April 3, 2002
Locke's commentary in the March 29th edition of the Seattle
Post-Intelligencer should act as a firm reminder of two
things: first, that as long as the world is generously populated
with nuclear weapons, all the troubles they imply are still
with us, governmentally, militarily, environmentally and economically.
Second, protestations in favor of war, even of a generally-accepted
but undeclared one, mean that governments and militaries of
all sorts begin to think in strategic and tactical terms,
of their manpower, supplies, and their stockpiles of weapons,
and of the directions given them by government.
It should come as no surprise to anyone that policy about
such weapons is governed by all the necessities of war, one
of which is expediency.
What has been lost, completely, in the discussions about
the latest Nuclear Posture Review, is that of the necessity
of war, now and in the future. Avoiding war is the means to
avoiding the use of such weapons. Actively engaging in war,
or serious talk of war, opens the lid to Pandora's Box. Once
the daemons have been let loose, one can't get them into the
The moral of that fable is to think first, even if one's
self-interest seems of paramount importance at the moment.
Many commentators have speculated that the use of nuclear
weapons against Iraq would possibly engage the Muslim world
against the United States. Possibly? Thinking first, one would,
of necessity, phrase it as, "certainly." The reason for not
thinking so, however, is not so apparent to Americans. For
a great deal of the last three decades or so, our country
has engaged in a love affair with the right wing, who themselves
adapt their policies and campaign speeches to the requirements
of an increasingly strident minority in their midst, Christian
fundamentalists and evangelicals.
Nothing to do with the latest talk of war? Our current President,
in varying terms likely crafted from polls to extract the
greatest emotional response from the most people, has repeatedly
suggested that ours is a holy war, a war against all evil,
and that invoking God's help is necessary for victory. Is
this, in any real sense, differently motivated than the war
that Muslim fundamentalists wish to wage against us?
Let us not dismiss lightly that the President, in the early
days after the attacks on New York and Washington, D.C., chose
to use the word "crusade" to describe our future intentions
and acts. Only after it was pointed out to the administration
that this choice of words was impolitic, given the history
of the first Crusades as viewed by the non-Christian world,
that different means of saying the same thing were devised.
Admittedly, it sounds quite silly to suggest that current
events are the result of two warring fundamentalist clans,
one Wahhabi, one Christian, but it's also silly not to acknowledge
the religious undertones of the rhetoric, and dangerous not
to acknowledge that governments, and politicians, have their
own irrational prejudices which do inevitably find their way
into policy and speechmaking.
In a book by the late Grace Halsell, little-remarked on at
the time in the mainstream press, Prophecy and Politics:
Militant Evangelists on the Road to Nuclear War, published
in 1986, Ms. Halsell quotes a TV evangelist of some note at
the time, James Robison:
"'There'll be no peace until Jesus comes. Any preaching of
peace prior to this return is heresy; it's against the word
of God; it's Anti-Christ,' says TV evangelist Jim Robison,
who was invited by President Reagan to deliver the opening
prayer at the 1984 Republican National Convention."
A July, 2000 USA Today article relates, "During his father's
1988 campaign, Bush specialized in religious liaison work,
and Wead says 'nobody comes close to George W. Bush' in cultivating
clergy. In the run-up to his own 2000 campaign, Bush quietly
scheduled numerous sessions with small groups of ministers.
His own religious counselors run to evangelical personalities
like fiery Fort Worth evangelist James Robison..."
Robison is variously described in other pre-2000 election
stories as being one of the prime movers, along with Billy
Graham, in George W. Bush's conversion to born-again status.
Let us also remind ourselves of the times. Odd and sometimes
absolutely crackpot ideas have sprung up at each millenium.
A current one among fundamentalists and evangelicals, despite
certain anti-Semitism in the past, is that Israel is the Biblical
seat of God's power, and if the Arab world attacks Israel,
such would be a signal of the Second Coming.
Most of the intellectual commentary at the time of the release
of Halsell's book concerned remarks by former President Reagan.
It is not known at this time if George W. Bush agrees with
some of the wilder of recorded Reagan pronouncements on the
subject of Armageddon and government policy.
There's also that matter of oil, and the odd coincidence
of oil and evil seeming to reside in the same neighborhoods.
Just speculating, but perhaps the administration thinks there's
nothing wrong with hedging one's bets if the Rapture fails
to come off according to schedule, no matter how determinedly
some have sought to induce it.
Nevertheless, it's troublesome business for many Americans
when one begins to think government and religion might be
just a bit too cozy. While many in the country look askance
at, for instance, the ACLU's dogged determination to prevent
prayer at public-school events of all sorts, it's also true
that the spirit and intent of the 1st Amendment is to both
provide for the private expression of faith, and to keep that
faith quite far from unduly influencing national policy.
And yet, during the Reagan years, there was an eerie confluence
between Reagan's indifference to environmental standards,
regulatory process, skyrocketing national debt, his occasionally
taunting remarks in the direction of the former Soviet Union,
and the lust of the evangelicals for Armageddon and the Rapture
it is purported to bring. As Edward Johnson mentions in "The
Journal of Historical Review," Armageddon and policy might
be subtly entwined:
"At a 1971 dinner, Reagan told California legislator James
Mills that 'everything is in place for the battle of Armageddon
and the Second Coming of Christ.' The President has permitted
Jerry Falwell to attend National Security Council briefings
and author and Armageddon-advocate Hal Lindsey to give a talk
on nuclear war with Russia to top Pentagon strategists.
"If Mills, Halsell and other observers of the presidency
are correct, Reagan's personal belief in the Dispensationalist
scenario explains the mystery of the seeming fatalism of so
many of his military, domestic and monetary policies. According
to Mills, Reagan's attitude can be summed up as, 'There's
no reason to get wrought up about the national debt, if God
is soon going to foreclose on the whole world.'"
Activists and ordinary citizens have decried the Bush administration's
increasing retrenchment from open government, its steady erosion
of environmental policy, its utter indifference to budgetary
common sense in favor of gross militarism and its calloused
hints of nuclear war against Iraq as it looks the other way
while Israelis and Palestinians seek to destroy each other.
In terms of effects of policy administration, there seems
to be little to distinguish Bush and Reagan from one another,
nor does there seem to be much difference in their closeness
to the Christian fundamentalist and evangelical movements,
except that Bush's overtness about his own conversion and
his Biblical language make him the more troublesome of the
two for citizens worried that church and state need some separation.
There are other explanations, of course - the right-wing's
abiding distaste of government interfering with the affairs
of the rich, corporate and individual, its belief in the quasi-religious
mandate to use the resources of the world to enrich the Elect,
and its almost automatic support for any sort of militarism
and military spending to support that perceived mandate -
but, it's worth musing on the possibility that, moving like
a subterranean river, there is the constant tidal tug of fundamentalist
determinism on today's United States government and on George
W. Bush. To the faithful, the ones believing the Rapture awaits
them, thinking first is last on their list of priorities.
punpirate is a New Mexico writer, longing for more democratic