Foreign Policy Research Institute A Nation Must Think Before it Acts Chapter 24: High Priestly Prayers

Chapter 24: High Priestly Prayers

The Tragedy of U.S. Foreign Policy:

How America’s Civil Religion Betrayed the National Interest


McDougall Book Jacket

The original draft of this book contained 172 pages of endnotes, which had to be shed in the name of economy. Thanks to the Internet, readers can access them here. Unfortunately, of course, the author had to substitute page and paragraph numbers for the original superscripts in the text, but in most cases it should be clear which sentences in a given paragraph match up with which sources.

Paragraphs appearing in their entirety on a single page are identified by the page number (e.g., p. 122). Paragraphs divided between two pages are identified by those pages (e.g., pp. 92-93). Paragraphs that share a page with another complete paragraph are identified by the page number and paragraph number (e.g., p. 103, ¶ 1).





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Chapter 24: High Priestly Prayers:

259-60: Eugene McCarraher, “The Heavenly City of Business,” in Andrew J. Bacevich, The Short American Century: A Postmortem (Harvard, 2012), pp. 187–230 (quote p. 213).

260: Alan Brinkley, The Publisher: Henry Luce and His American Century (New York: Knopf, 2010), pp. 366-84, 437-39 (quotes 366, 376, 381). See also Jerry Bergman, “Religion and the Presidency of Dwight D. Eisenhower,” in Gastón Espinosa, ed., Religion and the American Presidency: From George Washington to George W. Bush (New York: Columbia University, 2009), pp. 251-81. In the years that followed Henry Luce sank deeper into the schizophrenia that can afflict people who take their civil religion too seriously.  Having lost his own Calvinist faith he continued to grope for some “new religion” in the belief that human beings were demiurges collaborating in their own evolution.

260-61: Thanks be to William Inboden, Religion and American Foreign Policy, 1945-1960: The Soul of Containment (New York: Cambridge University, 2008); Andrew Preston, Sword of the Spirit, Shield of Faith: Religion in American War and Diplomacy (NY: Knopf, 2012); Raymond Haberski, Jr., God and War: American Civil Religion Since 1945 (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University, 2012); T. Jeremy Gunn, Spiritual Weapons: The Cold War and the Forging of an American National Religion (Westport, Ct.: Praeger, 2009); and others cited in this chapter who have done so much to research Cold War religiosity. It has taken me until old age, but I have learned at last to welcome “preemption” by others because of the precious time they save me. “If the civilized world”: Inboden, Religion and American Foreign Policy, p. 109. Elizabeth Edwards Spalding, “Religion and the Presidency of Harry S Truman,” in Gastón Espinosa, ed., Religion and the American Presidency: From George Washington to George W. Bush (New York: Columbia University, 2009), pp. 219-48 (quotes 220, 225); David L. Holmes, The Faiths of the Postwar Presidents: From Truman to Obama (Athens: University of Georgia, 2012), pp. 1-23.

261-62: Truman nominated General Mark Clark, an Episcopalian who had commanded American armies in Italy during World War II, to be the first U.S. ambassador to the Vatican. Acheson predicted a controversy and sure enough, establishment Protestants led by the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church lobbied against recognition. Truman vented in his diary: “What a travesty.  If a Baptist <like me> can see what’s toward – why not a high hat Church of England Bishop?” (Spalding, “Religion and the Presidency,” p. 238.)  American Catholics in the 1930s had been at least as ambivalent as Protestants given their gratitude to Mussolini’s regime for the 1929 Lateran Pact with the papacy and their support for Franco’s 1936 rebellion against the anti-clerical Spanish Republic.  But their strong support for the New Deal gave Hollywood cover to make films depicting Catholics as social reformers, including Angels with Dirty Faces and Boys Town.  Wartime films not only made it a ritual to include Catholics (and a Jew) in U.S. military outfits, but included heart-warming home front stories like Song of Bernadette (1943) and Going My Way (1944).  During the early Cold War Hollywood studios churned out religious epics including David and Bathsheba (1951), Quo Vadis (1951), The Robe (1953), The Ten Commandments (1956), Ben-Hur (1959), Soloman and Sheba (1959), The Story of Ruth (1960), Esther and the King (1960), King of Kings (1961).  All were carefully scripted so as not to offend Protestants, Catholics, or Jews, and to identify the Bible with American themes.   Haberski, God and War, pp. 11-54 (Pius XII quote, p. 25).  On the Catholic “moment” see Anthony Burke Smith, The Look of Catholics: Portrayals in Popular Culture from the Great Depression to the Cold War (Lawrence: University of Kansas, 2010).

