Andrew Bacevich writes: Are Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden traitors or patriots? With Manning in jail and Snowden the subject of a global APB, the Obama administration has made its position on the question clear.
Yet for the rest of us, the question presumes a prior one: To whom do Army privates and intelligence contractors owe their loyalty? To state or to country? To the national security apparatus that employs them or to the people that apparatus is said to protect?
Those who speak for that apparatus, preeminently the president, assert that the interests of the state and the interests of the country are indistinguishable. Agencies charged with keeping Americans safe are focused on doing just that. Those who leak sensitive information undermine that effort and therefore deserve to feel the full force of law.
But what if the interests of the state do not automatically align with those of the country? In that event, protecting “the homeland” serves as something of a smokescreen. Behind it, the state pursues its own agenda. In doing so, it stealthily but inexorably accumulates power, privilege and prerogatives.
Wars — either actual hostilities or crises fostering the perception of imminent danger — facilitate this process. War exalts, elevates and sanctifies the state. Writing almost a century ago, journalist Randolph Bourne put the matter succinctly: “War is the health of the state.” Among citizens, war induces herd-like subservience. “A people at war,” Bourne wrote, “become in the most literal sense obedient, respectful, trustful children again, full of that naive faith in the all-wisdom and all-power of the adult who takes care of them.”
Bourne’s observation captures an essential theme of recent U.S. history. Before the Good War gave way to the Cold War and then to the open-ended Global War on Terror, the nation’s capital was a third-rate Southern city charged with printing currency and issuing Social Security checks. Several decades of war and quasi-war transformed it into today’s center of the universe. Washington demanded deference, and Americans fell into the habit of offering it. In matters of national security, they became if not obedient, at least compliant, taking cues from authorities who operated behind a wall of secrecy and claimed expertise in anticipating and deflecting threats.
Popular deference allowed those authorities to get away with murder, real and metaphorical. [Continue reading…]