Jewish World Review Feb. 11, 2003 / 9 Adar I, 5763

Ralph R. Reiland

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The Theology of War | On both sides, things are getting pretty theological.

David Frum, a White House speechwriter during George W. Bush's first year in office, explains in his new book, "The Right Man: The Surprise Presidency of George W. Bush ", that his job when working on last year's State of the Union speech was "to provide a justification for a war," specifically to write the fighting words that would give good reason for an American attack on Iraq.

Frum writes that the phrase he came up with was "axis of hatred," a reference to the link between Irag and terrorism. Higher-ups, explains Frum, added Iran and North Korea and changed "hatred" to "evil," to make it sound more "theological."

Frum went into more detail in a recent interview with National Public Radio about the word change: "One of the things that Gerson (chief speechwriter Michael Gerson) and the president had agreed from the beginning was they wanted to use the language of absolute good and evil, a more theological kind of language, as a way of explaining this struggle. And so 'axis of hatred' became 'axis of evil.'"


More than doing one-word editing, I think Bush was saying that we're now faced with more than a hatred of America, with more than the everyday loathing of America that can be found in any café in Paris or all through the ramblings of our own homegrown intelligentsia. Said Norman Mailer, for example, regarding September 11: "The World Trade Center was not just an architectural monstrosity, but also terrible for people who didn't work there, for it said to all those people: 'If you can't work up there, boy, you're out of it.' That's why I'm sure that if those towers had been destroyed without loss of life, a lot of people would have cheered. Everything wrong with America led to the point where the country built that tower of Babel, which consequently had to be destroyed."

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The "monstrosity," for Mailer, is the West, the bourgeois world, the triumph of a culture that can turn a swamp into Manhattan. And so, to level things, what's "up there" should come down, lest the less privileged feel "out of it." To get even, in other words, for inequality, for the wretched of the Islamic world, Mohammed Atta should smash a jetliner into an icon of capitalism; to pump up the backwaters, the jihad should knock down America's most towering achievements, should make those "up there" jump to the bottom from the very highest floors.

"Americans can't admit that you need courage to do such a thing," said Mailer about September 11. "The key thing is that we in America are convinced that it was blind, mad fanatics who didn't know what they were doing. But what if those perpetrators were

right and we were not?" Painting murder as courageous, Mailer made the same anti-bourgeois point in 1957 in an essay called "The White Negro," except then it was a candy store instead of the World Trade Center: "It can of course be suggested that it takes little courage for two strong 18-year-old hoodlums, let us say, to beat in the brains of a candy-store keeper. Still, courage of a sort is necessary, for one murders not only a weak 50-year-old man but an institution as well, one violates private property, one enters into a new relation with the police and introduces a dangerous element into one's life. The hoodlum is therefore daring the unknown, and so no matter how brutal the act, it is not altogether cowardly."


Mailer's mindset, we could say, is illustrative of an "axis of hatred" here at home, the self-hate, the loathing of Western civilization, the ethos that says we deserved what we got on September 11, the anti-commercial ethos that sees a shopkeeper as oppression, as private property, and his killers as champions of the subjugated.

For that, we don't need missiles. We can answer the arguments. We can make the case for this country, which Lincoln called "the last, best hope on earth."

The real threat comes from what promises to be a war unlike any other we've faced, a battle against an "axis of evil" that's fueled by an uncompromising theology that calls for the total destruction of the West.

The marching orders have been laid out, as clearly as Hitler spelled out his vision in Mein Kamp. The Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, in 1984, provided the religious explanation of why we're better off dead: "If one allows the infidels to continue playing their role of corrupters on Earth, their eventual moral punishment will be all the stronger. Thus, if we kill the infidels in order to put a stop to their corrupting activities, we have indeed done them a service. For their eventual punishment will be less."

And from Osama bin Laden, 14 years later: "In compliance with God's orders, we issue the following fatwa to all Muslims: the ruling to kill the Americans and their allies --- civilians and military --- is an individual duty for every Muslim who can do it in any country in which it is possible to do it."

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JWR contributor Ralph R. Reiland is the B. Kenneth Simon professor of free enterprise at Robert Morris University and a Pittsburgh restaurateur. Comment by clicking here.


© 2003, Ralph R. Reiland