Breen: “George Washington Would Hate Trump’s July 4 Parade”

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T.H. Breen brings the thunder:

President Trump has invited the American people to what he claims will be the biggest and best Fourth of July celebration in the nation’s history. Influenced by the huge nationalist displays he witnessed in Europe, Mr. Trump promises “a really great parade to show our military strength.” And he will treat the country to a “major fireworks display, entertainment and an address by your favorite President, me!”

All Americans should be appalled. Even during an era of extreme hyperbole, the unabashed narcissism driving the parade plans is astonishing. It runs counter to the explicit aims and faith of the ordinary Americans who founded the United States.

The focus on a single leader — on the construction of a cult of personality — would have incensed the men and women who sacrificed so much to create a new nation. As Capt. Joseph Bloomfield explained to a company of New Jersey troops preparing to fight in the Revolutionary War, the American states had “entered a new era of politics.” He warned the soldiers to be on guard against the rise of an “aspiring Demagogue, possessed of popular talents and shining qualities, a Julius Caesar, or an Oliver Cromwell” who “will lay violent hands on the government and sacrifice the liberties of his country.”

At a moment when exclusionary forms of national identity are on the rise, we should remember that the ordinary people who suffered so much during a long war believed that their sacrifice legitimated a system of government in which ordinary people like themselves had a meaningful voice. There would be no more doffing the cap to noblemen. No more claims to special privilege. In the independent republic all citizens would be equal under the law.

When Weapons of War Become Idols: How Christians Should Respond to Donald Trump’s Military Parade

 

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This guest post comes from my friend Byron Borger, proprietor of Hearts & Minds Bookstore in Dallastown, PA.  If you like Byron’s post (or even if you don’t) head over to the Hearts & Minds website and buy a few books from him.

Zechariah 4:6 may not be on most people’s minds on the 4th of July, but it has long been an important verse for me. Perhaps more firmly, now, we should invoke the law and the prophets who warn against Moloch, rebuking any and all who use weapons of mass destruction. (Those who stand in the serious just war tradition, the rational rubric helping discern if any given war and battle strategy is ethically justifiable will surely agree. Mass killing is always wrong.) This haughty Trump parade, in my view, is an abomination; prideful, showing our trust in the weapons of war. We want these technologies to save us. We will do anything, as long as we think they make us safe. It is what the Bible calls idolatry.

Trusting the weapons of war has always been (along with the power of money) a chief idol in the Bible. It’s why young King David said that the point of the famous Goliath story was “this shows that the Lord does not save with sword and shield.” (1 Samuel 17:47.) When ancient Israel trusted their military might or made alliances with pagan nations, they lost! If you know your Bible, you know it is true. (On the other hand just think of the Gideon story — God decreases the number of soldiers until they couldn’t possibly win through military strength. How about Gideon as head of the Department of Defense? Or maybe the Apostle Paul who said in Romans 12 if “if your enemy is hungry, feed him.”)

The most lethal military advancement in the time of the 8th century BC Hebrew prophets was the horse-drawn chariot (apparently invented by the Assyrians) and God forbade Israel from using it. Micah 1:13 says “it was the beginning of sin for you” which is an indication that their militaristic idol worship started in Laschish where they stockpiled these advanced weapons. Most serious Christians have read Psalm 20:7 and Psalm 44:6 and know we dare not trust our weapons.

(I would suggest that the famous “Be still and know that I am God” [Psalm 46:10] might actually be a call to resist making weapons. The King James translation gets it right, translating it as “cease striving.” In the context of the poem about international geo-politics, it is saying to stop an arms race — that is, cease striving to keep up with your global enemies. It seems not to be about private spirituality — it’s a passage more for a peace protest sign than a contemplative retreat. But I digress.)

