The Renewed American Militarism

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Bacevich says the Iraq war “was utterly unnecessary, not to mention reckless in its conception and mismanaged by both civilian and military leaders.”

Andrew J. Bacevich is one of the most provocative – as in thought-provoking – national-security writers out there today. Part of that stems from his background – he is a 1969 graduate of West Point and a Vietnam veteran. He also went on to spend 23 years in the Army, and earn a Princeton doctorate in history. And part of it stems from his willingness to write what he thinks without trying to curry favor from the national-security establishment.

Bacevich, a professor of history and international relations at Boston University, is the author of several books. The latest is an updated edition of The New American Militarism: How Americans are Seduced by War, out this week with a new afterword. Battleland conducted this email chat with him last week:

You wrote The New American Militarism in 2005, and now have updated it eight years later. What has changed?

The book identified a set of attitudes toward war, military institutions, and soldiers that constituted a form of militarism.

So at least I argued.

By and large, those attitudes persist today. When force once again becomes the option of last resort, when our armed forces are held accountable, and when Americans realize that our “warriors” are not morally superior to the rest of us — then militarism will have begun to subside.

As far as I can tell, that hasn’t happened yet.


Oxford University Press

The original appeared in the middle of the Afghan and Iraq wars; now both are pretty much over. Did they end up where you thought they would?

I did not expect our recent wars to drag on as endlessly as they did.

One thing you have to say about our professional military with its contractor auxiliary: It’s proven astonishingly durable.

Given sufficient money, it just goes and goes.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t win — that is, it doesn’t end wars conclusively while achieving announced political objectives.

Was the Afghan war worth fighting? How about the Iraq war?

It’s probably too soon to answer those questions.

What seems clear is this: the Afghanistan war was necessary. That is, once the Taliban refused to cough up Osama bin Laden after 9/11, we had to act. We had to demonstrate that any government making common cause with al Qaeda was going to pay a heavy price.

On the other hand, the Iraq war was utterly unnecessary, not to mention reckless in its conception and mismanaged by both civilian and military leaders.

Has the U.S. military learned the right lessons from the post-9/11 wars?

I’m just an outside observer.


Mike Minehan photo

Andrew Bacevich

But it’s not clear to me that present-day military leaders have the wit or the moral courage necessary to learn the right lessons.

Based on what we’ve witnessed over the past decade, we are blessed with some pretty splendid sergeants and captains. Things don’t look quite so good at the senior levels.

Overall, American generalship has been mediocre at best. Where is the three-star or four-star who will say that publicly and then address the implications that stem from that admission?

Has the U.S. learned the right lessons from the post-9/11 wars?


Learning requires reflection.

The American people have already forgotten Iraq and they will have forgotten Afghanistan even before the last U. S. soldier leaves.