The January/February 2015 issue of The Atlantic is now available online—with key pieces summarized and provided below:
Cover Story: "The Tragedy of the American Military"
Americans admire their military like no other public institution. They also ignore its reality. After decades covering national defense, The Atlantic's National Correspondent James Fallows argues that our military force has become more separated from the country it defends than at any point in our history, allowing it to operate with little accountability and unchecked spending. This has turned America into what he calls a "chickenhawk nation," prone to entering protracted wars it cannot win. Contractors and lawmakers alike contribute to a military-industrial complex responsible for staggering spending levels—the plagued F-35 fighter jet alone, protected by supplier contracts, could end up costing as much as the entire Iraq War. How did we get to this point?
Ours is a story, Fallows writes, of "a country willing to do anything for its military except take it seriously. As a result, what happens to all institutions that escape serious external scrutiny and engagement has happened to our military ... A chickenhawk nation is more likely to keep going to war, and to keep losing, than one that wrestles with long-term questions of effectiveness."
Fallows reveals that, in 2011, he served on a small bipartisan task force, led by Gary Hart, charged with recommending Pentagon reforms to President Obama—but the resulting report, from the fall of 2011, has gone unaddressed and unheeded. Fallows writes: "Barack Obama, busy on other fronts, had no time for this. The rest of us should make time, if we hope to choose our wars more wisely, and win them."
Gun Trouble: A soldier is told that his rifle is his ticket home. But from the flawed Vietnam-era M16 to today's little-changed M4, faulty rifles have been responsible for a staggering number of unnecessary American combat deaths. Retired Major General Robert H. Scales remembers the deaths of men he commanded when their rifles jammed in South Vietnam, and asks why the richest country in the world is still denying its soldiers the safest and most efficient firearms.
High Airfare: A comparison of the acquisition and operation costs of fighter, bomber, and multipurpose planes shows just how much an "upgrade" sets us back. The $19 million A-10 "Warthog" is being phased out by the military in favor of the controversy plagued F-35, which costs five times as much per plane and three times as much per flight hour.
How I Learned to Love the Draft: As the U.S. gears up for what will likely be a prolonged fight against ISIS, the Cold War veteran Joseph Epstein draws on his own experiences as a conscript to make the case for a reinstatement of the modern draft, which he argues will foster a more conscious electorate and elected body of leaders, and create a more even national social fabric.
Features & Editor's Note:
Editor's Note: "Executive Dysfunction": "It's happened by this point in every modern two-term presidency: If we weren't sick of the guy to start with, we certainly are now." James Bennet, editor in chief and co-president of The Atlantic, argues that Obama has done nothing to build confidence in government, and that his lack of interest in doing so has been "baffling."
"5,200 Days in Space": For the past 5,200 days, high above the earth, 216 astronauts from the U.S. and Russia have manned 82,000 orbits on the International Space Station, at a cost of $8 million a day. But 40 percent of its research capacity is unused. Charles Fishman examines daily life aboard the oft-forgotten football-field-sized facility, and how the experience of the ISS (and the lack of direction from Washington) reveals just how much we don't know about the future of space travel.
"Is the Most Powerful Conservative in America Losing His Edge?": Erick Erickson has built a career on stoking populist rage. A driving force behind the Tea Party, he has guided policy in Washington and campaigns around the country with his harsh words. But he was once a beacon of bipartisanship in local politics, and may now be growing more reflective and empathetic on issues like immigration, Ebola, and race. Staff writer Molly Ball visited Erickson to learn what the man at the nexus of the conservative movement thinks about the future of his party.
"The Death of the Artist—And the Birth of the Creative Entrepreneur": The image of the artist has changed radically over the centuries: from the artisan, to the solitary genius, to the credentialed professional. What if the latest model to emerge means the end of art as we have known it? William Deresiewicz writes that creative entrepreneurship is becoming the new normal.
