Simple, Right?

In the ongoing tragedy that is Ferguson, MO, one of the most tragic aspects of all is the hardening contempt each side of the conflict feels and expresses for the other. As a white conservative I am ashamed of the grossly simplified generalizations that characterize the discussion on the right. But more than anything, I am grieved by the widening gulf, on this and many other issues, between neighbors, fellow citizens and, most especially, fellow believers.

After the Grand Jury decision not to indict Wilson was announced last night, the usually thoughtful Matt Walsh opined this morning, “Brown instigated this encounter, tried to hurt the officer, and paid for it with his life. That’s it. That’s all. This whole outrage was based on rumor and false testimony. You either accept the facts, or you brand yourself a liar and a fraud.”

No, Matt, that’s not it and that’s not all.

In France, 1789, the explosion of rage, murder and destruction we call the French Revolution ignited a fifty year period of chaos and death. The world looked on in disbelief as the desperation-fueled heroism of those who stormed the Bastille gave way to Robespierre and the reign of terror. Observers all over the west shook their heads as centuries’ worth of cultural, religious and political effort was dismantled and destroyed, and waxed philosophical in their armchairs over the sheer stupidity of the French public. If any people could be accused of destroying their own city – even beyond that, of destroying themselves – the French peasantry of the late eighteenth century were guilty.

Edmund Burke criticized the French Revolution in a series of pamphlets, speeches, etc. In his first pamphlet he accused the French people of rebelling “against a mild and lawful monarch, with more fury, outrage, and insult, than any people has been known to rise against the most illegal usurper, or the most sanguinary tyrant.”

This accusation drew the ire of the American author Thomas Paine, who replied, “It was not against Louis the XVIth, but against the despotic principles of the government, that the nation revolted. These principles had not their origin in him, but in the original establishment, many centuries back: and they were become too deeply rooted to be removed, and the Augean stables of parasites and plunderers too abominably filthy to be cleansed by anything short of a complete and universal Revolution. … Perhaps no man bred up in the style of an absolute king, ever possessed a heart so little disposed to the exercise of that species of power as the present King of France. But the principles of the Government itself still remained the same. The Monarch and the Monarchy were distinct and separate things; and it was against the established despotism of the latter, and not against the person or principles of the former, that the revolt commenced, and the Revolution has been carried.”

Paine went on to lash out at Burke for his aristocratic sympathies and his refusal to even attempt to see the revolution from the perspective of the oppressed people of France. “Not one glance of compassion,” he wrote, “not one commiserating reflection that I can find throughout his book, has he bestowed on those who lingered out the most wretched of lives, a life without hope in the most miserable of prisons. … He pities the plumage, but forgets the dying bird.”


Burke and Paine both made legitimate points, and both were blinded by their own prejudices. In his sympathy for the horrific suffering of the French people, Paine glossed over many of the terrible crimes and excesses they committed. But his critique of Burke on this point was devastatingly accurate. Burke saw the sins of the French Revolution in a political and historical vacuum. He saw them as a grave threat to the relatively orderly subordination of English society and to the aristocratic system. He failed to acknowledge the crushing weight of centuries of accumulated oppression and how that history shaped the French people, and he failed to distinguish between the many aspects of the revolution and the motivations of its various groups and factions.

Those who look with contempt on the whole mass of protesters in Ferguson – without distinction, without even an attempt to perceive their widely different motivations – are guilty of just such an error. The killing of Michael Brown, whether justified or not, occurred in a decades-old context of unchecked law enforcement brutality and deep-seated hostility between people of color in Ferguson and their police. Back in the late ’90s journalists described the area as a racial volcano destined to erupt. In 2012 Ferguson police officers mistakenly arrested an innocent black man and beat him savagely in a holding cell, only to discover their mistake afterwards. Rather than risk the consequences of a public acknowledgement they charged him with destruction of government property for bleeding on their uniforms. While a judge dismissed those charges, none of the officers involved were punished. In this context it would be shocking if the black community were to calmly accept a grand jury decision not to indict. They have no faith in the system, and for good reason.

