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Rationalizing Lunacy: The Intellectual as Servant of the State


Rationalizing Lunacy: The Intellectual as Servant of the State

Andrew Bacevich

Policy intellectuals -- eggheads presuming to instruct the mere mortals who actually run for office -- are a blight on the republic. Like some invasive species, they infest present-day Washington, where their presence strangles common sense and has brought to the verge of extinction the simple ability to perceive reality. A benign appearance -- well-dressed types testifying before Congress, pontificating in print and on TV, or even filling key positions in the executive branch -- belies a malign impact. They are like Asian carp let loose in the Great Lakes.


Thank you Mr. Bacevich, I’ve been waiting for someone to write this article for years. Although it brings back difficult and sad memories of the Vietnam War, it is a wonderful synopsis of the past half century. Intellectuals indeed, people of privilege, armed with the right credentials, their pedigree so brilliantly set forth by David Halberstam in his still important book “The Best and the Brightest” sending others’ sons and daughters to untimely death. To this day McGeorge Bundy clings to his delusions about the war. I could go on and on, but your final sentences are so very refreshing, talent and wisdom resides throughout this land:

" Turn the op-ed pages of major newspapers over to high school social studies teachers. Book English majors from the Big Ten on the Sunday talk shows. Who knows what tidbits of wisdom might turn up?"

For those who might not have seen Dr Strangelove’s mineshaft proposal: “Mein Fuhrer I Can Walk”:


“Action intellectuals were thinkers, but also doers, members of a “large and growing body of men who choose to leave their quiet and secure niches on the university campus and involve themselves instead in the perplexing problems that face the nation,” as LIFE Magazine put it in 1967.”

As a card-carrying member or the ultimate fraternity–Mars ruled–for Mr. Bacevich and other white males, it never occurs to them that it IS the composition of the all white, all male boys’ clubs that ARE the problem. These narrow entities have projected asymmetrical values and systems onto this world. Using the force of arms, through domination they turned THEIR twisted concept of reality into the law of the land. For the most part, its ethos relies upon its own version of intellectual think tanks. These, then, act to codify its ethos into norms in the same way that the pro-torture school of sociopaths (part of the Bush Junta) recently deployed legal minds to theoretically immunize them from their own illegal acts.

From all white male banking cartels, to white males at the top of the military and “intelligence” chains of command, to white males dominating U.S. congress & senate, to white males serving as corporate CEOS… it’s too much power, influence, and CONTROL in the hands of those who happen to be skilled at warfare, domination, and ways to preserve THEIR status. It’s called Defense but mostly, this ilk works with extreme forms of violence to keep the status quo in the same hands.

It doesn’t view corporate predators as a problem–even though they’ve torn open the belly of the Great Mother (like a rapist, slicing and dicing his victim), or turned too much of the plant world into collateral (genetically engineered) damage; or wiped out millions of people, left legions of one-legged children in their wake, orphaned still others, while turning agricultural lands into poisonous pits.

And still, this team pushes on (through the great muddy) with more of same.

It is NOT intelligence,. And it is NOT Defense; neither is it Democracy (or Democracy-building), prosperity-spreading, or in any remote way supportive of life.

It is time for OTHER than white men to call the shots, run the show and tell persons who are FAR wiser… what is “thus and so.”


"Vietnam marked the first time that the United States went to war, at least in considerable part, in response to a bunch of really dumb ideas floated by ostensibly smart people occupying positions of influence. "

This is about as accurate as saying that U.S forces went to war because Saddam Hussein was behind the 911 carnage.

It’s tough to tell if Bacevich is so lost within his own paradigm (pro-military), that he can’t see past official narratives.

Where is any mention of The Deep State, the CIA’s direct usurpation of other nations’ democratically elected leaders, the infiltration of lots of Nazis into U.S. military ranks after W.W. II, and the remotest understanding of what Eisenhower meant when he issued the prophetic warning about the growing influence of the military-industrial complex?

When WAR becomes THE product, causes are sought to move “inventory.”

