How National Defense Issues Play Out in U.S. Culture

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S1: Americans across the country aren’t fooled by this administration’s specious attempts to distinguish between documented and undocumented immigration. You and Mr. Trump don’t want anyone who looks or talks differently than Caucasian Americans to be allowed into this country. That’s false. I’m sorry. Please don’t interrupt me and I’d like the time back amateurish. Excuse me. There’s nothing defamatory about it but the general lady controls the time and the witness will get a chance to respond. Thank you very much. We’ve got to get four year funding.

S2: For our military. We’ve got to get it done quickly. Speaker Pelosi. Needs to end this infatuation with impeachment.

S3: And start focusing on the real problems of this country that are not getting addressed.

S4: Hello and welcome to Trump cast. I’m Virginia Heffernan. It’s kind of a treat today. Katherine Royal’s holds a PHC in English from the University of California at Irvine in English. She’s a literary scholar and yet she writes now about national defense issues in culture and also the cultures of national defense issues. And she’s been writing great stuff for places like small wars and public books. And I think she’s going to be a really good person to talk to today. She is also a self-described lady playing along at home.

S5: This is a great phrase comes from my friend Aaron Schwartz who never fails to get the epigrams registrations later playing along at home. I think it works for all genders and it’s the freshest way to say I’m concerned. Don’t set aside anyone because if there’s an element whether we like it or not of having to this love affair Bruce Love Affair can that love. Fair drop to sit home be a concerned citizen and yell at the general or any small efforts among your circle to demonstrate to donate to candidates to just stay informed and immune to disinformation.

S6: And so I think there is a role for ladies again of all genders playing along at home. Welcome Catherine. Thank you. Glad to be here. You’re one of my favorite types to have encountered on Twitter. Not that you’re a type because you combine PHC and English dear to my own heart but you also have somehow found this niche writing about the way national defense issues play out in culture. And then the culture of national defense issues. Tell me what Lady playing along at home means to you.

S7: So I stole it from Karen Schwartz.

S8: To me what it means is we all have a role to play and we are all going to bring our full selves but also different pieces of ourselves to this time. What really stuck out to me and probably the time that I really remember it first was around the issue of taxes and tax returns which has been an ongoing theme for a number of years now and I think what happened was one of Donald Trump’s sons had said something to the effect of you know and they do this periodically. Well if we released the tax returns you know people would understand. I think her response on Twitter was people understood. Paul Manafort stocks are Trump’s right.

S7: Just that sense like even things that are complicated and sort of exist in specialized realms can be and should be and we can make them accessible for ourselves. And that was just really attractive to me and important to me.

S6: Yeah. You know I was just listening to Julie Brown the heroic Miami Herald reporter who broke the most recent iteration of the Jeffrey Epstein story. And you know I sort of own that story. She herself has a remarkable life story of in some ways being a lady playing along at home although she always worked as a journalist but she also did factory work and waitress work and she also apparently lots of people had sent away for certain documents pertaining to the Epstein case. But she’s the only one who read them. They said Well nobody ever came back to us after we got them the documents and there is an element and you know it’s not just that there are many educated people underemployed and overeducated people you know out there and you know you’re probably one of them as a lecturer with the highest degree you can get in the humanities. But we have these excesses not just of education but of a moral sense that never got compromised just out of luck. And that’s I think what happened to Julie Brown that she just had been working and raising her kids for so long also raised by a single mother also single mother. She never faced the enticements of getting on a yacht or flying into teeter bro. And so she she she stayed aloof from all that. And I imagine you did too and then was able to read the current situation with some clarity and some courage that you get especially as a middle aged woman where you have much less to lose and that I think emboldened her to be able to talk about this and I know that’s been Karen Schwartz’s even Molly McHugh’s experience and maybe yours too. And that’s where the lady playing along at home I think comes in that so many new perspectives that we’ve gotten you know via mostly via Twitter but but just contributions that so many people have been able to make to this either because they have an area of expertise or they just have a clear head or they’re just willing to you know look like the little drummer boy like bring their own little gift to the table. And it’s really has been a fascinating education that way. So OK culture of defense and a knapsack writing about that has led you to write recently a piece about it may not be getting the order right. But you’ve written about love affair roofs and especially the literature of left errors. You’ve written about reading and not reading the Mueller apart and about Jim Mattis.

S8: So let’s talk about each of those things starting with Matus one of the things that I find most fascinating about the space that Jim Mattis occupies in our culture today is how much people have been talking about him. He has of course spoken. He is famously spoken relatively little and has sometimes not spoken. It seems like into the issues that people wish that he was speaking into. And what gets missed I think in that is his long history of speaking and writing. I think that he was often framed as a reader during his time as secretary of defense the president would refer to him as mad dog.

