: You reference in the book, harkening back to World War II and to the efforts of the Roosevelt administration to have this thing called shared sacrifice, where everyone had, as President Obama likes to say, some skin in the game. Talk a little bit about that.
Bacevich: That’s exactly right. I’m not trying to say that we should be waging a war today in Afghanistan or wherever on the scale of World War II. That’s not the point. The point is that President Roosevelt, part of his genius, I think, was to appreciate that he needed to bring the American people on board the enterprise that became World War II. He did that because he knew that, he understood that shared sacrifice, shared commitment, a country united in a great enterprise was much more likely to succeed. Indeed, in many respects, was the most horrible event in modern history. In the point of view of the United States, we came out of that war stronger, richer, more confident. The war that George W. Bush committed us to after 9/11, fought with the people sitting on the sidelines, has weakened us, has impoverished us, has found us squandering our power. The people in a democracy, war requires the engagement of the people. That’s the key point.
Mike: We started off with the prologue that’s in the book. As I said, I had read this about a year or so ago when you were working on the book and it was posted online. I think it’s a story that starts the book off and gets you in the right frame of mind. If you would, just talk for a minute here about what happened on that day that you describe, I believe it’s the 4th of July 2011 in Fenway Park.
Bacevich: I’m happy to tell the story. Of course, your listeners are going to say: Heck, I’ve seen that in a football game; I’ve seen that at any other public event. There are these rituals that have become part of our routine, rituals of paying respect, symbolic respect to the troops. This was Independence Day 2011 at Fenway Park. Before the ballgame starts, there’s a considerable amount of military-related performance with honor guards and singing the national anthem and Air Force airmen lined up along the warning track and outfield wall, big stars and stripes hanging over the left field wall, what we call in Boston the Green Monster.
They trotted out a local family to the middle of the infield and directed their and the spectators’ attention to the Jumbotron out in center field. The Jumbotron then flashed to a video of a young sailor, the family member of the group that’s now out on the infield, speaking from below decks on the USS Ronald Reagan afloat. She wishes happy Fourth of July to her family. She says she wishes she could be there in the ballpark. She gives a shout-out to her friends. Suddenly, even as her image is still on the Jumbotron, the sailor herself walks out from underneath the flag in left field. The people in the stands instantly see what’s going on. They roar with approval. The family, standing out there on the pitcher’s mound, is a little confused at first. They finally get it and they race out into left field, meet the sailor, embrace, hug. Everybody is cheering. The young sailor throws out the first pitch. Then everybody is immediately escorted off the field and they disappear.
My point is that this ritual, scheduled by the Red Sox in conjunction with the Pentagon, was basically designed to make the spectators feel good about themselves, make the spectators feel that they actually were demonstrating support for the troops. It was a gesture. It had no meaning. It didn’t entail any actual effort on the part of the American people. I think that’s not good enough. If we care about the troops, we ought to do more than simply just give them a cheer on the Fourth of July.
Mike: I want to take you to the close of the fifth chapter, “America’s Army.” I want to read this to the audience. As I said, this is a page turner of a book. Folks, I think you’ll enjoy reading it. Professor, I don’t want to say I’m enjoying it. I enjoy the way you write. I’m not enjoying what I’m reading going: That’s a good point, we really need to stop doing that. I’ve been of the limited, non-intervention stripe for the past five years. The more I read and the more I study of it, the more committed I become to it, and the more I realize the folly of my earlier thinking. While I enjoy reading your work, I don’t want to say I’m enjoying the situation, because that would be immoral. I want to take you to the end of Chapter 5 “America’s Army.” This is one brief paragraph here.
Life for military families residing off-base became all but indistinguishable from the life of nonmilitary families living next door or down the street, even if Dad (or Mom) was in a somewhat unusual line of work. So, too, with those single soldiers residing on post. Rather than resembling confinement to a minimum-security prison, barracks life acquired some of the atmospherics of a college dorm. Army plans for housing the troops now touted “carpeted, air-conditioned townhouses, furnished in motel-modern plastic and veneer [and] nestled together with landscaped courtyards and lawns.” Both on duty and off, the army became a place that Beetle Bailey would have scarcely recognized and into which he would not have been allowed entry.
Mike: Beetle Bailey being of the World War II generation and of the fundraising advertising slogan of “this man’s army” was a grunt then, I guess. Most people today that fancy themselves military wouldn’t recognize Bailey. Would you elaborate on this point at the end of the chapter just a bit?
