Sarah Palin’s June 8, 2008 remarks before the Wasilla Assembly of God have received some media attention in these past few days. Full video footage of her informal address can be viewed on the Huffington Post story of September 2.
In addition to discussing the construction of the natural gas pipeline–saying “God’s will has to be done in unifying people and companies to get that gas line built” (because the good Lord loves him some natural gas and corporate-government synergies)–she said:
“Pray for our military men and women who are striving to do what is right, also, for this country, that our leaders, our national leaders, are sending them out on a task that is from God. That’s what we have to make sure that we’re praying for, that there is a plan and that that plan is God’s plan.”
She has been critiqued as having a messianic vision for the United States in the world. In her defense, she merely asked the audience to pray for the military and their mission. However, as she does this she also suggests there is a needed connection between “God’s plan” and U.S. military objectives, that war can be a vehicle for those plans, and that the U.S. should carry the responsibility for so doing. These implications are the fuel behind the messianic charge.
As a Latino history professor, the historical connections between visions of religious mission and foreign policy/military mission are of profound importance to me. They serve, in many ways, to form the very stage upon which the histories of race relations have played out in U.S. history. From the encounters between English colonists and Native Americans, to Manifest Destiny and the war with Mexico, to the so-called Spanish American War, and (of course) the Cold War, ideas of God and military mission have often been conflated (to disastrous ends) in the U.S. past. Once you place it in its historical context, Palin’s remakrs are a very slippery slope.
In 1899, President William McKinley spoke about the recent war against Spain, one critiqued as a war for American Empire. Here’s how he was quoted in James Rusting’s “Interview with President William McKinley,” from The Christian Advocate, January 22, 1903 (page 17):
“When I next realized that the Philippines had dropped into our laps I confess I did not know what to do with them. I sought counsel from all sides-Democrats as well as Republicans—but got little help. I thought first we would take only Manila; then Luzon; then other islands perhaps also. I walked the floor of the White House night after night until midnight; and I am not ashamed to tell you, gentlemen, that I went down on my knees and prayed Almighty God for light and guidance more than one night. And one night late it came to me this way-I don’t know how it was, but it came: (1) That we could not give them back to Spain—that would be cowardly and dishonorable; (2) that we could not turn them over to France and Germany—our commercial rivals in the Orient—that would be bad business and discreditable; (3) that we could not leave them to themselves—they were unfit for self-government—and they would soon have anarchy and misrule over there worse than Spain’s was; and (4) that there was nothing left for us to do but to take them all, and to educate the Filipinos, and uplift and civilize and Christianize them, and by God’s grace do the very best we could by them, as our fellow-men for whom Christ also died. And then I went to bed, and went to sleep, and slept soundly, and the next morning I sent for the chief engineer of the War Department (our map-maker), and I told him to put the Philippines on the map of the United States (pointing to a large map on the wall of his office), and there they are, and there they will stay while I am President!”