Semper Fidelis by David Montgomery

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My less conservative friends sometimes tell me “how Europeans think about the United States,” usually mentioning that we are obsessed with sex and more recently claiming that we are war-mongers intent on global dominance. The claim about sex (from the French, of all things!) most often refers to the adherence of many American Evangelicals and Catholics to traditional Christian teaching about abortion, divorce, homosexuality, and the nature of marriage. That is true, and the comment is only interesting because of what it reveals about the state of Christianity in Europe.

The European view of America as a militarist society intent on global domination is false and offensive, and therefore deserves a response from all of us who know how wrong it is.

A recent article in the usually level-headed Economist magazine is typical, though it is more personal and offensive than most in its derogation of the character of the men and women who serve in our armed forces. Its author uses the pseudonym “Lexington” (appropriate as the place where British fired on American militia) and claims to have been a war correspondent. To deepen the insult, the title he gave the article in the print edition was “Semper fidelis.”

The article itself is a lengthy recital of the author’s prejudices about American military personnel and the present Administration. “Lexington” accepts uncritically every accusation leveled at American forces or President Trump and invents whatever “facts” his ideology tells him should be true.

“Lexington” makes two idiotic claims: the American public suffers from a romantic illusion about the character of American soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines, and we irrationally support the intention of our government to dominate the world through military force.

A few excerpts will convey the tone, without subjecting my readers to the sick entirety of the article.

“No soldier expects the beloved chumps back home to understand what he gets up to. He just needs to feel appreciated.”

This based on Lexington’s dismissal of the cards and letters posted on bases in Iraq thanking our soldiers for “being over there to keep us safe.” He calls their senders “chumps” on the grounds that ISIS and Al Qaeda are fighting a defensive war, not threat to us a home. The vulnerability of all of the Levant to jihad, and its meaning for the West, seems never to have occurred to him.

“In 1990, 40% of young Americans had a military veteran for a parent; in 2014 only 16% did. But this dissonance has not, as the general implied, caused Americans to underappreciate the forces. To the contrary, it has encouraged, as [General Kelly’s] remarks also indicated, a highly romanticised view of military service, which is inaccurate and counter-productive at best.”

The romanticized view being that soldiers risk their lives and perform heroic actions for our benefit. Not denying that this is what soldiers in fact do, “Lexington” attacks their motives:

“Members of the armed forces are often patriotic. But many see their service primarily as a way to make a living…”

After all this denigration of the American soldier, Lexington does an about-face to express outrage at President Trump’s (quoted without context) words to the widow of a Special Forces sergeant killed in Niger. What I hear in the now famous phrase that “he knew what he signed up for” is President Trump paying the ultimate compliment to Sergeant Johnson’s courage and sacrifice – he knew that he might die and he went anyway. But Lexington’s bias makes him hear it in the worst possible way.

“Lexington” then claims that what he views as “uncritical soldier worship” and “America’s unthinking reverence for its fighters” lets our generals and politicians plan for global domination:

“Most obviously, it gives the Department of Defence an outsize advantage in the battle for resources with civilian agencies. Today’s cuts to the State Department, whose officers are not noticeably less patriotic or public-spirited than America’s soldiers, are a dismal case in point.” Nonsequitur of the first order, but a nice revelation of bias.

“The fact is, America’s foreign-policy doctrines envisage a degree of global dominance, based on military might….”

Thus a European intellectual looks down on the American public as romantic fools demeans our military as no better than mercenaries, and then plays to the prejudice of his European readers by confirming their suspicion that we aspire to create a new Roman Empire with our mercenary legions.

The Catholic Church is not immune to this disease. A disturbing article recently appeared in the Jesuit magazine La Civita Cattolica, written by its editor and another close associate of Pope Francis. The Jesuits make the same broad accusations about how we start wars and plan to dominate the world, but blame it on an alliance of Protestant fundamentalists and wayward Catholics.

The authors claim that “Religion has had a more incisive role in electoral processes and government decisions over recent decades, especially in some US governments. It offers a moral role for identifying what is good and what is bad” and has led our government into a moral crusade against Islam.

They blame this development on “evangelical fundamentalism” to which American Catholics have become allied. Though I am a Roman Catholic now, I was brought up in that tradition, and I can state with confidence that their account of its history and leaders is completely fictional. Nor can I figure out how to reconcile the claimed political dominance of evangelicals and orthodox Catholics like me with our inability to stop abortions, redefinition of marriage, etc.

Nevertheless, the authors go on to describe the terrible effects of our domination of American politics. They accuse us of “stigmatization of enemies who are often ‘demonized’” – in particular, “the migrants and the Muslims.” Further, “Within this narrative, whatever pushes toward conflict is not off limits. It does not take into account the bond between capital and profits and arms sales. Quite the opposite, often war itself is assimilated to the heroic conquests of the “Lord of Hosts” of Gideon and David. In this Manichaean vision, belligerence can acquire a theological justification…”

Here we see two common prejudices of the European intellectual community. First the Marxist view that our military ventures are really being arranged by capitalists to profit on arms sales, and have nothing to do with actual defense of the West against Islamic terrorists and jihadists. The fundamentalists and their Catholic allies help convince the masses to support this military expansion by giving it a religious justification.

