excerpted from the book
The New American Militarism
How Americans Are Seduced By War
by Andrew J. Bacevich
Oxford University Press, 2005,
Americans want to feel secure, in their
homes and where they work. Rather than safety, however, the possession
of military might without precedent has in practice yielded a
heightened sense of vulnerability.
Americans see themselves as an idealistic
people. But the dispatch of U.S. forces to oppose tyranny and
create the conditions for peace does not evoke accolades from
abroad. Instead, it fuels anti-Americanism and generates suspicion
of our motives and intentions.
Americans believe in democracy. But their
democracy works such that the divide between rich and poor grows
ever wider. In America, the winners control an ever-increasing
percentage of the nation's wealth. To be a member of the upper
class is to have privileges, among them ensuring that it's someone
else's kid who is getting shot at in Iraq or Afghanistan.
These are hard, uncomfortable truths,
for which the existing political system does not provide an easily
available remedy. So Americans concoct stories to make such truths
more palatable. During the past quarter century, American politicians
with their eyes firmly fixed on the main chance, assisted by purveyors
of popular culture with a well-honed instinct for what sells,
have promulgated a host of such stories. One result has been to
contrive a sentimentalized version of the American military experience
and an idealized image of the American soldier.
These myths make an essential contribution
to the new American militarism. They create an apparently seamless
historical narrative of American soldiers as liberators, with
Operation Iraqi Freedom in March 2003 becoming a sequel to Operation
Overlord in June 1944. They divert attention from the reality
of U.S. military policy, now having less to do with national defense
than with imperial policing. They help to sustain the willingness
of American soldiers to shoulder their frequently thankless and
seemingly endless burdens in places like the Balkans, Central
Asia, and the Persian Gulf. Above all, they function as a salve
for what remains of the American conscience. Myths offer reassurance
that America remains, as Ronald Reagan put it, "still a land
of heroes with all the courage and love of freedom that ever was
before." They enable us to sustain the belief that the soldiers
whom we hire to do the nation's dirty work but whom we do not
know are, in fact, bringing peace and light to troubled corners
of the earth rather than pushing ever outward the perimeter of
an American empire.
Jimmy Carter's presidency enjoyed its share of successes (brokering
peace between Israel and Egypt and securing ratification of the
Panama Canal Treaty) as well as failures, at least some of which
(such as Iran's Islamic revolution) were as much attributable
to bad timing and lousy luck as to Carter's defective judgment.
Politically, however, the Carter administration was from start
to finish an unmitigated disaster. Two specific incidents ...
... The first of these was Carter's heartfelt,
in some respects prescient, but completely misconceived address
to the nation of July 15, 1979. This was the president's "Crisis
of Confidence" speech.
The context from which the speech emerged
is as follows. The U.S. misadventure in Vietnam had given rise
to economic woes that lingered long after the war. In 1979, the
third year of Carter's presidency, economic conditions as measured
by postwar standards had become dire. By midyear, inflation had
reached 11 percent, with percent of the workforce unemployed,
both unacceptably high by postwar standards. The prime lending
rate was 15 percent and rising. As a result, mortgages and consumer
credit were becoming prohibitively expensive. Trends in both the
federal deficit and the trade balance were sharply negative. Conventional
analysis, to which the administration itself fully subscribed,
attributed U.S. economic woes to the nation's growing dependence
on increasingly expensive foreign oil.
In July 1979, Carter already anticipated
that a continuing and unchecked thirst for imported oil was sure
to distort U.S. strategic priorities, with unforeseen but adverse
consequences. He feared the impact of that distortion on an American
democracy still reeling from the effects of the 1960s.. So he
summoned his fellow citizens to change course, to choose self-sufficiency
and self-reliance and therefore true independence-but at a cost
of collective sacrifice and lowered expectations.
Carter spoke that night of a nation facing
problems "deeper than gasoline lines or energy shortages,
deeper even than inflation or depression." Over the previous
ten days, the president had consulted at Camp David with Americans
from all walks of life. In essence, the president had invited
various writers, teachers, ministers, business and labor leaders,
and local and state officials to instruct him in what was wrong
with America, and they had happily obliged.
That painful experience had affirmed Carter's
conviction that the United States was suffering from a full-blown
collapse of collective self-confidence, one that expressed itself
in "growing doubt about the meaning of our own lives and
in the loss of a unity of purpose for our Nation." Left to
this crisis promised "to destroy
the social and the political fabric of America." The fundamental
problem, in Carter's view, was that Americans had turned away
from all that really mattered.
