The family of Andrew Bacevich, a 27-year-old first lieutenant who was recently killed in an ambush north of Baghdad, doesn’t want to see its beloved son and brother turned into an impersonal symbol of a tragic and unnecessary war: they want him to be remembered as a special person, "a great-looking kid with an infectious smile,” as one of his close friends put it at his funeral service.
He was, by all accounts, a unique man of many talents, who aspired to join the Army in spite of restrictions against asthma sufferers. Young Bacevich was forced to leave ROTC at Boston University because of this, but he worked hard to stay in shape and ran the Boston Marathon in 3 hours and 35 minutes. After graduating from BU in 2003, he worked as an aide to a state Republican legislator, and in 2004 he became a legislative liaison and analyst on the staff of Gov. Mitt Romney.
He finally achieved his dream of serving his country when the asthma restrictions were relaxed. He joined in 2005 as a private and was admitted to Officers Candidate School which he knew would mean deployment to Iraq in very short order. He went in October and led a platoon in the Third Brigade Combat Team, First Cavalry Division.
He was, by all accounts, anything but a tragic figure, full of the life-force and an inspiration and joy to those who knew him. Yet this very quality underscores the tragedy of his demise and inevitably leads us to raise the questions his father, Andrew J. Bacevich, a retired Army colonel who served in Vietnam and now teaches at Boston University, asked in an interview with National Public Radio: "One of the things that I’ve been really struggling with over the last several days is to try to understand my responsibility for my own son’s death."
"What kind of democracy is this when the people do speak and the peoples voice is unambiguous but nothing happens?"
It is a question that needs to be addressed to the leadership of both parties, not only the Republicans particularly Mitt "Two, Three, Many Guantanamos" Romney but also Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. These two Democratic Party bigwigs were propelled into power by rising antiwar sentiment, yet they have just signed on to a war funding bill with no timelines, no preconditions, and no real congressional oversight. It’s just another blank check drawn on an account long since drained dry.
The senior Bacevich’s question is more than a father’s lament for his son: it is a eulogy spoken over the remains of our old Republic. In his trenchant study of the War Party’s cultural and political triumph over nearly every aspect of American life, The New American Militarism: How Americans Are Seduced by War, Professor Bacevich wrote:
"At the end of the Cold War, Americans said yes to military power. The skepticism about arms and armies that pervaded the American experiment from its founding, vanished. Political leaders, liberals and conservatives alike, became enamored with military might.
"The ensuing affair had and continues to have a heedless, Gatsby-like aspect, a passion pursued in utter disregard of any consequences that might ensue. Few in power have openly considered whether valuing military power for its own sake or cultivating permanent global military superiority might be at odds with American principles. Indeed, one striking aspect of America’s drift toward militarism has been the absence of dissent offered by any political figure of genuine stature."
He takes John Kerry to task for missing the chance to question the consensus that drives our bipartisan foreign policy of global intervention and keeps the doctrine of military supremacism fully funded. America’s romance with militarism is seen, in this conservative’s view, as a corrupting influence, one that leads to the growth of a spirit that is quite contrary to that of the Founders of this country. This new cultural ethos of empire sees war not as an orgy of brutality and destruction, but as a "spectacle," as Michael Ignatieff put it, a "spectator sport" like those indulged in by those late Roman citizens who relaxed while watching gladiators tear each other to pieces in the arena.
What Bacevich calls the new "aesthetic of war" as a glamorous and especially virtuous activity has taken firm hold in the American consciousness and has been used by the War Party to promote its various "projects," notably the invasion of Iraq. According to this Bizarro World morality, Ares must displace the Prince of Peace as the embodiment of virtue and the neo-pagans see in the president, as the commander in chief, a godlike warlord who can order his armies into battle without so much as a nod to Congress, the people, or common sense.
The militarist aesthetic is a key advertising tool used to market this war, and it is very useful in deflecting any effort to defund it: after all, we have to "support the troops" and our Dear Leader, no matter what folly they’re embarked on, and damn the consequences. "Shock and awe," the pretentious habit of giving each of our wars of conquest titles like Operation Iraqi Freedom, and those presidential photo-ops of George W. Bush decked out in uniform and mingling with the troops like a Roman emperor with his praetorians all this glitz has, until now, served to mask the cruel reality of war and ameliorated our awareness of the disastrous consequences of our leaders’ hubris.
With the Iraqi adventure now widely seen as a misadventure, however, one that even its original authors and promoters are rushing to run away from, our new civic religion of warrior-worship is suffering more than the taunts of a few village atheists. The debunking of the myths that led us to invade Iraq has the country convinced that the war was a mistake from the outset but still the war goes on. "What kind of democracy is this?" Bacevich wants to know.
This is the kind of democracy it is: the kind that can have both parties calling for an increase in the size of the U.S. military at a moment when the people are sick and tired of war and groaning under the weight of confiscatory taxation. The kind that has all "major" candidates for the White House vowing that nothing is "off the table" when it comes to Iran and pledging to prosecute the war in Iraq more efficiently and successfully than Bush.
What the past four years have taught us is that we are the kind of "democracy" in which the major parties are merely the "right" and "left" wings of a single party the War Party.
Given these circumstances and his own unimaginable private agony, Professor Bacevich may perhaps be forgiven for the deep despair resonating in his voice as he questions the very foundations of who and what we are as a people. I share his outrage, but not his pessimism: our old Republic has weathered many a storm, and at times such as these our republican institutions have seemed fragile in the face of such furious winds. Yet somehow we have always come out all right, and emerged, as before, the citizens of a republic, not an empire. We will, this time, too although the travails we’ll have to endure are presently unimaginable. The people are aroused, and all they lack is the right leadership. As Garet Garrett put it at the end of Rise of Empire, his Cold-War-era philippic against globalism:
"No doubt the people know they can have their Republic back if they want it enough to fight for it and to pay the price. The only point is that no leader has yet appeared with the courage to make them choose."