Conversations with God About Going to War
“I went down on my knees and prayed to Almighty God for light and guidance more than one night. And one night late it came to me:
1) That we could not give them [the Philippines] back to Spain – that would be cowardly and dishonorable;
2) that we could not turn them over to France and Germany – our commercial rivals in the Orient – that would be bad business and discreditable;
3) that we could not leave them to themselves – they were unfit for self-government – and they would soon have anarchy and misrule over there worse than Spain’s was; and
4) that there was nothing left for us to do but to take them all, and to educate the Filipinos, and uplift and civilize and Christianize them, and by God’s grace do the very best we could by them, as our fellow-men for whom Christ also died. And then I went to bed, and went to sleep, and slept soundly, and the next morning I sent for the … War Department map-maker, and I told him to put the Philippines on the map of the United States (pointing to a large wall map), and there they are, and there they will stay while I am President!”
U.S. President William McKinley’s words should echo with President Bush and his evangelical zealots. Like the Republican who initiated U.S. overseas military expansion, the current president also talks to God and hears His words. Like McKinley, Bush understands that the stars and stripes stand for inseparable U.S. commercial interests and pious purposes.
After McKinley was assassinated in 1900, subsequent presidents sent troops back to Cuba three times in the next two decades, until finally “losing” the island in the 1959 revolution. Until 1933, 120,000 U.S. troops occupied the Philippines. “Pacifying” those “heathens” took longer than McKinley thought and brought out the brute in the soul of U.S. Christian soldiers. Long before troops destroyed the Vietnamese village “to save it,” and a century-plus before GIs decimated Falluja and killed thousands of its residents to bring democracy to Iraq, their predecessors committed atrocities in the Philippines.
A frustrated U.S. general even ordered troops to kill every Philippine male over age ten. Fortunately, that order was not carried out, but U.S. troops did slay up to 200,000 Philippine men and women in three years, until overwhelming superiority in weapons and sheer ruthlessness overcame local resistance forces. Two thousand U.S. servicemen died, as well. One critical citizen satirized McKinley’s war: “G is for guns/ That McKinley has sent/ To teach Filipinos/ What Jesus Christ meant.”
The bible thumpers of the time praised McKinley’s will in overcoming Satan (Filipinos, not Arabs) with military force. Now, 106 years later, as scientists map the human genetic structure and discover secrets of the galaxy that date back thousands of centuries, the descendents of the religious zealots that counseled McKinley win court battles to validate creationism and push Armageddon and Rapture as themes of U.S. Middle East policy.
While the “end of the world is near” gang drank unfermented apple juice to celebrate the election results, I recalled the celebration in 1979 when the Ayatollah Khomeini and his pious minions consolidated their control of the Iranian Revolution.
How could so many people here and there, I asked myself, act against their own freedoms? How can educated people – using high technology and science – believe that God revealed His Middle East plan to Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell?
In October, Robertson, the aging Baptist Maharishi, told some 4,000-plus pilgrims in Jerusalem’s convention centre that devious Muslims intended to foil “God’s plan” to let Israel hold onto its lands (Ha’aretz, October 4). Robertson interpreted Islam’s intention “to destroy Israel and take the land from the Jews and give East Jerusalem to Yasser Arafat [the Palestinian Authority Chairman, who died in November] … as Satan’s plan to prevent the return of Jesus Christ the Lord.”
Robertson’s fellow Baptist preacher Jerry Falwell has long proclaimed strong support for Israel and evinced blatant anti-Semitism. “A few of you don’t like the Jews and I know why,” Falwell sanctimoniously told his congregation. “They can make more money accidentally than you can on purpose” (Washington Star, July 3, 1980).
Too bad such accidents don’t happen to me, I thought. The Biblicists have placed me inside a contradictory construction. As a Jew, I remain an object of their scorn, since I descended from the tribe that betrayed Jesus. But I could move to Israel and convert to rabid Zionism that calls for shooting Arabs as part of the Lord’s work. I would then become an instrument of the Lord in removing pagan Palestinians from their lands so Jews can occupy it. Then God can orchestrate the final wars in that region (which will involve the whole world). Then, Robertson, Falwell and company can enjoy their own special rapture. Whew!
