Making the Irrational Rational by turning the Empirical into the Lie & the Fantasy into the Truth
By Paul Fitzgerald & Elizabeth Gould
More than one policy pundit has scratched their head at the strange, increasingly irrational nature of what guides American and European foreign policy. In November of 2010, commentator William Pfaff resorted to the term “medieval mysticism” to describe the “the cloud of unknowing” surrounding the run up to the all important NATO summit in Lisbon. He marveled that only by invoking the mystical past could one contemplate what was in store as the West pondered a dark future.
As odd as it may seem to modern audiences, medieval mysticism and its attendant priesthoods are not as far beneath the surface of present day policy as one might think. In fact following the crisis brought about by the failure of advanced technology to defeat Communism in Vietnam, America’s premier defense intellectuals were quick to fall back on the Middle Ages for answers to what seemed eternal and imponderable questions.
One vivid example came from future Reagan administration officials Colin S. Gray and Keith Payne in the summer 1980 edition of Foreign Policy magazine who declared in an article titled “Victory is Possible” that: “Nuclear War is possible. But unlike Armageddon, the apocalyptic war prophesied to end history, nuclear war can have a wide range of options… If American nuclear power is to support U.S. foreign policy objectives, the United States must possess the ability to wage nuclear war rationally.”
Having come of age at a time when the U.S. enjoyed an overwhelming nuclear advantage and unquestioned technological superiority, America’s plunge into military defeat in Vietnam and a rough nuclear parity with the USSR was cause for a deep philosophical reassessment. The “new right” embodied in groups like Team B, the Committee on the Present Danger and the American Security Council needed to undo the debilitating effects caused by their own failures and discrediting the strategic doctrine implemented by Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara known as Mutual Assured Destruction or (MAD) topped a long list.
These former government insiders and harsh critics of détente believed that the constraints on nuclear war fighting posed by the 1972 Anti-Ballistic-Missile Treaty (ABM) and the Strategic Arms Limitations Talks I and II (SALT), were predicated on a false assumption that nuclear weapons were too horrible to ever be used again. Neoconservative defense intellectuals viewed this restraint as a form of suicide and vowed to break free of it utilizing some pre-enlightenment thinking that challenged the very nature of modern reality.
The ideological cold war against Communism had never relied on facts. No one on the left or right could predict with any certainty where or when a nuclear war would stop if one ever broke out. Regardless of the kind or size of nuclear weapons used, with the enemy leadership decapitated and communications destroyed, there’d be no one left who could stop it. That’s what made nuclear war irrational. Anti-Communism was a matter of faith in which the political right and the political left shared the same goals but differed only in tactics. But the political right’s accommodation of the political left was never more than an elaborate game of deception played in a house of mirrors. In fact, according to the CIA’s own documents, “the theoretical foundation of the Agency’s political operations against Communism” for the first twenty years of the Cold War relied completely on the manipulation and control of the so called progressive, liberal, non-Communist left.
Blamed by the neoconservative right for the failure in Vietnam and the relative decline in America’s nuclear posture, this faux left’s legitimacy as a valid political factor in American politics began to crumble. With the left’s policy of nuclear restraint now dismissed as irrational what possible justification could be found to wage a nuclear war in which tens of millions of innocent Russians and Americans as well as millions of others would be killed?
By the late 1970s, those obscure strategic analysts who had formulated America’s nuclear policies had attained the status of religious figures. With their wisdom “worshipped as gospel truth,” and their insight raised to “an almost mystical level and accepted as dogma” the high priests of the new right stood ready to displace not only the left but traditional conservatives as well. By the summer of 1980 (6 months after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan) two of those high priests were willing to take the dogma one step further by reinterpreting the Just War Doctrine of the Catholic Church to justify what reality, reason and common sense had forbad the U.S. from doing since the final days of World War II.