Foreign Affairs: "Warming to Iran": We've just seen a historic policy shift toward Cuba; could an understanding between the U.S. and Iran be next? Reaching mutual respect and expectations between the two countries, Robert Kaplan argues, is both realistic and would contribute to regional stability: Iran could help the U.S. fight the extremist Sunnis of the Islamic State, pressure the government in Baghdad to moderate its posture, and regulate happenings in Turkey and Syria. He writes that, if handled properly, such an arrangement would motivate Sunni nations "to be more honest allies," and need not come at the expense of our relationship with Israel.
Sketch: "The Bro Whisperer": Popular associations with what it means to "be a man" and to be "a good man" are crucially different. Therein lies the problem, according to Michael Kimmel, the founder of Stony Brook University's Center for the Study of Men and Masculinities, who's on a mission to stem college sexual assaults. Staff writer Olga Khazan profiles Kimmel's work getting men to think of sex as "an unusually satisfying UN meeting where everybody understands the proceedings and gets a vote."
Big in ... Moscow: "Minivans for Minigarchs": Faced with crippling traffic jams, busy business tycoons in Moscow have found a solution to the time-crushing commutes: fully operational rolling offices.
Business: "Wall Street Rises Again": Wall Street is back, marked by a new golden age of immense profits, hefty bonuses, and an increase in political power. William D. Cohan details what it might take to finally force long-overdue reform, and why we should be afraid until that happens.
Shifts: Technology: "The Future of Getting Arrested": The actual moment of arrest will also soon look very different thanks to new technologies like predictive policing and intelligent surveillance cameras. Leon Neyfakh talks to experts in law enforcement about what the future will entail for both the individuals wearing the handcuffs and the ones turning the key—and about the hotly contested issues of justice, security, and liberty these new practices raise.
Health: "Will Global Warming Make Me Look Fat?": A growing field of science chalks up our swelling body mass to chronic overnutrition and chronic warmth—also known as the "Metabolic Winter" hypothesis. Senior Editor Dr. James Hamblin, M.D., explores how temperature correlates with weight, and whether simple lifestyle adjustments (sleeping without blankets, not heating our homes) could reduce obesity rates.
Chartist: "Buses Are for Other People": Americans love public transportation, as long as they aren't the ones using it. Only 5 percent of people nationwide use public transportation to get to work, and increased investment on transit improvements has had no discernible effect on ridership. CityLab's Eric Jaffe outlines the most-effective ways to get people to the bus stop: raising the cost of driving to reflect its full economic and environmental impact.
The Culture File:
The Omnivore: "Morality TV": "People like to watch television, but television also likes to watch people." James Parker examines society's fascination with reality television and how the hidden-camera show What Would You Do? reveals the persistence of American decency.
Books: "How the Fed Flubbed It": A new book's harsh verdict: Ben Bernanke, the Depression expert, failed to act on history's key lessons almost as often as he succeeded. Sebastian Mallaby reviews Hall of Mirrors.
Books: "The Strangest Power Couple": Mary Anne Disraeli was a liability to her husband, Benjamin, but she was also the making of 19th-century Britain's most important conservative politician. Deborah Cohen reviews a new biography of the power couple—a prelude to the Clintons, Gingrichs, Sanfords, and Spitzers of today—that demonstrates how a politician's devotion, even to an apparently damaging partner, can be turned to advantage.
Travel: "Fyodor's Guide": Jeffrey Taylor revisits the St. Petersburg haunts that shaped the writer Fyodor Dostoyevsky's darkest and most iconic works, from Crime and Punishment to House of the Dead.
The world as we know it was shaped by upsets. The Big Question asks for the greatest one in history. Cass Sunstein, Patton Oswalt, Nina Totenberg, James Campbell, Chris Berman, Linda Greenhouse, and others weigh in on history's unlikely game-changers, from the rise of Christianity and the abolition of slavery to Truman's election victory and the advent of the food truck. Full story.
These articles and more are featured in the January/February issue of The Atlantic, available today, December 29, 2014, on TheAtlantic.com, newsstands, and The Atlantic's mobile app.