Wartime President?

It is unlikely that Trump can run on the economy in November. He has failed to convince anyone but his base that he is doing a good job on this coronavirus crisis.  But perhaps he can run in November as “wartime president.”

Here is a taste of Gabby Orr’s and Lara Seligman’s piece at Politico: “Trump team’s new mission: Defend the ‘wartime president‘”:

When America is at war, voters prefer not to swap presidents in the middle of battle. James Madison sailed to reelection after launching the War of 1812. Abraham Lincoln delivered his second inaugural address a month before the Civil War effectively ended at Appomattox, Va. In the shadow of World War II, Franklin D. Roosevelt notched a third term. And the year after deploying troops to Iraq, George W. Bush defeated a war veteran, Democrat John Kerry.

What if the enemy is invisible? Not a foreign country or the perpetrators of a brazen terrorist attack but a lethal disease that forces Americans to shelter in place indefinitely as their health, jobs and wages hang in the balance?

After fumbling his administration’s initial response to the devastating spread of COVID-19, and dismissing the threat of the novel coronavirus for months as it spread from China, Trump has turned to the one concept that seems to work politically to overcome monumental challenges. Days after he declared a national emergency to help combat the pandemic, the New York businessman — who famously avoided the Vietnam draft multiple times — informed Americans on Wednesday that he is now “a wartime president” and said the country should prepare to fight.

“Every generation of Americans has been called to make shared sacrifices for the good of the nation,” Trump said at a White House briefing featuring Defense Secretary Mark Esper, U.S. Veterans Affairs chief Robert Wilkie and members of the administration’s coronavirus task force.

“Now it’s our time,” Trump continued, recalling the bravery America showed during World War II. “We must sacrifice together,because we are all in this together, and we will come through together.”

Read the rest here.

Out of the Zoo: “World War III”

World War IIIAnnie Thorn is a sophomore history major from Kalamazoo, Michigan and our intern here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home.  As part of her internship she is writing a weekly column titled “Out of the Zoo.” It focuses on life as a history major at a small liberal arts college.  In this dispatch, Annie challenges us to take war seriously.  -JF

About a month and a half ago, after President Trump ordered the assassination of Iranian general Qasem Soleimani and the Iranian government promised retribution, the internet briefly exploded with fears of a third world war. I remember opening twitter on my computer to see that  “#WorldWar3” was trending worldwide. American teenagers were the primary culprits of the trend, for they (in true Generation Z fashion) took to social media to express angst about their “impending doom.” They posted memes comparing Soleimani to Franz Ferdinand, and filmed tik-tok videos joking about how they and their peers would respond to a draft. It took me a few minutes of Google searching to be assured that the possibility of a third world war was rather unlikely; yet I was struck by how quickly young people like me turned to social media to craft fears of World War III into a budding internet trend. It was curious to me that my peers could so easily make light of an escalating national crisis, even one with a potentially devastating outcome.

This semester at Messiah College I’m taking a class on Europe in the twentieth century. Over the past week we’ve been reading All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque, a fictional story which details the experience of a World War I soldier through the eyes of its twenty-year-old narrator Paul Bäumer. Not much older than most culprits of the “#WorldWar3” social media trend, Paul witnesses the gruesome tragedies of war first-hand as a volunteer in the German army.

In one chapter Paul describes a man crying out from no-man’s land for days on end, never to be found despite several search parties. In another chapter Paul stabs a Frenchman who falls into his shell-hole. He is unable to escape his hiding place in the daylight and is thus forced to watch him die a slow, agonizing death. Later still, Paul gets injured and makes his way to hospital nearby, where men with amputated limbs, tetanus, lung wounds, abdominal injuries, and a host of other atrocities are carted off to the “death room.”  They never return. Paul and his comrades hearts’ are quickly hardened by the horrors of war—poisonous gas, trench rats, exploding shells and meaningless death after meaningless death. 

Did teenagers growing up in 20th-century Europe joke about World War I? Did they make light of international crisis by laughing about it with their friends? They didn’t have twitter or tik-tok, but did they too cope with wisecracks about their impending doom? There are several instances of humor woven throughout All Quiet on the Western Front, but for the most part the book reminds us that war is no laughing matter. It reminds us that World War I brought fear, death, and destruction on a scale wider than anyone expected. What went through the minds of nineteen-year-old boys when they volunteered for the war, or were drafted? Did they laugh? Were they hopeful, or were they just plain terrified?