Then, too, there is a fundamental distrust of this particular process that is equally understandable. No one expected the grand jury to indict Wilson. Jonathan Blanks, writing for Rare today, observed that “The law enforcement apparatus in and around St. Louis County treated the citizenry with open contempt. In his press conference yesterday, St. Louis County prosecutor Bob McCulloch sounded more like a defense attorney for Wilson rather than a prosecutor who failed to get an indictment.”

Legal blogger and defense attorney Scott Greenfield was more specific. “All the evidence,” he writes, “is a phrase that applies to a trial. A trial is a procedure that happens in an open courtroom, where adversaries zealously present their case and challenge the other side’s case. It is transparent because we can watch it unfold, develop, happen before our eyes. We hear the questions and answers, the objections and rulings. We hear the request to admit evidence and the voir dire and challenge to its admission. We hear the opening arguments and summations. … Whether Darren Wilson would have been convicted after trial remains unclear; perhaps the case against him for the killing of Michael Brown wouldn’t have survived scrutiny. Perhaps the structural benefits given law enforcement to kill without fear would have allowed him to circumvent conviction. Perhaps he wasn’t guilty. We will never know. … The merit of the grand jury presentation relies entirely on our acceptance of Bob McCulloch’s office desiring an indictment against Darren Wilson. Just as a prosecutor can indict any damn person he pleases, he can similarly make sure a person is not indicted.” (Read the whole post – it’s worth your time.)

When was the last time you saw a police officer indicted, let alone convicted, for excessive use of force, without a viral video either leaked or recorded by a bystander? Even in those cases where a concerned citizen is in the right place at the right time to make such a recording, how often are officers actually prosecuted? Answer those questions honestly, and then tell me why, in that context, any of us should be expected to accept the grand jury’s finding as fact?

Wilson may have been completely justified. But to dismiss those who distrust the process as liars and frauds is either tragically simple-minded or disingenuous.


Who Deserves Due Process?

Rebecca-Nurse-Salem-Witch-Trials-Memorial-MarkerYou may have heard of a horrific case in southeastern PA this week, involving a single mother, her boyfriend and her murdered 3-year-old son. I’m not interested in reviewing the horrendous details of the alleged crime. The accused are both facing the death penalty, and rightly so. What concerns me is one aspect of the public’s reaction and what it says about our society, our freedom and values and, ultimately, the apparent demise of intelligent thought in America.

The reaction I’m speaking of has been and is being expressed in many places and many forms, but it’s encapsulated nicely in this gem from a commenter on the Daily Local website: “Any lawyer that defends these sub humans [sic] is not fit to live.” Generally speaking, comments on news websites aren’t worth a response, but this sentiment is dangerously widespread and, I think, is evidence of a deeper problem. It is the same mentality that justifies drone-launched “signature strikes” or the waterboarding of terrorism suspects because “terrorists don’t deserve due process.” It is the same mentality that excuses police officers for the shooting of an unarmed man, or the deliberate use of a Taser on a handcuffed woman, because of the victim’s past criminal record. In essence, it is the entirely irrational view that the legal protections and procedures we call due process are too good for some criminals.

Why irrational? Because due process protections aren’t for the criminals, they are for the innocent. Of course terrorists don’t deserve due process. Neither do people who slowly murder little children. Neither, I might add, do people who quickly murder old men, or rape, or enslave, or commit any number of other evil crimes against their fellow creatures. They deserve justice. But there is the rub: due process matters if justice is to be done, because only through the meticulous pursuit of the truth in the context of presumed innocence can we avoid the double tragedy – the crime of crimes – that is committed when the law punishes the innocent instead of the guilty.

Do I really think that this couple might be innocent? No, I don’t. In this country, the likelihood of police, prosecutors, medical workers and media conspiring together to invent such a horrific tale is next to nil. But why? In many countries today, people are regularly accused, condemned and imprisoned or executed on bare, unsupported allegations from those who have much to gain by it. In this country, not that long ago, enslaved blacks were frequently punished for crimes they did not commit – even could not have committed – because they were excluded from the due process protection of the law. We look back with horror, appropriate horror, on legal abuses like the Salem witch trials, the horrific anti-treason laws in seventeenth century England, the reign of terror in post-revolutionary France, or the mass murder of Stalin’s collectivization program in Ukraine. Those things are not happening in America today because of a legal system that, while far from perfect and strongly skewed against the accused, still presents formidable obstacles to systematic, widespread miscarriages of justice like these.

