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Breach of Trust: How Americans Failed Their…

Breach of Trust: How Americans Failed Their Soldiers and Their Country

by Andrew Bacevich

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This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I am about three years late as an early reviewer of Breach of Trust: How Americans Failed Their Soldiers and Their Country, by Andrew J. Bacevich, but even though it slipped through the cracks my uncorrected proof edition has long beckoned to me from the shelf, and now its time has come. I have read Bacevich before: his 2008 The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism, a kind of manifesto that essentially calls for a full reset of American military goals and direction grounded on pragmatism and realism, was a radical departure from the kind of analysis one would expect from a former military man billed as a “conservative historian.” Of course, the tragic stumbles into Afghanistan and Iraq and the aftermath of wars with no foreseeable end have provoked critical thinking on all sectors except the most stubbornly ideological, but to his credit Bacevich generally brings a refreshing new perspective to familiar conundrums, while occasionally striking a sort of utopian chord lacking specificity that might more often be found on the left rather than the right-of-center.
There is less ambiguity in Breach of Trust. Bacevich defines his thesis at the outset: Americans lack “skin in the game,” as it were, and thus are willing to tolerate unending wars because in an era of an all-volunteer army their children cannot be drafted and put at risk. Bacevich goes on to unsparingly indict this professionalization of the American military, not only by its reliance solely on volunteers but by the ongoing utilization of security contractors that operate as business entities rather than patriots with the interests of the nation in mind. Moreover, he decries the gainsaying of the “support our troops” mantra, which has become a diluted slogan for the real apathy most Americans lend to our endless wars. The latter especially resonated with me, for I have long said that “support our troops” is simply a forced euphemism for “support our wars.”
Breach of Trust opens with Bacevich as a young platoon leader in Vietnam 1970-71, with “fragging” becoming a popular act of resistance against authority, something no one in the military then or since has wanted to discuss out loud, a telling reminder that as Vietnam has devolved into myth there was indeed plenty of opposition to the war from within. It is worth pausing here to reflect on Bacevich’s background. A West Point graduate and combat officer in Vietnam, he went on to a career of some twenty-three years in the army, including the Gulf War, retiring with the rank of Colonel. (It is said his early retirement was predicated upon being passed over for promotion after he graciously took full responsibility for an explosive accident at a camp he commanded in Kuwait.) He went on to become an academic, and is currently Professor Emeritus of International Relations and History at Boston University. A longtime critic of George W. Bush’s doctrine of preventative war and the Iraqi conflict, which he has rightly termed a “catastrophic failure,” his own son was killed in Iraq in 2007. This resume attaches to Bacevich either enormous credibility or an axe to grind, or perhaps both. Regardless, his books are well worth the read.
Breach of Trust reminds us of our military tradition in the United States, which called for a small citizen army in peacetime that was vastly augmented in times of war by both volunteers and draftees, and then demobilized when the crisis passed. It was this kind of military that ended the rebellion of the Confederacy in the Civil War and defeated Germany and Japan in World War II. The realities of the Cold War era left much larger forces in place after WWII, but that tradition still held, at least until the unpopular draft of the unpopular war in Vietnam. The all-volunteer army was the legacy of that conflict, and Bacevich admits that he once favored this approach. Yet, it is the unintended consequences of this professional military machine that forms the core of Breach of Trust and Bacevich makes a persuasive case that the result has been a disconnect between most Americans and the faraway endless wars we are waging.
The “Prologue” is telling: he relates the story of a Red Sox game at Fenway on July 4, 2011 when the Lydon family – and millions of Americans watching the game on television – are treated to their surprise reunion with their daughter Bridget, a sailor serving on an aircraft carrier deployed in support of the war in Afghanistan, courtesy of the Pentagon and the Red Sox. It was a patriotic celebration while the nation publically renewed its pledge to “support our troops,” and then Bridget returned to war and the rest of the country went on with its business. Americans are always eager to fight the bad guys – with other Americans, that is, or with other Americans’ children. As I write this, in December 2015, the country is oppressed by a kind of irrational fear of ISIL. Still, when polled more than 60% of millennials advocated sending ground troops to Syria to combat ISIL but only 12% were willing to serve!
Breach of Trust reminds us that it has not always been this way and urges that it need not remain this way going forward. Towards the end of the book, however, Bacevich turns to the old notion of mandatory service for all Americans, either in the military or in some worthwhile peacetime endeavor, and I find this less than convincing. There are indeed perils to the professionalization of the American military that transcend public apathy to endless wars – historians can easily conjure up memories of Roman legions and the like; mercenaries always pose a threat to a republic, even if you turn your own citizens into those mercenaries with a uniform and a paid education. But would the country ever support mandatory service? Would a return to the draft ever fly except during an existential threat to our national survival? I don’t see it. Instead, in my view the focus must return to putting pressure on our national leaders to force a conclusion to our current military adventures, and insist that we maintain a strong defensive posture while turning to war only as an absolute last resort.
Bacevich has been a critic of American foreign policy since 911, but he has remained a voice in the wilderness. I would recommend this book, yet I doubt it will have the kind of influence it deserves. War has become almost an intrinsic part of our culture these days, and if we are not very, very careful, our addiction to it may one day destroy us.
On a final note, some may point to the loss of Bacevich’s son in Iraq as the spark to his epiphany that we are on the wrong track, but it actually long predated it. In fact, some less charitable souls contacted him after this tragedy to taunt him with responsibility for the death of his son through his political opposition to the war. At the time, Bacevich wrote, both he and his son were doing their duties to their country. (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/05/25/AR2007052502032....) In my opinion, it is our duty as citizens to hear what he has to say.

