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Iraq, religious conservatives, and the "crusade theory of warfare"
By pastor Anthony B. Robinson in SeattlePi.com:
You might not expect a West Point graduate, Vietnam vet and career soldier to come out with a book titled "The New American Militarism: How Americans Are Addicted to War." But that's what Andrew Bacevich, who now directs the program in International Relations at Boston University, has done.
A self-described conservative, Bacevich argues that Americans have fallen prey to a "military metaphysic." By that he means all international problems are seen as military problems and the likelihood for finding a solution except through military means is discounted. The result is war as a permanent condition with the only acceptable plan for peace a loaded pistol. One has only to consider the relative weight given to the Pentagon and the State Department to get the point.
During the military buildup of the '80s, the claim of proponents was "peace through strength." Having a big enough military meant you wouldn't have to use it. But having such a large and sophisticated military has proved a tough temptation for politicians and people alike to resist. It's an old story: When the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.
As a pastor what most interested me is Bacevich's careful tracing of the role of leading religious conservatives in promoting a "crusade theory of warfare," to replace the more long-standing and cautious doctrine of just war. A crusade theory of warfare provides the mindset and justification for offensive military action, for so-called preventive wars like the current war in Iraq. The just war ethical tradition mandates the use of force for defensive, not offensive, purposes.
How did this change, a crucial element of American's seduction by war, happen? Beginning in the '70s a growing number of politically active religious conservatives told Americans, and their conservative Christian followers, that communism was everywhere on the march and America's subjugation was imminent. There was, however, not only this frightening side to their message but an urging to action. Christian America's true destiny is to wield military power in the death struggle with godless communion.
Beneath this rhetoric lies a theology declared heretical in the early centuries of Christianity: Manichaeism from a third century teacher, Mani. Manichaens of every age divide the world simply and starkly between the forces of good and the forces of evil, and urge the former to stamp out the latter. Appealing in its simplicity, Manichaeism is disastrous in reality. Early Christians regarded Manichaeism as heretical precisely because it blinded people to their own capacity for evil and encouraged gross self-deception.
After the Soviet Union imploded (in part due to its own military excesses), and 9/11 stunned Americans, these same politically active religious conservatives were quick to substitute Islam for communism. Falwell and Robertson recycled old lines with a new infidel. Franklin Graham, son of Billy, denounced Islam as "a very evil and wicked religion." Southern Baptist President Jack Graham declared, "Satan is the ultimate terrorist" and "this is a war between Christians and the forces of evil, by whatever name they choose to use." A crusade theory of warfare marched on, giving sanction to a new stratagem, "preventive war."
Eclipsed in the storm of fear and rhetoric was the older tradition of mainstream Protestantism and Roman Catholicism. The ethical tradition of just war lays down rigorous tests if a war, always understood as a tragic option and always to be a last resort, can be considered just and justifiable. Such conditions include, but are not limited to, "just cause" (usually self-defense); public declaration of war by a lawful authority; no ulterior motives (self-aggrandizement or vengeance); reasonable probability of success, and avoidance of harm to non-combatants.
As the debate on the Iraq war enters a new phase, those who foisted a crusade theory of warfare on Americans, and those who bought it, have much to answer for. Such a mentality encourages an overreliance on the nation's military, a rush to war, the failure of careful analysis and the erosion of proscriptions against torture and abuse. In moving from a just war ethic to a crusade theory of warfare Americans have lost their way, and some Christian leaders have betrayed their faith. Christian faith ought always to be a check on war's excesses and a challenge to an overreliance on the military, not a cheerleader in war's camp. As a Christian and a soldier, Andrew Bacevich is arguing exactly that.
Anthony B. Robinson, a pastor of the United Church of Christ, is a speaker and teacher. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.