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Coffee Guy Book Review
Thursday, March 26, 2009 • Posted March 26, 2009

The American Way of War

By Eugene Jarecki

Published by Free Press (2008)

$26.00 Hardback

I’ve always wanted to coin a popular phrase or term. It doesn’t even have to be profound. Something like “a tie game is like kissing your sister” would do. I’ve only been associated with one such piece of grammar that could even be considered for the phraseology hall of fame: “We were responsible idiots.” And I didn’t even come up with that. My good friend, Mario, came up with it to describe our teenage youth. I like that description a lot. It’s catchy, succinct and dead on.

On a slightly higher plane resides Dwight D. Eisenhower’s coining of the term ‘military-industrial complex’ in his 1961 farewell address (it should also be noted that Ike showed a firm grasp of branding and marketing by editing this term down from the ‘military-industrial-congressional complex’ that he had written in his original drafts). It is this term that inspired Eugene Jarecki to first make his documentary film, Why We Fight, and then to write The American Way of War. Eisenhower’s warning about the “disastrous rise of misplaced power” brought on by the “military-industrial complex” is compelling because it all came true. Sadly, it’s a path we’ve been on since even George Washington. Jarecki points out that in Washington’s farewell address he warns the nation about “overgrown military establishments” that will affect the liberties of the republic. And that was in 1796.

Jarecki uses these two speeches as his starting point to deeply investigate how and why we got to the point where “of all the monies spent today in the United States on foreign affairs, 93 percent passes through the Department of Defense and only 7 percent through the State Department. This simple statistic goes a long way in explaining why America finds herself so often turning to ‘the military instrument’ to solve international problems.” Again, what is most amazing about this transformation is that as far back as The Federalist Papers we as a nation have been warned about the perils of this path. Just listen (or read) to what Alexander Hamilton said then: “The continual effort and alarm attendant on a state of continual danger will compel nations the most attached to liberty to resort for repose and security which have a tendency to destroy their civil and political rights. To be more safe, they at length become willing to run the risk of being less free.” If that dude were alive today he’d have his own psychic hotline and perhaps even a cable TV show.

Through myriad interviews with members from both sides of the political spectrum and a host of military personnel Jarecki paints a picture of the military-industrial complex that would resemble a Jackson Pollock piece. Its tentacles are far-reaching and extremely complicated. In the end one realizes it’s much bigger than political ideologies. As with most things in life if you want to get to the bottom of it just “follow the money.” When you follow the money it’s easy to see why the vast majority of congress approved the war in Iraq.

The F-22 Raptor fighter has been in the news recently and the battle to get this plane made illustrates perfectly how the military-industrial complex has come to rule over all. The F-22 is an air-to-air combat aircraft that was designed to fight against the Soviet Union. It also has tons of technical problems and its cost has risen from $30 million to $300 million per plane. In short, we don’t need it. But we’ll probably get it anyway because “its construction was contracted and subcontracted to forty-four states. This means a majority of the Senators on Capitol Hill have been given a vested interest in perpetuating the program.”

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that crazy Democrats will love this book because it takes Bush to task for using the military-industrial complex to expand powers in the executive branch. But fear not crazy Republicans! Jarecki also points out that most of this expansion started with none other than FDR himself. Again, this is bigger than silly old left/right politics. We’re essentially set up to go to war.

Jarecki spins a great yarn. His writing is engaging and his interview subjects are even more so. This is essential reading if you want to know where the real power lies at the highest points of our government.

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