There is a vague connection to vulgarity-there exists a tinge of logical association-when Calvin Klein advertises underwear by draping underclothed boys with girls who seem to tremble on the breathless edge of emphysema. Underwear suggests the body parts it covers, after all; those body parts suggest the sex for which they may be used; and sex, as every advertising executive knows, suggests cash purchase to the guileless and tender-minded. This chain of prurient suggestion-a sort of metonymic prostitution-is familiar to anyone who's ever seen TV. And though Calvin Klein's executives probably began the other way around (seeking a product they could hawk with bawdy pictures, and coming up with underwear), their product's connection to their advertising posters remains partially intelligible.
But posters advertising Sprite, the carbonated beverage distributed by Coca-Cola, appeared recently. And these posters, twisting the suggestive chain yet another kink, may have transcended Calvin Klein's weak insistence on intelligibility. These posters for the pixilated soft- drink may have found a supra-rational impropriety, a mysticism of vulgarity. Off-kilter on a loud green background, above a tipsy cup of Sprite, reads Coca-Cola's latest jingle for its soft-drink: "More refreshing than a cool breeze up your shorts."
Coke once promoted Sprite, its ersatz Seven-Up, as clean and pure and innocent of caffeine-and consequently, by a simple inversion of libidinous allusion, as innocent of sexual awareness: to purchase a Sprite was to exchange the dirty and corrupt cash of adulthood for the innocent and clean delights of uncorrupted childhood. But, faced with clever advertising by its major competitors and with the inroads made in the soft-drink market by specialty brands, Coke has launched a new campaign for its product.
The problem is not so much that Sprite has no obvious connection to sex and impudently gusting breezes. Coke and Pepsi and their dozens of minor competitors decoct innumerable colas, none of which have obvious sexual connotation. But soft-drink manufacturers nonetheless can pitch their colas using the curvaceous Cindy Crawford or the hulking Lucky Vanous much as Calvin Klein uses the waifish Kate Moss or the absurdly striking Christy Turlington: to radiate the promise of limitless sexual arousal.
Of course, advertisers know they have not promised actual sex with Cindy Crawford, and the watching consumers know they have not been promised actual sex with Cindy Crawford. But with a humorous wink and a witting nudge-so intuitive has eroticism become-an advertiser lets its viewers know that it knows that they know that it knows what's up when Cindy Crawford sashays across a TV screen. The erotic chain is strong enough to withstand the play of considerable self-conscious, self-referential, self-abusing humor, and nearly every advertisement today titillates its voyeurs by playing with itself.
A history of ads for Coke reflects in many ways the social history of America-except that it is a history consistently one day behind the fair. Those Coca-Cola Gibson Girls, with their blowzy hair and pleated shirtfronts, were in their time as far behind fashion's fair as were the groovy boys and girls who wanted so to teach the world to sing long after the hippiedrome had closed its doors. Though the slogan was introduced in 1941, Coke remained "The Real Thing" some time after the adjective "real" had lost what little existential force it might once have had.
In recent years, while Seven-Up staked out cuteness and Pepsi staked out celebrity advertising, Coca-Cola has found no sure territory for its ads. Television viewers were treated to Coke-swigging polar bears last Christmas, as Coke discovered computer graphics two seasons late, and the current ad campaign reemphasizes the old, wasp-waisted bottle (itself a semi-sexualized relic of the early days of advertising's flirtation with the erotic), as Coke chases vainly after the departed wagon of nostalgia.
Like poor relations, Coca-Cola's subsidiary brands have always suffered a lack of identity as the colossus Coke mounted its heavy-footed ad campaigns. Once the flood of '80s diet drinks with '80s sweeteners swept away the saccharine Tab, Sprite remained Coke's most successful cousin. But it remained as well a product without much definition. A recent television campaign, showing a Sprite-drinking boy trounced by a professional basketball star, plays well against rival soft-drinks' sports-celebrity ads. But it cannot define any real image for the product.
With its new posters, however, Sprite hooks back on to titillation-and, in pure absurdity, stretches it beyond any rational association. What makes Sprite as refreshing as a cool breeze is its ostensibly thirst- quenching purity and innocence, and thus the old ad campaign's inversion of eroticism made a rough sort of sense. But though "purity" is still at least a partially marketable commodity, "innocence" is a term that no one's buying much these days. And so Sprite has kinked its ads one more time.