Imagine Falwell and his pious congregation dropping acid amidst velveteen paintings of Jesus, as the clean-cut Liberty Baptist Church of Lynchburg Virginia sings “Jesus Is All the World to Me.”
The support-Israel dogma – especially its extremists – has reached the White House. President Bush even called Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon “a man of peace” (Sharon should have sued Bush for slander for blemishing his record as an unrelenting warrior; at least Sharon could have retaliated by calling Bush “a great intellectual”).
Israeli extremists don’t seem to mind that the most fervent supporters of “a greater Israel” make anti-Semitic comments. “God does not hear the prayer of Jews,” one Texas T.V. preacher announced. To prove his love for Israel, however, he showed a Star of David that he hung from a chain on his neck. “A present from [former Israeli prime minister] Menachem Begin,” he announced. He agreed in principle with Begin that “all Jews should be in Israel.”
The preacher denied he was anti-Semitic. “An anti-Semite,” he explained, “hates Jews more than he’s supposed to.” Would Jesus have endorsed such flummery? “Would Jesus wear a Rolex on his television show?” asked country satirist Ray Stevens.
Life outstrips satire, however, when it comes to Robertson’s intimate relationship with God, especially as He dictates political moves. Using God’s name, Robertson sent “notice” to Osama bin Laden, Arafat and Palestinian militant groups that “you will not frustrate God’s plan” to have Jews rule the Holy Land “until the Second Coming of Jesus.”
“God alone,” Robertson declared, should decide if Israel should give up the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, captured in the 1967 Arab-Israeli War. According to Robertson, “God says, ‘I’m going to judge those who carve up the West Bank and Gaza Strip.’” He continued reciting God’s words: “‘It’s my land and keep your hands off it.’” Israeli officials and Knesset members gleefully attended the October gatherings of Robertson’s pilgrims in Jerusalem.
Robertson and Falwell claim that the Bible predicts the Messiah’s return to the Holy Land at the time the Jews defeat the pagans. I understand that Israelis need the pilgrims’ tourist dollars, but many Jews laugh at “Messiah babble.” A Jew tells his wife that, after months of unemployment, the elders hired him to stand outside the village gate and greet the Messiah when he comes – but for only two kopeks a month. “You’ll work for such low pay?” his wife asked incredulously.
“Don’t worry,” he reassured her. “It’s a lifetime job.”
A visiting New Yorker told how shortly after the birth of Israel a man told his wife to pack their belongings. “The rabbis said that all Jews must move to Israel to greet the Messiah.”
“Are you crazy?” his wife replied. “After spending all that money fixing up the house, I’m not moving.”
The Israeli government, however, has submerged humour and forged close alliances with fundamentalist Christians. In return, evangelicals contribute big bucks to Israel and lobby for pro-Israeli policies.
So, Israeli officials turn blind eyes to Reverend Falwell’s verbal transgressions. As recently as January 14, 1999, Jerry Falwell speculated upon “the Anti-Christ.”
“Is he alive and here today?” asked Falwell. “Probably. Because when he appears during the Tribulation period he will be a full-grown counterfeit of Christ. Of course he’ll be Jewish and male.” I looked in the mirror when I read that statement. Could it be me? “Of course he’ll pretend to be Christ.” I breathed easier since I had no such pretensions. But what about other Jewish men? Well, most of them didn’t vote for Bush, or believe that God spoke to him – or McKinley for that matter. Reasonable people don’t think that God ordered Bush to bring freedom (free markets) to the Middle East. Indeed, as Lily Tomlin quipped, “Talking to God is prayer. God talking to you is schizophrenia.”
Saul Landau’s new book is The Business of America: How Consumers Have Replaced Citizens and How We Can Reverse the Trend. He directs digital media at Cal Poly Pomona University and is a fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies. Saul is a member of CD’s Editorial Collective.