S9: Other people would call him like the Warrior Monk. That’s right he was not framed as a writer and I found that particularly interesting because H.R. McMaster was almost indistinguishable from his position as the author of Dereliction of duty. So when I was thinking about Jim Madison’s retirement the announcement that he had written a book with Bing West and then the release of that book it caused me to go back to think what are some previous pieces of writing that he has done. And I didn’t hit all of them but at least three of them were. He very famously wrote a letter as the commanding general of the 1st Marine Division. He was a two star general he was a major general at that point. He wrote a very famous letter to to all hands which would have been about twenty thousand people maybe a little bit more. So that of course would have been two thousand three after he retired from the Defense Department. He went to the Hoover Institute where he worked editing a book with Corey shocking called Warriors and citizens.

S10: I just find that book so instructive to me. There’s a big literature on civil military relations. I’m familiar with only some of it because it’s such a large body but this is just a book that is so amazing about distilling down a couple of key elements. One is high distrust of institution among Americans today. Two is the fact that even in the face of that the military measures out with really high trust among Americans and three is a lot of people despite the fact that we have 18 years of ongoing war and have produced a lot of veterans and have a lot of service members. We still have a lot of Americans don’t necessarily understand the military. Yeah. And then of course the resignation letter which I think is probably the most read of those three documents and probably in that sense doesn’t need quite as much explanation.

S4: So tell us because I haven’t read warriors and citizens or a call sign chaos. What did you make of him as a stylist.

S11: I do think that in that sense probably the most direct one is the letter to all hands in terms of the style because I think that it gets his conciseness. His ability to deal with large sweeps of time and big ideas very directly and that’s something that I find very attractive in his writing.

S4: It’s interesting because you found a lot to liking him in the audience for X Trump administration people is very fickle and as you know since he left first his what might have played as reticence or discretion on Madison’s part ended up reading like cowardice and weakness to some people and then this recent joke made Trump called Mad a second rate general and then Mattis said Well that’s that’s OK because he called Meryl Streep a second rate actress and I’d be happy to be the Meryl Streep of generals. OK so that’s all right. And maybe he said something. Another jab at Trump. But that was considered too little too late and too trivial for the people whose hair is on fire that MADISON’S GOT TO should have stopped him. And even and that resignation letter while farm was nowhere near firm enough and it didn’t sound the note of emergency that some of us might have liked to see in that letter.

S12: I get that writing from the positions that I have I haven’t necessarily taken a stance on like yes I am lifting him up or no I’m worried about his reticence I think for me really coming from the background of studying literature.

S8: I’m interested in who’s speaking. Yes driving the story. And so the times I was not necessarily looking to act as a corrective. I wasn’t necessarily looking to take a stand one way or another. I was and I was very aware of the irony of like writing about nobody else is writing to sort of say oh we should listen to this person’s voice. Yes like I was myself like introducing a layer of mediation. I also did try to use some of that occasion to include concerns that I thought seemed like long standing ones of his and also some of his own.

S4: Some of his own words in his own voice tell me some of the things that really stand out to you about his way of expressing his concerns his way of telling stories.

S12: Probably two things. One is a very orderly very chronological mind would be one and then a second I think is a real ability to get at big ideas. I think in really concrete and direct ways I do think when he writes in the resignation letter or when he writes in the letter to all hands he is not using terms like civil military relationships. He’s

S11: not using sort of specialized language.

S12: He’s using language about in some cases it’s particular to the audience in the letter to all hands. That was to his division. So he talks about the people who had served in that division previously. He talks about the division’s motto that sort of thing.

S4: I had a therapist once a while ago who diagnosed me just an armchair diagnosis with the kind of learning disability where you write. I guess I go to abstraction when I’m nervous. So like I move to an abstract subject of justice in order and sit like stop having to focus on polynomials or whatever right in front of me and I see a little bit of that and Matisse I’ll give you one example from your piece you cite a moment that that Matisse was talking to Jeffrey Goldberg the editor of The Atlantic and they were walking together along the Columbia River and Goldberg was just pushing it sounds like to get Matisse to talk about Trump. That’s what we want to hear. And he said quote Can you talk in broad terms about Trump’s leadership abilities and Matisse said Well I’m happy to talk about leadership. And then he went on to one of my models as George Washington. He said George Washington’s idea of leadership was you listen you learn you help and only then do you lead. But he said a boring progression rates useful and. Goldberg like went in for the kill.