The point of the cool breeze wafting up your shorts is not that it is pointless (or especially refreshing), but that it recalls the connection between prurience and commercial products forged by countless previous advertisements. The ad doesn't promise anything about sex, it's just vulgar. It doesn't assert anything about the product, it's just lewd. It doesn't do anything at all but wink and say that the familiar suggestive chain does, by golly, still hold firm. And though Sprite has no intelligible connection to the chain, the joke which sells is that we know that Coca-Cola knows it-and Coca-Cola knows we know that Coca-Cola knows it, and knows . . . and knows. Knowledge has been liberated from conformity to constricting reference; Calvin Klein's slavish dependence on logical connection has been transcended by Coca-Cola. The postmodern promise that only texts exist-that a thousand words could be spent analyzing a single sentence without ever reaching reality-is at last fulfilled: suggestiveness is at last set free from any reference to actual sex or actual commercial product. Only the pure, connective vulgarity remains.
With a pair of tiny circled R's, however, Coca-Cola also proclaims that Sprite and Coke are trademarks of the Coca-Cola Company, properly registered with the U.S. government and protected by a very real law- violation of which is certain to be prosecuted. Some things Coke says are still intended to have reference; some small print on advertising posters is still meant to be the real thing.
Folded into the corner of a comfortable old sofa, reading an equally comfortable old novel, I discovered an unoccupied corner of my mind with which to contemplate Wallace Stevens' great poem about reading: "The house was quiet and the world was calm." But almost at that moment it occurred to me that Stevens surely had no child in the house when he wrote that focused but tranquil line. My house was, according to the distressingly apt cliche, too quiet, and as I hauled myself up and lurched toward the bedroom, sliding in my socks on the oak floor, I had just a moment to wonder what my year-old son had destroyed and which of his preferred methods, dismemberment or ingestion, he had employed.
I found him sitting serenely in the middle of the bedroom with a Bible opened before him.
When he saw me he gave me a white, pulpy smile, but as I reached down, hand extended, he began twisting his head violently to keep me from digging out his chaw. Eventually I retrieved it and saw that it was a small piece, but the print had already dissolved, so I couldn't tell what he had torn out. I looked at the Bible, but the pages I could see were whole and apparently undefiled. Of course, I would have to find out; even in this most secular and unsuperstitious age, who can resist contemplating the prospect of a sign?
"Except ye see signs and wonders," said an exasperated Jesus, "ye will not believe." It was not a habit of which he approved: "An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign," he warned-establishing the doctrine of universal human depravity, since it is not possible to imagine a generation of human beings which, by this standard, fails to be evil and adulterous. Given the choice between seeking signs with even the faintest of hope before us or settling for certain knowledge that no sign will ever come, who among us would choose the latter? To Jesus' charge we can only plead guilty and quickly resume scanning the skies for whatever may be read in the patterns of birds' flights, in the odd shooting star, in the somber processions of constellations, or in the banners towed over football stadiums by droning little airplanes.
Or, perhaps, in the Bible. Does anyone still do as I once did, and open Holy Writ at random, with closed eyes, solemnly dropping a finger onto the page? No one ever taught me to do it, as best I can remember, but it seemed natural and logical enough, as it has to many over the centuries. When Christianity was still a creed to be eradicated in Rome, futures were read in the pages of the Aeneid: later, these sortes Virgilianae (Virgilian lots) were replaced, quite predictably, by rituals involving a newly more authoritative tome. Edward Gibbon reports with characteristic wryness that "from the fourth to the fourteenth century, these sortes sanctorum, as they are styled, were repeatedly condemned by the decrees of councils and repeatedly practiced by kings, bishops, and saints."
I might add, for the benefit of future historians, that they were also condemned, and with admirable and disarming wit, by a Sunday School teacher in a Baptist church in Birmingham, Alabama, circa 1972.
