Book Review: Breach of Trust by Abdrew J. Bacevich

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breachBreach of Trust: How Americans Failed Their Soldiers and Their Country (American Empire Project), by Andrew J. Bacevich. New York: Metropolitan Books, 2013 ($26, 256 pages)
Andrew Bacevich’s latest offering, BREACH OF TRUST, is going to make a lot of people squirm – if people read it, that is. Because in this book he tells us flat out that an all-volunteer army in a democratic society simply does not work, and that the present system is “broken.” It is bankrupting our country, and not just financially, but morally. He tells us that Iraq and Afghanistan, two of the longest and most expensive wars in U.S. history, have evoked little more than “an attitude of cordial indifference” on the part of a shallow and selfish populace more concerned with the latest doings of the Kardashians, professional superstar athletes or other vapid and overpaid millionaire celebrities, reflecting “a culture that is moored to nothing more than irreverent whimsy and jeering ridicule.”

Bacevich cites General Stanley McChrystal, former commander of all U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, who spoke about having “skin in the game,” meaning that when a country goes to war every town and city should be at risk. McChrystal went on to say the unthinkable: “I think we’d be better if we actually went to a draft these days … for the nation it would be a better course.”

Horrors! That dreaded “D” word finally uttered aloud. Well, I’d say it’s about damn time. And Bacevich agrees, noting that in his many speaking engagements over the past ten years “I can count on one hand the number of occasions when someone did NOT pose a question about the draft, invariably offered as a suggestion for how to curb Washington’s appetite for intervention abroad and establish some semblance of political accountability.”

And, lest anyone should deduce that BREACH OF PROMISE is just one more partisan snipe at the infamous “Bush Doctrine,” I should point out that Barack Obama does not escape criticism here. Bacevich points out that in spite of his presidential campaign rhetoric and promises, “when the war became his, President Obama proved less inclined to criticize its conduct.” Moreover Obama even put his own spin on the Iraq fiasco, calling it, finally, “an extraordinary achievement,” resulting in the emergence of “a sovereign, stable and self-reliant Iraq.” Huh? I mean, HUH?!

I am sure that there are a lot of Obama supporters, like myself, who have been less than happy with the President’s knuckling under to his many deeply invested military and government advisors on how he conducts – and continues – the still-no-win and continuingly deplorable situation in Afghanistan.

This is not a big book, size-wise. It doesn’t take long to read. But it took me longer than expected because I spent so much time underlining things, making margin notes, and dog-earing pertinent pages. Because it’s that kind of book, the kind that will leave you feeling simultaneously stimulated and enervated, excited to learn that FINALLY someone has had the gumption to say that this professional standing army thing is not working. That it goes against all the principles of a democratic society. That, as General McChrystal suggested, if war is indeed necessary, then there must be “skin in the game” – that an army of truly representative citizen-soldiers should be fielded. Not to mention sacrifices made at home, INCLUDING tax hikes to finance the war.

Bacevich recognizes, however, that such measures, particularly a return to the draft will be a hard sell, and makes a couple of suggestions.

“One approach is through conscription, with ALL able-bodied young men and women eligible for service but only SOME actually selected. Imagine a lottery with Natasha and Malia Obama at age eighteen having the same chance of being drafted as the manicurist’s son or the Walmart clerk’s daughter..”

His other approach would be “a program of national service,” which would include opting for military service or some other opportunities, like the Peace Corps or volunteering to work with sick, elderly or poor. “Some national service personnel might carry assault rifles; others would empty bed pans or pass out bed linens.”

BREACH OF TRUST will probably not be a big hit at the Pentagon or in the halls of government, but by God it should be required reading at the very least for everyone who serves on the Armed Services Committee in both Houses of Congress. Because Bacevich is right. Our army of professional soldiers is at the breaking point; it is in fact already broken. And waging endless wars on borrowed money (to be paid by future generationS) is not only fiscally irresponsible, it is morally wrong. Period.

BREACH OF TRUST is a disturbing yet necessary read. I give it my highest recommendation.

Tim Bazzett is an author and book reviewer living in Reed City, Michigan. His books may be found here.

“How can I not mention this latest memoir from Tim Bazzett? On the cover of “Booklover: A One-Year Journal of Reading, Reflecting & Remembering,” he stands next to a stack of books he’s read and right there, smack at knee level, is my own “An Open Book.” Bazzett has been chronicling his life in a series of digressive reminiscences, starting with “Reed City Boy” and “Soldier Boy” … If you like memoirs, check out this latest installment …”

Michael Dirda
Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and critic for The Washington Post, and author of the classic midwestern memoir, An Open Book

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