One author is a liberal pundit on the MSNBC television network. The other is a professor at the University of Southern California Law School. Both writers grapple with the same critical questions about contemporary military affairs and have arrived at comparable conclusions.
How did the national security state become so pervasive, and what is its cost to the American system of law, government and civic cohesion? “No matter how long the troops slog through the muck, no matter how many deployments they endure, the American public can no longer really be touched by war,” asserts Rachel Maddow in her first book, “Drift.”Mary L. Dudziak, author of “War Time,” observes: “We are routinely asked to support our troops, but otherwise war requires no sacrifices of most Americans. . . . War has drifted to the margins of American politics.”
Drawing thoughtfully from the literature of legal studies, political science, history and sociology, Dudziak crafts a fascinating and nuanced narrative tracing the progressive expansion of U.S. national security interests and the complex ramifications. “Military conflict has been ongoing for decades, yet public policy rests on the false assumption that it is an aberration,” she writes, charging that “ ‘wartime’ serves as an argument and an excuse for national security-related ruptures of the usual legal order.”
Among the ruptures to that order, Dudziak cites the Sedition Act of 1918, passed by Congress during World War I to criminalize the expression of political views deemed injurious to the war effort.In the years before America’s formal entry into World War II, Franklin Roosevelt used his excecutive powers to provide military aid to American allies abroad and to enhance federal surveillance capabilities at home. The author also laments the “vast incursion on civil liberties” embodied in FDR’s imprisonment of Japanese American citizens and immigrants in internment camps in the midst of the war.
America’s victory in World War II did not mark a cessation of “war time,” Dudziak explains, but rather a transition to a period of protracted military mobilization catalyzed by the dawn of the Cold War. The National Security Act of 1947, she writes, created an enduring foundation for American military power and a new structure for the U.S. government. “The Department of War became the Department of Defense, and there would be a secretary of defense instead of a secretary of war.”
In the aftermath of the Soviet acquisition of a nuclear weapons capability and the Chinese communist revolution in 1949, President Harry Truman instructed his national security team to reassess America’s geostrategic interests. That canonical analysis, a study known as NSC-68, characterized the Soviet Union’s hegemonic ambitions as the defining threat to international security and served as the conceptual basis for a broadly bipartisan foreign policy. In the four-year period that followed, the U.S. military budget exploded from $14 billion to $53 billion annually. As Dudziak reminds us, it was the former supreme Allied commander in World War II, President Dwight Eisenhower, who 51 years agowarned of the dangers posed by “the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex,” which he defined as “a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions.”