Andrew Bacevich, ex military, retired with the rank of colonel, thus an officer, and, in my mind, a management elitist by nature, thus someone who long ago bought into the legitimacy of hierarchy, should be someone whose thoughts I would immediately dismiss without much need for fore thought, dismiss as someone with a mental framework, a paradigm, as Thomas Kuhn called it out for us in his Structure of Scientific Revolutions, that would have him see the world through a lens that I find dangerous and distorted, ultimately authoritarian and pro archic. I would expect his words to follow a deep seated ontology that I’d find predictable and distasteful to my deepest sense of independence and free (from) dom (ination).
But that’s not been the case in his writings that Tom Engelhardt has shared with us on his ever outspoken against empire and militarism site: TomDispatch.com.
Bacevich introduces his own piece (Cow Most Sacred: Why Military Spending Remains Untouchable) with a tale of his visit to an annual meeting of Veterans For Peace in Berkeley, CA, a meeting I myself might have been at had I not left the Bay Area fourteen years ago. In it he expresses a sense of openness and appreciation for democratic processes that I would not expect to find in a management mentality. True, it comes with management words that make me cringe, like “rank and file” that echo those management frameworks that look down upon the hordes the management likes to manage, but still the words struggle to speak outward from that self enclosed Machiavellian box to see the possibilities and the values of freedom and liberty embedded in the outward behavior of the minions he’s observing. This paragraph in particular I found noteworthy, even eloquent:
What particularly impressed me was the ability of rank-and-file VFP members to articulate the structural roots of American militarism and imperialism. They understand that the problem isn’t George W. Bush and Barack Obama (and therefore won’t be solved by Hillary or The Donald). It’s not that we have a war party that keeps a peace party under its boot. No, the problem is bigger and deeper: a fraudulent idea of freedom defined in quantitative material terms; a neoliberal political economy that privileges growth over all other values; a political system in which Big Money’s corruption has become pervasive; and, of course, the behemoth of the national security apparatus, its tentacles reaching into the far quarters of American society — even into the funky precincts of the San Francisco Bay Area. There is no peace party in this country, even if a remnant of Americans is still committed to the possibility of peace.
If any of my weekend confreres have occasion to read this piece on the second go-round, I hope that it will pass muster with them. If not, I know they will let me know in no uncertain terms. Andrew Bacevich
I couldn’t have expressed my own vision and ongoing narrative of the structure of our civilized world and its inevitably liberty-constraining format any better. Of course, my vision only begins with this military format. I cannot speak for Andrew Bacevich, whose own history somewhat parallels mine back into the Vietnam era. His was management, mine was not.
My own big wake up to U.S. militarism and it’s relationship to what many are finally recognizing as “empire” came one morning in mid February, 1967 — I’m fuzzy on the exact date, they were all one big blur of days at the time — while I was lying in my “rack” waiting for that sleep jarring moment intended to awaken us all to another day of duty. Reveille. I hated reveille so much that my mind would pull me from sleep, no matter how sleep deprived — and we consistently were… sleep deprived, like adherents to a cult kept from thinking about what cult leaders want us to do for the cause, especially while at sea on Yankee Station — well before its blast so that I could mentally prepare myself for my emotional response. While I was lying there I was going over my past eight months of thoughts about my circumstances.
Unlike many of my fellow military cult members, the day I stepped down off the last step of that bus that had brought us into a Naval boot camp, what I felt through my feet, and saw taking place around me was not a scene where my ritual of passage to manhood was about to begin, but a replication of what I’d recently read in Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, and would later read about in his Gulag Archipelago; that is, a prison camp, complete with high razor wire topped chain link fences, uniformed men marching by in frozen faced pain, no doubt from their deeply suppressed personal freedom to express their inner feelings, and everything that the horrors of authoritarian dominance stimulated my inner nature to revile. That was mid May of 1966. It was Cold War, America, and I was about to go help save all of us from Solzhenitsyn’s Soviet Union that was, somehow (out of my pay grade and no doubt security clearance to know the details) extending itself into Vietnam.
I of course had not yet revealed that inner nature entirely to myself, I’d only experienced it in flitting bits and pieces, had read about it from fellow freedom lovers, like Henry David Thoreau, James Baldwin, Albert Camus, and a few others at that meager point in my exposure to the humanly civilized world. I had as yet met very few who actually expressed my own inner feelings and revulsions to this structure of dominance in the way that I felt them. Thus I wasn’t entirely sure that any such real person existed. The writings I’d indulged in were disembodied, much like my own dreams and imaginings. But the moment was a kind of crude awakening for me, nevertheless, and while everything that was to follow was intended to put those awakened sensations to sleep, in my case they did not. Rather they fed my awakening visions, and so I was lying there, waiting for reveille, reflecting, thinking I suppose you could call it, those visions, not necessarily in chronological order, but more in a kind of constantly sorting three dimensional focusing.
So all that is merely the beginning of a long process of exploration though which I developed my own vision of:
a fraudulent idea of freedom defined in quantitative material terms; a neoliberal political economy that privileges growth over all other values; a political system in which Big Money’s corruption has become pervasive; and, of course, the behemoth of the national security apparatus, its tentacles reaching into the far quarters of American society... – Andrew Bacevich
So, while I was lying there, waiting for reveille, going over the visuals of those eight months of impressions, feeling my frustration, my pain from constantly suppressing my deep need for freedom, I suddenly felt an immense sense relief, like a letting go of all that was troubling me, as I thought, what if we all just threw down our tools of war and walked away, all at once? What if we just left, and left those managers, those few elite officers at that top to do their war thing without us? What would they do? What could they do? And then came reveille. But that moment was like an awakening. And I began a new consciousness, I firmly believe, in that moment. I believe that’s how the closure of a rite of passage happens. And each rite of passage that includes a new consciousness becomes more and more refined.