One does not have to be a complete Christ-like pacifist (committed to nonviolence a la 1 Peter 2:21) to agree that we must never turn our nation’s military into an idol. Given our vast, vast tax expenditures going to the Pentagon (and to those making our weapons) and the hubris with which we usually talk about our military might, it surely is such. Both mainstream parties are guilty; nobody has heeded the warning of General Dwight D. Eisenhower when he warned about the “military industrial complex.” This costly parade is just making evident what our nation stands on and for. In a way, it’s a good thing, honoring the idols of war (what Leviticus calls “the gods of metal”?) so extravagantly. Even if we don’t bow down, it’s clear. Where are the “gospel-centered” teachers who are so helpful in rooting out personal idols? The just-war theorists? Those who critique the “cultural liturgies.” What about this? How far is too far?

“The Strategic Implications of American Millennialism”

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After reading this post at The Way of Improvement Leads Home, a friend sent me Major Brian L. Stuckert‘s 2008 study of the impact of dispensationalism on American foreign policy.  The paper was written as part of Stuckert’s education at the School of Advanced Military Studies at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

The paper is over seventy pages long and does a nice job of explaining dispensationalism to a military audience.  Stuckert’s “conclusions and recommendations” for the U.S. Army are worth considering:

“The enemy is a spiritual enemy. It’s called the principality of darkness. We, ladies and gentlemen, are in a spiritual battle, not a physical battle. Oh, we’ve got soldiers fighting on the battlefields, we’ve got sailors, marines, airmen, coast guardsmen out there fighting against a physical enemy. But the battle this nation is in is a spiritual battle, it’s a battle for our soul. And the enemy is a guy called Satan – Satan wants to destroy this nation. He wants to destroy us as a nation and he wants to destroy us as a Christian army.” – U.S. Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence, Lieutenant General Boykin, 2003

A 2003 survey found that more than two-thirds of evangelical leaders view Islam as a religion of violence bent on world domination.181 Following the events of September 11, 2001, many Christian opinion leaders began to speak of President Bush’s election and policies as “divinely inspired.” This attitude can present challenges to rational decision making processes. While some political commentators have theorized that the administration’s unwillingness to admit errors is the result of arrogance or political calculation, it is more likely that the administration believes they are doing the will of God and will be vindicated in the end. In other words, intelligence or analysis that seems to support invasions or other administration policies are interpreted as an affirmation of God’s will, while information is to the contrary is viewed with suspicion – perhaps an effort by Satan to deceive or mislead.

As President Carter explained to former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, what people believe as a matter of religion, they will do as a matter of public policy.185 There is a tendency on the part of Americans to view foreign policy and international affairs as a “clash of moral opposites.” This tendency may make it difficult for U.S. policy makers and strategists to perceive and act upon subtleties that may lie outside our conceptions of moral absolutes. Military leaders have the difficult task translating this religiously tinged policy into successful strategy and operations. War is primarily about politics. While geography and technology play a role, in order to be successful military leaders must be able to see the political goals as clearly as possible. Because of the influence of pre-millennialism, it can be difficult for military leaders to see themselves and their government accurately and state policy goals objectively.

Because religion in America directly impacts policy, military leaders and planners must learn to recognize the tenets and implications of American millennial thought. Millennialism has always been a feature of the American culture and has shaped not only the objectives of U.S. government policy, but also the way in which we interpret the words and actions of other actors on the international stage. Millennial ideas contribute to a common American understanding of international relations that guide our thinking regardless of individual religious or political affiliation. Millennialism has great explanatory value, significant policy implications, and creates potential vulnerabilities that adversaries may exploit. By gaining insight into and embracing intellectual honesty where our own prejudices and proclivities are concerned, we can greatly improve the quality and clarity of our decision-making.

Pessimism and paranoia are two possible results of pre-millennial influence. In the Capstone Concept for Joint Operations, the Joint Staff describes the near-term future as one characterized by “a pervasive sense of global insecurity.”188 There are actually many reasons to trend toward optimism. The U.S. military has no rival and our power is truly global in nature. U.S. military spending always exceeds that of the next several major nations combined. The U.S. military regularly enjoys a position of leadership on the international stage and effectively uses military power to intervene in the affairs of other states. Decision makers should guard against unwarranted pessimism. We should consider whether a contemplated decision or policy is either overly optimistic or pessimistic. Dispensational pre-millennialism typically causes a predisposition toward pessimism in world affairs and a general worsening of international relations. A pre millennial reading of Bible prophecy paints a dismal picture of a world disintegrating toward a cataclysmic end where we are forced to confront the wrath and judgment of God. Assumptions and plans based on this worldview will be less than ideal. 