In a nation that was proud of hard work,
strong families, close-knit communities, and our faith in God,
too many of us now tend to worship self-indulgence and consumption.
Human identity is no longer defined by what one does, but by what
one owns. But we've discovered that owning things and consuming
things does not satisfy our longing for meaning. We've learned
that piling up material goods cannot fill the emptiness of lives
which have no confidence or purpose.
The symptoms of this crisis of the American
spirit are all around us. For the first time in the history of
our country a majority of our people believe that the next five
years will be worse than the past five years. Two-thirds of our
people do not even vote. The productivity of American workers
is actually dropping, and the willingness of Americans to save
for the future has fallen below that of all other people in the
This crisis had brought the United States
to a historical turning point. Either Americans could persist
in pursuing "a mistaken idea of freedom" based on "fragmentation
and self-interest" and inevitably "ending in chaos and
immobility," or they could opt for "true freedom,"
which Carter described as "the path of common purpose and
the restoration of American values."
How the United States chose to deal with
its growing reliance on foreign oil would determine which of the
two paths it followed. Energy dependence, according to Carter,
posed "a clear and present danger," threatening the
nation's security as well as its economic well-being. Dealing
with this threat was also "the standard around which we can
rally." "On the battlefield of energy," declared
Carter, " we can seize control again of our common destiny."
How to achieve this aim? For his part,
Carter vowed to put an immediate cap on oil imports. He promised
massive new investments to develop alternative sources of energy.
He called upon the Congress to pass legislation limiting the use
of oil by the nation's utilities and increasing spending on public
transportation. But he placed the larger burden squarely in the
lap of the American people. The hollowing out of American democracy
required a genuinely democratic response. "There is simply
no way to avoid sacrifice," he insisted, calling upon citizens
as "an act of patriotism" to lower thermostats, observe
the speed limit, use carpools, and "park your car one extra
day per week."
Carter plainly viewed the imperative of
restoring energy independence as an analogue for war. But despite
his allusions to metaphorical battles and battle standards, nowhere
in his speech did he identify a role for the U.S. military.' For
Carter, the "crisis" facing the nation could not have
a military solution. That crisis was at root internal rather than
external. Resolving it required spiritual and cultural renewal
at home rather than deploying U.S. power to create a world order
accommodating the nation's dependence upon and growing preoccupation
with material resources from abroad.
Although Carter's stance was relentlessly
inward looking, his analysis had important strategic implications.
To the extent that "foreign oil" refers implicitly to
the Persian Gulf-as it did then and does today-Carter was in essence
proposing to arrest the growing strategic importance attributed
to that region. He sensed intuitively that a failure to reverse
the nation's energy dependence was sure to draw the United States
ever more deeply into the vortex of Persian Gulf politics, which
could at best distract attention from but was even more likely
to exacerbate the internal crisis that was his central concern.
This is, of course, precisely what has
come to pass, with massive and problematic implications for the
nation's security and for U.S. military posture and priorities.
When Carter spoke, the United States was importing approximately
43 percent of its annual requirement for oil, and the U.S. military
presence in the Persian Gulf was modest-a handful of ships and
naval personnel stationed in Bahrain. Some twenty-five years later,
energy imports have risen to 56 percent of annual needs. Over
that period of time, the energy-rich regions of the world-the
Caucasus and Central Asia in addition to the Persian Gulf-have
absorbed an ever-increasing amount of attention by the American
military, manifested in bases and infrastructure, exercises and
demonstrations, contingency plans and actual campaigns. A half
century ago, the proximity of a Communist threat-to Western Europe
or East Asia, for example-tended to determine the stationing of
U.S. forces abroad. Today, increasingly, the profile of the American
military presence abroad corresponds to the location of large
oil and natural gas reserves.
But if Carter was prophetic when it came
to the strategic implications of growing U.S. energy dependence,
his policy prescription reflected a fundamental misreading of
his fellow countrymen. Although the highly publicized speech itself
produced a temporary uptick in his sagging popularity ratings,
the substance of the message-a call to lower expectations-evoked
little positive response. Indeed, as Garry Wills has observed,
given the country's propensity to define itself in terms of growth,
it triggered "a subtle panic [and] claustrophobia" that
Carter's political adversaries wasted no time in exploiting.
