"It's over for us when the last guy who wants to fight for Saddam has flies crawling across his eyeballs. Then we go home. It's smashmouth tactics. Sherman said that war is cruelty. There's no sense in trying to refine it. The crueler it is, the sooner it's over."

Lt. Col. Bryan McCoy, U.S. Military

Theology of Empire: Justification for Permanent War

Empire Not New

Conquest has been part of the ideology of this continent since the European invasion in 1492. The Christian church had a crucial role in justifying the slaughter that followed that first implantation of the cross and sword by Christopher Columbus. At first it was justified because Indians did not have souls. Later it was to convert the "heathen" to Christianity. Then conquest was justified because the Indians were nomads and did not "settle" the land, therefore had no right to it.

But the Puritans also felt they were a "chosen people" creating a "city on a hill," a beacon of freedom, good and light for the whole world. By the 1840’s the white people of the U.S. had a "manifest destiny" to settle the whole continent meaning to dispossess and kill, where necessary, the original inhabitants. Since 1898, the United States has asserted its right to take that destiny around the globe.

Empire as Policy

Empire is becoming official U.S. policy under the Bush administration. But again, conquest needs to be justified.

What is developing is a new theology of empire to justify the strategy of permanent war that will guarantee "violent supremacy" of the world by the United States for decades to come. The Bush Administration and its neo-conservatives want to be the enforcers of that world.

The ethic is, simply put, that might makes right. The goal is not to be liked but rather feared and respected. God is a god of war, vengeance and retribution. The world is a dangerous place, people are basically evil and must be controlled at every turn.

Instilling fear, not of God, but of those dangerous and evil forces out to get us, creates the political space to carry out repressive policies at home and bellicose policies abroad.

The high priest of this religion is George W. Bush. He exhibits a certitude of faith in what is good and evil, bolstered by his own self righteousness. That makes him a decisive leader admired by a politically illiterate citizenry that grew up on the formula that America was the land of the free. He has divided the world into good and evil, those for us and against us. Those who disagree are not mistaken, miscalculating, misguided or even just malevolent. Certainly they are not right. They are evil.

The United States has declared its own holy war against "terrorism." This nation is on a crusade. Afghanistan was the first Crusade, Iraq the second. We can be assured of three, four, five and six. We might well see a military action of some sort every two years at election time.

The U.S. objective of controlling the world’s resources, leads to a self-fulfilling prophecy as inequity breeds violence, thus making the world more dangerous and justifying greater military spending. This vicious circle condemns all parties to live in a cycle of blame and violence.

The god of war is a demanding and jealous god that will not allow any other gods, any other perspectives. Dissent is apostasy. Questioning authority is heretical and heretics will be punished by Pentecostal Christian John Ashcroft and the Department of Justice. The first heretics burned at the stake have been outspoken brown-skinned people because racism has always undergirded the consolidation of power for the elites of this nation. But it is clear that even former allies, like France, will be punished for their heresy.

The god of permanent war also demands sacrifices. One sacrifice is liberty and civil and human rights at home. Another is the infamous "collateral damage" abroad. But projecting a U.S. military presence all over the world, while enriching the wealthiest with tax cuts at home, will require sacrifices. The brunt of those sacrifices will be borne by the most vulnerable. Cuts in health care and education for children, prescription drugs and medicare for seniors, affordable housing, wage and job supports will all be sacrificed on the altar of permanent war. But the blame will be placed on the "economy" in general, not war.

The Promised Land

If the world is a global village, then the prime real estate is the Persian Gulf region. For the past 30 years, the Gulf has been in the crosshairs of an influential group of Washington foreign-policy strategists, who believe that in order to ensure its global dominance, the United States must seize control of the region and its oil. The tanks and barbed wire that immediately went up around the Ministry of Oil in Baghdad, while the museums and libraries and homes were looted, give graphic testimony to why this manufactured war occurred at all.

Nearly one out of every three barrels of oil reserves in the world lie under just two countries: Saudi Arabia (with 259 billion barrels of proven reserves) and Iraq (112 billion). Those figures may understate Iraq's largely unexplored reserves, which according to U.S. government estimates may hold as many as 432 billion barrels.

But the Bush administration is thinking bigger, much bigger, than just oil and its direct profits. "Controlling Iraq is about oil as power, rather than oil as fuel," says Michael Klare, professor of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College and author of Resource Wars. "Control over the Persian Gulf translates into control over Europe, Japan, and China. It's having our hand on the spigot."

