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02 September 2013


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Dan Gackle

I was about to ask: was this messianic tradition a factor in the WBS? and in particular, did the north apply it to the south? Then I looked up the origin of the "Battle Hymn of the Republic" and saw that its very existence is an obvious answer ('yes') to both questions.

Do the northern and southern states of today differ with respect to this messianism?

FB Ali

Col Lang,

I don't believe most Americans are dupes. I do think that, like people everywhere, they can, and often are, manipulated by politicians and supporting media by playing on their fears or/and their altruistic instincts.

Some of the biggest demonstrations against the looming Iraq war took place in the US. These Americans certainly weren't dupes.

I accept your contention that the neocons are also "true believers". It's just that, for the unfortunate targets of these enterprises (and for other outside observers), it doesn't matter very much if their goal is a "virtuous" one or just old-fashioned expansion of power and hegemony.


Dan Gackle

you have to answer that for yourself. try reading Ann Norton's "Alternative Americas" for background. pl


Some businesses may have profited from warmongering, but others have lost dearly. The increased global insecurity (in all senses) from the warmongering have made doing business enormously expensive for everyone. Far more people would happily roll back the clock to the days when we were really at peace. Why would the businesses who profited have more influence on policy making than the many more who lost?

Dan Gackle

Thank you for the tip. I have added it to my next Amazon order.


"I was about to ask: was this messianic tradition a factor in the WBS? and in particular, did the north apply it to the south? "

In Virginia, no. I suspect the early settlement patterns combined with the influence from the Church of England had quite a lot to do with that.

The early colonists were driven by economic concerns, not religious freedom. That was compounded by the legal situation in the colony, from 1624 to 1750 settlers were required to attend Anglican services and dissenters were forbidden from holding public office. The moderate norms of the Church of England ruled the colony. Dissenter radicalism was largely frozen out and would be till 1786 when Virginia passed Jefferson's act for religious freedom.

William R. Cumming

BHO has now pulled a Pontius Pilate on Syria. Probably still hopes that violence will be a choice of Congress and maybe the UN. But the bankruptcy of USA FP is now clearly revealed. The leadership is not smart enough to use other than drone strikes and cruise missiles to implement its FP.

Oh Sorry! Forgot that US does not have a FP but instead a country by country pas de deux that is more line dancing than ballet.

Has one serious analysis of what comes after the drone strikes or cruise missile strikes in Syria been written?


Jimmie Rodgers - T For Texas


Col. Lang:
Would you attach any significance to Rafsanjani apparently also claiming Assad's responsible for the gas attacks?

Alba Etie

" War is Peace & Peace is War " George Orwell 1984



IMO you are partly right. In spite of their shared protestantism the Puritans of New england thought of the Chesapeake Anglicans as heathen. The lack of focus on creating a "kingdom" of the godly in Virginia and Maryland as opposed to mere personal sanctity was unacceptable to New England for the first hundred years and the attitide persisted. the feeling was to some extent mutual and puritan ministers were not welcome in Virginia. Presbyterians, essentially another "brand" of Calvinist English belief became acceptab;le in virginia but only after it evolved somewhat. See "Albions Seed." pl

David Habakkuk

Colonel Lang,

An Anglican view of the same kind of Puritans as colonised New England comes in ‘Hudibras’, the classic satire on the (British) Civil War by the royalist poet Samuel Butler. His description of the religious beliefs of the central character, a colonel in the Parliamentary army, begins as follows:

‘For his Religion, it was fit
To match his learning and his wit;
'Twas Presbyterian true blue;
For he was of that stubborn crew
Of errant saints, whom all men grant
To be the true Church Militant;
Such as do build their faith upon
The holy text of pike and gun;
Decide all controversies by
Infallible artillery;
And prove their doctrine orthodox
By apostolic blows and knocks;
Call fire and sword and desolation,
A godly thorough reformation,
Which always must be carried on,
And still be doing, never done;’

One couplet describes, quite perfectly, a continuing strand in the perceptions of much of the outside world by a non-trivial body of Americans, from the seventeenth century to the present:

‘All piety consists therein
In them, in other men all sin’.


