The Guns of August

My least favorite picture from the First World War era shows the start of the Russian Revolution in Petrograd. My eyes are never drawn to the protestors in the street, but to the office workers looking up from tasks to see what was happening outside. They seem unconcerned or at the least not nearly as horrified as they would have been if they had seen just a few years into the future. They did not know it, but doom had come: 25 million Russians would be murdered as a result of the coming Communist blood bath.

Warning of impending doom is the realm of cranks: they are hardly ever correct and wiser heads avert the calamity they foresee. And yet there is a time when a jeremiad is needed, even if no prophet like Jeremiah is available. Cautioning of danger and pointing to a solution is not the same as predicting certain dangers may come. Unlike me as I view the future, Jeremiah had God’s direct word that Babylon was going to destroy Jerusalem and God is never wrong. Lacking that certainty, however, I still see new dangers.

I am fifty-one years old and have seen Cold Wars and hot fights. I have lived through stagflation and Jimmy Carter and my rule has always been “the USA will muddle through.”

Most countries muddle through their messes and (in all probability) the US will muddle through this mess we are in now, but our best hope of doing so is seeing we are in a mess right now. Sometimes nations do not pull out of the crash pattern and I see signs that what is happening on our streets is fraying our natural ability to survive. Will doom come? Probably not, but we are in one of the worst situations I can recall globally.
Why?
America is widely hated for her vices and not just her virtues.

The Nazis hated our freedom and the Communists despised our economic liberty. Such brownshirt and redshirt thugs still exist, but they are joined by more godly foes. If the Pope was never merely on the side of the United States against the Soviet Union, he is certainly not on the side of our hedonism and materialism and is on the side of families drowning in our cultural pollution.

I do not care Putin thinks of us. I do care when African Christian, Chinese Catholics, and moral Indians see the United States as a fount of moral decay. Traditional values in many of those nations  battle United States government money and popular culture to survive. If we add  the bad things that all superpowers tend to do: exploitation of resources, jingoism, support of colonialism,  to plain old American cussedness, many of our old allies drift away. When Putin, the old hypocrite and KGB thug, can posture as more moral than Obama to many global citizens, then we have a problem.

America has a tenacious enemy in global, radical Islam. 

After 9/11, the United States went to war with terrorism, but terrorism in much of the world gets its moral justification from radical Islam. Unlike our ideological struggle with godless Communism, Americans have failed to make a case that radical Islam is evil, partly because Americans are so divided on what is the proper basis for morality themselves. How can we articulate what we know longer are sure how to say?

We stutter when we should argue and this allows the world to hear of our vices (real and alleged) from our foes. There is, of course, no moral equivalence between any evils the United States tolerates or sponsors and the horrors of IS/ISIS. If the world must choose between a “decadent” America and radical Islam, the globe would be best served to choose the USA. But this is a weak argument and is made weaker when so much of the image we beam out to the world, while consumed by many, also disgusts millions.

One (and this is only one) reason we failed to “knock out” terrorism, was because Americans do not recognize that much of the world’s population does not want to become like we are in many ways. Support for democratic or republican forms of government is good, but we must allow other cultures moral freedom when they do vote.

When the United Nations will not accept America’s attempt to redefine the family, America must decide if this is a cause for which she is willing to die, because people around the globe will die rather than accept it.

The moral unity of American society is fraying.

Large numbers of Americans feel their fellow citizens are not just wrong, but wicked.

Support traditional marriage and in some quarters you are disqualified for a job or polite society. Oppose traditional restrictions on marriage and other Americans will reject your moral innovation as moral decay. Increasingly, Americans are divided on the basis for morality. 

The old Judeo-Christian consensus is dying, but the huge numbers of us who cling to it will never change and we number at least one in four of the next generation.  When a culture disenfranchises a huge percentage of the population as “beyond the pale,” it is wobbly.

Progress on the original American sin, racism, has stagnated. 

African-Americans feel cut off from the full benefits of American culture and real progress is lagging.

Why?

Conservatives and liberals disagree on the reasons, but all agree that tensions in some communities have increased. A nation cannot continue to leave thirteen percent of the population disaffected from the rest of the culture.

Our most reliable allies are fading powers while the emerging powers are not inclined to trust us. Powers such as India may learn to ignore us.

Our ruling elites have most in common with Western Europe and westernized groups globally, but these groups are declining as a percentage of the world’s population. The categories and concerns of the post-colonial era are fading in importance in many powerful nations as the generation that knew colonialism passes away or is seen as less relevant. Voters in the world’s largest democracy no longer vote for parties that fit neatly in Western categories of “right”or “left.”

Even in pop culture, media centers in Nigeria and India, gaining new sophistication threaten Western consumer culture dominance.

Our greatest asset, our overwhelming military power, is limited and fragile.

There is no doubt that the United States of America is the greatest military power in human history, but that power is limited. We could destroy all life on the planet, but that power is not very useful in preserving human liberty! We can project power to every corner of the globe, but lack staying power. We can conquer Iraq, but not subdue her, go anyplace we wish in Afghanistan, but lose every village we leave.

We are failing to capture the souls of the men and women we defeat and our victory is temporary. We are too moral (thank God) to impose a Roman peace, but lack the endurance to sustain the Pax Americana. How long can we afford to maintain our overwhelming superiority? What will happen to free trade if we cease to dominate the world’s oceans? What will happen to air travel if the fragile rules of the air are routinely disrupted through cheap military hardware?

At this summer’s spring commencement HBU’s President, Robert Sloan, reminded the graduates that all over the world the guns of August 2014 fire. Men are shooting children, committing religious cleansing of villages, and destroying centuries old sacred sites. Our own commonwealth is retreating from many of the behaviors that lead to prosperity and morally, economically, and socially out of one America comes many. I look at the window of my television at the world, but do not want to miss the importance of this moment. Perhaps, if we act, if we pray, doom may be averted as it has so many times in the past.

My prayer tonight is that America, and the rest of the world, muddles through this tough time to a better place. May peace come to Israel and to Gaza. May justice reign in Iraq. May liberty and equality rain down on America’s trouble cities. May a revival bring millions to a living faith in God known in the person of Jesus. May my children not see a 2018 as bleak as 1918 turned out to be, horrors in 2039 like those of 1939, or wasted years like those of the Great Depression. And yet still I have hope. The lives of my grandparents remind me that even then, even in such perils, horrors, and waste, yet will we rejoice in the Lord. God will save, if not in this life in the life of the world to come.


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