Century Marks

Century Marks

Unknown endings

George Kennan was arguably the greatest U.S. foreign policy analyst of the 20th century. He devised the containment doctrine in relation to the Soviet Union, a middle ground between war and diplomacy. When the U.S. was moving toward invading Iraq, Kennan warned: "War has a momentum of its own, and it carries you away from all thoughtful intentions when you get into it. Today, if we went into Iraq, like the president would like us to do, you know where you begin. You never know where you are going to end" (Foreign Affairs, January/February).

From savage to terrorist

Americans like to think of themselves as compassionate and generous, and they often are. But when it comes to the casualties in other countries caused by U.S. wars, says John Tirman, Americans tend to be ignorant at best and callous at worst. By one estimate, American wars since 1945 have taken the lives of 6 million people, both civilians and soldiers. An early 2007 poll asked Americans how many Iraqis had died in the Iraq War. Their average answer was nearly 10,000 when in fact the actual number was in the hundreds of thousands. Historian Richard Slotkin says this neglect of casualties on the other side stems from what he calls the "the frontier myth." This is the notion that righteous violence is justified to subdue or annihilate savage peoples. Today we call them terrorists (Washington Post, January 8).

Which faith?

Tim Tebow, quarterback for the Denver Broncos, is known for his public expressions of faith and his come-from-behind (some say miraculous) victories. After Saturday Night Live lampooned Tebow, Pat Robertson said it was an example of anti-Christian bigotry. Marcus Cederstrom asks: "What if Tebow were Muslim?" Would he then be revered by many and tolerated by most others? Cederstrom points to two examples: Chris Jackson's Mississippi home was burned after he converted to Islam and changed his name to Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf; when Cassius Clay (Muhammad Ali) resisted the draft during the Vietnam War because of his newfound faith, his championship belt was taken away, and for four years he was not allowed to fight (Salon, January 12).

Facebook fuss

Egyptian authorities detained a Christian Coptic student in late December for allegedly posting a picture of the Prophet Muhammad on Facebook. The 17-year-old denies the charge, claiming that friends posted the picture on his Facebook page. The accusations led residents of his village to attack his house and set fire to other Christians' homes. Some Christian villagers have left in fear, even though security forces intervened on their behalf (AP).

Politics in the pulpit

Randall Balmer, a historian of American religion, spent his high school years in Des Moines, Iowa. His father was a staunch Republican and pastor of one of the largest evangelical churches in the state—but he was resolutely apolitical in the pulpit. Beginning in the late 1970s, however, the issue of abortion galvanized evangelical political activism in Iowa, and the state became a harbinger of movements on the religious right. Evangelicals formed megachurches and homeschooling became popular. Iowa's long tradition of progressivism has been blunted, as is evident in the 2010 recall of three Iowa Supreme Court justices who ruled in favor of same-sex marriage (Religion Dispatches, December 31).