Jefferson won a war by not starting it
He has toned down his bushwhacking rhetoric. Bombast is reduced, too. His braggadocio sounds less strident. No longer do we hear taunts against terrorists, riling them up with a John Wayne line, ” We’ll take ’em on. We can survive their best shot.” He won’t try, in an American pilot’s combat uniform, another landing on an aircraft carrier. The gaudy sign unfurled behind him championing “Mission Accomplished!” during his first aircraft carrier rendezvous didn’t deliver the goods.Not that President George W. Bush has wavered in his dedication to wiping out terrorism throughout the world. He’s forthright, if not testy regarding his target. Even his severest critics grudgingly tip hats to the Chief Executive for his clarity. He steers a direct course right into swarms of terrorists’ cells that mutate, poisoning our civilized democracy.The President has not changed if we judge him by how he sees the world. 9/11 still convinces him that terrorists must be eliminated. Bush has subtly changed, though, if we mean that his inner core, the inner gyroscope has shifted a tiny bit. He has piped down in taunting the enemy. That’s changed. What stays unchanged is the president’s aim to blow away terrorists.Evangelical Christians form the loyal core of Bush war supporters. They desire to militantly beat the Devil at his own game. Their Commander-in-Chief leads; they gamely follow, resolutely supporting this war in Iraq. They like Bush’s muscular Christianity.If makes little difference to these Christians that Bush started the war on false WMD pretenses, slyly linking Saddam Hussein to 9/11. Deceptions are justified when a believing community asserts that God believes in them because they are spreading godly freedom to repressive regimes. The religious party line Bush endorses is that anyone who questions this easy assumption that God wants this war are either unpatriotic or lacking in true Christian faith.History does repeat itself. When Thomas Jefferson presided over our nation, his sternest and nastiest enemies were evangelical Christians. They judged Jefferson an atheist. These Christian know-it-alls excoriated the president because He would not go to war. Evangelicals debated Jefferson, arguing that terrorism ruled France after the revolution there. France imported terrorists who set up cell groups in the United States, Christians alleged. Shrill Christians predicted that these covert terrorist commandos would start a revolution in our dear land.Of course, these evangelicals exploited Jefferson’s seeming cowardice. He didn’t unilaterally unleash a shock and awe bombardment against France. These Christians made a huge mistake, hooking their dreams to only one political party. God voted Federalist, didn’t He? Federalists supported strong schools, a strong presidency, and strong traditional homes, focusing on strong family values.Federalists rumored that behind closed doors in the Executive Mansion Jefferson wore (Can you believe it!) red breeches. Why, red ruled as the primary color sported by murderous thugs who ignited the French Revolution. They barged into Notre Dame Cathedral, replacing the Cross above the Lord’s Table with the bosomy goddess Reason. Evangelicals opposing Jefferson read like the Who’s Who of American elite power. Congregationalists like Timothy Dwight, the revivalist leader of the Second Great Awakening at the turn of the nineteenth century, presided over Yale as president. He chided Jefferson for caressing French sympathies.Those for the French, asserted Dwight in a thunderous 1798 Fourth of July speech endorsed atheism, Francophile insurgency and colluded with the enemy. Dwight damned the Democratic-Republican Party Jefferson headed. “For what end shall we be connected with men of whom this is the character and conduct? …Is it that our churches may become temples of reason … and our psalms of praise Marseilles hymns? Is it that we may change our holy worship into a dance of Jacobin [atheistic French revolutionaries] frenzy and that we may behold a strumpet impersonating a Goddess on the altars of Jehovah?”Evangelicals cried that we must go to war to protect our national security from French terrorists. Red-blooded American zealots hated British dominance on the high seas. They seethed when the French sabotaged American shipping by capturing our ships and impressing U.S. citizens and sailors into the service of France.Like George W. Bush, Jefferson did not believe in pacifism. He knew that sometimes war must come. But he was not going to incite it. Jefferson won the war against the French by not taking up arms. He counted war’s cost, using it only as a last resort. Didn’t Jesus warn, “What King, going to encounter another king in war, will not … take counsel whether he is able with 10,000 to meet the enemy with 20,000?” (Luke 14:31)If Jefferson had led us into war, the United States would have slid into defeat. Our democracy was in its infancy. We had not paid off Revolutionary War debts. As Commander-in-Chief, Jefferson had a meager standing army. Our only hope for victory would be to strike with a blitzkrieg, gambling on victory in a short war. We could not put enough “boots on the ground” against the French in a long war.Quakers joined evangelical Christians in attacking Jefferson. Unflustered, the president pointed out how closely aligned his policy not to go to war in order to win the victory was to the “principles professed by the Friends [Quakers].” Quakers used war as a very last option. “Our efforts to preserve peace, our measures as to the Indians, as to slavery, as to religious freedom,” Jefferson pointed out, “were all in consonance with their professions.” Might Jefferson’s spirit, militant only when every other course of action failed, be helpful to George W. Bush?The Rev. Jack R. Van Ens is a Presbyterian minister who heads the non-profit, tax-exempt Creative Growth Ministries enhancing Christian worship through storytelling and dramatic presentations. Van Ens’ book, “How Jefferson Made the Best of Bad Messes” is available for $7.95 at local bookstores. Vail, Colorado
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