S6: So he said so on one end of the spectrum is George Washington. The other is Donald Trump. Mattis smiled. It’s a beautiful river isn’t it. I used to swim it all the time when I was a kid strong current. So you know I don’t know his. His moved to abstraction. It’s almost like when they go low we go high. Thing it’s like when they leave you go small we try to take the broad view. Marines try to take the big view. George Washington the first president how can I have this broad view of history even if that means overlooking you know the Donald Trump right in front of us. And this to me seems potentially one of the shortcomings of marine style thinking.

S13: My experience is that there are so many different ways that Marines do think and do inhabit their position. I mean there are there are norms there are rules. There are rules and engagement. There’s a uniform code of military justice. It’s very hierarchical. One of the things though that I really did experience was just I’ve never been part of an institution that is as diverse. And I wasn’t I wasn’t directly part of it. I was part of it. Bye bye attachment. But I do just want to flag that not as a way of circumventing anything that you’re talking about but just I also a little bit here and I know you you’ve quoted before this Steve Bannon yes about Mueller.

S6: Let’s quote it again. Never send a Marine to do a hit man’s job.

S7: All right. And then just like what does it mean to quote Steve Bannon. All right. Let’s get these guys. This is where this is where I think that you know that’s a very good point to get really like just that this is where I think that literature helping us keep track of who’s talking and who they’re talking about. And part of this is you know when I go back to that to that Jeffrey Goldberg piece in The Atlantic that I think was just really an important thing to read and I was really glad to read it. It’s yes there is a lot of Madison’s own words. There’s also a lot of Goldberg’s own words and just being able to deal with that complicated dynamic of lots of different voices. I I really think. And being able to keep straight who’s talking who’s talking about whom. Those are some of the things that I just know from my experience. Is it possible because I spent so much time reading novels where you had to keep track of who’s telling the story and who they’re talking about in the story.

S6: I think that’s absolutely right that Bannon you know he styles himself on being good copy part of the reason that he gets quoted all the time is the same reason Trump gets quoted all the time. He’s thinking toward the quote he’s thinking toward the pole quote he’s thinking toward the headline and he talks to everyone because he likes to talk you know and Mattis is a more measured talker and thinker. And you’re right that whether or not the Mueller Report of the Russia investigation was quote a hit man’s job may not be true. We’re. Why should Bannon own that home on that framework. I think you’re very right to say that. And I do quote it because it’s so succinct and epic dramatic and fun to say aloud. But you know also we’re talking about real Marines like Muller and Mattis versus some kind of fictional hitman unless he really thinks that we should send some kind of thug like the one who allegedly roughed up Stormy Daniels to try to you know get her to not go against Trump. So but who knows they might be. That’s the other weird thing is we have this idiom clash where you have people that really do live in a thug world order coming up against the James Cummings in the gym mattresses and the you know Robert Mueller’s and it’s almost like their language is mutually incomprehensible. They don’t even know what they’re talking about.

S12: I think that a lot of it is mutually incomprehensible. I think about the degree to which I think Lawler and call me in particular if I am understanding some of the work that they have had to do over their careers a lot of which obviously happens out of out of our sight of of necessity.

S11: It just really seems like one of the things I I continue to be struck by is the fact that they may be more than most Americans worked on issues where what was happening was the internal leasing of state power. You know if you want to know some sort of mafia or mafia like way of doing business and intelligence gathering and you know it just it really seems like so much of you know and I think that that’s something that Garrett Graff charge really well at the end of the threat matrix when he’s talking about some of the new stuff that Mueller’s FBI was having to look at towards the end of his career but also that people like Craig Unger in his book talk about and then Garrett Graff in a in a great piece that I think is is too little red called a war never sleeps. That’s just this really interesting in-depth look at what’s called a thief in law.

S4: What’s that you’ve been in Wired.

S7: Maybe if you think it was in long reads. Oh good. These figures that braid together you know intelligence business savvy and state power.

S4: Yeah I mean they really are amazing characters. You may have seen recently that Donald Trump who says he still considers himself in the hospitality business and I was shocked. Yeah. And Bill Taylor the the the diplomat in Ukraine who testified said that it was explained to him by either Kurt Volker or one of them. It was a Mary Gordon Sandler who himself is a businessman. It was explained him that the reason they were doing this clear quid pro quo with Ukraine was the well that’s how it is in business. You you expect your you know the person you’re negotiating with to lick pony up something because Ukraine owes us and Taylor who’s a real expert in the region said what Ukraine doesn’t owe us. You know they don’t have to make some like sacrifice offering to the king before they can even you know get an invitation to the White House their ally. Yeah.

S14: One of the things that I continued you know how folks were super into Chernobyl recently.