In the same manner that we so assiduously study the culture and thinking of others,
potential adversaries may study us, to include the ramifications of millennial thought, and gain significant advantages. Millennial thought and its policy implications may create strategic transparency that affords adversaries an advantage in decision-making. In other words, by studying the tenets and predictions of dispensational pre millennialism, one could, to some extent, predict U.S. government actions and reactions. This would certainly prove more useful in areas that figure prominently in dispensational pre-millennialist eschatology, such as Israel. An extension of this strategic transparency might include an ability to provoke or manipulate American policy and subsequent action. With or without the efforts of adversaries, American millennialism may increase the fragility of or even disrupt coalitions. Finally, adversaries could easily transform an understanding American pre-millennialism into a highly effective set of information operations themes and messages or psychological operations efforts to achieve a variety of results with American leadership or the population at large. By recognizing these potential vulnerabilities, American strategists can take action now to mitigate the effects.

Based on what we know about the effect millennialism has on our thinking, we may incorporate additional considerations into policy formulation and evaluation to assist ourselves in the identification of defects, diminished objectivity or unwarranted biases. As a result of millenarian influences on our culture, most Americans think as absolutists. A proclivity for clear differentiations between good, evil, right, and wrong do not always serve us well in foreign relations or security policy. Policy makers must strive to honestly confront their own cognitive filters and the prejudices associated with various international organizations and actors vis-à-vis pre-millennialism. We must come to more fully understand the background of our thinking about the U.N., the E.U., the World Trade Organization, Russia, China and Israel. We must ask similar questions about natural events such as earthquakes or disease. An ability to consider these potential influences upon our thinking may greatly enhance objectivity.

The inevitability of millennial peace through redemptive violence and an exceptional role for America have been and continue to be powerful themes running throughout the security and foreign policies of the U.S.191 Official U.S. government policy expresses these themes in a number of ways from the National seal that reads Novus Ordo Seclorum – the New Order for the Ages – or the nuclear intercontinental ballistic missile known as the Peacekeeper. Whether Americans seek to subdue the continent to realize their Manifest Destiny, conquer the Soviet Evil Empire or rid the world of Saddam Hussein, millennialism imparts an unusual degree of certainty and fortitude in the face of difficult situations. Judis points out that, for the same reasons, millennialism is usually “at odds with the empirical method that goes into appraising reality, based on a determination of means and ends.”192 As demonstrated by American history, millennialism has predisposed us toward stark absolutes, overly simplified dichotomies and a preference for revolutionary or cataclysmic change as opposed to gradual processes. In other words, American strategists tend to rely too much on broad generalizations, often incorrectly cast in terms of ‘good’ and ‘evil,’ and seek the fastest resolution to any conflict rather than the most thoughtful or patient one.

Read Stuckert’s entire monograph here.

Court Evangelicals Were Behind Trump’s Decision To Ban Transgender People From The Military

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Emily McFarlan Miller reports at Religion News Service:

President Donald Trump’s announcement on Twitter that he was banning transgender people from serving in the military seemed spontaneous and reportedly caught some administration officials and congressional leaders by surprise.

But evangelical Christian leaders who informally advise the president discussed reversing the year-old policy at the White House two weeks ago, according to a tweet by David Brody of CBN (Christian Broadcasting Network) News.

Read the rest here.

Andrew Bacevich Weighs-In on Trump’s Appointment of Generals to His Cabinet

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Andrew Bacevich

Andrew Bacevich is an historian of international relations, security studies, and military history.  He is a former Colonel in the United States Army and he is an emeritus professor at Boston University.  He is also a prolific writer and, in my opinion, one of the country’s leading public intellectuals.