The person who posted that comment is absolutely certain of the accused couple’s guilt. But they knew nothing of the case except what they had just read. Their confidence is probably justified precisely because of the system and the defense lawyers they so despise. If we as a society are willing to waive due process and presumption of innocence in cases where we feel the accused are undeserving, we open the door to unspeakable crimes under the color of law in the future.

A Protest That Is Also Prophecy?

I don’t endorse all of his politics, but the world today gives Edwin Markham’s classic poem, Man With a Hoe, an eerily prescient ring. He wrote it after seeing the renowned painting by Millet.

Bowed by the weight of centuries he leans
Upon his hoe and gazes on the ground,
The emptiness of ages in his face,
And on his back the burden of the world.
Who made him dead to rapture and despair,
A thing that grieves not and that never hopes,
Stolid and stunned, a brother to the ox?
Who loosened and let down this brutal jaw?
Whose was the hand that slanted back this brow?
Whose breath blew out the light within this brain?

Is this the Thing the Lord God made and gave
To have dominion over sea and land;
To trace the stars and search the heavens for power;
To feel the passion of Eternity?
Is this the Dream He dreamed who shaped the suns
And marked their ways upon the ancient deep?
Down all the stretch of Hell to its last gulf
There is no shape more terrible than this —
More tongued with censure of the world’s blind greed —
More filled with signs and portents for the soul —
More fraught with menace to the universe.

What gulfs between him and the seraphim!
Slave of the wheel of labor, what to him
Are Plato and the swing of Pleiades?
What the long reaches of the peaks of song,
The rift of dawn, the reddening of the rose?
Through this dread shape the suffering ages look;
Time’s tragedy is in the aching stoop;
Through this dread shape humanity betrayed,
Plundered, profaned, and disinherited,
Cries protest to the Powers that made the world.
A protest that is also prophecy.

O masters, lords and rulers in all lands,
Is this the handiwork you give to God,
This monstrous thing distorted and soul-quenched?
How will you ever straighten up this shape;
Touch it again with immortality;
Give back the upward looking and the light;
Rebuild in it the music and the dream,
Make right the immemorial infamies,
Perfidious wrongs, immedicable woes?

O masters, lords and rulers in all lands
How will the Future reckon with this Man?
How answer his brute question in that hour
When whirlwinds of rebellion shake all shores?
How will it be with kingdoms and with kings —
With those who shaped him to the thing he is —
When this dumb Terror shall rise to judge the world
After the silence of the centuries?

What Happened To Iraq?

Over the past two months, as Iraq has disintegrated in the face of ISIL, one particular interpretation of events has been consistently pushed forward by neoconservatives and Bush apologists: Iraq is in crisis today because America pulled its troops out too soon. Excuses are, of course, all that can be expected from the neocons at this point, since they have long since proven themselves impervious to the instructive benefits of hindsight. More concerning, though, is the readiness of otherwise thinking, intelligent people to buy into such a fantastical narrative. Twice in the last week I’ve been confronted with the argument that if only the US had taken the same time and effort in Iraq that we did in Japan after WWII, we might have a similarly friendly, democratic ally in the Middle East today. (Of course, the underlying goal of such claims is nearly always to shift the blame for the current state of affairs in Iraq away from the neocons and toward Obama.)

My initial reaction to this suggestion was disbelief, followed, however, by a determination to give it full consideration and compose a thoughtful response. I confess that my impatience with the whole idea has increased with the amount of time I’ve had to consider it. The total dissimilarity between Iraq today and postwar Japan is so obvious that it seems unreasonable to devote space to proving it. Be that as it may, such an effort is clearly needed. Following are four reasons why the postwar Japan model does not apply to Iraq after Saddam Hussein.

