Kirkus Star


Dishonesty, Hubris, and Failure in the U.S. Military
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A West Point professor deconstructs the many failures of America’s most beloved institution: the armed forces.

Bakken—the first civilian hired to teach law at West Point who was also a whistleblower and won a retaliation case against the U.S. military—delivers an angry polemic, arguing that America’s military is commanded by men of limited intelligence but self-serving loyalty to their institution. This didn’t matter before World War II, when peacetime forces were tiny and neglected. Since 1945, however, they have swollen massively, dominating civil society and operating free of constitutional restraints thanks to several Supreme Court decisions and fawning civilian leaders. Fervently admired—approval in polls never drops below 70%—the military has attained untouchable status from its commander in chief. Every president after Dwight Eisenhower has proclaimed unqualified esteem, and Congress, which last declared war in 1942, has surrendered its authority. Yet despite performing with spectacular incompetence in most wars since WWII, no general has been fired. Bakken places much blame on the service academies (West Point et al.), mediocre institutions awash in money whose draconian discipline and teaching methods date from their founding. Most instructors are junior officers with no specialty in their subject who rotate through for a few years, following a rigid syllabus from which they cannot deviate. Readers may pause in their fuming to recall that brilliant people rarely choose a career in the military—or law enforcement. Rather, members of the military join for the action and value courage and loyalty above all. They consider themselves a band of brothers, indispensable defenders of the nation, most of whose effete citizens lack their selfless dedication. Warriors have always believed this, which is a mostly harmless situation unless they are calling the shots, which the author states is happening—and they are making a mess of it.

A provocative, disturbing argument that a democracy is in trouble when it venerates the military unconditionally.

Pub Date: Feb. 18th, 2020
ISBN: 978-1-63286-898-5
Page count: 400pp
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15th, 2019