Bacevich: The chapter is about how the military had to embark upon a number of reforms after Vietnam to make the all-volunteer force work. The generals faced a tough problem: How do we induce capable young Americans to want to join the military at a time when the prevailing opinion was anti-military? The answer was complicated, but included lifestyle changes, among them trying to provide the troops with better accommodations than had been the case in the army of the draft era. They had to provide a certain level of comfort to get people to volunteer. That’s what that chapter is all about.
Mike: In a later chapter in the book, you describe winners and losers. General Stanley McChrystal is one of the star figures in this chapter. Who are the winners and losers in the way we run and the way we fund and the way we use our military today?
Bacevich: The big winners, I think, are contractors. Because we have this professional military, and because the professional military hasn’t won, didn’t win in Iraq, isn’t going to win in Afghanistan, we end up with long, drawn-out wars. We don’t have enough troops. We have too much war, too few warriors. The Bush administration in particular tried to close the gap between too much war and too few warriors by inviting contractors in. We ended up, in Iraq and Afghanistan, with more contractors in the warzone than soldiers. War has always been, for some people, a profit-making enterprise. What happened after 9/11 is it became primarily a profit-making enterprise, with billions and billions and billions of dollars not simply spent but wasted. That becomes another aspect of our military system that is just badly out of whack, and that, I think, ought to concern the Americans. Ultimately the dollars wasted are coming out of our pockets.
Mike: Indeed. Finally, a question for you, Mr. Bacevich, and it’s one of the things I try to bring up on the show as often as I can and flesh it out with the news of the day. That is this new era of our professional military and, as Eisenhower called it, the military-industrial complex that we are now entering into, which is the war of distant relations. We don’t even have to be there any longer to build the armaments, cause the trouble, say we have to respond to it, and then use the armaments from a distance far away, cause unbelievable death, mayhem and destruction in countries most people can’t even point to on a globe. This is being done here now with the use of these drones. I’d like to get your thoughts on this. As I like to say, when you remove the humanity from it and the actual cries of the dead and wounded and the smell of the gun powder in the air, now it’s just a video game and you’ll have kids playing it in a trailer. Why wouldn’t we want to be the world’s policemen? Your thoughts?
Bacevich: I think you put your finger on it. This is President Obama’s innovation. He realized that invading and occupying countries, the Bush approach, wasn’t working too well. President Obama has been very leery of putting boots on the ground, as they say, but that doesn’t mean he’s leery about using force. It means he prefers to use missile-firing drones or rely on special operations forces. I think you put your finger on it. It becomes too easy to pull the trigger. It’s difficult to see exactly what the strategic rationale of doing what he’s doing, how this is going to lead to some political outcome we’re trying to achieve.
Mike: I asked Congressman Paul when he was in Congress and again recently if he thought the American public writ large had finally stumbled onto some of the facts of the matter that we’re talking about here today, about the United States and our army and our foreign policy, and if he thought the tidal wave of militarism was beginning to recede. I’ll ask you the same question. Do you think the tidal wave of militarism is about to recede? And do you think the public, by and large, is discovering what is really afoot here?
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Bacevich: The answer is maybe. The reason it’s maybe is because we’ve got this Syria event. Clearly the American people, and to some degree the Congress, were signaling to President Obama: We don’t want to do this. We don’t want to do it under any circumstances whatsoever. We have pulled back from what seemed to be an inevitable attack on Syria. I say maybe because what remains to be seen is whether this is a one-off event or whether this is the beginning of a trend. It’s possible that we’re going to, ten years from now, look back on the Syria crisis and say: Yes, that was the moment when the United States began to seriously rethink the emphasis it was placing on the use of force. Let’s see how the next crisis unfolds. Let’s see if the next crisis is another Syria where we don’t pull the trigger.
Mike: I appreciate your time, Professor Andrew Bacevich. It’s a great book, folks. It really is a page turner. You will learn an awful lot, and I think it will cause the critical thinker in you to critically rethink, those of you that are not warming to the view of non-interventionism as our founders were and the six generations after the founding generation, only when it is necessary. As Sherman said and as he made true, war is indeed hell. Professor Bacevich, it’s a good book. I wish you the best of luck with it. Godspeed, my friend. We’ll talk to you again real soon.
Bacevich: Thank you very much.
End Mike Church Show Transcript