Rhetoric, Legitimacy, and War

As the German Army marched down the Champs-Elysées in the summer of 1940, and across the channel the English endured the German Air Force blitz of London, President Franklin D. Roosevelt assured American voters in the heat of an election campaign: “Your boys are not going to be sent into any foreign war.” Off microphone, Roosevelt added: “Of course, we’ll fight if we’re attacked. If someone attacks us, then it isn’t a foreign war.”

While under the strictures of the Neutrality Act and facing an isolationist Congress and a terrified public, in December 1940–one month after his re-election–Roosevelt announced that the United States would provide military supplies to Britain under a policy termed “lend-lease.” He transferred 50 destroyers to Britain, in return for a lease on British bases in the Caribbean, initiated a peacetime draft, and mobilized the National Guard. The soles of American soldiers were soon planted on the European continent.

Getting into war and escalating foreign involvements, particularly concurrent with electioneering, has frequently resulted in political doublespeak and exaggerations to sway public opinion.

  • Remember The Maine was the rallying cry leading to the Spanish-American War, but it was never proved that the Spanish had a role in the sinking of the ship.
  • On August 5, 1964 New York Times reported on its front page: “President Johnson has ordered retaliatory action against gunboats and ‘certain supporting facilities in North Vietnam’ after renewed attacks against American destroyers in the Gulf of Tonkin.” But there were no “renewed attacks against American destroyers.” The official claims reported by the media opened the floodgates for an escalation of the Vietnam War.
  • The explanations for many incursions are nuanced for public consumption—see Reagan in Grenada, Bush 41 in Panama, Clinton in the Balkans.

But in the hindsight of history, we understand something that our leaders often see clearly at the vortex of responsibility and power–the reality of belligerent evil in rogue governments and the clear and present danger it poses for our nation.

The ideological evil of our present-day opponents is captured in the videos of the beheadings of Americans at the hand of al Qaeda leader al-Zarqawi. Not recommended viewing for anyone, the palpable evil of the acts against non-combatant workers puts in the perspective the larger issues we face internationally–crazed ideologues promoting a value system that puts in the cross-hairs people who come with a cup of cold water and a bag of grain.

George W. Bush is a good and honest man with firm convictions based on a clear faith in a good nation and a personal God. But I don’t believe Bush was ever certain about the stockpiling of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. He acted with the indications of initial intelligence and a more significant conviction that the rogue nation under Saddam was a clear and present danger to the civilized world.

And he didn’t care about being wrong about the single issue of WMDs in the face of the grand conflict between good and evil. Today we can ask the question: Will the world be safer as a result? Is the Bush Doctrine sound and does it protect this nation? The discussion of military and political strategy is good and legitimate, and how we allocate limited resources to battle terrorism and ideological evil needs to be discussed. But it’s just political nonsense to question the President’s intentions or convictions.

Certainly George Bush saw in the eyes of Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein the same ambition and evil that Franklin Roosevelt saw in the likes of Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini. In a post-9/11 world, belligerence with a history cannot be tolerated.

Recognizing the danger to a nation attacked on its soil and choosing to confront evil wherever it is found and harbored is more important than the problem of weapons that were probably in Iraq or close or developing, but may never be found. That’s the rhetoric that cannot be voiced in a political campaign. Wait until December.

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About Jim Jewell

I am a writer and consultant on faith and public life, active for many years in management and communications in the evangelical community. I now work as the director of the nonprofit practice at The Valcort Group (www.valcort.com). Everything on this blog, however, is my personal opinion and is not read or approved before it is posted. Opinions, conclusions and other information expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views of Valcort.
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