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Page 27
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<< 26. Genocidal Conscription28. Vietnam - Iraq - Afghanistan >>

After the Apocalypse

By John Ketwig (reviewer)

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After the Apocalypse
by Andrew Bacevich

(Metropolitan Books / Henry Holt and Company, 2021)

Andrew Bacevich is a graduate of West Point and retired from the army, a Vietnam veteran at the rank of Colonel. He received his Ph.D. in American Diplomatic History from Princeton, taught at West Point and Johns Hopkins, and then at Boston University, where he is a Professor Emeritus of International Relations and History. He is the author of more than a dozen books, including Breach of Trust: How Americans Failed Their Soldiers and Their Country (2013); The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism (2008); The New American Militarism: How Americans are Seduced by War (2005); and Paths of Dissent: Soldiers Speak Out Against America's Forever Wars (2022). His essays and op-ed articles have appeared in The Nation, Foreign Policy, Foreign Affairs, The New Republic, The New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, Boston Globe, and Los Angeles Times. He is a regular contributor to Tom Dispatches. Bacevich is the president and co-founder of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, a think tank that advocates for a more peaceful and non-interventionist US foreign policy. In May of 2007, his son, 1st Lt. Andrew Bacevich, age 27, was killed in Iraq. I have met Bacevich and heard him speak at the Vietnam Peace Commemoration reunion conference held in Washington, DC, in 2023 to contradict the pro-war stance of the federal government and Pentagon's 50th-anniversary "Commemoration of the Vietnam War," a heavily-funded event lasting from May 28, 2012, to November 11, 2025, that carefully and systematically ignored any reference to the peace movement. I can tell you that Bacevich's ability to make a presentation to a large audience is as effective as his writing, and off-stage, he is wonderfully articulate and a very nice guy.

Okay, enough of all that. The book I'm reviewing, After the Apocalypse, was published in 2021, and he has released more since then. Why did I choose to draw attention to this one? Well, it is a relatively small book, 172 pages of text and 21 pages of footnotes, but it offers a very realistic and sobering examination of our American society, foreign policy, and our "distinctively American attributes."

At the end of World War II, Bacevich writes, much of Europe and Asia were rubble, but America emerged "undamaged and all but self-sufficient." America's economic and technological superiority was indisputable. We were the only nation with nuclear weapons. "The shattered and demoralized nations of Western Europe desperately needed American aid and protection. Even the former Axis powers, Germany, Italy, and Japan, looked to Washington for assistance." China was weak and on the brink of civil war. Only the Soviet Union resisted, "intent on exporting an ideological alternative" to American preeminence, capitalism, and democracy. By 1989, all that reliance upon the US had changed. Still, American business and political leaders, and the American people in general, continued to believe that America was "exceptional" and that assertive global leadership was inevitable, even God's will.

By 1989, and the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Soviet Union, it was apparent that American exceptionalism was "running on fumes. The evidence was everywhere—in appalling economic inequality, seemingly intractable racism, social disintegration, mushrooming personal indebtedness, budget deficits, trade imbalances, and above all a loss of faith in the American system." As the world's leading military power, vast sums of money were funneled to the Pentagon and the intelligence community, but the results achieved around the globe were ineffective and morally bankrupt. "Washington remained in deep denial." By 2020, after four years under Trump, neither candidate for president nor the political party machines behind them could offer any realistic vision of America's future role as leader of the free world. Perhaps as a symbol of America's "exceptionalism," the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted every facet of American life and international commerce.

America's imperialism treats the people of the world as inferior, while Americans are "doing God's service when it is violating all His laws." We are led to believe, despite the abundant truth of history, that our interventions into the politics and business of other countries are benevolent and ultimately intent upon improving the circumstances of the people of those countries. "But," Bacevich suggests, "the presumed beneficiaries of US ministrations, be they Native Americans, Mexicans, Cubans, Filipinos, Vietnamese, or, in more recent days, Iraqis and Afghans, have never been fooled. Nor should we fool ourselves." Note that After the Apocalypse was published in 2021, the people of Ukraine are not included in the list taken from the book, but one can only imagine that they would be included today.

I will suggest that "Winter Soldier" events by VVAW and, later, by Iraq Veterans Against the War (now known as About Face) are gut-wrenching evidence of the barbaric cruelty and racism that inspires the American way of waging war. Bacevich points out that "US forces did enjoy a clear-cut technological edge, but technology did not produce victory. Put to the test, the Pentagon's vision flopped."

"Ground combat in Afghanistan and Iraq yielded an altogether different lexicon that reeducated Americans regarding the enduring reality of war. Operative terms included IED, TBI, and PTSD. An enemy skilled in employing improvised explosive devices killed or maimed unsuspecting GIs. One result was a spike in traumatic brain injuries, which numbered among the factors contributing to an epidemic of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. The Pentagon's Joint Vision had neither anticipated nor prepared for any of these, along with a host of other surprises encountered in Afghanistan and Iraq." As I am writing this, an article in today's Roanoke Times reports that more than 30,000 suicides have occurred amoung the soldiers/veterans of those wars. As Vietnam veterans, I think we all wonder just what the Pentagon anticipated or prepared for. And when will Congress and the President insist that these terrible statistics are unacceptable?

Bacevich writes: "Present-day military leaders have neither any desire nor any intention to learn from the painful experiences of the post-9/11 wars. They have already moved on, busily cultivating an imaginary future more to their liking." These are just a snippet of the observations and recommendations found in After the Apocalypse.

It is a relatively small book but filled with insights and clear thinking. I am an Andrew Bacevich fan. I wrote to him when Joe Biden was elected president, suggesting Andrew Bacevich for Secretary of Defense. At the very least, he would call the boss and report when hospitalized! I heartily recommend After the Apocalypse.

John Ketwig is a lifetime member of VVAW and the author of the best-selling memoir …and a hard rain fell: A GI's True Story of the War in Vietnam, and Vietnam Reconsidered: The War, the Times, and Why They Matter.

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