Those adversaries-Ronald Reagan first
and foremost-offered a different message, not of a need to cut
back but of abundance without end. They assured Americans not
only that compromising their lifestyle was unnecessary but that
the prospects for economic expansion were limitless and could
be had without moral complications or great cost. This, rather
than nagging about shallow materialism, was what Americans wanted
to hear. Thus did Carter pave the way for his own electoral defeat
a year later.
The abject failure of the Iranian hostage
rescue mission the following spring sealed Carter's fate. Of greater
specific relevance to this account, Desert One-the one and only
time President Carter sent U.S. forces into action - offered a
plausible and reassuringly simple explanation for all of the problems
that the United States was facing in the Persian Gulf and elsewhere
in the world. The answer to whatever crisis afflicted the United
States was to be found not in conservation or reduced expectations
and surely not in spiritual renewal; it was to be found in the
restoration of U.S. military might, which held the promise of
enabling Americans always to have more rather than to make do
Seldom has such a miniscule military setback-in
the Iranian rescue operation of April 1980, eight Americans lost
their lives compared, for example, to 241 killed in the Beirut
bombing of October 1983-had such a seismic impact, not only politically
but also on a nation's collective psyche.
President Carter, graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy and qualified
nuclear submariner, seldom spoke at length of American military
power. Nor did he make it a habit of publicly paying tribute to
the American soldier. His inaugural address of January 20, 1977,
for example, did not allude to the armed services." His State
of the Union address of 1978 noted in passing that "militarily
we are very strong," but offered no specifics and did not
mention the men and women in uniform constituting that strength."
These presentations were typical. Throughout his presidency, Carter
managed to convey the impression that he took American soldiers
Ronald Reagan made a point of emphasizing
that he did not. As president, Reagan, whose own military experience
was confined to a stint making Army Air Corps training films in
World War II Hollywood, spoke to and about soldiers with great
frequency, going out of his way to convey his gratitude, respect,
and affection." Soldiers, Reagan let it be known, were special
This message was integral to the Great
Communicator's overarching political strategy. As Norman Podhoretz
has noted, Reagan "made free and frequent use of patriotic
language and engaged in an unembarrassed manipulation of patriotic
symbols; he lost no opportunity to praise the armed forces, to
heighten their morale, to restore their popular prestige."
As a result, "he also helped restore confidence here in the
utility of military force as an instrument of worthy political
In "Morning in America," the
imaginary movie with which Reagan beguiled himself and his supporters,
soldierly ideals and exploits offered a trove of instructive and
inspiring anecdotes. Celebrating the American in uniform, past
and present, offered Reagan a means of rallying support for his
broader political agenda. His manipulation of symbols also offered
a sanitized version of U.S. military history and fostered a romanticized
portrait of those who made it. These were essential to reversing
the anti-military climate that was a by-product of Vietnam and
by extension essential to policies that Reagan intended to implement,
such as a massive boost in defense spending and a more confrontational
posture toward the Soviet Union. Looking beyond the Reagan era,
they helped create the basis for the reflexive militarization
of U.S. policy.
For Reagan, it was self-evident that Vietnam had been "a
noble cause." Noble too were the soldiers who had endured
that war. Nameless others had wronged America's fighting men,
misusing and mistreating them, and denying them the victory and
honors that were rightfully theirs. Reagan would not repeat these
errors; he would champion soldiers, correcting the injustices
done to them in the 1960s by providing the soldiers of the 1980s
everything that they needed and more. "I know there've been
times when the military has been taken for granted," he told
an audience of sailors during his first months in office. "It
won't happen under this administration. "
By implication, Reagan was establishing
support for "the troops"-as opposed to actual service
with them-as the new standard of civic responsibility. Despite
the president's penchant for flag-waving rhetoric, the standard
he set was notably undemanding. Reconstituting U.S. military power,
Reagan tacitly promised, was not going to entail sacrifice on
the part of the average American. Indeed, both as a candidate
and once in office, he categorically rejected any suggestion of
reviving the draft. 20 Military service was to remain strictly
a matter of individual preference. To anyone making that choice
Reagan granted the status of patriot, idealist, and hero; of citizens
he asked only that they affirm that designation .
As early as the fall of 1982, Reagan professed to see things turned
around. "We've improved our strategic forces, toughened our
conventional forces, and-one thing that's made me particularly
happy-more and more young Americans are proud again to wear their
country's uniform."" A year later, he bragged to a meeting
of newspaper editors that "we have a waiting line of people
who want to enlist.