FB Ali
"... , it doesn't matter very much if their goal is a "virtuous" one or just old-fashioned expansion of power and hegemony."

I see your point, but it does matter as far as US politics are concerned.

I think that Mr. Langs concern, and he will correct me if I'm wrong, is for the American body politic.

The US will not get a sober debate let alone a functional foreign policy as long as they don't understand their own motives.

Materialists will always ascribe actions to base motives, like a profit interests. America's current economic orthodoxy is built on the questionable assumtion that profit maximisation is pretty much all that matters in human agency. The leftist view is no less materialist, albeit from the different angle. These materialist views are just as much ab obstacle to a rational discourse on US politics as that blind 'Americanist self-righteousness'.

I presume that the qustion he is posing here to the American people is whether they are aware to which their foreign policy is messianic in nature, and has been in the past.

As of now, there has not been a public debate on whether the US public is in suppot of a messianic policy aimed on, say, transforming the Middle East or alering the balance of power in favour of, say, israel.

As a result, there is, beyond the elites, no nationwide consensus on whether it is feasible, whether that should be done, and whether it serves the national interest.

None of these wars are defensive. They are wars of choice because the objective, usually 'regime change' appears doable.

And yet, these splendid little wars continue unabated at great cost in blood and treasure (foreign and domestic), with an executive branch that under bowth parties for a decade now holds the view that to pursue such policies they need not ask anyone.


FB Ali

Until we give up the notion that we are the saviors of you "poor benighted 'eathens" we will never desist from trying to save you whether you like it or not. These wars have nothing to do with economic advantage. If we would desist from crusading we would put you all in your "proper" position as supply chains and markets. The wars are killing us and they have nothing to do with our prosperity except to ruin it. pl


Sir, I've been thinking about your comment and I've come to a tentative conclusion. I think the Spanish War of 1898 was a crass betrayal of what the American attitude (symbolized by the Battle Hymn of the Republic) was prior to that point. I think the majority of our wars since, have followed the Spanish War's model rather than what occurred before. World War II is the exception since we were attacked. Call the pre-1898 version an American "exceptionalism" that was true to itself, whereas the Spanish War version is a manipulative and jingoistic response to expansive power and self-interest which existed outside the traditional American experience.

Now the US did "inherit" certain responsibilities after WWII, essentially the Cold War which fit within the Spanish War model, but also had to do with much larger commitments and which were historically outside of pre-1898 US experience. So Korea and Vietnam fit within a very different political context than either the Spanish war, WWI, or the Iraq war, not to mention the current threat of war against Syria. To use the current vernacular, the Spanish war, WWI, Iraq, and now Syria were/would be all "wars of choice".

To get a flavor of what the US attitude was prior to 1898, I would recommend to your readers sir, William Graham Sumner's essay from 1899 . . .


I would add that the current potential war is - while fitting more or less within the Spanish war model - something of case in itself, reflecting as it does our current dysfunctional political relations . . . all from a strategic theory perspective . . .


I was reading a bit too quickly there, did the Union view the conflict through a messianic Puritan lens? I would say yes. Did the Confederacy share a similar conception? I don't think so, at least not here in the commonwealth.

"The lack of focus on creating a "kingdom" of the godly in Virginia and Maryland as opposed to mere personal sanctity was unacceptable to New England for the first hundred years and the attitide persisted. "

I've always preferred personal sanctity to that Puritan public morality. Who am I to judge another? What gives me the right to intrude into another mans affairs?

"Our particular principles of religion are a subject of accountability to our God alone. I inquire after no man's, and trouble none with mine; nor is it given to us in this life ti know whether your or mine, our friends or our foes, are exactly the right." - Thomas Jefferson in a letter to Miles King


I'm kind of amazed at how many here decrying the directed at the foreign eagerly embrace it here when its dressed up with cute words like multicult and tolerance.

