The New York Times asked me a week after Sept. 11, 2001, what I thought about the Pentagon’s initial code name of “infinite justice” for the evolving war against terrorism.
”The word ‘infinite’ is another word for eternal,” I said, as reported by the Times. ”I would say the message of attributing the term ‘infinite’ to finite human beings is presumptuous.”
The news story concluded with my critique: ”It is the sin of pride.”
The story also included a comment from Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld about that term. “The United States does not want to do or say things that create an impression on the part of the listener that would be a misunderstanding, and clearly that would be,” said Rumsfeld.
Upon reading the story eight years ago, I was relieved that the Bush administration would be careful to avoid the creation of a crusade mentality, a theological justification for war based on the self-righteous belief that God was on our side.
I was to be proven wrong time and again.
New evidence is a painful reminder that a crusade mentality coursed through the veins of the Pentagon.
According to news reports and photographs, the cover sheets of intelligence reports for Rumsfeld and other Pentagon officials during the initial stages of the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq had Bible quotes.
On March 17, 2003, the cover sheet had atop a photograph of camouflaged soldiers with weapons pointed skyward a biblical question: “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?”
Printed at the bottom of the photograph is the answer with the textual citation of Isaiah 6:8—”Here am I, Lord, Send me!”
On March 19, the cover sheet had Psalm 139:9-10 printed on a photograph of a jetfighter launching off an aircraft carrier: “If I rise on the wings of dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast, O Lord.”
On March 31, the cover sheet had a photograph of a tank with Ephesians 6:13 printed at the top: “Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.”
On April 11, the cover sheet had a photograph of soldiers standing with their arms on one another, heads bowed, as if in prayer. Above the photograph was 1 Chronicles 16:11—”Seek the Lord and His strength; seek His face continually.”
A slideshow of these and other photographs are available at GQ magazine’s Web site.
The cover sheets were the brainchild of Maj. Gen. Glen Shaffer, named as a Christian.
Of course, these photographs are not the first time that Christianity and national militarism have been conflated.
In 2003, Lt. Gen. William “Jerry” Boykin told churches that the Iraq war was a struggle between Judeo-Christian forces and Satan.
“Why do they hate us? Why do they hate us so much? Ladies and gentlemen, the answer to that is because we’re a Christian nation, because our foundation and our roots are Judeo-Christian,” he told a church audience.
In 2005, the official Web site of the U.S. Marine Corps had a photograph of an M1A1 Abrams tank with the name “New Testament” on the tank barrel.
Our nation has a sad record of using the Bible to validate military adventurism and claiming self-righteously that God is on our side. If we were more determined to be on God’s side, to let the Bible shape our agenda, then maybe, just maybe, we would not have been so quick to rush to war on the wings of a lie.
Be assured, however, that our military and political leaders did not adopt their crusade theology without the help of crusading clerics.
Robert Parham is executive editor of EthicsDaily.com and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics.
Robert M. Parham (1953 – 2017) was the founder and executive director of Baptist Center for Ethics from 1991 to 2017. He served as executive editor of EthicsDaily.com, BCE’s website, from its launch in 2002 until 2017.