My review of: Breach of Trust: How Americans Failed Their Soldiers and Their Country, by Andrew Bacevich … http://wp.me/p5Hb6f-58

http://regarp.com/2015/12/20/review-of-breach-of-trust-how-americans-failed-thei... ( )
  Garp83 | Dec 20, 2015 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I think Bacevich raises some really interesting issues that are worth considering in greater depth and discussing more broadly in our society. He essentially argues that a few changes in the way American society and its military interact and relate to each other have helped to create (or at least reinforce) a world in which war becomes normalized and the people have become apathetic about use of force.

Bacevich looks at three core ideas that he says infuse American thinking, particularly post-9/11 and post-elimination of the draft—(1) that Americans will not change (i.e., the idea that "they" win when we change our lives in response to the war), (2) that Americans will not pay now (the fact that the Iraq and Afghanistan wars have been mostly financed by large amounts of debt, rather than sacrifice in the form of increased taxes or other revenue-raising policies), and (3) that we will not bleed (that is, that the military is composed of those who volunteer, and that other Americans have little or no "skin in the game"). He argues that these three concepts have led to an America in which war has become the new normal, and American military might has become more imperial in nature than democratic, with the growing military-industrial complex and private security sectors as symptoms of this. There's a lot more to the argument that just that, but I think Bacevich makes some interesting points, particularly looking at the world through his own experiences as a U.S. Army officer of 23 years, an academic in the field of history and international relations, and the father of a soldier who died in Iraq.

I can't say whether I agree or disagree with his arguments, as I had never really thought about them before, but the book gave me a lot to think over and made its points well. This is definitely a topic that I will be thinking about and discussing more, and I feel like Bacevich's book gave me a solid basis to begin doing so. It was well-written and easy to follow, and provided a solid foundation for deeper thinking about the issues presented. ( )
  crazylilcuban | Jun 15, 2014 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
The author is a former military officer (spent two decades there) who built a second career in academia, so this critique of the lack of connection between the American public and the now-professional/volunteer military, and what that means for the formation of policy, is worth reading on that count alone.

Professionalization of the armed forces may be a good idea if we're thinking about sheer efficiency -- and in theoretical terms, at least, the idea that every soldier will be committed to protecting the nation because he or she is serving voluntarily. So much for theory. Bacevich devotes this book to the reality -- the fact that only a tiny minority of us have any sense of what is involved in military service, and what that means for us as a nation when we embark on large-scale wars that last years, and aren't willing to do anything but push the sacrifices off onto others. That takes the shape of refusing financial sacrifices to pay for those global conflicts, and refusing to tolerate the idea of a draft or some kind of national service that spreads the burden more equally. Both of these, of course, would push us to realize the true cost of what we're doing when we commit our military forces to action, and likely result in more thoughtful conclusions about what is in the nation's best interests.