Medicine Man

A fine observation but I think ConfusedPonderer's comments on the unilateral nature of exceptionalism held dear by the current US leadership explains the hypocrisy.



The Mexican war explodes your thesis. It was entirely a war of choice. It was caused by men who sought a "manipulative and jingoistic response to expansive power and self-interest." We took over half of Mexico and since I am a practical man, I think we should have taken the rest as well. you have also conveniently neglected the long series of actions and campaigns against the indians. These were about acquisition, not civilizing the Indians. The awful campaigns against the Cherokee and other "Civilized Nations "illustrate that point. These were largely Southern in inspiration and had nothing to do with the "city on a hill." None of this changes the ongoing psychological phenomenon of American obsession in the Northern parts with construction of God's Kingdom on earth. This continues and can be seen in the continuing misuse of the phrase "to form a more perfect union..." from the preamble to the US Constitution. This phrase meant that the document was written to form a better functioning state. It did not mean to create a utopian state as the wide eyed claim it did. pl


Sir, I don't think it's quite exploded, yet . . . let me try to explain . . .

First let's consider that what we're talking about: Essentially the moral and rhetorical sides of the strategic narrative. This narrative or "Strategy" being a complexus of rational, rhetorical (emotional) and moral arguments about a desired future condition, this seeing it strictly in terms of what Clausewitz would see as the "moral" as opposed to the "physical".

In modern war, people have to be "mobilized" (broadly defined) to support a war that the state leadership wishes wage. The rhetorical and moral elements have to fit the political identity of the people in question: "who we are", "what we believe" . . . the actual "rational" reasons for going to war, the goals of policy, can remain (or not) unstated, or vaguely defined . . .

My argument is that 1898 was a watershed, the first of a new form of American war in terms of all three elements. I think it was also seen that way by many at the time. I do understand that I am way out of my element here, discussing US history with you, sir . . . and I greatly appreciate this opportunity.

Mexico in the 1830s had roughly the same land mass but only half the population of the US. The US govt saw an opportunity to expand and consolidate control over the entire continent and since political power abhors vacuum . . . this also consolidated US claims over the Northwest. I think annexing all of Mexico would have been difficult given the cultural differences, not to mention the possibility of opening up all of southern Mexico to slavery (difficult to sell up North). Baja California on the other hand . . . Still there was opposition, Henry David Thoreau being perhaps the most famous, but he and whoever else were not enough to constitute a sea change.

So my point is, that in terms of strategic narrative, consolidating the contiguous US is one thing, embarking on wars to conquer foreign territory in the Pacific (Hawaii & the Philippines) and/or to influence events and contest power in areas occupied by established governments (WWI & Iraq) are something else.

One sees for the first time (?) the desire here to act pretty much the same as other world powers, whereas before our intention as Americans had been the opposite.

As to the Indians, we seem to have shared the same prejudices and attitudes that were common among Europeans (including Russians) towards indigenous peoples. It was "our land", they were on it, so . . .



If you are out of your depth, then cease. pl

Alba Etie

A good question "Why would the businesses who profited may have more influence on policy making then the many more that who lost ? " I do not know the answer to that - but I do know that Vice President Cheney put all of his Halliburton /KBR stock in a blind trust before we went to occupy Iraq. Perhaps profit matters not because Cheney was a true believer in the Clean Break agenda espoused by all the other neo cons. But I also know KBR made lots of money in Iraq.



Actually I think I'm in just about the right place.

Heading with the wife to Santiago de Compostela (by car) for a couple of days.

Have a nice week Colonel.



"the desire here to act pretty much the same as other world powers, whereas before our intention as Americans had been the opposite." IMO that is a very naive idea.

Don't take the train. pl

no one

Col Lang, I am very interested in your opinion of the strength and nature of American messianism compared to the Islamic vision(s) of a caliphate. Are they in any important way coming from the same place in the human psyche? Same effects? Destined to collide? Totally different things? Thank you.

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