262: On the controversial politics surrounding the birth of Israel see Douglas Little, American Orientalism: The United States and the Middle East Since 1945 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, 2002); Michael B. Oren, Power, Faith, and Fantasy: America in the Middle East, 1776 to the Present (New York: W. W. Norton, 2007); Michael T. Benson, Harry S. Truman and the Founding of Israel (Westport, Ct.: Praeger, 1997); and most recently John B. Judis, Genesis: Truman, American Jews, and the Origins of the Arab-Israeli Conflict (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2014). Judis claims that Truman preferred a binational, federated Palestinian state in 1946, but that the Zionist lobbies in London and Washington exerted “unrelenting and obnoxious” pressure on behalf of a Jewish state. Be that as it may, Truman was proud of the support and honor bestowed on him by American Jews and even boasted of playing the role of a modern Cyrus, the Persian emperor who restored the Jews to their Promised Land after their Babylonian Captivity.

262 cont.: “You cannot replace God with Point Four,” was Whittaker Chambers’ terse judgment on the utopian economic promises in Truman’s inaugural address: William F. Buckley, Jr., ed, Odyssey of a Friend (New York, Regnery, 1971). Inboden, Religion and American Foreign Policy, pp. 105-56, calls this November 1949 speech “The Real Truman Doctrine” (quote, p. 145).

262-63: Jason W. Stevens, God-Fearing and Free: A Spiritual History of America’s Cold War (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University, 2010); Matthew W. Dunne, A Cold War State of Mind: Brainwashing and Postwar American Society (Amherst: University of Massachusetts, 2013); Jonathan Herzog, The Spiritual-Industrial Complex: America’s Religious Battle against Communism in the Early Cold War (New York: Oxford University, 2011), quotes pp. 7, 126; Truman quote in Spalding, “Religion and the Presidency,” p. 236.

263: Curt Cardwell, NSC 68 and the Political Economy of the Early Cold War (New York : Cambridge University, 2011), p. 210; Inboden, Religion and American Foreign Policy, p. 114. Bruce Cumings, The Origins of the Korean War, vol. 2: The Roaring of the Cataract 1947-1950 (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University, 1990) is an exhaustive and deeply philosophical classic that holds all parties inside and outside Korea accountable on their own terms. William W. Stueck, Jr., Rethinking the Korean War: A New Diplomatic and Strategic History (Princeton, 2002), cites post-Cold War Soviet revelations that confirm what has been suspected since the publication of Khrushchev’s memoirs in 1971: Stalin (and Mao) did pre-approve the North Korean attack hence it was an international as well as a civil war.

264: Robert Dallek, The Lost Peace: Leadership in a Time of Horror and Hope, 1945-1953 (New York: HarperCollins, 2010), p. 310; Steven Casey, Selling the Korean War: Propaganda, Politics, Politics, and Public Opinion in the United States, 1950-1953 (New York: Oxford University, 2008), pp. 19-40, 68-69, 85-96. Acheson, a graduate of the Groton School, knew the Episcopal Prayer Book nearly by heart and often quoted it for effect. But his philosophy was pragmatic and stoic in the manner of his legal heroes, Oliver Wendell Holmes and Louis Brandeis. He had little use for civil religion and nothing but contempt for the “psalm-singing Presbyterian,” John Foster Dulles.  But he exploited it for all it was worth.  See Robert Beisner, Dean Acheson: A Life in the Cold War (New York: Oxford University, 2006), pp. 87-102; Robert McMahon, Dean Acheson and the Creation of an American World Order (Washington, D.C.: Potomac Books, 2009), pp. 209-17; John T. McNay, Acheson and Empire: The British Accent in American Foreign Policy (Columbia: University of Missouri, 2001), pp. 1-10; and of course Acheson’s memoirs, Present at the Creation (New York: W. W. Norton, 1968).

264-65: Casey, Selling the Korean War, p. 197; Susan A. Brewer, Why America Fights: Patriotism and War Propaganda from the Philippines to Iraq (New York: Oxford University, 2009), pp. 141-78. The Korean conflict cost the United States 41,000 killed and missing in action, other United Nations 61,000 (mostly South Korean), between 1.5 and 2 million North Koreans and Chinese, plus about 2 million civilians.

265: Reinhold Niebuhr, The Irony of American History (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1952), p. 7-88, 151-74 (quotes 7, 74, 155). By this late date Reinhold seems to have learned some lessons from his brilliant, but less renowned brother Richard, a quiet historian.

