Whose side is God on?


WE KNOW this is a just war and, God willing, this is a war we will win," George Bush said as National Religious Broadcasters clapped enthusiastically.

No, Saddam Hussein argues, religion is on Iraq's side.

"We are being faithful to values God Almighty inspired in us," Saddam said in a letter to Bush. "We have no fear of the forces of Satan, SandyGradythe devil that rides on your shoulder."

No, says Saudi Arabia's King Fahd, also a Muslim: "The war against Saddam is God's will. We pray to God for victory for his soldiers."

Bush again: "We will prevail because of support of American people, armed with a trust in God."

Who's right? Toward which side is the Deity tilting in the Persian Gulf war?

Or is he perplexed that again, both combatants invoke his name as the Great War Cheerleader in the Sky?

Every war, whether it featured battle axes or laser bombs, has religious overtones. Churchill, Roosevelt and yes, Hitler, referred to God in World War II speeches. In the American Civil War, Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis each fielded armies in a holy cause.

"The war in the gulf is not a Christian war, Jewish war or Muslim war -- it is a just war," Bush insisted to televangelists, including Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson and Charles Colson.

But this war is peculiar with its mirror images of leaders calling on Allah and God. It's the first U.S. war in the Middle East, where armies have killed under religious banners for 3,000 years.

Thus, on war's Day One, thuggish Saddam Hussein was seen on kneeling on a prayer mat. Presumably he asked Allah for Islamic victory.

Almost at the same moment, Bush was attending a prayer service at Fort Myer, Va. His White House guest Billy Graham told worshipers, "We must fight for peace. I pray we'll be on God's side."

At the Super Bowl halftime show extolling the war effort, Bush appeared on huge screens to say, "God bless America." Saddam alters the Iraqi flag to say, "God is Great." When CNN's Peter Arnett asks Saddam when the war will end, he says, "Only God knows."

It's chill comfort that Saddam is "praying" he won't be "forced" to use chemical weapons.

Bush, an Episcopalian, struggles to cast the gulf conflict as moral, not a war for oil. Trying to persuade his anti-war bishop, the Most Rev. Edmond Browning, Bush asked, "Was it moral in 1939 for us not to stop Hitler?"

But Bush jacked up the ante by his "just war" arguments to TV preachers. Here are six "just war" criteria Bush mentioned (developed by early Christians 1,600 years ago) and questions they raise about the gulf war:

"Just cause." (Does the gulf war confront a "certain danger?") "Competent authority." (Did Bush go to war on behalf of a committed nation?) "Probability of success." (Can a just purpose be achieved against Iraq?)

OK, but here's trouble: "Right intention." (Is Bush justified to liberate Kuwait, but not to destroy Iraq and Saddam?) "Last resort." (Did Bush give diplomacy a complete chance?) "Proportionality." (Will future good achieved in the gulf outweigh war's harm?)

Sure, Bush's answers are different. As Saddam's would be.

A visitor from another planet might be amazed that both invoke the Deity while girding armies for battle that may cost 50,000 casualties. Somehow I think of Mark Twain's savage "War Prayer" (condensed here):

"O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover the smiling fields with the pale forms of patriot dead; help us drown the thunder of guns with shrieks of their wounded; help us wring hearts of their unoffending widows with grief; . . . Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives . . . In the Spirit of Love, Amen."

Not hard to imagine how the cynical Twain would see a gulf war where both sides pump out religious slogans.

As for serene George Bush, cheered by TV preachers, sure he's morally inspired. Here's Twain again:

"Calm as a Christian holding four aces."

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