Tuesday, May 10, 2011

N. T. Wright: No Winston Churchill

N. T. Wright, the darling of American Left-wing Evangelicals, has waded into politics criticizing American exceptionalism and calling President Obama a "vigilante." Trevor Presaud at Christianity Today writes:

Popular author and New Testament scholar N.T. Wright has accused the world of giving America a free pass for violating Pakistan's sovereignty and killing an unarmed man during the recent attack that killed Osama bin Laden.

The former bishop of Durham sent a short statement to The Times' religion correspondent Ruth Gledhill in which he pointed out that Americans would be "furious" if Great Britain's military had staged an unannounced raid against hypothetical Irish Republican Army terrorists and killed them, unarmed, in a Boston suburb.

The only difference, Wright says, is "American exceptionalism."

"America is allowed to do it, but the rest of us are not," said Wright, who is now the research professor of New Testament and early Christianity at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. "By what right? Who says?"

President Obama, Wright says, has "enacted one of America’s most powerful myths," the vigilante hero going outside the law to execute "redemptive violence" against an enemy who has rendered the legitimate authorities impotent. "This is the plot of a thousand movies, comic-book strips, and TV shows: Captain America, the Lone Ranger, and (upgraded to hi-tech) Superman. The masked hero saves the world."

While this myth may have been a necessary dimension of life in the Wild West, Wright says, it also "legitimizes a form of vigilantism, of taking the law into one’s own hands, which provides ‘justice’ only of the crudest sort."

Clearly, Dr. Wright despises America. Ordinarily, the mask of politeness prevents his true feelings from showing through but on this occasion his all-too-typical left-wing animus toward America causes the mask to slip.

It is a bit odd, to put it mildly, to accuse the President of the US of acting as a "vigilante." The President takes an oath to defend the Constitution and acts as the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the nation. Radical Islam in various amorphous forms, including Osama bin Laden's Al-Qaeda, has declared war on the Unites States and Israel (and the West in general including the UK) and President Obama's sworn duty is to defend the United States against attack. On 9/11 and numerous other occasions the Islamists have used the methodology of terrorism to try to undermine morale, instill fear and probe for weaknesses in the West. In Europe they find flabby non-resistance, but in the US they find a bit of steel in the way.

The US armed forces have killed Islamist terrorists in various ways: on the battlefield, by missiles, by un-maned drone bombings, and so so. bin Laden was in a command center giving operational direction to his organization just like Hitler in his bunker. He deserved a chance to surrender if that was possible, but he was an enemy combatant. He resisted and he was killed. If they had dropped a precision bomb on the house it would have been the same outcome.

Dr. Wright clearly resents the fact that the United States has the military and intelligence resources to carry out a defensive war against the Islamists. Perhaps it is envy. His own country is weakened by decades of socialism and pretty much in surrender mode and seems unable or unwilling to stand up to the threat of Islamic invasion, occupation and domination. Already parts of some British cities are under de facto Sharia Law and UK laws are increasingly used to silence all criticism of Islam by those who hope to use Islam to destroy the Christian character of the nation.

I do think there is something to Dr. Wright's suggestion that the myth of the lone hero who makes things right by force is attractive to Americans. It illustrates the fact that Americans have not yet made their peace with decline, decay and defeat. Americans know evil exists in the world but they expect to defeat it when it rears its ugly head; they expect justice to triumph. Poor, tired, old Europe seems well past that stage.

The great Winston Churchill would not have reacted like Dr. Wright. He would have reacted with genuine admiration for a nation that has a bunch of terrorists bomb their two greatest cities and does not rest until it finds their leader and puts a bullet between his eyes. He would have done the same to his enemy, Hitler, if he had had the chance. And he would not have fretted and wrung his hands about how it looked to the professional armchair critics abroad. But alas, the days when Britain could produce a Winston Churchill seem to be over for good.

But America is not ready to go gently into that dark night just yet. If that galls Dr. Wright, well basically the bottom line is that few people in America will care about what he thinks. And somewhere, I have to think, a plump old man with a cigar between his teeth is smiling in approval.


Sirnickdon said...

My understanding is that N.T. Wright isn't objecting to the killing of Bin Laden, but to the violation of Pakistan's national sovereignty, by conducting a military raid within their borders without their consent or foreknowledge. (At least that's Pakistan's official version of the story.)

His U.K./IRA/Boston analogy is off, though. If bin Laden had been located in the U.K., we would not have sent in a spec ops team to dispatch him, but would have worked with British military forces, or at least gotten a go-ahead from their military command. This is, in any event, what Wright feels we ought to have done with Pakistan. That we did not demonstrates that we feel we are not beholden to Pakistani or international law (American exceptionalism) and that sometimes you just have to break rules to get the job done (Obama's vigilantism).

All that said, I don't see anything that implies that Wright "despises America" (To be honest I'm not sure what that would mean.) In any case, I love America while simultaneously critiquing the notion of American exceptionalism, so I know it can be done.

Craig Carter said...

If Wright were not anti-USA, he could have taken a totally different tack in response to this story, one that I think is much more sensible given the facts we know.

He could have been outraged that Pakistan flouted international law so flagrantly in allowing elements in the army or intelligence service or whomever to shelter the world's most wanted mass-murderer around the corner from the Pakistani equivalent of West Point 35 miles from the nation's capital for 6 years. He could have been outraged that the US had to go in and get bin Laden themselves. Why didn't the Pakistanis arrest him? Why is no one complaining about them? Why is Pakistani exceptionalism not the issue? If the world's most wanted mass-murderer is being sheltered by a nuclear armed country, then why was nothing done until the US sent in the special forces? Why is this not the scandal?

Why is it only an issue when the US appears to flout international law? And if international law is the answer, why was bin Laden not arrested? Why didn't it work? If the UN is so wonderful and so committed to justice, why didn't it do something? Why was bin Laden left to literally get away with murder?

When people are not asking these kinds of questions, but instead training their rhetorical guns on the US instead, I suspect bias.