S6: Yeah. There was a great documentary about it at a book out.

S7: So I kind of missed that train I definitely plan to jump on it. But one of the things that interested me about it was it came out about two years after who lose 10 hour version of the looming tower came out. And the reason I mentioned those two things together is this they’re really really similar in the sense that both are about real life events that exist which in the living memory of a lot of people but not everybody. And both are really interesting stories about the way that people work within bureaucracies. People reshape bureaucracies bureaucracies reshape people. And I just think that we are in this really interesting obviously in our national life that we’re seeing that play out on the national stage. We’re not yet going 100 percent inside gifts even though some people seem to be trying to take us inside there. But what we’re seeing is these stories of people working within institutions institutions reworking people. And we have ways of telling these stories where the country that produced the wire you know where we’re not the country of the crown but we’re the country that is consuming that crowd is watching real Elizabeth remake the monarchy and be remade by the monarchy and we’re like falling for Claire Foy and Olivia Colman all night. So we’ll all be falling for Olivia because she’s fantastic.

S4: Yes that’s right. You know people have likened I think in the in the beginning of the Trump presidency there were references to game of thrones. Now they’re often references to succession and you know you can get really in the weeds of trying decide who’s Greg and who’s Tom and all that. And as for bureaucracies this is made genealogists in the sense of almost like etymology is where you like analyze cultural means as if they were G. So. So for instance a quite literal example of this happened on FOX News. Andrew Napolitano said the Republicans stormed the capital with their cell phones to kind of contaminate these secure skiffs in order to make a point that they thought the hearings shouldn’t be secret. And Napolitano who’s never you know viewed anything out of lockstep with the Republicans just said factually speaking these rules that allow for privacy for these hearings were written in January of 2015. So they’re recent and they were signed by John Boehner and they were enacted by a Republican majority. And it’s this kind of small thing that because Adam Schiff is doing this right now all of a sudden it looks demonic to Republicans but it is worth saying as you say about bureaucracy people make this and are remade by it.

S6: And to suddenly look appalled the way you know the way the president does that the intelligence services or the military which are you know have typically been Republican you know icons ideals and all of a sudden you know he just looks at them and they see antagonistic to him and so he’s willing to throw it to capsize all of it. And that’s. Same thing here. This this particular rule that seems about privacy in these hearings that seems to have seems to be quite useful for whatever party now is suddenly seen as some kind of partisan tool serving some nefarious purpose for Democrats.

S7: And I think what follows on from that is that this isn’t the end of the story right. Are either in some sort of beginning of a series of remaking or we’re in the middle of it. But it’s hard to imagine that there will not be another turn of the screw of some kind.

S4: Yeah I think that’s right. You want to make any predictions any kind of major changes in the way bureaucracy works. I mean do you think we’re going to tighten things up so there will be fewer ethical violations. Do you think they’re going to be some meaningful reform in the way you know emoluments or divestment. You know presidential divestment happens or disclosure of taxes.

S10: I think we’re still at the leading edge of things even. And I know that sounds weird to say because we’re a number of years years and I think we’re at the leading edge in the sense that we’ve been talking about the way that there are like specialized rounds and specialized rules and sometimes they can be made visible to us and like we can participate in them even if we don’t have a training and background in them. I feel like we’re still at the early edge of as a entire country caring about things like you know what is the security of an individual person’s cell phone. You know what about you know the Office of Government Ethics I don’t I don’t think that Walter Scheib ever thought you know four years ago that he would become a Twitter star.

S6: Yes. And I think he’s getting a civic courage moral courage award. And yeah I mean he’s kind of a hero of I don’t know if it still calls itself the resistance but of the Concerned Citizens.

S10: Totally. And I guess I just think we don’t know yet what the end of this story is because we have brought a bunch of new voices and narrators into it. And my feeling is that that fact is like elemental and basic and what ever comes next is in part going to be shaped by the two things One is the long gravity of those voices how long they are able to to stick around for you know forever piety of reasons and the other thing is the degree to which people playing along at home continue to engage with those voices and continue to be part of the people that reshape and remake institutions.

S5: My guest today has been Catherine foils. She’s a lecturer at the University of Wisconsin at Bothell. She writes about national defense culture and cultures of national defense. Thank you so much for being here. Catherine thank you. And that’s it for today’s show. Join our Emery brigade on Twitter I’m at page 88. The show is at real Trump cast and thank you for being a Slate Plus member your membership means everything to us and it makes it possible to do what we do at Slate.

S15: Our show today was produced by Melissa Kaplan an engineered by merit Jacob they thank you too for your membership. I’m Virginia Heffernan and thanks for listening to Trump. Cast.