There was a second depressing book that I read while also reading the uplifting The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba. Unlike Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, which is fiction, this book is history. Some readers might dispute the author's sources and interpretations of history, but the people are real and the events are true. The book is the 2012 bestseller Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power by Rachel Maddow, which I borrowed in downloadable audio read by the author.
In Drift, Maddow recounts how our country has veered away from our Founders' idea of citizen soldiers who were only in uniform when our country was at war. Of course, there was never a time when there were absolutely no soldiers, as there were always a few to stand guard in the capitol and to maintain a bit of structure should it be needed. However, the idea of a large standing army was thought a danger to democracy by many in the first two centuries of our nation. Through the bloody 20th century, the idea eroded, taking an especially big hit when Ronald Reagan and his political alliance arranged a massive expansion of our military force and vast spending on weapons at a time when we had actually been without a ground war to fight. So he and his advisers arranged for us to send weapons through Israel to Iran to get money for fighting rebels in Nicaragua - all under the table and off the books. In defense, Reagan touted the superior strength and spending of the Soviet Union, when in truth the communist power was crumbling. His administration was admonished for the illegal activities but never punished. All of the presidential administrations since have interpretted Reagan's success as a nod toward their own bypassing Congress and the American people in extralegal military activities.
Maddow recounts all the subsequent wars to arrive at the present, when we are in a state of perpetual war exhausting our economy and straining our ability to find willing soldiers. It is a time when the CIA has become a branch of the military with missions and budgets that are kept secret even from Congress. There is also a stockpile of atomic weapons that is aging and redundant to maintain; using them is unthinkable. Democracy seems to have no role in the running of the military. It seems that our nation is unredeemably lost in this account, until the epilogue in which Maddow lays out some ideas for reforming the military, making it accountable for its spending and actions - a surprisingly upbeat end to a woe-filled story.
I am left thinking everyone should read Drift (and The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind) and believing that few will. Too many are sedated by reality TV playing constantly in their homes on their big screens, as predicted by Bradbury in Fahrenheit 451.
Maddow, Rachel. Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power. Crown, 2012. 275p. ISBN 9780307460983.