Andrew Sullivan, stealing ideas from Glenn Greenwald, today writes: “The drift toward a nakedly partisan military, operating primarily through partisan blogs and partisan journalists, is truly disturbing.” And while I agree with Sullivan (I didn’t enjoy writing that clause, by the way), it’s worth noting that the military has a long history of partisanship.
A few months back, I reviewed a couple of books for, well, for a place that I sometimes review books. The review hasn’t appeared, by the way, which is annoying me. Whatever. Anyway, one of the books, Jennifer Weber’s “Copperheads: The Rise and Fall of Lincoln’s Opponents in the North,” included a number of fascinating anecdotes about the ways that the Lincoln administration — and oh how Sullivan loves him some Lincoln — used the troops to advance its electoral prospects. Some of those stories, of soldiers furloughed home to serve as a not-very-subtle reminder of what was at stake when their communities voted, are pretty damn scary. Especially so because Weber suggests that people, including officials in the Army and the Republican/Union Party, understood that the presence of the troops would be, how to say this nicely, intimidating.
My point is, ’twas always so. Politicians wrap themselves in the flag and use the troops, whenever they can, to score political points. Is Sullivan right that this isn’t a good thing? Yes. And I, too, find it scary. I’m not suggesting that we should give President Bush a pass for his craven behavior. But it’s nothing new.