"A fellow wanted to know whether he should marry his girlfriend," Mr. Hutchins told his wretched flock of imprisoned teenagers, "so he decided to see what the Bible had to say. He opened a page and put his finger on a spot"-at this point I emerged from my usual stupor and sat up straight, never having suspected that anyone else did such a thing-"and it said, 'Judas went and hanged himself.' Well, he didn't like that too much, so he tried again. This time it said, 'Go thou and do likewise.'" A grin flickered. "So he tried one more time, closed his eyes, opened his Bible, put his finger on the page. . .."Mr. Hutchins paused for effect, with his own Bible open in his lap, his head uplifted and eyes screwed shut, his finger wavering presciently over the surface of the page. Then, suddenly, the finger plunged like a dowsing rod, he popped open his eyes, and concluded: "And this time it said, 'What thou doest, do quickly!'"
Mr. Hutchins had confidence in the moral power of storytelling; he didn't say another word except to dismiss us. I repudiated my biblical dowsing-for several years, anyway. But I did wonder, as we traipsed off to the sanctuary for church, just what verse Mr. Hutchins' own finger had found as he told that story. Maybe his own destiny had been there for him to see, had he merely looked down. . . .
O evil and adulterous generation!
Yet, as Gibbon indicates, even the saints of the Church have sought God's will in this way. St. Augustine responded to the child's call- "Take up and read"-by reading the first biblical passage his eyes fell upon. St. Francis of Assisi and his companions, in the church of San Damiano, read three verses from the Gospels that became the foundation on which one of the great movements in the history of the Christian Church was built. If these great saints were weak, then God made concessions to their weakness; and if he could do it for them, why not for me?
Why not indeed? But to anticipate such concession is fatiguing; for that reason, I suppose, most of us eventually tire of watching for our own portentous and unmisinterpretable sign, the one that will point our way through life and settle once and for all those nagging questions about where our lives are heading. About the time such weariness sets in, however, many of us have children, and consequently shift our divinatory attentions toward their as yet unmarked lives. Their signs could still come-and thus my readiness to exercise all available hermeneutical energy upon the tableau I had discovered in the bedroom. But as I dug the sopping paper out of my son's mouth, I thought of a purely factual question: Who was the prophet who ate the scroll? A little later, when Wesley was napping, I got out my concordance and did some searching. Ah, yes. Ezekiel.
And when I looked, behold, an hand was sent unto me; and lo, a roll of a book was therein;
And [the Lord] spread it before me; and it was written within and without: and there was written therein lamentations, and mourning, and woe.
Moreover he said unto me, Son of man, eat that thou findest; eat this roll, and go speak unto the house of Israel.
So I opened my mouth, and he caused me to eat that roll.
And he said unto me, Son of man, cause thy belly to eat, and fill thy bowels with this roll that I give thee. Then did I eat it; and it was in my mouth as honey for sweetness.
It is an impressive performance, in its way, and yet the idea of Ezekiel as a role model for my little boy somehow failed to appeal. Ezekiel is notably harsh, even for a prophet. The Talmudic rabbis have surprisingly few words for him, and still less approval, perhaps because he presided over one of Israel's greatest catastrophes, the destruction of Jerusalem and the ensuing Babylonian captivity.
No. I didn't even want to think about what bringing another Ezekiel into the world might mean, for him or for the world. The concordance, however, directed me also to the New Testament-specifically, to the book of Revelation-but this (as might be expected) was no better. The roll St. John eats also tastes sweeter than honey, but all the pleasure is in the eating: later it gives him indigestion. Moreover, St. John apparently wrote from a Roman prison colony on the island of Patmos-a place that presents a prospect for Wesley's future no more appealing than Ezekiel's, though, if tradition is to be believed, he lived much longer than is common for prophets and apostles.
What does all this scroll-eating business mean anyway? I thought as I thumbed through some biblical reference books. Clearly these prophets loved the flavor of the word of God, though at least one came to find it disquieting later on. Both experiences were familiar to me, though not always in that order.
Many years ago I heard on the radio an old-fashioned, foot-stomping Bible teacher giving a talk on the importance of bringing the Gospel to the unbelievers. At the end there were questions, and someone asked whether, since unbelievers by definition didn't acknowledge the Bible as the Word of God, Christians should cite Scripture when seeking to convert them. The preacher had a ready answer: "Brothers and sisters, the Bible is the sword of the Spirit, so stick 'em with it anyway!" He was thinking of the Apostle Paul's injunction to spiritual warriors to "put on the whole armor of God," including the sword "which is the Word of God"; but he might also have remembered the author of the Letter to the Hebrews, who says that the word of God "is sharper than any two- edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart." In other words, it is as dangerous to the one who wields it as to the one against whom it is wielded. Surely St. John had something of the kind in mind when he said that its original sweetness scarcely prepares the reader (or the eater) for the pain that comes afterward.
