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Christianity and Literature Vol. 62, No.3 (Spring 2013) REVIEW ESSAY Christianity, Literature, and American Empire Harold K. Bush, Jr. Was America Founded as a Christian Nation? A Historical Introduction. ByJohn Fea. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011. God's Arbiters: Americans and the Philippines, 1898-1902. By Susan K. Harris. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011. War and the American Difference. By Stanley Hauerwas. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic Press, 2011. Christian America and the Kingdom of God. By Richard T. Hughes. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2009. Romances ofthe White Man's Burden: Race, Empire, and the Plantation in American Literature, 1880-1936. ByJeremy Wells.Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press, 2011. Just over a century ago, the American annexation of Hawaii in 1897-98, followed quickly by the blockade and invasion of Cuba (1898) and the invasion and then annexation of the Philippines (1899), commenced America's age of empire overseas. Although these imperial ambitions have been attended by catastrophic injustices and countless atrocities against innocent civilians, a rhetoric of moral duty, mission, and "benevolent assimilation" has commonly masked the more sinister side of American empire. Today,this rhetoric is more simply rendered in terms of our national commitment to "freedom and democracy around the world:' Thus, as the years have turned into decades, the genuinely worthy aims of American militarism and expansion have been remembered much more clearly than their "blowback"-the collateral damage of uglycapitalistic greed, including 419 420 CHRISTIANITY AND LITERATURE hundreds of thousands of civilian casualties and the massive destruction of personal property that litter the road of America's good intentions.' Sadly, as Susan K. Harris points out in God's Arbiters, her intriguing recent study of America's rise as an imperial power through the lens of literary production, hardly any Americans today know anything about these more disturbing events of yesteryear. When Americans think of these and other imperial events at all, they tend to do it in those same, old terms of a "benevolent" power working to "uplift and Christianize" the "native" or "primitive" peoples. Such rhetorical strategies maintain considerable political and moral weight these days, as recent presidential administrations have shown. Nevertheless, most Americans today reject the concept of contemporary America as an empire, though Simultaneously they know little or nothing about America's imperial traditions overseas, as various polling data demonstrate.' Meanwhile, the study of American empire has become a growth industry in the decade since 9/11, and the hits just keep on coming. Perhaps the key figure here has been retired U.S.Army Col. Andrew Bacevich, now professor of history at Boston University, whose testimony is of particular relevance for at least three major reasons: 1) Bacevich is an insider, having risen to elite levels within the military; 2) he speaks from a decidedly conservative political vantage point (and thus, he cannot be labeled as just another "tenured radical"); and 3) his son was killed in combat in Iraq, meaning he speaks with the authority of one who has given more to the cause than most of us. Because of scholarly arguments produced by the likes ofBacevich and others, more and more Americans are rethinking their views about America's imperial legacies,both in the past and for the future.' Working through the vast and growing recent scholarship on these topics, the most striking fact is that most of American imperial activity has been undertaken under the banner of God and country. Polemicists who claim that America is historically a "Christian nation" are forced to ignore or deny the brutal political maneuverings of our past, including those carried out specifically in the name of Christian mission and benevolence. But how can America be "imperial" while at the same time "Christian"? (1) In my view,the study of empire represents a prime opportunity for new research by critics of American literary history who also maintain ties with a Christian philosophy and commitment. The historical construction of the CHRISTIANITY AND AMERICAN EMPIRE 421 meaning and purpose of America as a nation owes much to the outspoken and sometimes deeply confused reflections of"Christians"-a term, as John Fea elegantly shows, that has meant different things to different people over...


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