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God On Our Side?



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Garry Wills has an historical essay in the current New York Times Magazine, in which he explores the role that appeals to religious faith have played in justifying American wars. In the piece, Wills attacks my recent NR cover story on military chaplains. The section on the chaplain story is too long to reproduce here, but if you want to read it, use the link, and go to about 2/3 of the way down.

Wills is offended by the idea in my NR piece that military chaplains, who have seen on foreign battlefields evidence of human evil and perversity that simply will not appear to most clerics in American life, have a more realistic perspective on the nature of evil than civilian priests — and that their voices are needed in the religious debate over the war.

Wills writes: One gets the uneasy feeling, listening to the president, that the role military chaplains play in Dreher’s life is provided for Bush by his evangelical counselors and consolers. Many have wondered how the president can so readily tear down whole structures of international cooperation at a time when, in the fight against terrorism, we need them most. His calm assurance that most of the world and much of his nation is wrong comes from an apparent certainty that is hard to justify in terms of geopolitical calculus. It helps, in making that leap, to be assured that God is on your side. One of the psychological benefits of this is that it makes one oppose with an easy conscience those who are not with us, therefore not on God’s side. They are not mistaken, miscalculating, misguided or even just malevolent. They are evil. And all our opponents can be conflated under the heading of this same evil, since the devil is an equal opportunity employer of his agents. … Question the [war] policy, and you no longer believe in evil — which is the same, in this context, as not believing in God. That is the religious test on which our president is grading us.



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