by Michael Musheno and Susan M. Ross. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2008. 216pp. Cloth. $24.95. ISBN: 9780472070299. Paper. $19.95. ISBN: 9780472050291.
Reviewed by Malcolm M. Feeley, School of Law, University of California at Berkeley and Visiting Fellow, Law and Politics Program, Princeton University (2008-09). Email: Mfeeley [at] princeton.edu.
Why should a book examining how army reservists bear the burden of the war in Iraq be reviewed in the LAW AND POLITICS BOOK REVIEW? A good question. And there is a good answer. This study is something of a classic impact study of legal policy. True, it does not examine all the impacts of a complicated and sustained policy. Nor does it focus on the impact of court orders. But it does focus on one aspect of the impact of a policy, how ordinary people called into service to respond to those policies and are personally affected by their service. Michael Musheno and Susan M. Ross ask, why did these people join the reserves? What did they expect? What did they experience? This book explores answers to these and related questions. The book has an admirable Studs Terkel-like quality; it allows the reservists an opportunity to speak for themselves, to tell their own stories in their own words. Although they often do not focus on it, Musheno and Ross’s reservists are caught up in a web of law: they retain their jobs because of law, they lose their jobs because of law, their cars are reposed because of law, their credit ratings are determined by law. Welfare, disability, and social security rights for reservists and their families are affected by what the law says and how it is interpreted. Wisely, the authors do not break down the variety of burdens experienced by the reservists into separate and distinct “dimensions;” instead as I said, they let their subjects reflect on their own concerns and experiences as they see them. Still, as was revealed in Austin Sarat’s well-known conversation with the welfare recipient in Providence, Rhode Island, “the law is everywhere.” It is here too. But in the accounts of the reservists, for the most part the law is invisible or only implicit. Nevertheless in this short essay – in part because of the reviewer’s interests and in part because of the Law and Courts audience – I will draw out and focus on the law and its implications that are more or less latent in the volume. Advance apologies to the authors if I fail to characterize their book adequately. However, as will be obvious to readers of this review, I think the book is a stunning achievement. It is in the best bottom-up tradition of the American social sciences. It can be read profitably by scholars in several disciplines.
DEPLOYED is a study of citizen-soldiers – reservists – called into service in the wake of 9/11 and sent to Afghanistan and Iraq, often for multiple tours. None of them were prepared for 9/11 or knew when they joined the reserves that it would entail such extended service and sacrifice. Musheno and Ross’s study is an account of how [*11] some of these reservists adapted to their unexpected responsibilities. Following the lives and responses of a handful of individuals – all assigned to the same company of Military Police to which the authors had especially good access – they identify the various pathways that led these young men and women to join the Army Reserve, and most interestingly the ways they adapted to their activation. Some were “adaptive” and adjusted quickly to the huge changes, both at home and abroad. Others were “struggling reservists,” whose troubles, the authors found, were more often linked to problems at home than to dangers on the battlefield. And still other reservists were dismissive of military life and opposed the war even as they served, often with distinction, in or near the field of battle.
For many, and especially those in the first two categories, the adaptive and the struggling reservists, reserve duty and activation were valuable. They provided a sense of higher duty, excitement, an opportunity to broaden experiences, an alternative to the mundane, and at times an escape from responsibilities. One factor that distinguishes the first from the second group is not so much the characters of the reservists but supports at home – demands of family and friends, precarious economic security, and the like. But in all three groups, the authors seem to be challenging stereotypes of battle-shattered soldiers who return as broken souls and social pariahs. In contrast to the image of so many Viet Nam veterans, the authors find resourceful individuals whose experiences seem to have been, if not exhilarating, at least character-building. It is of course difficult to generalize from the experiences of so few, all of whom were in the same company, and the authors are careful to limit generalization from such small numbers. It may be that any more severe problems may not reveal themselves for some years into the future, or that the reservists in this particular company were shielded from some of the worst conditions during their deployments.
Whatever the case, law is everywhere for these reservists. It affects why they joined the reserves, what happens to them and their families when they are deployed, and how they fit back into civilian life upon their deactivation. Time and time again, the authors show that the law is not sufficiently responsive to the rapidly activated and deployed reservists. Not surprisingly these and related factors affect the reservists differentially and in turn affect whether they are adaptors, strugglers, or dismissers. Law is everywhere and is received, applied and used differentially depending on skill, access, and luck.