For Reagan, the overall U.S. military
recovery, and especially the apparent change in attitudes toward
service in the armed forces, offered positive proof that America
was once again "standing tall." To substantiate Reagan's
claim that "as a nation, we've closed the books on a long,
dark period of failure and self-doubt and set a new course,"
one needed to look no further than the freshly minted fighter
jets, tanks, and helicopters entering the force and the eager
young men and women who crewed them.
Thus did military might-rather than, say,
the trade balance, income distribution, voter turnout, or the
percentage of children being raised in two-parent families-become
the preferred measure for gauging the nation's strength.
Thus too did the soldier-now set apart
from his or her fellow citizens-become the preeminent icon of
the Reagan recovery. Soldiers, said Reagan, made possible the
rebirth of American patriotism." Soldiers refurbished the
nation's ideals and embodied its renewed sense of purpose. "Who
else but an idealist," the president asked rhetorically,
"would choose to become a member of the Armed Forces and
put himself or herself in harm's way for the rest of us?"
In the United\ States today, evangelicals are numerous, intensely
devout, and politically engaged. Out of a total population of
some 290 million, approximately 100 million Americans define themselves-as
evangelicals. In comparison with the rest of their fellow citizens,
they are more likely to vote, and although by no means a monolithic
bloc, evangelicals-white evangelicals in particular-tend to be
conservative and to vote Republican.' In national politics, they
wield enormous clout.
Certain in their understanding of right and wrong, growing in
numbers, affluence, and sophistication, and determined to reverse
the nation's perceived decline, conservative evangelicals after
the 1960s assumed the role of church militant. Abandoning their
own previously well established skepticism about the morality
of force and inspired in no small measure by their devotion to
Israel, they articulated a highly permissive interpretation of
the just war tradition, the cornerstone of Christian thinking
about warfare. And they developed a considerable appetite for
wielding armed might on behalf of righteousness, more often than
not indistinguishable from America's own interests.
Moreover, at least some evangelicals looked
to the armed services to play a pivotal role in saving America
from internal collapse. In a decadent and morally confused time,
they came to celebrate the military itself as a bastion of the
values required to stem the nation's slide toward perdition: respect
for tradition, an appreciation for order and discipline, and a
willingness to sacrifice self for the common good. In short, evangelicals
looked to soldiers to model the personal qualities that citizens
at large needed to rediscover if America were to reverse the tide
of godlessness and social decay to which the 1960s had given impetus.
Militant evangelicals imparted religious
sanction to the militarization of U.S. policy and helped imbue
the resulting military activism with an aura of moral legitimacy.
Policy options that policymakers advocated as feasible and necessary,
Christians discerned as right and good.
The relationship between Christianity and war has been a tangled
one. (Despite Christ's admonition to love one's neighbor and to
turn the other cheek, Christians historically have slaughtered
their fellow men, to include their fellow Christians, in breathtakingly
... developments that evangelicals could only view with consternation:
a sexual revolution occurring amidst an atmosphere of growing
permissiveness; new campaigns for "women's lib," homosexual
rights, and the promotion of "alternative lifestyles";
Supreme Court decisions legalizing abortion and banishing prayer
from public schools; Time magazine's authoritative pronouncement
that "God Is Dead"; and, of course, the widespread protest
and attacks on authority fueled by the Vietnam War.
As seen by conservative Christians, all
of these developments testified to a nation turning away from
God. The upshot was to send evangelicals into political opposition.
The old-time religion became the new counterculture. Returning
the United States to the path of righteousness became the professed
aim of a new generation of politically astute and organizationally
adept evangelical leaders. For a time, perhaps the most prominent
among them was the Reverend Jerry Falwell, founder in 1979 of
the Moral Majority, and the evangelical equivalent of Norman Podhoretz
as energizer, point man, and lightning rod for critics. Others
included Jim Bakker, Jim Dobson, Tim LaHaye, Pat Robertson, and
James Robison, each possessing a knack for mobilizing Christians
disenchanted with the direction in which the country was headed
they saw it, the national trends that evangelical deplored reflected
the machinations of a minority-a New Class of liberal elites-rather
than the considered preferences of the people as a whole. "We
have enough votes to run the country," Robertson boasted
in 1980. "And when the people say, 'We've had enough,' we
are going to take over." Robertson and other evangelical
leaders aimed to rouse the mass of God-fearing Christians to say
"enough" and to take the country back.