I don’t have answers to any of these questions, nor do I quite know how to reconcile my peers’ naive response to threats of world war with the actual experiences of young men and women whose lives were turned upside-down by global conflict just over a hundred years ago. But comparing the two certainly helps put things in perspective.

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




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?

National Endowment for Humanities Funds Courses on “Enduring Questions”


Donald Trump’s current budget proposal will eliminate government funding for the humanities.  This means that local communities and American citizens will need to come up with other ways to fund programs like this:

In 2016, the National Endowment for the Humanities funded courses at colleges and universities across the country focused on these “enduring questions.”

What does it mean to be happy?

When should war end?

How do we grieve and mourn?

What is the purpose of art?

What is freedom?

Who is our neighbor?

What is community?

How do we think about morality as it relates to our habits and our health?

What is comedy?

What is discovery?

How should we think morally about the marketplace?

What is the relationship between the mind and the body?

How might we think theologically about race?

Is time valuable?

Why does our society incarcerate people?

What is creativity?

Learn more about the NEH’s work on “enduring questions” here.

For other posts in this series click here.

The National Endowment for the Humanities Funds “Dialogues on the Experience of War”


Donald Trump’s current budget proposal will eliminate government funding for the humanities.  This means that local communities and American citizens will need to come up with other ways to fund programs like this:

This month  Auburn University is ending six-month program called “Dialogues on the Experience of War.”  Veterans and community members have been invited to participate in conversations on World War I and the Vietnam War in six different Alabama communities.

Here is a taste of the program:

The Caroline Marshall Draughon Center for the Arts & Humanities is proud to announce the launch of “Dialogues on the Experience of War,” a reading-discussion program on World War One and the Vietnam War, in six communities throughout the state. The Center was one of 17 recipients of a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities for programs that bring perspective and context to the experience of war through the study of literature.

The six Alabama communities participating are Auburn, Collinsville, Ozark, Phenix City, Valley, and Wetumpka. The program will begin September 2016 and end March 2017. Veterans and community members are invited to sign-up for the free program by finding their community representative at aub.ie/dialogues. Recent veterans of the global war on terror are particularly encouraged to participate.

The program provides an opportunity to discuss the experience of war in World War One and the Vietnam War from the perspective of memoir writers and fictional characters in stories and film. World One War resources include the memoir of Congressional Medal of Honor winner John Lewis Barkley, a short story anthology, and the popular 1925 silent film The Big Parade. Vietnam War resources include Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried, journalistic account Dispatches, and the Academy Award-winning film Platoon.

Dialogues on the Experience of War is funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities as part of the Standing Together initiative, which emphasizes the innovative ways in which the humanities can engage military veterans and communities. “Because veterans account for only 7 percent of our country’s population, there is a pressing need for community programs that bring veterans and nonveterans together in conversation,” said NEH Chairman William D. Adams. “NEH’s Dialogues on the Experience of War grants will allow veterans and community members to explore together the experiences of war using humanities texts as the means of deeper understanding.”

Created in 1965 as an independent federal agency, the National Endowment for the Humanities supports research and learning in history, literature, philosophy, and other areas of the humanities by funding selected, peer-reviewed proposals from around the nation. Additional information about the National Endowment for the Humanities and its grant programs is available at http://www.neh.gov.

For more posts in this series click here.

The Author’s Corner with Max Longley

LongleyMax Longley is an independent historian based in Durham, North Carolina.  This interview is based on his new book book For the Union and the Catholic Church: Four Converts in the Civil War (McFarland, 2o15).

JF: What led you to write For the Union and the Catholic Church: Four Converts in the Civil War?

ML: A Catholic convert myself, I realized that I could combine a study of several converts’ experiences with my longstanding interest in the Civil War era.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of For the Union and the Catholic Church: Four Converts in the Civil War?

ML: Four men joined the Catholic Church in the 1840s and were in the thick of the Church’s and the country’s disputes over slavery, immigration, nativism, religious freedom, secession and war. I show the interconnection among all these issues, while telling a compelling human story at the same time.

JF: Why do we need to read For the Union and the Catholic Church: Four Converts in the Civil War?