The authors in the Jesuit magazine conclude their diatribe with “We must not forget that the geopolitics spread by Isis [sic] is based on the same cult of an apocalypse…. So, it is not just accidental that George W. Bush was seen as a ‘great crusader’ by Osama bin Laden.”

Thus we end with the conclusion that there is no real difference between Islamic terrorists and U.S. foreign policy. Sadly, the liberal Catholic magazine Commonweal endorses the Jesuit’s article, characterizing it as “giving voice to how non-American Christians and Catholics around the world are perceiving the U.S. situation.” Another European point of view is revealed.

Were it not for the position of the authors in the informal hierarchy of the Vatican, the silliness, inconsistency and historical inaccuracy of the article would make it just another example of bad editorial judgment in the world of Jesuit publishing. As things stand, the article serves as another example of the depth and pervasiveness of prejudice against America among the European intellectual elite.

Where for Lexington it was our “uncritical soldier worship” that supports imperial ambitions, for the Jesuit authors it is the power of fundamentalist religious leaders. That smart Europeans could be so deluded about the United States is a staggering thought.

I write on this topic today to urge my readers not to be deceived by these European prejudices or to see European disdain for American values and accomplishments as a sophisticated worldview worthy of emulation. Europe as a whole is in decline, and the moral basis of its decline is clearly apparent in these attitudes toward all things American.

We are an exceptional country, with not only the most effective and disciplined but the most generous fighting forces in the world. Even when misguided, as it may have been to intervene in Vietnam and Iraq, there is no notion of world domination behind our use of military force. Perhaps an unrealistic belief in the power of democracy to improve the lives of citizens of every nation, but not a wish to rule them.

Our military personnel face fear, hardship, and death in order to protect the innocents in the countries where they serve from Islamic terrorists and tribal warlords. They provide humanitarian aid while watching their backs, and must distinguish instantly between whom to protect and whom to kill. And they are our first line of defense against militant and expansionist Islamic movements and countries. European second-guessers who question their motivations and self-sacrifice deserve only our contempt.

We need to celebrate the sacrifices and accomplishments of our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines — and remember them when we stand up for the National Anthem on November 11.

David Montgomery was formerly Senior Vice President of NERA Economic Consulting. He also served as assistant director of the US Congressional Budget Office and deputy assistant secretary for policy in the US Department of Energy. He taught economics at the California Institute of Technology and Stanford University and was a senior fellow at Resources for the Future.

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Letters to Editor

  1. Peter Sweetser says:

    For Lexington and every one who thinks like him I can only … forgive them and pity their ignorance. As to the “romantic illusion”, it is clear that they have never actually met any of our service men and women. They are among the finest in the land and you only have to spend just a little time with any Marine, soldier, sailor, airman or Coast Guardsman to realize that. One of the wonderful things about our country is that there are and have been men and women who have been willing to serve, be injured, and die in the cause of freedom, even when that freedom is enjoyed by the undeserving.

    It is amazing to think that Europeans, if that is in fact who Lexington is speaking for, would accuse America of having intentions of military domination – reflecting, if nothing else, their lack of knowledge of history. Have they forgotten their own imperial efforts, their alliance with dictators aiming to dominate by force, and those engaging in systematic persecution and annihilation of the innocent?

    And the US??? Next year will be the 100th anniversary of the battle of Belleau Wood, where US soldiers and Marines held off the German Spring Offensive and prevented the Germans from taking Paris – till then an inevitability. Last month my wife and I visited Normandy’s Omaha Beach and the American Cemetery where over 3,000 graves (only 40% of the total casualties) are buried. For decades thousands of US servicemen and women have been positioned in Europe, South Korea, Asia and now in the Middle East – not to dominate, not to colonize, not to create an “empire” but to protect.

    Lexington and all those he represents or speaks should hope and pray, if they know how to do that, that there won’t be another time when they will need help and protection from an aggressor. But if they do, they will be very glad that America’s finest young men and women – trained, equipped and willing – will be there, again.

    As for the Jesuit editor and his supporters, I can only observe, as a Jesuit trained Catholic, that there are some knuckleheads in every crowd.

  2. James Moseman says:

    Thank you to David Montgomery for a fair and accurate description of European attitudes regarding the USA. I lived in Europe and negotiated with European governments and businesses for 19 years prior to moving to Kent County. Europeans are fed a diet of exclusively leftist media, and thus accept as gospel that American Christians are all crazies, displaying one’s nation’s flag is a sign of fascist extremism, and that European defense is to be paid for by the U.S. taxpayer. Meanwhile, Europe has lost control of its borders, and seeks to share this fate with the United States.

  3. Deirdre LaMotte says:

    So funny, horrors! Regarding Jesuit’s…they are arguably the “intellectual” Catholics. Well read, progressive and loving. Of course the author finds them disturbing.

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