Although the analysis of the law in the lives of the reservists is largely latent, whatever there is, it is in the foreground. Against it, buried deeper in the background is the lawlessness and quasi-lawlessness of executive action and Administration maneuvering to avoid public discussion, Congressional oversight, and the rule of law. The Bush Administration has been repeatedly criticized for its cynical maneuvering to maximize its powers and secrecy with respect to post-9/11 policies affecting detention of suspected terrorists, the build-up to the war, and the conduct of the war. Consistently, writings by intrepid journalists, testimony by witnesses in judicial proceedings, and mea culpas by repentant insiders, reveal [*12] wholesale abuses of the rule of law. With a new Administration, such revelations are bound to reveal still more and more serious abuses. (As many readers of this review know, one of our own – Lou Fisher in the reference division of the Library of Congress – was unceremoniously removed from his position because of his defense of Congressional war power prerogatives vis a vis the Executive, but even with the intervention of Senator Byrd, he was not restored to his position.) And as I suggested above throughout all this, as an institution Congress has revealed itself incapable of exercising its constitutional responsibilities to act as a check on the Executive. Time and time again it has allowed itself be manipulated and lied to, responding ostrich-like by burying its head in the sand.
Although the book does not directly deal with the issue, nevertheless DEPLOYED indirectly reveals the bankruptcy of the government’s policy of depending upon reservists rather than instituting a citizen draft. It reveals the same executive hubris that was demonstrated by John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Robert McNamera, McGeorge Bundy, Henry Kissinger, General Westmoreland, and others in the Viet Nam era. Then the Administration chose to use the regular army rather than mobilize the reserves in order to avoid the ire of the general public or to jeopardize pursuit of the Great Society. Now, in Iraq, the opposite policy has been followed, but for the same reasons: to foster a quiescent public. Mobilizing volunteer reservists – rather than depending more heavily on the regular army and resorting to aggressive recruitment campaigns and possibly to conscription – is the preferred way to keep the lid on opposition. However it is the same manipulation of the law by a cynical Administration. And it reveals the same cowardliness by Congress that we saw in the Viet Nam era. An important difference, however, is that the current policy has succeeded, whereas the earlier approach eventually failed. In the 1960s and 1970s demonstrations spear-headed by draft-age young people, eventually toppled the Government, while recently, despite presiding over an unpopular war, the Administration’s use of reservists (and privatized military operatives) succeeded in minimizing public opposition and helped the president gain re-election. Indeed this policy was so successful that the new president, elected in part on his opposition to the war in Iraq, has retained his predecessor’s Secretary of Defense.
Seen against the almost daily revelations of cynicism, hubris, distortion and lying that were part and parcel of the Bush Administration for its entire eight years, Mucheno and Ross’ account of brave and struggling reservists is profoundly saddening, if not tragic. Their motivations so often sincere and their actions – both at home and abroad – so often heroic, must be understood against the fact they were pawns used by arrogant leaders who had neither the decency nor the courage to be honest to the reservists or to the American public as to their true intentions. The sad truth is that these intrepid citizen-soldiers have served in vain. The Iraq war follows in the footsteps of World War I and the war in Viet Nam as a symbol of arrogance and indifference by callous leaders. The hubris, misrepresentations, lying and willful disregard of the law were characteristic of all of these [*13] encounters, but it may be that the Bush Administration has carried these antics to new extremes, willfully subverting the safeguards that had been erected in the wake of these earlier disasters.
However, these issues are not the primary themes of Musheno and Ross’s book. Nor should they be. Any such thorough analysis of these themes will require greater distance and perspective. Still, when such accounts are written, Musheno and Ross’ book should be drawn upon; it will provide much to reflect on, for they tell the stories of the men and women caught up in the mess.
Since Viet Nam, American military leaders have had a heightened appreciation of the value of human lives and reasonable military objectives, and I note that on the back cover of this book there is an endorsement from a professor at West Point. One hopes the cadets read it there. But one hopes, also, that civilians in the Executive Office – whether or not they have dodged military service – will read this and similar accounts in the future. And let’s hope that members of Congress and their staffs will read it as well. (Hope springs eternal!)
Despite the strength of character of the reservists and the strengthening of character that their experiences brought many of them, DEPLOYED is a profoundly discouraging book. For it unwittingly tells the story of how eager and dutiful young men and women were duped and betrayed by high officials with evil intent. The cynical behavior of our leaders makes Mucheno and Ross’s account of the struggles and successes of the reservists all the more poignant.
© Copyright 2009 by the author, Malcolm M. Feeley.