My first awareness of war was during the Persian Gulf War in the early 1990s. As a kid, I didn’t understand why or for what we were fighting, but I remember hearing my parents talking about it, which made me wonder. I was a freshman in college when the World Trade Center was attacked on September 11, 2001 and I thought, My God, are they going to reinstate the draft? What does this mean; can I just kiss my male relatives and friends goodbye? Will this be like Vietnam? Start of World War III? A sort of unsure, maybe mild panic. I remember feeling angry, sad, and terrified, like so many others. However now, ten-plus years later, I have barely felt any impact of the Iraq War in my daily life, or the concurrent war in Afghanistan, and again wondered why. Why is this state of wartime so different from the stories I’ve heard and read about World Wars I and II, everyone across the country making personal, physical sacrifices for the war effort? Why is it different from the Vietnam War, with its country-wide protests? Turns out I wasn’t alone in my confusion and curiosity. Rachel Maddow helped explain why and answer my questions with her new book Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power.

I was fortunate enough to see Rachel on her book tour stop on April 22 in Kansas City, where I received a copy and started reading it the very same day. Rachel is a refreshing and bright personality in the often ugly and misleading world of political media. She has tangible credentials as a PhD and Rhodes Scholar. She argues with logic and factual evidence, and points out irony in political situations and actions all the time on her MSNBC show. Her book reads very much in her fun yet informed voice. She’s not lecturing you, she’s not preachy. Yes, Rachel is a liberal, but the arguments in her book come from research and a genuine desire to understand rather than bashing one side or another, and result in an undeniably patriotic tone.

Drift is an intelligent yet accessible account of our nation’s gradual shift into a state of near-constant war, despite all the very real human and financial costs, starting from the Vietnam War through the recent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Rachel explains how executive power has risen above consultation with Congress—of recent presidents unconstitutionally declaring military action with alarming secrecy. Outsourcing of historically normal military functions to private corporate contractors and increased defense spending have bloated our military to its largest size ever and mired our country in debt. She talks about Ronald Reagan with the Iran-Contra Affair and Grenada invasion, George H. W. Bush with the Gulf War, and includes a horrifying section on the U.S. nuclear missile program. After these grim realities of our current Military-Industrial Complex are discussed, Rachel does offer sound suggestions on how to realign its control and power. Easier said than done, of course, but entirely plausible. I learned a lot from Drift, which actually left me hopeful rather than discouraged.

Read from April 22 to May 6, 2012.