14 September 2013

Andrew Bacevich: The New American Militarism

"To go beyond the bounds of moderation is to outrage humanity. The greatness of the human soul is shown by knowing how to keep within proper bounds. So far from greatness consisting in going beyond its limits, it really consists in keeping within it."

Blaise Pascal
Bacevich is quite insightful. I should point out that the actual talk itself is about 25 minutes or so. The rest of this video is questions from the audience.

Some of his off the cuff eloquence in the second part in which he answers questions is remarkable. Don't be put off by the questions which are hard to hear.

One sentence which he throws out as part of a long answer seems to be a nice summation of his major hypothesis.
"The unrealistic expectations of what military power can do, and the recklessness with which we use it, don't serve the nation's interest, or the interests of stability more broadly."
While I like most of what he says, and I understand the point he makes about the role citizen-soldier in the latter part of the questioning in response to some other questions, I think he is assuming that the reinstitution of a draft would bring about more political accountability. His notion is that more parents would demand accountability from the government if more of their children were involved.

I think that assumption is optimistically mistaken. People's wealth is broadly being taken by the government and too often abused. There is no more level of accountability in this that I can see, given the current distance of the monied elites from the root source of the public will. I think they have become so isolated in their group thinking that they have lost touch with the people. And this will be resolved at some point, as it always does when the powerful forget their kinship with mortality and their obligations to others.

As you may have read, Bacevich is a self-described 'fan' of Reinhold Niebuhr. I looked up this quote from Niebuhr, and thought it might be particularly appropriate for us at this time.  The sense of social cohesion and interdependence amongst people, along with a few other traditional perspectives, seems to be given too shallow consideration in our era of the ascendancy of the narcissistic few and the cult of unbridled greed.

“Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime; therefore we must be saved by hope.

Nothing which is true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; therefore we must be saved by faith.

Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore we must be saved by love.

No virtuous act is quite as virtuous from the standpoint of our friend or foe as it is from our standpoint. Therefore we must be saved by the final form of love which is forgiveness.”

Reinhold Niebuhr, The Irony of American History