Bacevich comes to this from a POV that many will label "left", but the stuff he's criticizing should concern us all, regardless of nationality or political hue, especially because he himself has had "skin in the game" and because he's pointing out that a misguided policy process produces toxic results for everyone out there. This is a straightforward argument, dense and well-reasoned, but best taken in small doses in order to ponder it all. Barreling straight through from beginning to end, without stopping along the way to digest and reflect, is likely to trigger indigestion. I found this very readable, more interesting and better reasoned than some of Bacevich's other books. ( )
  Chatterbox | Dec 31, 2013 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I probably should not write a review since I didn't finish the book. I promised to though and since I don't see myself finishing this book I feel I should write something.

When I promise to write a review I make a concerted effort to finish the book. Since I was not able to get into this book and finish it, I gave it two stars. I can't say why, if might have been because of his style of writing or perhaps because I kept having to stop and look up words. It started to be less a book and more a vocabulary lesson. I'm not impressed by people throwing obscure words into their writing, it feels as if they are showing they have a better education than I do. Which Mr. Bacevich does have.

I was so disinterested in this book by the time I quit I can't even remember most of what I read, except that he was comparing the World Wars and Korea to the army today and the army today lost. ( )
  BellaFoxx | Nov 6, 2013 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I will say up front that I have been a fan, and avid reader of the output from Andrew Bacevich. That being said, this book really highlights a number of issues that I think warrant attention from all Americans, particularly those in the political halls of government. Bacevich notes that the all-volunteer military (a thread that he has pursued in other writings) has essentially become discenfranchised from the majority of the US population. This means that the majority of Americans only see or hear about the US military (as demonstrated in this book) through staged productions at major sporting events or the like. The small percentage of the population that actually serves, and continues to serve over and over again, has effectively givent the government a tool to utilize, that generally doesnt really impact the lives of most Americans. Bacevich comments on how many times the US military has been utilized since the end of the draft, and it is startling. Hence the call for a type of draft, where all Americans might "feel the pinch" if military forces were put in harms way.
Bacevich also calls to task ex-military senior officers who "see the light" after they have left the military, and in no-way raising the alarm bells while in uniform. Not sure if this is to highlight the seemingly unpleasant taste that leaves with anyone who might question their motivations, but it is worthy to note in and of itself.
Bottom line, Bacevich makes a great case about the consequences of the all-volunteer force: "not least among them is a proclivity for wars that are, if anything, even more misguided adn counterproductive than Vietnam was....The warriors may be brave, but the people are timid. So where courage is most needed, passivity prevails, exquisitely expressed...in the omnipresent call to support the troops." Wow. So true. A great read, and it will certainly spark some interesting questions on where do we go from here. The Syria situation today provides a great example of what Bacevich is talking about in this great book. ( )
1 vote pjlambert | Oct 3, 2013 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0805082964, Hardcover)

A blistering critique of the gulf between America’s soldiers and the society that sends them off to war, from the bestselling author of The Limits of Power and Washington Rules

The United States has been “at war” for more than a decade. Yet as war has become normalized, a yawning gap has opened between America’s soldiers and the society in whose name they fight. For ordinary citizens, as former secretary of defense Robert Gates has acknowledged, armed conflict has become an “abstraction” and military service “something for other people to do.”

In Breach of Trust, bestselling author Andrew Bacevich takes stock of the separation between Americans and their military, tracing its origins to the Vietnam era and exploring its pernicious implications: a nation with an abiding appetite for war waged at enormous expense by a standing army demonstrably unable to achieve victory. Among the collateral casualties are values once considered central to democratic practice, including the principle that responsibility for defending the country should rest with its citizens.

Citing figures as diverse as the martyr-theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the marine-turned-anti-warrior Smedley Butler, Breach of Trust summons Americans to restore that principle. Rather than something for “other people” to do, national defense should become the business of “we the people.” Should Americans refuse to shoulder this responsibility, Bacevich warns, the prospect of endless war, waged by a “foreign legion” of professionals and contractor-mercenaries, beckons. So too does bankruptcy—moral as well as fiscal.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:09:13 -0400)

Bacevich takes stock of the separation between Americans and their military, tracing its origins to the Vietnam era and exploring its pernicious implications: a nation with an abiding appetite for war waged at enormous expense by a standing army demonstrably unable to achieve victory. Rather than something for "other people" to do, Bacevich argues that national defense should become the business of "we the people."… (more)

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