265-66: Stevens, God-Fearing and Free, pp. 1-26; Will Herberg, Protestant, Catholic, Jew: An Essay in American Religious Sociology (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1955), p. 51. See also Martin E. Marty, “Reinhold Niebuhr and the Irony of American History: A Retrospective,” History Teacher 26, no. 2 (1993): 161-174; H. W. Brands, What America Owes the World: The Struggle for the Soul of Foreign Policy (New York: Cambridge University, 1998), pp. 182-208; Eric Patterson, ed., Christianity and Power Politics Today: Christian Realism and Contemporary Political Dilemmas (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008), pp. 1-19; John Diggins, Why Niebuhr Now? (Chicago: University of Chicago, 2011), pp. 1-10.

266, ¶ 1: Kevin M. Kruse, One Nation under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America (New York: Basic Books, 2015), describes the capitalist promoters of a “Christian America” that conflated the cross and the flag, and Christianity and libertarian politics. Beginning in the 1930s and 1940s lobbies such as the Chamber of Commerce and National Association of Manufacturers, businessmen such as Harvey Firestone, Conrad Hilton, and Henry Luce, and conservative (i.e., anti-Social Gospel) clergy such as James W. Fifield, Jr., Abraham Vereide, and the young Billy Graham pushed the idea that the United States was a Christian nation. Kruse’s provocative title, however, obliges him to ignore the powerful political and economic influences of religion and revivals in earlier eras of American history, not to mention the central role played by foreign policy and civil religion in his own era of history.

266-67: Eisenhower Inaugural Address (Jan. 20, 1953):

267: Robert Griffith, “Dwight D. Eisenhower and the Corporate Commonwealth,” American Historical Review 87, no. 1 (1982): 87-122 (quote p. 122). Griffith called Eisenhower a romantic despite his pragmatism and lucid intelligence, concluding that “Such a vision was no match for the vast and powerful forces of modern America.”  Robert Jewett, Mission and Menace: Four Centuries of American Religious Zeal (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2008), pp. 245-53, calls Ike’s melding of the spiritual and material a “potent new ideological synthesis” (quote p. 253), but it was hardly new.  Such melding, periodically updated as circumstances required, has always been the genius of American Civil Religion.

267-68: Griffith, “Eisenhower and the Corporate Commonwealth,” pp. 94-95; Eisenhower, Mandate for Change, 1953-1956 and Waging Peace, 1956-1961: The White House Years (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1963, 1965). So unprecedented was the postwar economic boom that Americans became addicted to cheap oil, automobiles, electric power, and household appliances, not to mention wasteful junk. In a spring 1958 cabinet meeting focused on the recession that year Secretary of Commerce Sinclair Weeks told the president not to worry since half the stuff Americans bought they did not even need.

268: David M. Potter, People of Plenty: Economic Abundance and the American Character (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1954); John Kenneth Galbraith, The Affluent Society (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1958); David Riesman with Reuel Denney and Nathan Glazer, The Lonely Crowd: A Study of the Changing American Character (New Haven, Ct.: Yale University, 1958 <1950>), and Daniel Bell, The End of Ideology: On the Exhaustion of Political Ideas in the Fifties (Glencoe, Ill.: Free Press, 1960) are among the books mentioned by Lizabeth Cohen, A Consumers’ Republic: The Politics of Mass Consumption in Postwar America (New York: Knopf, 2003), pp. 5-15.

268-69: Jerry Bergman, “Religion and the Presidency of Dwight D. Eisenhower,” in Gastón Espinosa, ed., Religion and the American Presidency: From George Washington to George W. Bush (New York: Columbia University, 2009), pp. 251-81; David L. Holmes, The Faiths of the Postwar Presidents: From Truman to Obama (Athens: University of Georgia, 2012), pp. 24-44; Inboden, Religion and American Foreign Policy, pp. 257-309 (quote, p. 291). The context for Eisenhower’s remark was a visit by his World War II ally Marshal Georgy Zhukov, with whom it would do no good to argue because of his Marxist belief that religion is the opiate of the masses. Moreover, Ike concluded: “With us of course it is the Judo-Christian <sic> concept but it must be a religion that all men are created equal.”  See the wonderful detective work in Patrick Henry, “‘And I Don’t Care What It is’: The Tradition-History of a Civil Religious Proof Text,” Journal of the American Academy of Religion 49 (March 1981): 35-49.