Bacevich is troubled by Donald Trump’s decision to appoint generals to high-ranking cabinet positions.  Here is a taste of his recent piece at Commonweal: “American Junta.”

First, in contrast to, say, Marshall or Eisenhower, this latest crop of generals to occupy the upper rungs of the national security apparatus includes no one who has actually won a war. True, they have gained vast experience in the management of armed conflict, as their stacks of campaign ribbons and personal decorations testify. But if the ultimate measure of generalship is victory, they have come up short. As Trump himself once remarked, they haven’t “done the job.” So we may wonder what exactly qualifies these particular generals for the various offices to which they are about to lay claim.  

Second, and more importantly, even as he surrounds himself with generals, Trump himself—in contrast to the several presidents mentioned above—gives little evidence of possessing even a rudimentary grasp of the precepts and practices that govern the American civil-military tradition.

That tradition rests on two pillars. The first is the principle of civilian control, which the commander-in-chief asserts. The second is the military professional ethic, to which members of the officer corps subscribe. Yet here too, the president has a role to play, by respecting and therefore helping to sustain the code of “Duty, Honor, Country.”

Adherence to principle and ethic are necessarily imperfect. Some amount of tension between the two is inevitable. But together, they apportion authority and responsibility, establish boundaries, and define distinct but complementary spheres of action. In so doing, they function as twin sentinels guarding against the possibility of the nation with the world’s most powerful military succumbing to praetorian rule.

Whether Trump actually understands the American civil-military compact is an open question.  So too is his willingness to abide by its provisions. Indeed, to judge by statements he made during the presidential campaign, Trump is either ignorant of established practice or simply disdains it.

Read the entire piece here.

Why Joyce Goldberg Can No Longer Teach U.S. Military History

Goldberg teaches United States military history at the University of Texas at Arlington.  She has been teaching this subject for nearly 30 years, but she recently told her department chair that she is no longer willing to teach the class.

More than half of the students who take her class are either “ROTC students, members of the National Guard, students who would soon enlist, retired ‘lifers’ veterans from the first Gulf War, veterans of one or several recent overseas deployments, or loved ones of service people.” Her course stops at Vietnam, but she has found that students tend to use her class to “work through personal issues originating in more recent conflicts.”  Here is a taste of her essay from The Chronicle of Higher Education.  (HT: Ralph Luker).

Whether the day’s discussion centered on the 17th-century European heritage of the American military, or the managerial revolution of the Progressive Era, it became disturbingly evident that many students could only consider historical questions through the lens of their own personal experiences. I do not blame them one bit, and occasionally their personal insights were relevant. But the emotional needs of those students unrelentingly pushed the class in a direction I was not comfortable with as a historian.

As the semester progressed, it became increasingly clear just how unprepared universities are to deal with the needs of these student veterans or their relatives. As a historian, my pedagogical goals focus on honing cognitive skills through the tool of history. These student veterans and their loved ones were seeking something my class could never provide and that I was not trained to offer.

One student veteran wrote me a harsh e-mail because an assigned book refuted the popular idea that colonial militias defeated their European adversaries by adopting Indian tactics of irregular warfare, especially sniping. That could not be true, the student angrily insisted, because of his own success as an Army sniper.

A Response to a Blog Comment for the Ages!

Over at Cliopatria, Chris Bray has had enough with a commentator named David Silbey. 

Earlier today Bray wrote a post criticizing attempts to compare mandatory health care to early republican laws mandating that citizens join the militia.  In this particular case, Bray was challenging the thesis of Jack Belkin’s post on civic humanism, a post we blogged about a few hours ago at The Way of Improvement Leads Home.

And then the fireworks started. 

Here is Bray’s post.

Here is Silbey’s comment to Bray’s post.

And here is Bray’s response to Silbey:

David, I’m done with you. You aren’t reading. You’re not making an argument. I’ve asked you three times in three ways to clarify your argument or arguments, and you’ve refused or ignored all of those invitations. I’ve repeatedly defined my argument and my intent, and have said explicitly that I am not examining the question of constitutionality. You’re throwing out word clouds — the kind of chickenshit wordplay that academics find so impressive. It’s beyond dull.