“Ironically, it is commonplace to assert that war-survival theories affront the crucial test of political and moral acceptability” wrote Colin S. Gray and Keith Payne that summer. “Surely no one can be comfortable with the claim that a strategy that would kill tens of millions of U.S. citizens would be politically and morally acceptable. However it is worth recalling the six guidelines for the use of force provided by the “just war” doctrine of the Catholic Church…”
Carefully sidestepping the principle that war can only be “just” when used as a last resort and that targeting innocents is strictly forbidden, Gray and Payne would go on to claim that based on the most ancient rules of the game, not only did U.S. policy of nuclear deterrence toward the Soviet Union (MAD) fail to qualify for “just war,” but that in failing to plan to actually fight a nuclear war, “U.S. nuclear strategy is immoral.”
In other words, since neoconservative hawks could not use a rational scientific process to achieve victory through nuclear weapons or to find hard evidence to support their claims that the Soviets assumed they could achieve victory through theirs, they devised a new process that simply viewed the empirical evidence as a lie and whatever they could imagine as truth, based on precepts evolved by medieval monks.
The idea of justly killing one’s fellow humans had presented a moral dilemma since the origins of Christianity. St Augustine of Hippo (354–430 CE) originated the Just War theory which was later refined and expanded by St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274). But murdering in the name of Christ was tricky business and subject to self-serving and often conflicting interpretations. Far from the romantic notions of chivalry presented by today’s popular mythology, medieval knights were viewed by the Catholic Church at the time as lawless thugs engaged in an illicit business whose behavior was clearly “unjust.” The idea that a monk would engage in the plunder and murder of innocents, much less warfare that would bring about widespread death and destruction was anathema to church teaching.
The powerful Cistercian abbot, Bernard of Clairvaux weighed in with a different opinion in his famous twelfth-century treatise De Laude Novae Militiae (In Praise of the new Knighthood) by redefining the very nature of murder itself in support of his friend Hugues de Payens, Grand Master of the warrior monks known as the Knights Templar.
“The soldier of Christ kills safely and dies the more safely… He is the instrument of God for the punishment of malefactors and for the defense of the just. Indeed, when he kills a malefactor this is not homicide but malicide, and he is accounted Christ’s legal executioner against evildoers.”
Like Colin S. Gray and Keith Payne’s “Victory is Possible,” Clairvaux’s treatise was propaganda intended to bend the rules for the uses of acceptable violence. It opened the floodgates of recruits for the Crusades, established the legal authority of powerful, wealthy Catholic military orders and put the power of the feudal machine under Church control, at least temporarily.
Following the publication of Gray and Payne’s 1980 treatise we became drawn to the history of just war. After three years working as the host of a public affairs program for an affiliate of Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network in Boston (remember the Fairness Doctrine?) we bore witness to an aggressive underground rightwing/Christian political movement merging into the American mainstream. Some basic assumptions about America’s secular democracy and defense policy were being challenged on the basis of faith, not facts. But the idea that some medieval religious precepts could or would be called upon to justify a nuclear war-fighting doctrine was staggering.
What we didn’t know at the time was that the Just War Doctrine of the Catholic Church had been invoked by the Papal Nuncio for the Fitzgerald family in Ireland during the 1570s. As a Fitzgerald I knew something of my family’s history. A terrible war, brought on the Fitzgeralds by the English had destroyed much of the family’s power and depopulated the Irish countryside.
Because of the Just War Doctrine, history had suddenly become personal and as it led us into the past we began to see behind the cover story into a hidden history of events ranging from the assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy to the events of 9/11.
Join us as we explore the journey that took us from the emerging Christian Reconstructionism of the 1970s back in time to the 12th century Norman invasion of Ireland and what it means to the upcoming Presidential elections of 2012 in our next installment titled The Twilight Lords.
Copyright © 2011 Gould & Fitzgerald All rights reserved
Published on Sibel Edmonds www.boilingfrogspost.com 12/1/11
Paul Fitzgerald and Elizabeth Gould are the authors of Invisible History: Afghanistan’s Untold Story , Crossing Zero The AfPak War at the Turning Point of American Empire and The Voice. Visit their website here.