1 – There was no reason to anticipate a civil war in Japan, held together by two thousand years’ worth of cultural, religious and political ties; there was every reason to expect one in an Iraq held together by little more than Saddam Hussein.

Japan in 1945 had been a unified nation more or less for two millenia. It was a commercial society built on an ancient feudal structure. Culturally and politically, it’s hard to imagine a more cohesive national identity. While Shintoism and Buddhism have had their share of conflict, religious animosity was not a significant force shaping Japanese society in the 1940s. The Mikado was widely viewed as a deity and could trace his ancestry back through a nearly unbroken line of emperors all the way to Yamato herself, 300 years before Christ.

In contrast, Iraq in 2003 was a relatively new, arguably artificial nation cobbled together by Great Britain in 1920 from three distinct provinces of the Ottoman Empire (Mosul, Baghdad and Basra), with a piece of Kurdistan thrown in at the insistence of exiled Syrian king turned British puppet, Faisal I. Its multi-ethnic population was deeply divided along ethnic and religious lines. Fourteen hundred years of tension between Sunni and Shia Islam cut across Arab, Kurdish, Turkish and Assyrian ethnic groups. Most if not all of these groups included armed militias. Political stability was a consequence of complete domination of government power by the Sunni Arab ruling class.

2: The Japanese people had many reasons to trust the US;  the Iraqi people had as many reasons not to.

The United States in 1945 was at its zenith as a world power. We had, deservedly or not, a worldwide reputation for plain dealing and fair play that had not yet been squandered by reckless adventurism and failed interventions. The Japanese had no longstanding reasons to hate America. While an indigenous insurgency was of course a possibility, it was not a likely scenario.

By 2003, on the other hand, our conduct over the past sixty-odd years in the Middle East had been marked by lies, injustice, backstabbing diplomacy, broken promises – in short, every thing but plain dealing and fair play. Iraqi Shia and Kurds both had vivid memories of being encouraged by the US to take up arms against the Hussein regime, only to be brutally crushed when America failed to deliver the expected assistance. Saddam’s own regime knew first hand how treacherous we could be, having secretly received chemical weapon components (and critical intelligence help with targeting those weapons) from the US during the Iran-Iraq war, and more recently, having invaded Kuwait with an implied American promise of neutrality only to have that promise broken spectacularly in 1991. In short, no one in Iraq had any reason to trust America or any illusions that the occupation was meant to serve the interests or improve the lives of the Iraqi people. An insurgency against American occupation may not have been inevitable, but it was nearly so.

3: In 1945 the US imposed a military government on a soundly defeated aggressor; in 2003 the US was the aggressor.

The most glaring difference between occupied Japan and occupied Iraq is in the circumstances leading to the occupation. Japan had preemptively attacked the US in pursuit of an expansionist agenda that aimed to bring the entire western Pacific under Japanese control or influence. Their aggression failed; instead of knocking America back on its heels while Japan consolidated its gains, the war became a fight for survival of the Japanese state. By the war’s end in 1945, Japan had been thoroughly defeated and the expansionist wing of Japanese politics just as thoroughly discredited. Under such circumstances the Japanese people feared the worst from the occupation; instead they were treated remarkably well.

In 2003, however, it was America who launched a preemptive war against a country that had neither the ability nor the motivation to threaten it. The Iraqi government and military, entirely unable to face the US in conventional warfare, collapsed in weeks, but the Iraqi people, most of whom had merely observed the invasion rather than resisted it, were undefeated. Their primary allegiances were tribal and religious, not to the Hussein regime; they were not about to transfer those allegiances to the US.

4: Bremer was no MacArthur.

Does that really even need to be said?

Douglas MacArthur was a brilliant general and strategist with years of experience in the Far East; more importantly, he was a conscientious leader who took his responsibilities as such seriously. He was an avid student of Japanese culture; he went out of his way to show respect for,  and sensitivity to, their customs; he used his vast power to give the Japanese people a taste of just, efficient government; he carefully discriminated between those responsible for the war and the average Japanese. He won the respect – some would say love – of the Japanese people by his conduct and policies, not by some magical force of personality.