The same mentality is behind the covert domestic war against people of color. It operates through a prison-industrial system that has lobbyists bribing lawmakers in order to build yet more prisons. Then, to ensure the profitability of these containment factories, it must push for laws that punish more and more persons or criminalize aspects of their lifestyles… like BEING poor.

Bacevich never challenges the system of militarism. His thought process is stuck inside of it. He may critique it as sympathetic coach seeking to make it more efficient or effective, but he’s blind to the glaring faults of this menace. And to more and more citizens of this world, it IS a menace.

After 911, U.S. militarism led by men who LIKE war or profit BY war has magnified whatever problems previously existed. Whipping up unstable Middle East countries into hellish beehives, they unleashed the demons that they themselves conjured.


“What the three shared in common, apart from a suspect education acquired in New Haven, was an unwavering commitment to the reigning verities of the Cold War. Foremost among those verities was this: that a monolith called Communism, controlled by a small group of fanatic ideologues hidden behind the walls of the Kremlin, posed an existential threat not simply to America and its allies, but to the very idea of freedom itself. The claim came with this essential corollary: the only hope of avoiding such a cataclysmic outcome was for the United States to vigorously resist the Communist threat wherever it reared its ugly head.”

By all means, Bacevich, leave out the considerable backstory that had an FBI led by an anti-communist paranoid fanatic like J. Edgar Hoover manage to demonize any thinker, artist, poet, or actor who DARED to challenge the “with us or against us” lunatic linear frame that was being used to maintain a Cold War. And leave out the Committees on anti-American activity.

This mindset of extreme prejudice didn’t just emerge in a vacuum. It had lots of help from lots of right wing muscle for a LONG time.


“The government in Saigon proved too weak, too incompetent, and too corrupt to hold up its end of the bargain. Rather than winning hearts-and-minds, the program induced alienation, even as it essentially destabilized peasant society.”

Wow. This portrait is as sterile as that of a serial killer’s imprint. Be sure to wipe out all the blood and carnage as if Vietnam was but the mere matter of moving people out of ancestral villages.

And be sure never to question “The White man’s Burden,” or this idea that Anglo-European males who specialize in advancing weaponry have a right to displace other human beings, define what their cultures should consist of, or consign to them what Dominators determine should define their existences.

I have news for you, Bacevich… as the Indigenous have prophesied, things will come full circle. So great has become the martial footprint upon this living planet that those who specialized in how to kill will have to turn to the Indigenous to learn how to LIVE… and that means, how to live as STEWARDS of a living planet.

Armies do one thing well–Destroy. And they’ve done too much of that for too long.

Go home, soldiers… and learn to plant trees.


“How was it that during Vietnam bad ideas exerted such a perverse influence? Why were those ideas so impervious to challenge? Why, in short, was it so difficult for Americans to recognize bullshit for what it was?”

Clueless? Or is Bacevich just a little Eichmann? Did he MISS the massive protests and opposition to the Vietnam War? The only idiots who supported it were white males taught to see proof of their own fragile masculinity through war.

A controversial film produced during the Vietnam War was, “Joe.” Like Archie Bunker, Joe was a blue collar worker taught to see militarism as an extension of his own masculinity.

THINKING people, which is to say those who are not indoctrinated to worship phallic weapons, certainly saw the madness for what it is.

Also, glaringly absent from Bacevich’s antiseptic, stenographer-like rendering of war history is what propaganda and in our present era, the control of media and Official Narratives mean to overall public opinion control, i.e. manufacturing consent.

Again, it’s as if these externalities emerged whole from the head of Zeus without any covertly orchestrated prelude.


“The present-day successors to Bundy, Rostow, and Huntington subscribe to their own reigning verities. Chief among them is this: that a phenomenon called terrorism or Islamic radicalism, inspired by a small group of fanatic ideologues hidden away in various quarters of the Greater Middle East, poses an existential threat not simply to America and its allies, but – yes, it’s still with us – to the very idea of freedom itself. That assertion comes with an essential corollary dusted off and imported from the Cold War: the only hope of avoiding this cataclysmic outcome is for the United States to vigorously resist the terrorist/Islamist threat wherever it rears its ugly head.”

