The condition upon which God hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance; which condition if he break, servitude is at once the consequence of his crime, and the punishment of his guilt.
—John Philpott Curran
During the decade of the 1990s, our times often seemed peaceful on the surface. Yet beneath the surface were currents of danger. Terrorists were training and planning in distant camps. . . . America’s response to terrorism was generally piecemeal and symbolic. The terrorists concluded this was a sign of weakness, and their plans became more ambitious, and their attacks more deadly. Most Americans still felt that terrorism was something distant, and something that would not strike on a large scale in America. That is the time my opponent wants to go back to. A time when danger was real and growing, but we didn’t know it. . . . September 11, 2001 changed all that. We realized that the apparent security of the 1990s was an illusion. . . . Will we make decisions in the light of September 11, or continue to live in the mirage of safety that was actually a time of gathering threats?
—George W. Bush, October 18, 2004
History will not end until the Lord returns, and neither will the twist of the human heart toward evil. The idea that we can just ignore or deny this reality and go on about what we’d rather be doing, whether in domestic or in foreign policy, is the political equivalent of cheap grace; and it is no more capable of bringing what blessing our politics can muster than its theological parallel can bring salvation. It may be true, as Theodore Parker said, that the arc of the moral universe “bends toward justice,” but if it is, we must remember that it’s only true because God is the one bending it—taken all in all, the collective effort of humanity is to bend it the other way.
This world is fallen, and all of us are tainted by the evil that rots its core; and all too many have given in to that evil and placed their lives in its service. Most have not done so knowing it to be evil—there are very few at the level of Milton’s Satan or Shakespeare’s version of Richard III—but that doesn’t make them any better. Indeed, the fact that people like Adolf Hitler and Osama bin Laden do vast evil believing they serve what is right and good only makes them more dangerous, because it makes them far more effective in corrupting others, and far less likely to repent. Evil is a cancer in the human soul, and like any cancer, it will not stop growing until either it or its host is destroyed—which means that those who serve it will not stop unless someone else stops them.
Which is why the 18th-century Irish politician John Philpott Curran was right. There are those in this world who are the servants of evil, those movements which are driven by it, and those nations which are ruled by such—some in the name of religion, some in allegiance to political or economic theory, some in devotion to nation or tribe—and in their service to that spiritual cancer, they operate themselves as cancers within society, the body politic, and the international order; they will not stop until they are stopped. As Edmund Burke did not say (but as remains true nevertheless), the only thing that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing; the logical corollary is that to prevent the triumph of evil, those who would oppose it must be vigilant to watch for its rise, and must stand and fight when it does.
Must that always mean war? Not necessarily; as Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., among others, have shown, there are times when nonviolent moral resistance is the most effective form of opposition (helped in Gandhi’s case, I would argue, by the fact that the Raj was not evil). But the fact that that works in some societies doesn’t mean that it works in all, because nonviolent resistance depends for its effect on the willingness of others to repent—and not everyone is willing. Some people are hard of heart and stiff of neck, unwilling to humble themselves, liable only to judgment; they will not stop unless they are forced to do so. When such people rule nations and are bent on tyranny and conquest, then sometimes, war becomes necessary. A tragic necessity, yes, but no less necessary for all that.
We have enemies who have decided in their hearts that they must destroy us, and they will not be shaken from that decision, because they have excluded anything that could shake them; they are unflinching in their resolve to building up the power and ability to do what they have committed themselves to do. This is hard for Americans to understand or accept, because—with the characteristic arrogance of our Western culture—we think that everyone, deep down, thinks and feels and understands the world as we do, and thus is “rational” on our terms, by our definition of the word. We fail to understand people and cultures that really don’t value their own lives and their own individual wills and desires above all else. But there are those in this world who don’t, who simply have different priorities than ours, and who consequently cannot be negotiated with or deterred or talked out of things as if they were (or really wanted to be) just like us—and who in fact have nothing but contempt for the very idea.
There are people, movements, nations, who want to destroy America and our culture (which they believe to be Christian culture, far though it is from being so), and who will not be dissuaded by any of our attempts at persuasion or appeasement. Indeed, go as far back as you want in history, you’ll never find a case where appeasement of enemies has worked; rather, time after time, it only encourages them. If someone is determined to defeat you and has the ability to do so, it isn’t possible for you to choose for things to be different, because their choice has removed that option; your only choice is either to let them do so, or to try to stop them.
But is it right to try to stop them? What of the morality of force? As individuals, when someone hates us, we are called to turn the other cheek and trust to the justice of God—but that’s when we ourselves are the only ones at risk. When it comes to defending others from harm, the calculus is different; this is especially true of government, which bears the responsibility to defend all its citizens from evil, and has been given the power of the sword for that purpose. The decision to use force of any sort—whether it be the national military or the local police—must not be made lightly; it must be done only when there is clear certainty that the deployment of force is necessary in the cause of justice. But when it is truly necessary in order to defend the right, if that defense is properly our responsibility, then we cannot shrink back: we must stand and fight, or else allow evil to triumph.
Freedom and justice and true peace only come at a cost, in this lost and broken world of ours; they must forever be defended against those who do not value them, and would destroy them for their own purposes. This includes defending them against those who would use the fact that we value them against us—who would subvert our freedoms and use our willingness to accept a false peace, the mere absence of overt military conflict, to extort from us our own piecemeal surrender. If “peace” is achieved by craven cowering before the threats of the vicious, it is no real peace, merely a temporary and unstable counterfeit that does nothing but postpone the inevitable conflict; and if that false peace is gained through the sacrifice of freedom and justice, it is worth nothing at all. For any society willing to do so, the only epitaph has already been written by Benjamin Franklin:
They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.