Now consider L. Paul Bremer – a career fearmonger masquerading as a terrorism expert. Prior to his appointment as Interim Dictator of Iraq he was Chairman and CEO of Marsh Crisis Services, a risk assessment firm – which is to say, his professional expertise was in frightening other corporations. While real terrorism experts like Michael Scheuer repeatedly warned the Bush administration of the likely consequences of Bremer’s (and Bush’s) policies, Bremer used his powerful position to immortalize his own incompetence and ignorance. He disregarded years of American propaganda aimed at convincing Iraqi soldiers to abandon Saddam. Within weeks he had created all the conditions for a Sunni insurgency in Iraq through a series of incredibly stupid executive orders. That insurgency was the incubator in which Abu Bakr al Baghdadi and his private army, AQI/ISIL, were formed and developed. The current “Islamic State” traces its origins directly to Bremer’s first three months in office. While a civil war and an anti-American backlash were likely consequences of the invasion and occupation anyway, Bremer did everything imaginable to guarantee both.

Does it still seem reasonable, in light of the above, to blame the absence of American forces since 2011 for Iraq’s current plight? Add to all this theorizing the fact that insurgent violence and terrorism during the occupation was at its worst from 2004-06, with >100,000 coalition troops in the country – before the much hyped “surge” had taken place and before the 2011 withdrawal date had been set by the Bush administration. If the insurgency could not be contained with that level of military presence, on what basis can it be claimed that an extended troop presence would have helped? Add to that the equally important fact that even the puppet government we established under Maliki refused to allow any American troops to remain, so that if we had kept combat forces there they would likely have been dealing with a Shia threat perhaps equal to the Sunni insurgency.

There is simply no way one can argue from the facts that it was the withdrawal of American forces that paved the way for ISIL. On the contrary, it was the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, the subsequent occupation of Iraq and the policies pursued by the Bush administration and the occupying authorities which led to the ongoing tragedy that is Iraq today.

Is The Gospel “Endangered?” Liam Goligher Answers

This past Sunday morning at Tenth Dr. Goligher had this to say:

The end of Christianity has been trumpeted from the beginning of Christianity. People probably imagined that once the apostles were dead – those men who had been the eye and ear witnesses of the risen Lord Jesus – that would be the end of this nascent Christian movement. When Diocletian launched his assault on Christians, people might have thought that systematic persecution by the Romans would have been the end of Christianity. And when, during those long years of the Middle Ages … the Gospel was eviscerated of its core message [and] evangelical dynamism was lost for that period … you might have wondered whether the Gospel was lost. In the era of the Reformation with the banning and the burnings … you might have thought, “This is the end of the Gospel; it’s going to be lost.” And then in the era of rationalism, and evolutionism, and atheism, and (currently) secularism, you may throw up your hands in horror and say, “The Gospel will be lost!”

Paul is saying here that [the Gospel] will never die. Rome came and went. The Middle Ages and the medieval Church came and went… Rationalism, and evolutionism, and atheism and secularism are already in the process of becoming undone, if only you read the literature. Our western society, which has rejected Christianity (and its own history in doing so) and is trying to purge from memory all traces of that former influence, is well down the road to disintegration and becoming a footnote on the pages of history. But the church, and the Gospel, survives. It will survive the seminary professors who no longer think it credible. It will survive the pessimistic pastors who no longer think it culturally cool. It will survive the popular media that have declared it passé. It will survive!

(Emphasis mine. Listen to the entire sermon here.)

Wow. There is so much to think about here. On one hand, how encouraging it is to be reminded that Divine Providence still rules history, and always will. On the other, what a powerful antidote to the national arrogance that pervades American culture and policy today. I’ve always been bothered by the tendency of many Christians in America to dismiss any concern for our national direction with the airy remark, “God’s in control! I’m sure it will all work out.” Yes, He is in control, and it will work out according to His will. As a Christian, I find that infinitely encouraging; as an American, however, it is rather terrifying. I find no cause for comfort in the squandered blessings, rejected truths and despised boundaries that litter our nation’s recent history.

