Monday, November 15, 2010

“A Time to Fight”

I’ve finished reading Jim Webb’s A Time to Fight and wanted to tell you all what an interesting book it is. Mostly, it is because Jim Webb is such an interesting character.

For those that don’t know of him, Jim Webb is now the senior Senator from Virginia. He started off as a Marine Corps officer in Vietnam, worked in the Reagan Administration, made a living as a writer and then wound up as Secretary of the Navy. Believe it or not, that leaves out a lot of other interesting things about him -- perhaps the most interesting of which is that he’s a Democrat.

He’s held a lot of unpopular positions but they seem to only enhance the feeling that he is a Genuine Joe. With a brain.

”For a variety of reasons, the American economic system is more skewed today than it has been since Teddy Roosevelt’s time, when he faced down the so-called Robber Barons more than a hundred years ago. The freewheeling internationalization of corporate America in the age of globalization has resulted in the loss of millions of manufacturing jobs to overseas locations, even as the executives of American corporations have been rewarded with historically unprecedented compensation packages. Massive immigration and the weakening of organized labor have combined to lower the ability of the average worker to negotiate his or her own combination of fair and meaningful wages, medical care, and retirement. And, it is painful to say, an uncaring amorality has seized much of America’s business community, allowing a separate society to grow that in too many cases has lost a sense of conscience about the well-being of other Americans.”

This might be a good time to point out that this book was published in May of 2008. Lehman Brothers collapsed in September. Barack Obama was elected President in November.

”Nowhere is the immense growth of the military-industrial complex more troublesome, both in practical terms and in our national self-image, than in this use of “defense contractors” in today’s operational environment, and particularly in the vast quasi-military force that has grown up in the shadow of our regular military. This trend, which existed before the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, expanded exponentially in their aftermath. Part of it has been fed by congressional limitations on the size of the Army and Marine Corps, which forced Defense planners to rely on outside “contractors” to perform functions that historically have been carried out by the military. Another part of the costly trend is political in nature, designed to meet the requirements of America’s involvement in place like Iraq and Afghanistan without having to create vast political dissent by invoking the draft.

It’s easy for a politician to pick on the military-industrial complex . It’s not so easy to talk about the draft. And I think that is what I found so compelling about this book. Senator Webb will delve into the issues that don’t have a political upside.

Most of this is pretty easy for a Democrat to handle. This isn’t.

”And thus there is a deep but often quiet divide between the Democratic Party and the American military not only as it relates to history, but also in the way that past human conduct affects attitudes and modern-day crises such as Iraq and Afghanistan. The Democrats who came of age during the Vietnam era, and many others who have grown up under their tutelage, have erred greatly for many years in not understanding the positive aspects of military service. And in so doing, in the eyes of those who have served, the Democrats became not simply the antiwar party but also the antimilitary party.”

This is a complex issue. As complex as it is uncomfortable. The book would be a good book without it, but this is what makes it a great book. But before my Republican readers get too comfortable, remember, the Senator is a Democrat.

”The historical tables have turned. It is now the Republican Party that has populated the Defense Department with a cast of unseemly true believers who propelled America into an unnecessary and strategically unsound war; the Republican Party that has most glaringly violated its stewardship of those in uniform; and the Republican Party that continually seeks to politicize military service for its own ends even as it uses their sacrifices as a political shield against criticism for its failed policies.”

You get the feeling that Senator Webb puts the military -- and the people that serve in it -- above partisan politics. Which, of course, is where they ought to be.

It’s a good book. Read it.

Don Brown
November 15, 2010

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