God and War: American Civil Religion since 1945

God and War: American Civil Religion since 1945

God and War: American Civil Religion since 1945

God and War: American Civil Religion since 1945

Synopsis

Americans have long considered their country to be good--a nation "under God" with a profound role to play in the world. Yet nothing tests that proposition like war. Raymond Haberski argues that since 1945 the common moral assumptions expressed in an American civil religion have become increasingly defined by the nation's experience with war.

God and War traces how three great postwar "trials"--the Cold War, the Vietnam War, and the War on Terror--have revealed the promise and perils of an American civil religion. Throughout the Cold War, Americans combined faith in God and faith in the nation to struggle against not only communism but their own internal demons. The Vietnam War tested whether America remained a nation "under God," inspiring, somewhat ironically, an awakening among a group of religious, intellectual and political leaders to save the nation's soul. With the tenth anniversary of 9/11 behind us and the subsequent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan winding down, Americans might now explore whether civil religion can exist apart from the power of war to affirm the value of the nation to its people and the world.

Excerpt

On Veterans Day 2009, just prior to his first major address on the war in Afghanistan, President Barack Obama walked through Arlington National Cemetery. James Meeks, a reporter for the New York Daily News, happened to be visiting Arlington that day as well. He recounted how the President and the First Lady made an unannounced stop in section sixty, a place where many American soldiers from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are buried. “They stopped first at the grave of Medal of Honor recipient Ross McGinnis, [the] Army private who threw himself on a grenade in Iraq three years ago to save four buddies.” the Obamas then met and consoled a few other people who were in section sixty, including Meeks, who shook Obama’s hand and told him of a friend who had been killed a year earlier in Iraq. the president’s visit was captured in a few photographs, one of which showed a solemn Obama striding amid headstones looking resolute and contrite.

Two weeks later, in a speech on the evening of December 1, 2009, Obama addressed the moral rationale for the war in Afghanistan, offering his justification for the sacrifices already made by American soldiers and providing inspiration for sacrifices yet to come. the president described the war as “a time of great trial” and reminded his audience that when it began, “we were united—bound together by the fresh memory of a horrific attack and by the determination to defend our homeland and the values we hold dear.” Obama emphasized the unity that existed in the aftermath of 9/11, adding that the war in Afghanistan was about values as much as strategy. “The strength of our values … [is] the source, the moral source, of America’s authority,” he declared. Obama grew increasingly passionate as he spoke about American ideals, clearly acknowledging the widespread skepticism and even cynicism engendered by the war in Iraq as well as by the ten-year-long engagement . . .

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