Soldiers of Democracy

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As proud
new parents, my wife and I have enjoyed sending pictures of our
new son to each of our families over the past few months. Invariably,
each side of the family has a specific take on whether he favors
me, or my wife. According to my wife's family, he looks just like
her. According to my side, he is a dead ringer for me. In actuality,
it really is too early to tell, but one thing is certain: humans
are programmed to believe what they want to believe. The phenomenon
that leaves our parents predisposed to think their grandson carries
more of one family's genes than the other is the same thing that
occurs when it comes to interpreting America's foreign policy
and its history: we believe that which will make us feel better
about ourselves.  

At the outset
of the war in Iraq, President Bush addressed the nation, and spoke
these words to those in the armed forces: "the peace of a
troubled world and the hopes of an oppressed people now depend
on you." With such lofty words being spoken by the commander
in chief, one can only imagine what might have been going through
the heads of those military personnel on the receiving end of
the pep talk. Suddenly, many of these young men and women had
gone from high school graduates searching for direction to warriors
on the eve of immortality. If they returned home from this adventure,
they might be able to buy a new car during the "Military
Appreciation" sale at the local Ford dealer. They might even
get discount tickets to Disney Land as the nation embraced its
war heroes. This speech, like so many others that have come on
the eve of battle, was well crafted and certainly created the
desired effect in the majority of its listeners. It sought to
create the sense that the participants were part of something
truly noble and truly unparalleled in history. Unfortunately,
only the latter is true, and probably not in the sense that was
originally intended. That this war continues to go poorly is immaterial,
for it was pushed on the American people as a noble cause in which
we could all be proud. Who wants to rain on that parade? After
all, Disney Land is a nice place to visit, especially if you can
use a brand new Ford Explorer to get there. 

What is
truly unparalleled is the manner in which America's version of
itself continues to evolve into something in which the majority
of Americans can be proud. Our latest foray into armed conflict
is a prime example of the unique public relations spin that is
ever present within America. The spin doctors are truly to be
commended, because only in America could you convince adults to
take up arms in an "East versus West" showdown while
the leaders emphatically claim that we are not engaged in a holy
war. I have no shortage of friends and family in uniform who truly
believe that we are engaged in the 21st century version
of the crusades. That they believe this is somewhat understandable,
but it implies that they have been able to ignore some minor inconveniences.
For example, in the wake of 9-11, it was the interfaith memorial
service that was the norm, not a Christian call to stand up to
the infidel. Twelve days after the attacks, Roman Catholic Cardinal
Edward Egan, along with other Jewish and Protestant clerics, came
together with Muslim Imam Izak-El Pasha at Yankee Stadium in a
show of diversity that was vintage New York-style theater. Nowhere
was there an Urban II to be found. Richard the Lionhearted was
absent as well.  

It has been
well documented that the Christian right has been one of the most
ardent backers of the war in Iraq. That this group has been co-opted
into believing that Bush's war is a Christian cause is unfortunate,
but not unforeseen, as Bush has always recognized the power of
a biblical reference. His infamous landing on the USS Lincoln
served as a platform whereby he quoted Isaiah: "To the captives,
come out; and to those in darkness, be free." By ensuring
that the war in Iraq is seen through a distorted religious paradigm,
Bush has ensured the support of a large voting block. To those
convinced of the Christian nature of this current cause, Urban
II's call to arms at the outset of the first crusade provides
a stark contrast. Though accounts of his speech/sermon vary, it
went something like this: "On this account I, or rather the
Lord, beseech you as Christ’s heralds to publish this everywhere
and to persuade all people of whatever rank, foot-soldiers and
knights, poor and rich, to carry aid promptly to those Christians
and to destroy that race from the lands of our friends. I say
this to those who are present, it is meant also for those who
are absent. Moreover, Christ commands it." Of course Bush
II could never speak with such clarity, and even if the harshness
of Urban is too much for today's times, it should at least serve
as an indicator that there is truly nothing Christian about a
war in which you cannot invoke the power of Christ to guide you.
In fact, while Bush was stoking the fires of the Christian right
to garner war support, he was simultaneously making sure that
other potential supporters did not interpret the war through a
religious lens. Speaking at a 2003 meeting of the National Endowment
for Democracy, Bush said of the Middle East: “These are not the
failures of a culture or a religion. These are the failures of
economic and political doctrine.” In other words, it is not religion
that divides East and West, but rather, it is democracy, and the
ability of those in the Middle East to buy our goods. There are
certainly those who are pleased with the watering down of Christianity
that has taken place in the thousand years between Urban's call
to arms and that of President Bush. This article is certainly
not intended to sway you. It is your Christian counterpart who
has been recruited to do your fighting that I hope will be converted.

The secular
soldiers of today, acting as missionaries of democracy, may in
time be able to say that they made the world safer. That Christianity
will have no place in that safer world is unfortunately not apparent
to them. After all, they are humans, and they will certainly believe
what they want to believe, but seeing this war as a Christian
endeavor is the equivalent of seeing my eyes in the eyes of my
son. Yes, I have brown eyes and so does he. The only problem with
pointing to his and claiming them as my own, is that his mother's
are brown as well.

13, 2004

Schroder [send him mail]
is a graduate of the Naval Academy and a former Marine infantry
officer. Having resigned his commission, he is to begin doctoral
work in political science this fall at Louisiana State.


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