I’ve built a discussion about the functioning of the early militia and the arguments over authority that people had at the time, and I’ve done that using historical examples (and with historiographic references). You haven’t. You’re boring.

Military Chaplains and Liberty Theological Seminary

According to this article in the St. Louis Dispatch, one out of every five Air Force chaplain candidates is enrolled in Liberty Seminary’s chaplaincy MDiv program.  Most of them are taking online courses.  Here is a taste:

Critics say that high rate of enrollment could add to an imbalance of evangelical Christians among the military’s corps of chaplains. And some even within the military have raised questions about the quality of Liberty’s program.

Liberty’s pairing of evangelical Christianity and patriotism is exemplified during Liberty’s annual Military Emphasis Week. According to the school’s website, the highlight of that week is “the patriotic convocation, occurring the Wednesday closest to Veterans Day, featuring patriotic music, veteran testimonies and an inspirational message from a Christian combat veteran.”

Liberty is not accredited by the Association of Theological Schools, the national accreditation agency for graduate-level seminaries. Instead, it is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. The Department of Defense requires only that seminaries that train chaplain candidates be listed with the American Council on Education, which is not an accrediting body.

Christians and the Military

In browsing different sites today, I ran across a letter from a female reader of Andrew Sullivan’s blog, The Daily Dish.  This reader has a masters degree in moral theology from the University of Notre Dame and has decided to become a Marine Officer.  Sullivan asks: “What if the Military Were Filled with Notre Dame Grads?”

Here are a couple of snippets of this interesting letter:

I think Just War Theory is a plausible theological way to deal with the annihilation of large swaths of humanity at the hands of others, and I cannot even vaguely justify our foray into Iraq in terms of it.  Afghanistan initially may have filled some criteria, but it certainly doesn’t any longer and hasn’t for some time.   Admittedly, I had to do some ethical contortions to justify my choice to try to enter the military.  Some were pathetic: as a woman I would never technically have a combat MOS and as such would always have some moral separation from actual killing.  Others were more honestly reasoned, but none of them were in complete harmony with Catholic doctrine—how could they be?  Ultimately, I decided that I could take responsibility both for disobeying an order I found to be immoral or for making a decision that violated the very core of my conscience. 

And…

The appeal of the military for many Catholics is obvious: we like rigor and pageantry.  We also take seriously the call to put our faith into action.  In light of our current wars, I now more than ever question the legitimacy of acting out one’s faith in military service—though I cannot bring myself to pacifism—but I think that it’s a decision best left to each individual and his or her conscience.  Mainly, I decided to join the Marines because I thought it afforded me the opportunity to make a positive impact in the world in  ways that pursing the life of an academic ethicist wouldn’t.  Ultimately, even though my job now is very different than the one I would’ve had had I managed to make it through OCS, undoubtedly I’m still in the same predicament I would have been in: hoping but unsure if what I’m doing is making the world a better place.

Will ROTC Units Keep the United States Out of War?

Writing at The Chronicle Review, Michael Nelson reviews several recent books on war and America.  I usually do not read much on war or military history, but after reading Nelson’s review I may go out an get a copy of Andrew Bacevich’s Washington Rules: America’s Path to Permanent War or Richard Rubenstein’s Reasons to Kill: Why Americans Choose War.

Here is Nelson’s take on Rubsenstein:

Rubenstein, after pausing at the start of Reasons to Kill to puzzle over Tocqueville’s observation that Americans are “fond of peace” because it “allows every man to pursue his own little undertakings,” traces the roots of American bellicosity further back than either Bacevich or Beinart.  He cites a study showing that even in colonial times, “there was either a declared war or a conflict for 79 of the 179 years from just before the founding of Jamestown until 1785, nominally the end of the Revolution.” Choosing Your Battles: American Civil-Military Relations and the Use of Force, record 111 “militarized interstate disputes” that the United States initiated from 1812 to 1992. Rubenstein also mentions research by the political scientists Peter D. Feaver and Christopher Gelpi, who in their 2004 book