269: Inboden, Religion and American Foreign Policy, pp. 63-102

270: The famous sermon “On Christian Charity,” preached by Massachusetts Governor John Winthrop as the Puritans sailed for the New World in 1630, became a civil religious meme during the last half of the 20th century. But in fact the sermon inspired nobody for the simple reason that the text was lost for two hundred years and then published in the 1830s only to be ignored for another century until Miller began his research. Richard M. Gamble, In Search of the City on a Hill: The Making and Unmaking of an American Myth (New York: Continuum, 2012), is a brilliant exercise in historical archeology that unearths the history of the phrase.

270-71: Max Lerner, America as a Civilization, Life and Thought in the United States Today

(New York: Simon & Schuster, 1957), pp. 64-65.  That was also the book with the famous quotation: “Every man has two counties – his own and America.”    Lerner traced exceptionalism back to the “slaying of the European father” by colonial Patriots, which tempts one to suspect that the Russian Jewish immigrant projected his own assimilative wish-fulfillment on to his adopted country’s founders.  See Walter A. McDougall “The Unlikely History of American Exceptionalism,” The American Interest 8, no. 4 (2013): 6-15.

271: Louis Hartz, The Liberal Tradition in America: An Interpretation of American Political Thought since the Revolution (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1955). On the scholarly uses of exceptionalism, see inter alia Samuel P. Huntington, American Politics: The Promise of Disharmony (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University, 1981); Daniel Bell, “‘American Exceptionalism’ Revisited: The Role of Civil Society,” The Public Interest 95, no. 1 (Spring 1989): 38-56; Byron Shafer, ed., Is America Different? A New Look at American Exceptionalism (New York: Oxford University, 1991); Ian Tyrrell, “American Exceptionalism in an Age of International History,” American Historical Review 96 (Oct. 1991): 1031-72; Michael Kammen, “The Problem of American Exceptionalism: A Reconsideration,” American Quarterly 45, no. 1 (March 1993): 1-43; Seymour Martin Lipset, American Exceptionalism: A Double-Edged Sword (New York: W.W. Norton, 1996); Jack P. Greene, The Intellectual Construction of America: Exceptionalism and Identity From 1492 to 1800 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, 1997); David W. Noble, The Death of the Nation: American Culture and the End of Exceptionalism (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 2002).

271-72: It’s old news now, but Walter A. McDougall, …the Heavens and the Earth: A Political History of the Space Age (New York: Basic Books, 1985) first revealed why the Eisenhower administration did not race to launch the first satellite and strictly separated military missile programs from civilian scientific rocketry. It was secretly developing reconnaissance satellites needed to verify arms control treaties, but needed to establish “freedom of space,” i.e., the right to orbit satellites above the air space of other countries. The best way to ensure that was to let the Soviets launch first!  Thorough documentation on spy satellites has since become available.  See Dwayen A. Day, John M. Logsdon, and Brian Latell, eds,. Eye in the Sky: The Story of the Corona Spy Satellites (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution, 1998, and Phil Taubman, Secret Empire: Eisenhower, the CIA, and the Hidden Story of America’s Space Espionage (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2003).  A chilling, depressing story of CIA assassination plots under Eisenhower is told by Emmanuel Gerard and Bruce Kuklick, Death in the Congo: Murdering Patrice Lumumba (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University, 2015).

272: Ira Chernus, Apocalypse Management: Eisenhower and the Discourse of National Insecurity (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2008), pp. 1-14, 104-5, 217-39 (quote p. 239). Haberski, God and War, p. 41, cites journalist William Lee Miller’s critique, Piety Along the Potomac: Notes on Politics and Morals in the Fifties (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1964), p. 131, as lambasting Eisenhower’s role as national pastor. “The nation needed a theologian to complicate that faith in the nation. The promise of America became an end in itself when placed alongside the perceived cruelty of communism.  In a war of faith, American civil religion was remaking the nation into a god that could not be allowed to fail.”

272-73: Herberg, Protestant, Catholic, Jew, pp. 85-112, 212-13, 275-89 (quote p. 280). The author, not surprisingly, was especially sensitive to the assimilation of Jews who then numbered about 5 million and 3.3 percent of the population. So fully integrated had they become that “the American Jew was now in a position where he could establish his Jewishness not apart from, nor in spite of, his Americanness, but precisely through and by virtue of it.  Judaism had achieved its status in the American Way of Life as one of the three ‘religions of democracy’” (pp. 212-13).

273: Eisenhower’s Farewell Address (Jan. 17, 1961):

See James Ledbetter, Unwarranted Influence: Dwight D. Eisenhower and the Military-Industrial Complex (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University, 2011), pp. 132-63.


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