author: Garry Wills
average rating: 3.98
book published: 1979
read at: 2010/04/22
date added: 2010/04/22
shelves: history, non-fiction, politics
Incredibly overwhelming for such a short book. He covers the emergence of the "National Security State" in the late 40s/early 50s, starting with the massive secrecy and command-and-control nature of the Manhattan Project, then tackles particular dangers and pitfalls since then. Starting with the bomb, our politics have gone into a unconstitutional twilight zone, to the point where it’s really hard to recognize it that way anymore.
This quote from Madison (his italics) stood out for me, in re the proper roles of the legislative vs the executive:
Those who are to conduct a war cannot be in the nature of things be proper or safe judges whether a war ought to be commenced, continued, or concluded.
You tell me how far away that is from the world we live in now.
I got to the end, and I kept hoping for some glimmer of, well, hope. But his (necessarily brief) treatment of the Obama administration so far only shows how easy it is for even well-meaning people to be captured by the f’ed-up logic of the National Security State. Alas. (No president comes off well in this, although Truman, Nixon, & Bush II give the worst impressions IMHO.)
Read it, definitely; he’s a great writer who covers a lot of ground quickly and with a crisp readable style. But be prepared to be depressed and/or furious.