Conservative Caesaropapism

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