As I’ve considered these words, I’ve recognized an error in my own thinking. I’ve argued for some time that the unholy alliance between the evangelical church in America and the war lobby (and, of course, the bad theology and worse eschatology on which this alliance is founded) is a grave threat to the global spread of the Gospel. I’ve been wrong. Such a view underestimates the permanency and power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is not the Gospel, but the evangelical church in America, that is threatened by our willingness to combine and corrupt our message with an immoral political agenda.

Perhaps this seems a rather dark and dismal response to an incredibly uplifting and encouraging message. But in the end, I am encouraged, and thankful as well: thankful for the Gospel; thankful for the Sovereign God who orders history and will preserve His Gospel and His church; and thankful for Liam and his faithfulness to “guard the good deposit entrusted to him.” God grant us more men who are willing to speak out for the Gospel and stand unashamed in the face of this hostile culture.

Time For A Declaration Of Interference?

Someone I know and love recently shared a poster featuring Leutze’s majestic painting of Washington crossing the Delaware River on Christmas Eve, 1776. The caption read “AMERICA,” followed by the words, “We will kill you in your sleep on Christmas.” My initial reaction to this sickening boast was similar to the first time I heard Toby Keith’s hit single, Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue. It was a combination of disgust, sadness and grudging acknowledgement that the sentiment does indeed speak for much of America.

That last got me thinking. Maybe “a boot up …” really is the American way now. Maybe what I call Americanism is too 19th century. Maybe we need to articulate and embrace a new set of foundational principles, sort of like Romney’s “bedrock principles” – only those were attitudes. Anyway, since we have so carelessly trashed our founding principles as they appear in our Declaration of Independence, maybe we should trash the Declaration itself and replace it with a new and updated document, one that more accurately reflects our position in the world and our modern approach to international relations. I’ve tried to draw up such a document below. With a little editing by legal and PC experts, it should be something any modern patriot could proudly carry in their pocket.

When, in the course of human events, it becomes advantageous for one people to overstep the political boundaries which have separated them from another, and to assume, among the powers of the earth, that supreme and arrogant station to which their economic and military prowess entitles them, a pretence of respect for the well-being of mankind requires them to set forth the consequences everyone else may expect from their ascension.

We hold these claims to be above legitimate debate: that America is exceptional; that we are endowed by the fact of our super-awesome existence with certain international obligations; that among these are global hegemony, full-spectrum dominance, and the responsibility to speak and act for freedom-loving people everywhere (whether they like it or not); that to fulfill these obligations, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of Uncle Sam; that, whenever any government becomes inconvenient for, or ill-disposed toward, America, it is our right, it is our duty, to overthrow such government, and to institute a new government; granting its powers to such persons, and organizing it in such form, as to US shall seem most likely to ensure our continued dominance. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that a nation in the enjoyment of peace ought not to engage in war for light and transient reasons; and all experience has shown that empires are more likely to fall prey to their own corruption, arrogance, and sense of invincibility, than to the dangers and bugbears by which they justify their continued expansion. But when a long train of abuses and interventions, pursuing invariably the same object, evinces a design to enrich a few at the expense of the entire world, without provoking any career-ending electoral displeasure or unmanageable foreign crises, it is our habit to take such complacency for authority, and to embark on new adventures for our further enrichment. Such has been the long-standing experience of these states, and such is now the political climate which invites us to double down on our interventionist policies. The unique awesomeness of these United States is so significant that the lessons of history and prior human experience are insufficient to deter us from bossing you around at gunpoint. In this spirit of hubris, let warnings be presented to an increasingly skeptical world.

We may demand that your laws conform to our constantly changing standards, as the ultimate measure of what is good.

We may offer your leaders immense financial incentives to place the interests of the few above your interests and those of your nations.

We may overthrow your national governments when we see fit, by force or subterfuge, at our option.

We may neglect for a long time, after such overthrow, to allow new governments to be formed; the legislative powers meanwhile being left in the hands of ruthless and incompetent bureaucrats, and your national resources exposed to all the corporate interest groups and speculators that follow in our wake.