This analysis, while superficially true, doesn’t look at CAUSE. The causative factor is the military juggernaut requiring its own raison d’etre. Without an enemy, this behemoth that sucks up too much of the nation’s blood and treasure (while leaving behind endless trails of blood, tears, carnage, and ecocide) would have no rationale for its own existence!

Astute thinkers recognize that the plans to invade the Middle East (PNAC) existed before 911. Today’s criminal aggressors in uniform require pretexts to cover up their acts of naked aggression. In most instances, stories must be presented to win a percentage of the tax paying public’s confidence.

These stories are as elaborately planned as are the narratives skillful attorneys connive in order to relieve their deep pocket clients of any culpability for their crimes.

THAT is the dynamic. Rather than decipher the viability of these claims, it’s time to recognize that ALL of them serve one thing: to perpetuate the MIC. If there was no enemy, or presumptive threat, there’d be no further need of The Beast. Its admirers and advocates therefore must put their minds together to develop storylines used to justify the funding that goes to The Thing that threatens us all… most!


“Buy those twin propositions and you accept the imperative of the U.S. preventing the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, a.k.a. North Vietnam, from absorbing the Republic of Vietnam, a.k.a. South Vietnam, into a single unified country; in other words, that South Vietnam was a cause worth fighting and dying for.”

It’s like all these folks were unaware or did not care that the 1954 Geneva division of Vietnam into North and South was a continuance of the colonial crime against Vietnam, and that the Vietnamese would no more accept Soviet or PRC domination then they had French or Japanese, before, or American, to come. Indeed, an anti-intellectual and gross conflation of local resistance in the pursuit of national self-determination, with their inaccurate conceptual construction (the bogeyman) of monolithic “International Communist Conspiracy.” Which, if the latter could ever exist, could so only in response to the actually extant and continuing colonial and neocolonial predations. The conflation of the indigenous natural right to fair economy (communism with a little “c”), with the inaccurate conceptual construction of Communism as monolithic transnational totalitarianism. As if all of these things existed, or could exist, in an ahistorical vacuum of a too-cloistered ivory tower, or one knowingly constructed for colonial and neocolonial interests, while the ivory tower, itself, as intellectual sanctuary and field is fundamentally a good thing for, and a fruit of, healthy societies. Of course, this is not to deny the very real horrors of Russian and Chinese internal revolutions, but to disagree that Ho Chi Minh, revered in all of Vietnam, was that, or that even if he was, that that would be a sole reason the U.S. would ever make war for, instead of the economic concerns which are usually really of interest. And, of course, to point out the massive and tragic irony of the actually enacted American slaughter of Vietnam to save it from the falsely prophesied “that”.


Thanks for your Outrage Souxrose, tell it like it IS. This is the History that is seemingly lost to Americans; the history that I read,understand, and believe. We have been led down this terrible road by the seemingly elite that Bacevich describes here, and, Yes, they are All men and mostly with (supposedly) the best education and upbringing, privileged, you might say.


I’m a veteran of the Cuban Missile Crisis and for many years remained completely indoctrinated, until I realized the complete idiocy of Vietnam. After reading years later, of JFK’s opposition and probable withdrawal, I began my research into the cause and effect of Vietnam and have found these same men, educated at the same or similar institutions, believing the same (often incorrect) history. It is simply unbelievable to me that this sorry and profoundly sloppy legend still is able to motivate this country…


This didn’t start in the 1930’s.
Civilization’s have always employed the clever to do the bidding of the hierachy.


The “brains” of the current “Brains Trust” all seem to be stored in jars labelled


“JFK and the Unthinkable” is an excellent book on the pressures Kennedy faced from the CIA, military brass, and the intelligentia to entertain what one peace activist called “the abyss.”


One of the best books in my ever growing JFK library, thanks, celticfire.


Brilliant as usual, Bacevich. However, it is all - as Giap once said: “irrelevant” sorry to say. For the only relevant factor in international relations for the U.S. has nothing to do with factors outside of our borders. Rather, the ONLY relevant factor has nothing (as well) to do with morality. Political leverage and furthering one’s elected or governmental career in D.C. is all that is relevant in the Age of AIPAC. And shorting relevancy: Israel and Zionism IS the program in international relations - and - international relations means Israel, means kowtowing to the Zionist NeoCon mandate, PERIOD. End of debate.


