"As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free." The Battle Hymn of the Republic, by Julia Ward Howe, 1861.
About a week after the 9/11 terror attacks, I wrote an essay called, "Why We Were Attacked: Religious Motivations for Anti-Western Violence," which I published on my church's web site. I wrote one of the sections on American Holy War:
The religious motivations of the American way of war are covered with mantles springing from American secular institutions and values, such a constitutional rights and individual worth. Nonetheless, there are some deep layers of religion in American war making that give it a holy war dimension. [These layers are regional in origin, but now pervade the whole character of the American way of war; they are no longer exclusive to only one region.]
Holy War from the legacy of the American South is waged from an offense to the nation that is seen as a stain upon the national honor, or as vengeance for wrongs done to the nation. (Southern concern with honor was a major contributor toward both Southern secession and the attack on Fort Sumter, precipitating the worst war in our history.) Honor can be restored only by confronting the foe with great force. The foe's surrender or destruction restores the national honor.
Honor codes have not played a large role in shaping the Northern model of of Holy War. Instead, the Northern codes spring from ideas of the dignity of humankind, and deep notions of sin and judgment. From the Northern model, Americans readily answer the call to colors to liberate the oppressed and punish the oppressors, a combination that probably springs from the North's Puritan and Calvinistic founding.
"Trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored"
I am using here a template that describes modern American war-making as drawing on both the Northern and Southern models. When I say, as I do, that the campaign against Afghanistan was a Southerners war, I do not mean that only Southerners waged it. I mean that in military terms, we removed the Taliban from power because that was the only way to eliminate Afghanistan from being used as a terrorist base against us. It also fed our hunger for vengeance against those who killed our people and destroyed our sovereign territory. That the Afghans were liberated was a happy collateral effect of the destruction of the enemy, but not the intention of the campaign.
If the Iraqi people were no more repressed than say, Egyptians, Americans would probably not accept the existence of weapons programs, no matter how potentially destructive, as casus belli to invade. Our attitude would be very simple: if they attack us, we destroy them in retaliation, pure and simple. This is the Southerners legacy of peace and war: Americans mainly want to be left alone and leave everyone else alone, but God help those who attack us.
In the fall of 2001, I was at a dinner where another guest commented that it "wasn't fair" for US pilots to fly with impunity above Taliban positions, dropping bombs. I bit my tongue. Later, a guest said that the bombing "wouldn't intimidate" the Taliban.
I dived in. "We're not trying to intimidate them," I said.
"Then why are we bombing them?" came the question.
"To kill them," I answered. There was a long silence at the table. The concept seemed not to have occurred to them. With only a couple of exceptions, the others were university graduate-school students.
This kind of war was perfectly captured in Stephen Lang's portrayal of Stonewall Jackson in Gods and Generals. After the slaughter of Union soldiers at the Battle of Fredericksburg, Jackson visits a hospital tent where a Southern general is dying of wounds. Upon leaving, Jackson comments to the surgeon that the suffering in war is terrible. The surgeon asks, "Against such oppression what can we do?" Whirling with fire in his eyes, Jackson exclaims, "Kill them, sir! Kill them all! They are the invaders!"
But the Southerners war is over now, at least for the foreseeable future. The Northerners war is about to begin.
"The fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword"
In the many months since American military objectives were mostly achieved in Afghanistan, we have turned increasing attention to Iraq. Iraq will be a Northerners war.
Last May 13, I wrote,
President Bush has not made the case for war against Iraq. Before the US takes any action, Bush should explain fully to the American people what the reasons for war are, and seek an actual declaration of war against Iraq by the Congress, not just an "authorization."Bush made good on the first and not on the second; he did get the authorization, though. But the case the Bush has made falls into the category of "necessary but not sufficient." The sufficient cause is now being synthesized by the American media and people.
The more obvious Iraq's defiance of UN resolutions becomes, the less it seems to matter to the American people. American papers and commentators have paid decreasing attention to Saddam's arsenal of weapons of destruction and, with increasing fervor and frequency, more attention to brutality against his own people. Liberating the Iraqi people is not a solely sufficient reason to invade Iraq, but its combination with the provable military threat Iraq poses forms an irresistible motivation for Americans to take action. Consider, for example, this yard sign. An Iraqi-American wrote in the Christian Science Monitor,
Since Amr Moussa, the secretary-general of the Arab League, started warning that a US invasion of Iraq would "open the gates of hell," the retort that has been flying around Iraqi exiles' websites is, "Good! We'd like to get out!"Here is a small sample of other evidence that the Northern legacy of the American way of war is manifesting itself by defining the coming Iraq campaign in liberation terms:
There will be no war on Iraq. There will be a liberation of Iraq.
