Religion and Foreign Policy: Crusading Modern Style

by Matt Sutton

GQ has an excellent article (“And He Shall be Judged”) in this month’s issue about the use of biblical passages on the cover sheets of war-time classified intelligence documents created by top military brass and delivered to George W. Bush by Donald Rumsfeld. The article begins:

on the morning of Thursday, April 10, 2003, Donald Rumsfeld’s Pentagon prepared a top-secret briefing for George W. Bush. This document, known as the Worldwide Intelligence Update, was a daily digest of critical military intelligence so classified that it circulated among only a handful of Pentagon leaders and the president; Rumsfeld himself often delivered it, by hand, to the White House. The briefing’s cover sheet generally featured triumphant, color images from the previous days’ war efforts: On this particular morning, it showed the statue of Saddam Hussein being pulled down in Firdos Square, a grateful Iraqi child kissing an American soldier, and jubilant crowds thronging the streets of newly liberated Baghdad. And above these images, and just below the headline secretary of defense, was a quote that may have raised some eyebrows. It came from the Bible, from the book of Psalms: “Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear Him…To deliver their soul from death.” This mixing of Crusades-like messaging with war imagery, which until now has not been revealed, had become routine.

GQ has also created an amazing slide show of such documents, available here.

As outrageous as this is, it is not new. I have just begun reading William Inboden's Religion and Foreign Policy, 1945-1960: The Soul of Containment (priced in typical Cambridge University Press fashion at $80), which looks like a great book that is very much relevant to our understanding of the intersections of religion and foreign policy today.

Here is the jacket blurb:

The Cold War was in many ways a religious war. Presidents Truman and Eisenhower and other American leaders believed that human rights and freedoms were endowed by God, that God had called the United States to defend liberty in the world, and that Soviet communism was especially evil because of its atheism and its enmity to religion. Along with security and economic concerns, these religious convictions also helped determine both how the United States defined the enemy and how it fought the conflict. Meanwhile, American Protestant churches failed to seize the moment. Internal differences over theology and politics, and resistance to cooperation with Catholics and Jews, hindered Protestant leaders domestically and internationally. Frustrated by these internecine disputes, Truman and Eisenhower attempted instead to construct a new civil religion. This public theology was used to mobilize domestic support for Cold War measures, to determine the strategic boundaries of containment, to appeal to people of all religious faiths around the world to unite against communism, and to undermine the authority of communist governments within their own countries.

This is a great article and a great looking book that together provide a troubling commentary on the state of American foreign policy in recent decades. Not as troubling though as my own memories of my years growing up as a "Crusader." Of course we did kick the asses of the L.A. Baptist Knights in basketball, so maybe God does favor the Crusader mascot!


Ares Vista said…
It is sad that we allow our leaders and politicians to continue to call America a 'Christian nation'. We are diverse, in race and culture as well as religion. In addition, Christ would be insulted that we name ourselves after Him. We are anything but Christian in this nation.