Rubenstein argues that a proclivity to war sank deep and enduring roots in American soil for two small reasons and one big one. The first small reason is the early settlement pattern that made Scots-Irish immigrants—warriors for more than six centuries in defense of their native land against the English—the dominant ethnic group in the southern frontier; the second is the “Billy Budd syndrome,” in which Americans have long been “blinded by uncritical trust in authority,” even when it leads them into unnecessary wars against countries like Mexico, Spain, and North Vietnam. The big reason is that Americans are a religious people who won’t fight unless convinced that their cause is just but who are easily persuaded that lots of causes are just. Those include “self-defense” broadly construed, an “evil enemy,” “patriotic duty,” and their “unique virtue” as “liberators and peacemakers, not selfish imperialists.”

But this is more than a review. Nelson suggests that the real answer to why America spends so much time fighting foreign wars has something to do with the expulsion of Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) units on elite college campuses.  I am not sure if he is right about this, but his argument is fascinating. Nelson explains:

First, both the volunteer forces and the ROTC expulsions turned the military’s recruiting gaze southward, to the region of the country (still rich in Scots-Irish ethnicity and culture) most supportive of the armed forces as an institution and of war as an instrument of national policy. In 1968 ROTC had 123 units in the East and 147 in the South.  Just six years later, Southern ROTC units outnumbered those in the East by 180 to 93. Alabama, with one-fourth the college population of New York City, has 10 ROTC units compared with New York’s two.  As Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates pointed out last month in a speech at Duke University, “With limited resources, the services focus their recruiting efforts on candidates where they are most likely to have success.”

Forty percent of enlisted men and women are now Southerners, and the officer corps speaks with an even stronger Southern accent. As a consequence, like the South generally, the military has moved rightward into the Republican Party. “Reversing a century and a half of practice,” laments the University of North Carolina military historian Richard H. Kohn,  based on surveys he helped to conduct, “the American officer corps has become partisan in political affiliation, and overwhelmingly Republican.” In his new book, Our Army: Soldiers, Politics, and American Civil-Military Relations,  Jason K. Dempsey  reports that in 2007 Republicans outnumbered Democrats 49 percent to 12 percent among senior officers. At West Point, Dempsey found, “enough officers overtly endorse the Republican Party that many cadets apparently conflate an identification with the Republican Party with officership.” 

Second, the end of the draft and ROTC’s banishment from many elite campuses mean that a steadily declining share of those in Congress and the upper reaches of the executive branch have served as either officers or enlistees. Until 1995 the percentage of veterans in Congress was consistently higher than in the country as a whole. Since then it’s been lower—around 30 percent and shrinking.

Muslims Praying in the Pentagon? This is Outrageous!

If you read my earlier post this evening you know that the title of this blog post is meant to be sarcastic. (And, I might add, a blatant attempt to attract readers).

According to this post at CNN’s Belief Blog, Muslim military personnel pray daily in the Pentagon less than 100 feet from where the hijacked plane slammed into the Pentagon on September 11, 2001.

Here is a snippet of the article:

On Fridays, a local imam conducts a service in the Pentagon Memorial Chapel built after the September 11, 2001, terror attacks by al Qaeda that killed 184 people at the U.S. military headquarters.

The chapel, with stained-glass windows, burgundy carpeting and a wooden alter, provides a place of prayer and religious observation for anyone regardless of faith or culture.

Its welcoming calm and nondenominational culture are in stark contrast to the emotional debate over plans to build an Islamic cultural center and mosque two blocks from ground zero in New York City, where planes flown by al Qaeda hijackers destroyed the World Trade Center, killing more than 2,700 people.

To chaplains who work in Army chapels around the world, the tolerance and openness represent the support and camaraderie of military culture.

“What happens here is normal,” said Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Carleton W. Birch, spokesman for the Army Chief of Chaplains.

The Pentagon chapel opened in November 2002 as part of the reconstruction of the complex from damage caused by the 9/11 attack.

Hmmmmm….