There will be an end to the war that the Ba'ath Party has been waging on the people of Iraq through its policies of racism, persecution and genocide. Liberation will bring hope to enslaved Iraqis and justice for the dead, for the hundreds of thousands of Kurds murdered during such campaigns as the Anfal, for the Assyrians who were "disappeared," for the Shi'a Arabs slaughtered for rising up against the regime, for the deported Turkomans and the Sunni Arab officers shot for plotting to overthrow the regime. (cite)
We are not engaged in a "clash of civilizations," but rather in the same fundamental struggle between freedom and tyranny that created the United States in the first place. (cite)
While there are hundreds of thousands of terrorists and state fascists in almost every Arab government, hundreds of millions of more ordinary citizens are watching this war to see who will win and what the ultimate settlement will consist of. Many, perhaps the majority, may for the moment have their hearts with bin Laden and Saddam Hussein, but their minds ultimately will convince them to join the victors and a promising future, rather than the losers and a bleak past. (cite)
No one disputes that the Iraqi people would be better off under almost any other regime than the current one—or that vast numbers of them, including almost every Iraqi exile, endorse a war to remove the tyrant. If we can do so with a minimum of civilian casualties, if we do all we can to encourage democracy in the aftermath, then this war is not only vital for our national security. It is a moral imperative. And those who oppose it without offering any credible moral alternative are not merely wrong and misguided. They are helping to perpetuate a deep and intolerable injustice. (cite)
Have [protestors] seriously addressed the human suffering that could flow from the world's failure to deal once and for all with Iraq's 12-year-long defiance of the community of nations? Are they morally comfortable with the suffering Saddam Hussein continues to inflict on Iraqi children through his corruption of the U.N.'s "oil for food" program? What do they say of the torture and arbitrary executions that are a part of everyday life in Iraq? (cite)
Saddam has murdered more than a million Iraqis over the past 30 years. Are you willing to allow him to kill another million Iraqis? Out of a population of 20 million, 4 million Iraqis have been forced to flee their country during Saddam’s reign. Are you willing to ignore the real and present danger that caused so many people to leave their homes and families? (cite)
"The trumpet that shall never call retreat"
Of course, President Bush has promised liberation to the Iraqi people more than once, Similarly, I would argue that Lincoln did not become an abolitionist until he understood that the the North would never suffer the abattoir of the Civil War merely to preserve the Union, but it would bleed profusely "to make men free," as Julia Ward Howe's hymn urged. In Gods and Generals there is a scene where Union Col. Joshua Chamberlain (Jeff Daniels) tells his brother, also a Union officer, that if they both have to die to free the slaves, then so be it, even though abolition was not an original aim of the war.
It is the Northerners kind of war that Americans have waged more utterly than any other. As military historian T. R. Fehrenbach wrote in This Kind of War, "Wars fought for a higher purpose must always be the most hideous of all." War is such an awful thing that it must be entered into for only the most transcendental purposes. Hence, any war - as opposed to a punitive expedition, such as Panama, 1989 - that Americans engage in must be a crusade, because only crusades can justify the costs and the suffering. War is to be waged only reluctantly, even sadly, but when waged, done so ferociously.
Gen. Douglas MacArthur said, "In war there can be no substitute for victory," because when war is entered into for supreme purposes, to stop short of victory is to betray that purpose. In American Holy War, the political end is secondary to the military victory. Political structures are imposed by Holy War's victorious conclusion, they do not determine the conclusion. The role of politics is to pick up the pieces when total victory has been won.
This is also the Wilsonian way of war, although Woodrow Wilson neither originated it nor saw its apotheosis. It was left to Franklin Roosevelt to do that. Wilson gave it its most eloquent sound bite: "Make the world safe for democracy." Wilsonianism's adherents see national security as dependent upon international frameworks: treaties, concordances, assemblies and the like. This is a fine ideal, but all international frameworks break down eventually. When they do, the Jacksonians of America have their day (named after Andrew Jackson, not Stonewall Jackson).
Steven Den Beste contrasted Wilsonian and Jacksonian foreign policy,
Jacksonians do not think that international frameworks and international cooperation are impossible or unnecessary. But Jacksonians believe that such frameworks should be limited, concentrated, and closely monitored. Cooperation is possible without trust if it is backed with vigilance and the will to retaliate for cheating. (Retaliation can take many forms, of course; it's not exclusively military.)The Bush administration has worked within the UN and other international bodies but is also more than willing to part ways from them if need be. The amazing facility with which Americans are equally willing to do so is unique to them. Wilsonianism is not inbred is us and neither is Jacksonianism. Both are like coats that we shed or put on as best serves our interests.
"Sifting out the hearts of men"
What I think is happening now is that the US is taking elements of both Wilsonianism and Jacksonianism toward the campaign against Iraq. Its Wilsonian character is that the convincing reasons we are using to topple Saddam by force have all the earmarks of the traditions of American Holy War. It is Wilsonianism that unleashes American Holy War. Jacksonianism is pragmatic; its apotheosis was the Korean War, fought for secondary purposes as a pragmatic, even realpolitik, exercise.
However, Jacksonians are not uneasy at all about unilateral action if necessary to protect our interests. Hence comes our willingness to shed the mantle of the UN, NATO or other alliances in order to confront Iraq. The Jacksonian strain of America also gives the military much freer rein to wage war on its own terms than European governments do. Crushing the enemy's military capability mercilessly is the Jacksonian way; reinforced by Wilsonian Holy War the onslaught of American military power is indeed a terrible swift sword. American generals tend to be (at least, they should be) Jacksonian: their purpose is to place America in a militarily dominant position over the enemy. What happens after that is not their problem. Wilsonians at war understand that imposing the structures for future preservation of the peace relies on military dominance, which explains why the administration seems not yet worrying deeply about the nature of postwar Iraq. That's politics, and if politics had worked, the war would not be fought to begin with. So politics is somewhat suspended until the war is won.
An advantage of the slow amble to war with Iraq has been that the nation has on it own (well, with some nudging from the administration) made the transition from one kind of American Holy War to the other - Southern to Northern. Also, we have begun synthesizing Wilsonianism and Jacksonianism together for the Iraq campaign. When the process is shortly complete, America will be non-defeatable. "In war," said Dwight D. Eisenhower, "public opinion is everything." Public opinion is congealing now to liberate Iraq, with the collateral effect being the destruction of Iraq's military threat - the exact opposite of the Afghanistan campaign.
In Afghanistan, the national honor was avenged and our enemies were destroyed, though not all of them, of course. The Southerners way of war has had its day. The Northeners war is imminent. American Holy War is coming to Iraq, and its people will be freed. Afghanistan was Stonewall Jackson's war, Iraq will be Joshua Chamberlain's.
But the peace to follow will probably be a mess.