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God and War

God and War: American Civil Religion since 1945

Raymond Haberski
Series: Ideas in Action
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 304
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  • Book Info
    God and War
    Book Description:

    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 Wartraces 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.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-5318-4
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Chapter 1 Lincoln’s Bequest
    (pp. 1-10)

    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 theNew 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...

  5. Chapter 2 Civil Religion Incorporated
    (pp. 11-54)

    “It is an awful responsibility which has come to us,” Harry Truman told his radio audience on August 10, 1945. “We thank God that it has come to us instead of our enemies; and we pray that He may guide us to use it in His ways and for His purposes.” The “awful responsibility” of which Truman spoke was America’s decision to drop two atomic bombs on Japan. A few days after the second bomb destroyed the city of Nagasaki, World War II was over. And a moral reckoning began. As Truman’s statement suggested, America needed help understanding its new...

  6. Chapter 3 Civil Religion Redeemed
    (pp. 55-97)

    Ike ended his public service troubled by the state of the world and praying for his nation; his successor struck a different relationship with God. On a clear January day in 1961, John F. Kennedy proclaimed his faith in an American civil religion. He announced:

    Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans—born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage—and unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing...

  7. Chapter 4 Civil Religion Reborn
    (pp. 98-142)

    America is a country made by war. The American War for Independence was the first war for the nation, the first war to create national martyrs, and the first war that revealed the contours of an American civil religion. In 1976, the United States prepared to celebrate the two hundredth anniversary of the American Revolution—a struggle that stood as the lodestar among the constellations of national myths. Abraham Lincoln had acknowledged that in his dedication of the cemetery at Gettysburg. And Ulysses S. Grant had marked the occasion of the Revolutionary War’s centennial by marching with four thousand troops...

  8. Chapter 5 Civil Religion at Bay
    (pp. 143-192)

    On august 27, 1987, George H. W. Bush held an outdoor news conference at O’Hare airport in Chicago. At the time, Bush was still Ronald Reagan’s vice president. But he was also running for the Republican nomination for president. At a campaign stop in Chicago, a reporter for theAmerican Atheist Newsnamed Robert Sherman asked Bush how he intended “to win the votes of the Americans who are atheists.” Bush responded a bit sarcastically that he guessed he was “pretty weak in the atheist community.” After all, he pointed out, “faith in God is important to me.” Sherman asked...

  9. Chapter 6 Civil Religion Forsaken
    (pp. 193-242)

    On october 11, 2000, Bill Clinton’s vice president, Al Gore, debated his opponent in the presidential election, Texas governor George W. Bush. Somewhat like George H. W. Bush, Gore was an heir apparent. He intended to follow a president who had, over all, enjoyed considerable success. Like Ronald Reagan, Clinton had his crises, but he had also presided over an era so economically vibrant that the federal government ran a surplus. Gore intended to ride that prosperity into the White House. The nation was at peace. In contrast, Bush could claim little experience in administering a government—that was simply...

  10. Chapter 7 Reckoning with American Civil Religion
    (pp. 243-254)

    If reckoning with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has begun, then Election Day 2008 offered a start. Unlike the previous two presidential elections, the 2008 election was not historic because it was close; it was historic because for the first time in American history a black man won. At his victory celebration, President-elect Barack Obama told a massive crowd gathered in Chicago’s Lincoln Park, “If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible; who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time; who still...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 255-278)
  12. Index
    (pp. 279-286)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 287-288)