ML: It’s surprisingly relevant – After the book came out, there was the controversy about the Jesuit order in Maryland selling slaves in 1838 and giving the proceeds to Georgetown University. There’s a big debate over that history, and it makes my book’s extensive discussion of the relationship between slavery in the American Catholic Church in the Civil War era all the more relevant.

It appeals both to readers’ continued interest in the American Civil War and their interest in religion, and the reader will find the careers of the protagonists very interesting. There is a compelling human story about each of the four converts in the title. William Rosecrans was a West Point trained engineer who became Catholic after a search for the true church, and then sought to share his spiritual discovery with the people around him. He was a Civil War Union general and his military career is controversial to this day. One of the people with whom he William Rosecrans shared his faith was his younger brother Sylvester. Sylvester joined the Church, received training for the priesthood in Rome during a revolution against the Pope, and became a great scholar-priest in Cincinnati. He was a bishop during the Civil War, assisting Archbishop John Purcell of Cincinnati and becoming a fervent foe of slavery as the war went on. James Augustine Healy was the first African-American priest who served in the United States. Born to a planter father and a slave mother, Father Healy went to Boston and became a key aide to Bishop John Fitzpatrick. Fr. Healy’s duties included defending the Irish-Americans of Boston from the powerful Know-Nothing party, defending the rights of people who often hated his race. Orestes Brownson was a Yankee convert who belonged to many religious and political movements – universalism, Unitarianism, Transcendentalism, labor radicalism – before joining the Catholic Church, where he moved between the Church’s liberal and conservative wings while defending the Union and, during the war, becoming a Catholic abolitionist.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

ML: As a freelance writer, I found particular fulfillment writing freelance articles and books about historical subjects. I believe it was Toni Morrison who said you should write the books you want to read. And the books I want to read are generally about American history.

JF: What is your next project.

ML: I have two projects right now. I think it’s too early to discuss my first project, but my second project is a biography of Joseph Williams Thorne, a radical Quaker whose career spanned half of the nineteenth century. A schoolmaster and farmer, Thorne was a conductor on the Underground Railroad in pre-Civil War Pennsylvania and a “carpetbagger” in North Carolina after the war. I am in search of a trade publisher for this project.

JF: Thanks Max!

Solidarity Hall on George Weigel

A group of Catholic intellectuals, writing at the new website Solidarity Hall, have posted an open letter to Catholic thinker, author, and public intellectual George Weigel.  It is a response to Weigel’s new book, Evangelical Catholicism.  The letter is one of the most scathing critiques of Weigel’s brand of free-market, neo-liberal Catholicism that I have ever read.  Here is just a small snippet:

  • While having written extensively about the dangers of a selective approach to Catholic doctrine and teachings, you uncharacteristically recommended that your readers approach Benedict’s Caritas in Veritate with gold and red pens in hand, red for any criticism of neoliberal orthodoxy (such as that favored by the Acton Institute), gold for unobjectionable criticism of the culture of death. Are you not thereby facilitating precisely the cafeteria Catholic’s approach to such documents? Do you not believe that living “lives of moral heroism against the conventions of the age” has to include a rejection of consumerism and the whole complex of cultural values associated with it?
  •  Echoing the sentiments of his 20th Century predecessors, Pope John Paul II once stated, “War is always a defeat for humanity.” You beg to differ, and have dedicated a good part of your public career to espousing your interpretation of just war principles, which you vigorously asserted in the case of the Iraq War. A decade later, in the aftermath of one of the worst humanitarian and moral disasters in recent world history, that “Marshall Plan for the New American Century” looks very different. Given your prominence in reconciling faithful Catholics to this series of decisions, might we ask whether any second thoughts have occurred to you (as they certainly have to fellow conservatives such as David Frum and others) on the conflict? How would you evaluate your own prudential judgment, historically speaking, in making the principled case for this particular war? Would you not acknowledge that our American leadership of our recent almost interminable conflicts is a product of a technocratic hubris completely alien to the generation of George Marshall and George Kennan? If the Vatican is wise to eschew recommending “technical solutions,” as you advise, due to its supposed lack of competence in such matters, how much worse has the supposed expertise of our secular leadership proven to be? Who, as we now can see, spoke up in a timely way for prudence and a sense of human limits here?

 Read the entire letter here.