"Pro-life, pro-family, pro-moral,
pro-American": these, according to Falwell, were the movement's
watchwords. In an operational sense, however, there was much more.
A secondary but still consequential aspect of their campaign addressed
specifically military concerns. "These evangelicals set down
precise requirements that they find spelled out in the Bible,"
reported Kenneth A. Briggs of the New York Times in evident amazement.
"None is more vigorously preached than the lesson on military
preparedness to combat Communism."" Briggs was indulging
in a bit of journalistic hyperbole, but was not entirely off the
mark. Although a determination to reclaim America for Christ best
explains the evangelical thrust into politics, the back story
had distinctively military overtones.
Never wavering in their support for the
Vietnam War, Christian conservatives saw the rise of anti-war
sentiment, popular disparagement of the armed services, and the
wasting away of American military strength as combat in Southeast
Asia dragged on as indicators of the path down which the United
States was headed.° Vietnam was persuading the nation's best
and brightest to turn their backs on America's soldiers. For their
part, when the war began evangelicals "regarded military
service as not only compatible with Christian belief and practice
but as an obligation of American citizenship," and they did
not budge from that conviction.
Jerry Falwell, 1980
The United States is for the first time in my lifetime.., no
longer the military might of the world .... We are not committed
to victory. We are not committed to greatness. We have lost the
will to stay strong. Because of the overwhelming conventional
and nuclear strength of the Soviet Union, it is now possible that
the Soviet government could demand our capitulation. Our unwillingness
to pay the price of a nuclear conflict could well force our leadership
into lowering our flag and surrendering the American people to
the will of the Communist Party in Moscow.
The essential response to this crisis
required both moral and military restoration. "I believe,"
Falwell continued, that Americans want to see this country come
back to basics, back to values, back to biblical morality, back
to sensibility, and back to patriotism .... Communists know that
in order to take over a country they must first see to it that
a nation's military strength is weakened and that its morals are
corrupted so that its people have no will to resist wrong... Our
enemies know that when we are weak morally, and when we have lost
our will to fight, we are in a precarious position for takeover.
By militarily disarming our country, we
have actually been surrendering our rights and our sovereignty
and, as the Soviets would soon like to see-our freedoms and our
liberties .... America [today]... is at the threshold of destruction
or surrender .... Our faltering defenses... [show that we are]
permitting a godless society to emerge in America [and that] we
are sowing corruption in our own land and are reaping instability
in our nation .... A political leader, as a minister of God, is
a revenger to execute wrath upon those who do evil. Our government
has the right to use its armaments to bring wrath upon those who
would do evil by hurting other people.
Other conservative Christian writers were,
if anything, even more strident, emphasizing that it was incumbent
upon evangelicals to rescue not only their country but also its
beleaguered military. The believing Christian was called upon
to wage two wars at once-not only against the godless enemy abroad
but also against those at home intent on dragging the country
down into sinful way.
... many evangelicals view the requirements of U.S. national security
in the here-and-now and the final accomplishment of Christ's saving
mission at the end of time as closely related if not indistinguishable
... Conservative Christians in the United
States have an obsession with the Jewish state . In 1997, Prime
Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told a gathering of three thousand
American evangelicals that "we have no greater friends and
allies than the people sitting in this room." The "roars
of approval, multiple standing ovations and shouts of 'amen' and
'hallelujah" that the Israeli prime minister's remarks elicited
suggested that he knew whereof he spoke."
Underlying this preoccupation with Israel
is the doctrine of premillennial dispensationalism, to which numerous
(but by no means all) American evangelicals subscribe. In essence,
this theology finds in scripture the foretelling of a spectacular-indeed,
horrific-sequence of events culminating in the last days: a period
of great tribulation giving rise to the Antichrist but leading
to his destruction in a great battle at Armageddon and finally
to Christ's Second Coming and the inauguration of a thousand years
of peace and justice. Crucial to this sequence is the return of
Jews to the Holy Land.
Dispensationalists, who themselves number in the millions, welcome
this prospect and want to do their part in keeping events on track."
As one consequence, the Religious Right has been unflinchingly
loyal to the Jewish state, eager to support Israel in the performance
of its prescribed role although according to the most commonly
accepted script, before the Millennium arrives all Jews will either
convert to Christianity or be killed off.