We may endeavor to make your leaders dependent on our will alone for the tenure of their offices.

We may invent countless new conventions, commissions, agencies, administrations and NGOs, and send swarms of bureaucrats to harrass your people and live at your expense.

We may keep among you, in time of peace (if you are that lucky), standing armies, bribing your leaders with foreign aid packages to ensure their consent.

We may keep our military independent of, and superior to, your civil institutions.

We may combine with others to subject you to the jurisdiction of the U.N. Security Council, or whatever jurisdiction we may invent at the time, giving our assent to their acts of pretended legislation:

For quartering large bodies of armed troops among you;

For protecting them, by secrecy, complicated regulations, and vicious prosecution of whistleblowers, from punishment for any murders which they should commit on your people;

For cutting off your trade with any or all parts of the world;

For imposing regulations and restrictions on you without your consent;

For depriving your people, in many cases, of the benefits of trial by jury;

For transporting you overseas to be tortured for intelligence, or to rot away in prison without trial for alleged offences;

For abolishing long recognized individual freedoms in other nations;

For taking away your national sovereignty, appropriating your most valuable resources, and altering fundamentally the order of your societies;

For disbanding your civil institutions, and assuming the responsibility to redesign them for you according to our wishes.

If you refuse to cooperate in our benevolent makeover of your nations, we will plunder your lands, blockade your coasts, bomb your towns, and destroy the lives of your people.

We will hire large armies of private contractors to assist in the work of subjugation, which will be conducted with a reckless disregard for innocent human life scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy of a civilized nation.

We will incite domestic insurrections among you, and when our own people become weary of the costs of war, we will rely on our immense technological advantage to continue the fight with bombs, missiles and drones, whose known rule of warfare is an indiscriminate destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these operations we will pay lip service to diplomacy, democracy and self-determination in the most flattering of terms. Our repeated assurances should not be taken seriously. A nation whose policies are thus marked by such reckless ambition and brutality is best obeyed without question or complaint.

Not that we would be averse to achieving our goals through “soft power” when possible. We will print, from time to time, large sums of money to assist in making our uninvited meddling more palatable. We will remind foreign dictators of the invaluable assistance our military and information sectors can provide. We will appeal to their native lust for power and wealth, and cajole them by our common interests to connive at these usurpations. But if they prove deaf to the arguments of self-interest and influence, we must acquiesce in the necessity which requires our forceful intervention, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, targets in war, in peace, puppets.

We therefore, the representatives of these United States of America, in Washington, D.C. assembled, appealing to the inexhaustible credulity and imperturbable ambivalence of our constituents for the peaceable nature of our intentions, do, in the name and by the authority of the good people of this nation, arrogantly publish and declare, that we are, and of right ought to be, the leaders of the free world; and that as such, we have full powers to levy war, conclude peace, impose treaties, obstruct commerce, multiply agencies, commissions, laws and regulations, and to do all other things which previous empires have in general done. And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on our immunity from the laws of unintended consequences, we mutually pledge to each other your lives, your fortunes, and our sacred honor lol!

I expect all my patriotic, interventionist friends to be overjoyed at the prospect of a new founding document, one that encapsulates the new and improved relationship between America and the rest of the world, and can form the basis for our future prosperity as the successor to all the previous empires that most Americans have never heard of.

Freedom, God and Right?

My five year old son loves to sing Men of Harlech. He fell in love with the Welsh anthem after hearing a stirring rendition by folk singer Charlie Zahm. He requests the CD every time we get in the car together, and randomly belts out the first verse without hesitation and, generally, without mistakes:

Men of Harlech, in the hollow,
Do ye hear, like rushing billow,
Wave on wave, that surging follow
Battle’s distant sound?
‘Tis the tramp of Saxon foemen –
Saxon spearmen, Saxon bowmen;
Be they knights, or hinds, or yeomen,
They shall bite the ground.
Loose the folds asunder-
Flag we conquer under!
The placid sky, now bright on high,
Shall launch its bolts in thunder!
Onward! ‘Tis our country needs us;
He is bravest, he who leads us!
Honor’s self now proudly heads us –
Freedom, God and Right!

