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George W. Bush: Militant Theocrat

In conducting its martial affairs, America has a venerable history of enlisting the aid of Providence. The New England Puritans considered themselves the new Chosen People, successors to the biblical Israelites. Were they obedient to the Lord’s commandments, steadfast in service and profuse in supplication, the Almighty would reciprocate by enabling them to vanquish their enemies just as he had done for Moses, Joshua, Samuel, David, and other embattled Old Testament patriarchs.

In Of Plymouth Plantation, William Bradford recounts how Providence empowered 50 Pilgrims to dispatch 400 Pequot Indians by setting fire to the fort in which they were sleeping: “It was a fearful sight to see them thus frying in the fire and the streams of blood quenching the same, and horrible was the stink and scent thereof; but the victory seemed a sweet sacrifice, and they gave the praise thereof to God, who had wrought so wonderfully for them, thus to enclose their enemies in their hands and give them so speedy a victory over so proud and insulting an enemy.”

In the sermon “A Model of Christian Charity,” delivered aboard the Arbella en route to the new world, John Winthrop, later governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, assured his fellow emigrants that unstinting piety would assure them a favored-nation status with the Almighty and allow them to rout numerically superior foes: “The Lord will be our God, and delight to dwell among us as His own people, and will command a blessing on us in all ways, that ten of us shall be able to resist a thousand of our enemies.”

The Puritans perceived their enemies as agents of Satan, who incessantly plotted to stymie the divinely-ordained diffusion of Christianity. “The New Englanders,” noted Puritan chronicler Cotton Mather in Wonders of the Invisible World, “are a people of God settled in those which were once the devil’s territories; and it may easily be supposed that the devil was exceedingly disturbed when he perceived such a people here accomplishing the promise of old made unto our blessed Jesus that He should have the utmost parts of the earth for His possessions. The devil thus irritated, immediately tried all sorts of methods to overturn this poor plantation.”

For a variety of reasons–respect for the constitutional separation of church and state, deference to cultural pluralism, political expediency, modesty, uncertainty–American presidents have generally toned down the theocratic proclamations of their Puritan forbears. Most have been content to attend church, consult ministers, tout faith, and publicly thank God for American prosperity, freedom, and democracy.

The current occupant of the Oval office is a striking exception. President Bush often sounds like a Puritan theocrat. In 2001, after the horrific events of Sept. 11, he told reporters: “Our nation was chosen by God and mandated by history to serve as a model of justice.”

Bush envisions the world as a moral battleground between Good and Evil, the powers of Light pitted against the powers of Darkness. In a radio address on March 30, 2002, he said: “We place our sorrows and cares before him, seeking God’s mercy. We can be confident that evil may be present and it may be strong, but it will not prevail. We are assured that history is of moral design. Justice and cruelty have always been at war, and God is not neutral between them. His purposes are often defied, but never defeated.”

In a 2002 speech in Knoxville, Bush specified how to deal with evildoers: “The best way to fight evil is to do some good. Let me qualify that–the best way to fight evil at home is to do some good. The best way to fight them abroad is to unleash the military.”

When militant nationalism is bolstered by religious fervor, the world has reason to be leery. When heads of state view themselves as instruments of the divine will, they tend to be oblivious to mere human opinion, particularly when it differs from their own, since those who have God on their side always (as Henry David Thoreau said) constitute a majority of one. To the anointed, wars are holy crusades. Supporters become saints, protesters reprobates. The virtuous cannot fail to see where simple truth and goodness lie. To squash the foreign devil, collateral damage of cataclysmic magnitude becomes justifiable devastation of infrastructures, wrecking of world markets, maiming and killing of the innocent.

To the soldier of the Lord, every war seems winnable. With God as ally, how can one fail? Ask Richard the Lion-Hearted. As George W. Bush should know, the Lord sometimes moves in mysterious ways. Victories become defeats and defeats victories.