How Everything Became War and the Military Became Everything: Tales from the Pentagon, by Rosa Brooks (Simon & Schuster, 448 pp., $29.95)
In 1992, an Air Force lieutenant colonel named Charles Dunlap published an essay in Parameters, the journal of the Army War College. Titled “The Origins of the Coup of 2012,” the article, which Dunlap described as a fictional “darkly imagined excursion into the future,” takes the form of a letter from an officer condemned to death for opposing a military coup that has taken place in the United States. The letter argues that the coup was the result of trends that were already observable in 1992. The condemned letter writer’s thesis is that after years of being handed the tough jobs the rest of the government seemed incapable of handling, the U.S. military, with the acquiescence of the American people and their government, simply took over.
Dunlap’s protagonist writes: “Faced with intractable national problems on one hand, and an energetic and capable military on the other, it can be all too seductive to start viewing the military as a cost-effective solution. We made a terrible mistake when we allowed the armed forces to be diverted from its original purpose.”
Of course, there has been no military coup in America. But in many other respects, Dunlap’s essay is amazingly prescient regarding the consequences of the trends he identified, exacerbated by 9/11 a decade later. These consequences are among the subjects of Rosa Brooks’s remarkable new book. Echoing Dunlap’s doomed author, she writes: “Americans increasingly treat the military as an all-purpose tool for fixing anything that happens to be broken.”
Subtitled “Tales from the Pentagon,” this interesting work is not exactly a memoir (although the author tells many interesting stories) but rather a reflection on war, the military, and national-security law in our time. On one hand, Brooks’s perspective is that of a somewhat amused outsider trying to make sense of the Pentagon’s competing organizational cultures and bureaucracies; on the other, that of an advocate of strict U.S. adherence to international law.