Response by the Other Faith Community

Those of us who do not bow down to the god of war have a special responsibility in the months ahead.

We believe in a compassionate God of justice. We believe that people are created in the image of God and are basically good, having within them a divine spark that can be nurtured to grow and thrive. We believe that the most vulnerable of the world have a special place in God’s heart and that the divine Spirit stills acts in history on behalf of the poor, outcast and marginalized.

As instruments of God’s love and justice, we are called to give public and prophetic voice to a vision of a world that embodies not our worst fears, but our best hopes. We believe in a diverse, multicultural and multilateral world where conflicts are resolved nonviolently through understanding and negotiation.

Where Do We Go From Here? Building Power for Peace and Justice

If we are feeling pain right now, that is good. That means we are alive and we care about humanity and the people of Iraq. If we feel despair, that is not good, for that is exactly what Bush and Company want from us, hopelessness that leads to inaction. We have to remember that most of the psychological operations by the U.S. military were and will be directed at us, the U.S. citizenry. They do not care about reality, they only care about how people perceive reality. They will lie, use plausible deniability, forge documents, plant incriminating evidence, "spin" the news all to frame each event to justify and project their own worldview. As just one example, while the news media were reporting the backlash against Michael Moore, the Dixie Chicks and some entertainers for speaking out against the war, their films, books and records were actually increasing in sales.

Possible Actions

  1. The struggle ahead will be as much spiritual as political. Find strength in whatever spiritual source your faith calls you to.
  2. Counter the "Theology of Empire" at every juncture. The people of America need a clear vision of a nonviolent future that refuses the use of faith and religion to justify conquest and domination.
  3. Build a larger base. We have 30% of the population with us, even during the "triumph" of U.S. military forces in Iraq. That is tens of millions of people. We need 51% of the population. We need to connect and build relationships with the "swing" 40%, those who were against war before the war began and before the Bush and media onslaught in January and February. Develop a new pledge that people can sign and circulate that calls for opposition to the policy of "preventive" or preemptive war.
  4. Develop new leaders. We need outspoken leaders, but also congregational/mosque/synagogue-based leaders and organizers who can expand the number of people committed to a new world of peace.
  5. Build a black, brown, white, labor, faith, community, student coalition that will revitalize the connections and solidarity experienced by Chicago during the campaign of Harold Washington. We have more in common than we have in conflict and we have to act together on that reality.
  6. Think global, link local. One billion dollars a day for the military and $70 billion for war in Iraq, plus tax cuts have taken their toll at home. We have to link the misery people are experiencing here from state budget cuts to the lack of health care, affordable housing and education to the permanent war economy.
  7. Develop vehicles for action that appeal to a wide variety of people.
    1. November 2004. While electoral politics are tricky and problematic, and there will be no "peace" candidate on the presidential ballot, this remains one vehicle for mobilization and action. The party for war and empire has to be defeated to allow greater political space for peace in the Middle East and survival of the most vulnerable at home. Analysis by both parties indicates that the election will be won by white women who work in nine key states. While Illinois is not one of them, we will have a crucial Senate race that could determine the balance in the Senate.
    2. Education and outreach. House meetings, educational sessions in church basements, community forums all have the potential to both expose the dangerous assumptions of the Bush administration while offering hopeful alternatives.
    3. Ideas have power. Ideas can change people and motivate them to action. Ideas can frame the debate.
    4. Develop a communications strategy that builds on successes of the last few months. Plan media events, write op-eds and letters to the editor, cultivate relations with sympathetic reporters, visit editorial boards keep the voice of the interfatih community loud and clear and ever present.
    5. Public faith rallies, processions, even civil disobedience where appropriate will be necessary to keep the faith voice effective.
  8. Wild Idea: Create a Reality Bus and move it around the region. Playing off of the pop culture idea of Reality TV/Movies, etc. – have the bus designed to tell the truth about the war in Iraq and the devastation here at home. If the people of the US never know what really happened to the people of Iraq, it will be easier to accept future wars. Local faith communities could host the bus which would contain video footage, pictures, artifacts of the war. Also show the cost of war here at home in dollars and lives. [this idea came from a brainstorming session with Jennifer and Chuck and Linda]

Michael McConnell, AFSC Regional Director
637 S. Dearborn
Chicago, IL 60605
Ph: 312.427.2533; Fax: 312.427.4171