In 1967, evangelicals delighted in Israeli territorial gains made
as a result of the Six Day War, particularly the seizure of East
Jerusalem from Jordan. Believing that the restoration of the Old
City to Jewish control is a precondition of the Second Coming,
dispensationalists were not inclined to quibble over the legality
of annexation; this was conquest in service of a larger cause."
Similarly, in bombing Iraq's nuclear reactor and invading Lebanon,
Israel enjoyed uncritical support from the preponderance of American
evangelicals. More recently still, conservative Christians have
adamantly rejected any criticism of the measures that Israel has
employed in its efforts to suppress the Palestinian uprising.
In effect, American evangelical support
for Israel created loopholes in the just-war tradition. For some
countries-those designated for special roles in God's program
of salvation-the usual rules do not apply. Israel is one such
special country. When it uses force to advance its own interests,
it is in fact operating within what conservative Christians see
as a far wider framework. Wittingly or not, a militant Israel
is advancing the cause of a militant, even militaristic Messiah
not at all shy about using the sword to complete His saving mission.
Thus when it comes to war evangelicals
grant Israel a special dispensation. Confronted with violence
between Israel and its neighbors, writes one scholar, "the
Christian Zionist does not have to rework the ethical arithmetic...
in order to reckon whose side he is on." To support Israel
"cannot, by definition, ever be incompatible with the will
of God. " But conservative Christians clearly believe that
the United States is another special country-perhaps the only
other. For both Israel and the United States, therefore, restrictions
on the use of force become less stringent.
In 1980, Ronald Reagan, although twice married, an indifferent
parent, I and an irregular churchgoer, presented himself to evangelicals
as one who understood their message and embraced their cause.
In private conversation with Falwell, Reagan let it be known that
he too believed that "we are approaching Armageddon... maybe
not in my lifetime or yours, but in the near future. Campaigning
against the incumbent Carter in August 1980, Reagan told the Religious
Roundtable's National Affairs Briefing, "I know that you
can't endorse me. But... I want you to know that I endorse you."
The stratagem worked, to great effect. While Norman Podhoretz
and his doughty band of literary intellectuals fancied that they
had elected Reagan president in 1980, Jerry Falwell and his far
larger evangelical following could make a much stronger claim
for actually doing so.
On matters related to war and peace, the post-Vietnam opinions
offered by the mainstream churches, including the Roman Catholic
Church, came in various shades of gray-the implication being that
making moral judgments was a complex and difficult matter. In
contrast, evangelical discourse emphasized black-and-white. With
leaders like Falwell shouting down contrary views, questions of
right and wrong were easily discerned and easily settled.
As a result, when Reagan urged the National
Association of Evangelicals, which in the 1980s already had four
million members, "to speak out against those who would place
the United States in a position of military and moral inferiority,"
that organization and its adherents took heed. In the 1980S, to
counter the views expressed on national security issues by mainstream
churches, the NAE instituted a "Peace, Freedom, and Security
Studies" program. It scoffed at calls for nuclear disarmament
and threw the weight of evangelical opinion behind Reagan's interventionist
foreign policy in places like Central America." In 1983,
Falwell's Moral Majority was running full-page ads in major newspapers
proclaiming that "we cannot afford to be number two in defense.
But, sadly enough, that's where we are today. Number two. And
fading!" The ads derided those who questioned the rationale
and need for the Reagan defense buildup.
This military history of the Religious Right contains a second
theme that overlaps with and even in some respects anticipates
the first. That theme concerns the tacit alliance between evangelicals
and the armed services ...
... It did not take long for the military
itself to recognize the potential benefits of making common cause
with conservative Christians. As one scholar has concluded, "the
Vietnam War facilitated a dramatic change in evangelicals' image
and status within the military. Formerly regarded with skepticism,
if not suspicion, evangelicals gained respect and influence within
the armed forces as a result of the support they demonstrated
for the military services, the war, and the men who fought it."
As a consequence, in very short order
the leadership of the armed services began to reciprocate the
friendly gestures made by evangelicals. Indeed, ratification of
the entente between evangelicals and the officer corps can be
dated with some precision: it occurred on May 1, 1972, when the
U.S. Military Academy bestowed on Billy Graham its Sylvanus Thayer
Award, conferred annually on a citizen who exemplifies the academy's
ideals of duty, honor, and country.
