Conservative Caesaropapism

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One
might have thought that in the wake of the recent military skirmishes
against Talibs, ayatollahs and radical Wahhabists, we'd be collectively
disabused of the glory of Caesaropapism.  Enter Thursday's
OpinionJournal, in which Herman Jacobs, a Houston lawyer and blogger,
confesses that he had hoped for a Vietnam vet to ascend to the presidency,
and lay to rest America's 'Nam demons ("Kerry's
Lost Opportunity
").
 In explaining how an Oval Officer could possibly achieve this,
Jacobs serves up a positively creepy vision of the role of the U.S.
President:

"[T]he
president embodies the role most akin to a national priest or
national confessor (or, if you prefer a more modern metaphor,
national grief counselor), and so one might hope that a president
who came of age during Vietnam, by his own example of transcendence,
might lead the nation toward a long-delayed reconciliation."

For
Jacobs, John Kerry forfeited any shot at this role, not because
he has traded in his pro-peace credentials in exchange for political
opportunity and access to power, but rather because he never apologized
for his speaking out against the war effort.  Apparently, Kerry's
waiver of his claim to the title of Priest-in-Chief had civilian
(didn't apologize to all veterans for daring to oppose the war)
and veteran (didn't forgive all those who dared to oppose the war)
components.  Jacobs sees no virtue in opposing one's government's
killing of hundreds of thousands of civilians halfway around the
globe in defense of a corrupt and repressive (albeit "anticommunist")
regime.  To Jacobs, only "the nation" matters; accordingly,
claims of systematic or freelance atrocities committed by U.S. forces
are "fraudulent," not so much because they're false but
mainly because they pertain to quantities that are simply not part
of the national equation.  When Jacobs refers to those "too
proud to admit their error," he is referring not to the political
architects and actualizers of "Gulf of Tonkin" and its
progeny, but rather to those who opposed the war.  His reference
to those "sinned against" excludes those whose homeland
was trashed or who were killed or maimed by an ideologically-charged
foreign interloper with no real stake in actual living human beings
in Indochina.  The bold implication is that opposing any American
war effort is a sin against those fighting it, and a boon to "the
enemy," no matter how ill-advised the choice of enemies is.
For further support, Jacobs approvingly quotes former POW Joe Crecca:

"Our
captors were more than willing, within their means, to provide
us with any and all anti-U.S. and anti-Vietnam War propaganda.
…  These demonstrations for peace had the exact opposite
effect of what they purported to accomplish. Instead of shortening
the war the u2018peace movement' served only to protract the conflict,
resulting in a vastly greater number of Americans killed and wounded,
greater economic burdens and longer periods of incarceration for
Americans held captive in Vietnam. The war would have been over
much sooner and with a much more favorable result if those in
the u2018peace movement' would have rallied behind the commander in
chief to accomplish our mission and then withdraw."

While
I can't begin to imagine the suffering Mr. Crecca endured, I doubt
the NVA jailers needed outside encouragement to justify their twisted
sadism. How many more troops and pilots would have unnecessarily
ended up in Crecca's shoes had the war continued another decade?
How many more Vietnamese and Cambodian civilians would have been
ripped apart by U.S. bombs had we "rallied behind" Nixon?

As
for Americans who really want to live in a more peaceful world,
how can they "let [the Vietnam War] alone" when most of
the electorate does not comprehend the implications of U.S. support
for rogue regimes all over the world, or when too many Americans
still believe that the only mistake the U.S. has ever made in a
war is not dropping enough ordnance on "the enemy"? How
does the hoping for a "national priest" prevent the same
dark chapter that is the Vietnam War from reappearing in America's
future?

August
28, 2004

Eric
Liebman [send him mail] is
a lawyer and musician in New York City.

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