Here it typically devolves into Daaa na naaa na naa naa naa naa – which, considering the gory detail of the second verse, is good enough for a five year old boy. I’m in no hurry to shatter his innocence with the realities of war. For him, Men of Harlech is just his favorite “marching song.”

It happens to be one of my favorites as well, though in a more complex way. I have never heard it sung without having to fight back tears. Men of Harlech is a story of tragedy on so many levels. The image of common citizens rushing to the death against an invading army in defense of their homes and villages is always powerfully moving. From an historical perspective, knowing how the story ends (in a long siege and the ultimate defeat of the Welsh) doesn’t help. For the Christian, the violence anticipated in the second verse is a chilling reminder of the depravity of fallen humanity and the brokenness of God’s once perfect creation; for one who loves his fellow man, it is an equally chilling picture of the effects of war on the better instincts of human nature.

Rocky steeps and passes narrow
Flash with spear and flight of arrow;
Who would think of death or sorrow?
Death is glory now!
Hurl the reeling horsemen over,
Let the earth dead foemen cover;
Fate of friend, of wife, of lover,
Trembles on a blow!
Strands of life are riven,
Blow for blow is given
In deadly lock, or battle shock,
And “mercy!” shrieks to heaven!
Men of Harlech! young or hoary,
Would you win a name in story?
Strike! for home, for life, for glory!
Freedom, God and right!

But what saddens me the most every time I hear this song is the repeated line, “Freedom, God and Right!” Oh yes, these are things worth fighting and giving one’s life for. But how often these words are subordinated to a self-interested agenda that has nothing to do with them! How many American soldiers have died thinking they were defending our freedoms, when in reality they were pawns in a global chess game? How many are killing and being killed in the Middle East, believing that their actions and sacrifices are saving the lives of Americans here at home, when in fact the terrorist threat against us only intensifies? How many soldiers know the obscene amounts of money being pocketed by businessmen and politicians as a result of the wars they are called on to fight? How many American taxpayers believe that the daily killings carried out at our expense are somehow connected to our freedoms, or the survival of God’s chosen people, or whatever cause the war lobbyists have appended to their latest scheme?

Then, too, I can’t help but note the contrast between the circumstances of the Welsh peasantry and America today. The Welsh, like America’s founders, fought an invading army on their own doorsteps. But these days our country is too often the aggressor, making insolent demands of other nations while benevolently extending the twin inducements of billions for the compliant and bombs for the recalcitrant. The America that once was a beacon of hope and a symbol of freedom is now a global exporter of death. The America that went beyond any nation in history to limit executive and military power now claims a lawful right to invade anywhere it sees fit, without even declaring war; to assassinate anyone it sees fit, even its own citizens; to execute citizens of another nation en masse, in peacetime, on their own soil, without even an illusion of due process to protect the innocent.

That, for me, is the foremost reason this song evokes such an emotional response. I can’t help but grieve that America has lost, or rather abandoned, her historic place in the world. Sure, she is still a “world leader” – a superpower – for whatever that is worth. But it was freedom that made America great, and it was a distinctly Christian view of law and government that made America free. Her greatest influence for good in the world preceded, rather than followed, her superpower status. Today, even as America daily trashes her founding ideals, most Americans seem to care only about remaining great. But at what cost? We’ve collectively abandoned the moral foundations, the respect for life, liberty and property, that made self-government possible. We have rejected the proposition that all men are created equal, in favor of arrogance wrapped in red, white and blue. That arrogance, sooner or later, will bring this nation to her knees more effectively than any number of terrorists ever could.

So what of these powerful words? When we think of “Freedom, God and Right” do we think of moral standards by which we should measure our actions on the world stage? Or are they slogans that we get to use because we are America? Do we seek to be right and to do right, or do we presume to define “right” to our liking? Like many empires before us, I fear we are guilty of the latter. That is a tragedy, not just for us, but for the entire world.