In the aftermath of Vietnam, evangelicals came to see the military
as an enclave of virtue, a place of refuge where the sacred remnant
of patriotic Americans gathered and preserved American principles
... For their part, the armed forces,
feeling themselves to be prime targets in the ongoing culture
war, came to see the evangelicals as allies-sharing the same enemies
and sharing at least to some degree in a common mission of restoration.
Therefore, just as the politics of the
officer corps took on a distinctly conservative (and Republican)
hue as a result of Vietnam, so too did its sectarian leanings
undergo something of a transformation. Since time immemorial,
the unofficial church of the American officer corps had been the
unofficial church of the American establishment: Episcopalian."
This had not reflected actual religious conviction so much as
the collective perception of military professionals about where
they fit (or aspired to fit) in the American social hierarchy.
Now the officer corps shed its Episcopal coloration, the change
having less to do with religious conversion than with recognition
that the relationship between the U.S. military and American civilian
elites had changed radically.
This evangelical tilt expressed itself
in several ways, not least among them in the changing composition
of the military chaplaincy. Beginning in Vietnam, as the number
of chaplains provided by mainline Protestant denominations dwindled,
evangelicals volunteered to make up the difference, an offer that
the services were happy to accept. Programs that tended to fall
within the purview of the chaplaincy took on an evangelical flavor.
Commanders extended a warm welcome to Christian performers who
came to entertain and inspire the troops while also opening military
installations to teams of evangelical lay ministers who organized
programs for soldiers and their families.
After Vietnam, that is to say, on U.S.
military posts at home and abroad, evangelicals came to enjoy
a privileged place. As the leading student of the military-evangelical
entente concludes, those who ministered to the armed forces "succeeded
in winning thousands of military men and women to evangelical
religion, and through the influence they gained among the military
leadership, exerted a significant impact on the armed forces as
an institution." As a serving officer in 2004 put it more
bluntly, "Christian fundamentalism was the hidden hand that
changed the military for the better. "
Lieutenant General William G. Boykin garnered unwanted headlines-By
telling an audience of evangelicals that "the battle that
we're in is a spiritual battle." According to Boykin, "Satan
wants to destroy this nation... and he wants to destroy us as
a Christian army. "
... in the aftermath of 9/11, evangelicals reverted almost immediately
to their old bellicosity, uniting behind the Bush administration
with as much enthusiasm as they had behind the Reagan administration
twenty years before. The Manichean woridview to which many evangelicals
subscribed reasserted itself, with familiar figures such as Jerry
Falwell and Pat Robertson rehearsing old lines in which Islam
now substituted for Communism." Appearing on NBC Nightly
News, Franklin Graham, son of Billy and himself a prominent preacher,
went so far as to denounce Islam as "a very evil and wicked
religion. " Confronted with evil, the God-fearing had no
alternative but to overcome it.
"This is a war between Christians
and the forces of evil, by whatever name they choose to use,"
announced Jack Graham, president of the Southern Baptist Convention.
"The ultimate terrorist is Satan," Graham said, echoing
language emanating from the White House .71 That the president
was himself a born-again Christian obviously mattered, and as
the global war on terror heated up, believers stood by their man:
when it came to how Americans assessed George W. Bush's war, churchgoers
were more supportive than nonchurchgoers and evangelicals were
the most supportive of all.
Perhaps most notably, evangelicals after
9/11 revived their accommodating interpretation of just-war theory
and thereby put their imprimatur on the so-called Bush Doctrine.
Thus, when the National Association of Evangelicals declared in
the run-up to the 2003 Iraq War that "most evangelicals regard
Saddam Hussein's regime-by allegedly aiding and harboring terrorists-as
already having attacked the United States," it was putting
just-war precepts at the service of what was in fact a preventive
war." Even more than had been the case during the Cold War,
just-war principles after 9/11 became not a series of stringent
tests but a signal: not a red light, not even a flashing yellow,
but a bright green that relieved the Bush administration of any
obligation to weigh seriously the moral implications of when and
where it employed coercion. In effect, the NAE was extending to
the United States the same immensely elastic permission to use
force previously accorded to Israel.
Conservative Christians have conferred a presumptive moral palatability
on any occasion on which the United States resorts to force. They
have fostered among the legions of believing Americans a predisposition
to see U.S. military power as inherently good, perhaps even a
necessary adjunct to the accomplishment of Christ's saving mission.
In doing so, they have nurtured the preconditions that have enabled
the American infatuation with military power flourish.
New American Militarism