California Dreaming,


excerpted from the book

The New American Militarism

How Americans Are Seduced By War

by Andrew J. Bacevich

Oxford University Press, 2005, paper




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 fester,

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 Western world.


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 with less.

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 for granted.

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 people.

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 purposes.""

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 large numbers.

... 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 from extinction.

... 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.

The New American Militarism

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