This week: conversations with dissenting veterans of America’s post-9/11 wars—the latest installment of our limited-series collaboration with the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft. Hear it today at 2 pm, or anytime at our website.
Ronald Reagan, the first presidential candidate endorsed by the NRA, also oversaw what was the largest military buildup in peacetime history—just one prominent instance of converging American commitments to both domestic and military weaponry. It isn’t difficult to name additional American politicians with similar attitudes. And this Memorial Day marks another overlap, as Americans’ thoughts turn both to those killed in war and those recently killed in mass shootings in Buffalo and Uvalde.
Next week’s show will consider connections between American gun violence and militarism, and on this week’s show, we hear from critics of America’s post-9/11 wars—from dissenting veterans like Jason Dempsey. Dempsey describes an American obsession with weapons, and specifically an overconfidence in military weaponry in the context of America’s failure in Afghanistan:
Hey, we say the military’s great. We’re so enamored with our equipment, with our weapons systems. Every general who is over there needs to be asked: you had the most elite advanced fighting force in the world, and you lost to people who never deployed a single helicopter, who barely had radios . . . How did you lose so badly?
Joy Damiani, veteran of the war in Iraq, says:
I just kind of got more and more disgruntled and angry, and then I realized how how poorly the military was willing to treat us, the soldiers. And I was like, well, if they’re willing to treat us like trash, and we’re the good guys, and we’re the heroes, what is really happening to everybody else? It looks like it’s just violence and death and destruction and grabbing power and resources from people who were managing fine before all these foreign interventions started.
Erik Edstrom, veteran of the war in Afghanistan, describes the effects of growing up in a militarized culture:
The background and sort of the genesis of my desire to join the military, I think is given almost standard issue to, especially, sort of young boys. When you think about public service, it’s often not thinking of a career as a teacher or a social worker. The idea that comes into your mind is if you want to serve the public, serve in the military. And that was the level of sophistication I think that I attended the Academy with, at least when I first joined.
Paul Yingling, an Army veteran, notes the wide-ranging failures behind the Iraq War:
The debacle in Iraq was a failure of a number of institutions. Certainly the U.S. military, failing to prepare for irregular warfare, failure to resource and train for irregular warfare, failure to tell the truth to the American people.
The media also failed. The institution designed to evaluate claims by public officials and to test those claims against available evidence and to consider alternative viewpoints failed in Iraq, and it failed to warn the American people adequately. There was, in my view, a certain institutional capture where senior officials, starting from Vice President Cheney all the way through military officials like General Tommy Franks, granted access to reporters, who would peddle the Iraq line. And if you failed to peddle the Iraq line, you didn’t get access to the troops, to the briefings, to the senior administration official speaking on background and etc. And so for years, the American media allowed themselves to be captured and to become not watchdogs, but lapdogs. They didn’t test and evaluate the claims of public officials. They repeated and amplified those claims.
Next Week: Cornel West and David Bromwich
Watch: Better Call Saul
Surely this is the best television show now airing about America-gone-wrong. Over at Salon, here’s Melanie McFarland with an appreciation of the show’s pace:
Before people came up with a term for shows like “Better Call Saul” there was a short-lived effort to attach the “Slow TV” label to any show that emphasized marinating the audience in character development and mood. Multiple episodes might pass before “anything happens” — which is to say the writers might wait for several installments to turn up the flames, whether that heat takes the form of scandal, betrayal, swift reversals of fortune or the reliable trigger of violence.
Read: Paths of Dissent
Read more from the veterans on this week’s show in the new collection co-edited by the Quincy Institute’s president, Andrew Bacevich: It’s called Paths of Dissent: Soldiers Speak Out Against America’s Misguided Wars.