Much has been made regards JFK resisting group think during the Cuban Missile Crisis, his resisting his advisors advice to employ violence. Even Bobby favored the use of force at the outset. And as a result of the successful outcome to the crisis, it has been said that JFK eased leftward in the spring and summer of 1963 with his speech at American University and the achievement of the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. Bobby had terminated Operation Mongoose in January of that year.

HOWEVER, in May of '63, Castro’s defense minister had turned against him and approached the White House thru intermediary Enrique Ruiz- Williams. And what happened then? A very high level, tightly held plot was hatched to take out Castro, hatched by JFK and RFK!!! Even McNamara was kept in the dark. And if not for the assassination in Dallas, there would have instead been an assassination on Tuesday December 3rd, 1963 - a hit on Castro while the Cuban leader would likely be enroute to his seaside villa.

Never mind that Cuban emigres theretofore associated with CIA Operation AMWORLD divulged word of the plot to organized crime.

One has to stop and reflect: why were the two brothers as obsessed as they were over Castro? The record of the two brothers running their plot from May thru November 1963 is one HUGE contradiction to the notion of JFK’s moving leftward in his international outlook. Ethel Kennedy knows the real story and as keeper of the flame, will not ever talk.

If there indeed was a conspiracy behind the assassination in Dallas, information regards the plot against Castro could have provided immunity to those involved, their ticket to get out of jail free, so to speak. As well, the fact that Castro soon learned everything regards the brothers’ plot and that his defense minister was not executed is an aspect that historians should weigh and investigate.


Farmer, you appear to have nailed it. Elites who desire to plunge their countries into war immediately hire their crew of myth-makers, indoctrinators and narrative spinners–thinkers who should know better.
The best analysis of this phenomenon can be read in Karl Mannheim’s seminal, Ideology and Utopia (a book I am persuaded was the first dumped into Nazi bonfires). Intellectual “cover” for any controversial, patently illegal move is the first order of the day for any leader with dreams of empire. Even Hitler is supposed to have advised his underlings to always “get constitutional cover” for any of their actions.
These highbrow, faustian hirelings will do whatever it takes to curry favor with the rich and powerful. It’s been thus from Aristotle (to his Alexander) to Kissinger and Friedman.
As usual, their sociopathic narratives and geopolitical conceits all too often visit destruction on cultures that last for decades. I am persuaded there exists a very special circle in hell for these types…
Be well.


Well I read the article and was going to make many of the same objections but you covered every point nicely.


Killing a terrorist turns him/her/it into a martyr–great propaganda for recruiting more terrorists to the cause. Counterproductive. US is both capitalist and fascist with government of by and for too big to fail corporations. Many of biggest of these are either fossil fuel firms or military industrial complex firms. Fossil fuel firms covet other nations natural resources especially petroleum. They want US to go conquer those other nations to grab their petroleum. Military industrial complex firms want to push product–BUY our weapons to go conquer those other nations with petroleum. Those MIC firms are well able to make all parts for a national smart electric grid including batteries for energy storage AND wind turbines, solar power systems, and above ground parts for enhanced geothermal systems. Michael Bloomberg and hedge fund pals advocate for spending $200billion/year for 30 years to redo our electric grid and generators. I wish our propagandists could drum up support for war on global warming instead of terrorism. We still need R&D for getting liquid fuels for transportation cost-competitive with petroleum that our too big to fail oil firms can mass produce for us instead of extracting and refining petroleum. And we need R&D for capturing CO2 from ambient air (already at working prototype stage–need to achieve economy of scale). We need to compress CO2 and use it to frack DRY hot rock reservoirs for enhanced geothermal systems. If a geothermal resource already has salt water in its pore spaces, need to use seawater instead of CO2–water and CO2 don’t mix well in geothermal systems. I do NOT begrudge our capitalists money. I wish they would make their money making something more constructive than war weapons.