Another warning from Jesus tells us, "Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof"-there is no need to hunt for any extra. Is sign-hunting anything more than trouble-hunting? Clearly this whole sortes sanctorum business poses a problem, and, as I hinted earlier, over the years I seem to have lost interest in what it might tell me about my own future. Yet Wesley's little textual snack put me into a tizzy. However normal and natural it may be to shift our concern for the future from ourselves to our children, before Wesley's birth I never suspected just how persistently speculative one could become about that future.
So I sat down with that nibbled Bible, plus a whole one to identify what was missing, and started thumbing through the pages. After a few minutes I came across a torn corner, but my pulse quickened only until I saw what it was: the last chapter of Leviticus, with some commandments about how priests may set the value of certain unclean beasts that are brought before the Lord. I frowned, unable to find a connection. But then I realized that a very obvious fact had escaped me: book pages are printed on both sides. And on the other side was the first chapter of Numbers, in which Yahweh tells Moses to number all the eligible fighting men of Israel, in preparation for the forthcoming war against the Canaanites.
I sat there for a few moments, thinking about war, and history, thinking too about the character of Yahweh. But then Wesley woke from his nap. I walked slowly to his room, and opened the door more quietly than necessary. He was standing in his crib, and babbled smilingly at me when I entered. I picked him up and held his cheek against mine and thought, Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof. O evil and adulterous generation.
A. J. Bacevich
When the definitive catalogue of twentieth-century horrors is assembled, the agonies endured by Bosnia in the 1990s are unlikely to rate many pages. It's been that kind of century.
Yet the ongoing debacle in Bosnia-more specifically, the utter ineffectiveness of U.S. efforts to end the conflict there-stings Americans as no other event in the brief time after the Cold War. Bosnia is an affront. The suffering of innocents resulting from the break-up of Yugoslavia afflicts our conscience. The cynicism of loathsome politicians who fan ethnic hatred in pursuit of petty ambitions fills us with disgust.
But however disturbing the grisly images beamed into our living rooms from Sarajevo and however despicable the latest reported machinations of such Bosnian Serb leaders as the toad-like Radovan Karadzic, outrage alone does not explain the extent to which this particular crisis has disconcerted the United States. Bosnia rankles because the intractability of the problems manifested there mocks the premises of modern American diplomacy. To examine the Bosnian crisis squarely and honestly is to understand that the entire Wilsonian enterprise, the cornerstone of American diplomacy since the United States entered upon the world stage, faces collapse today.
As Americans, we are all Wilsonians-just as we are all Jeffersonians. While we may be selective in drawing on Jefferson's view of democracy, we nonetheless rely heavily on it; Jefferson's vision of liberty and equality is intrinsic to our definition of nationhood. Similarly, in matters of foreign policy, although we are not uniformly enamored with the more extreme expressions of missionary diplomacy, virtually every American accepts the proposition that American political ideals are universal in application. With few exceptions, we assume that those ideals and values are destined to encompass the globe.
Indeed, ever since the U.S. entered World War I, this expectation has been central to the way that Americans have viewed the world; whatever the trials and tribulations of the moment, history would in the end propel others to embrace our values. American power and American ideals would transform international politics, leading to that Lasting Peace Woodrow Wilson and his successors routinely claimed as the ultimate reward of the nation's exertions.
Thus, when at Wilson's urging the United States flung itself into World War I, the President did not justify the departure from America's tradition of so-called isolationism as necessary to secure vital national interests. Instead, he cast America's purpose in cosmic terms. In his war message to Congress of April 2, 1917, for example, Wilson declared German aggression to be a threat not simply to the United States but to humanity itself. Germany, he said, had embarked upon a policy of waging "warfare against mankind. It is a war against all nations." Yet even the overthrow of this evil power was not in itself sufficient to justify American participation in the war. Rather, in Wilson's famous formulation, America would fight to make the world "safe for democracy." America, he vowed, must fight "for democracy . . . for the rights and liberties of small nations, for a universal dominion of right by such a concert of free peoples as shall bring peace and safety to all nations and make the world itself at last free"-the very purposes, according to Wilson, "we have always carried nearest our hearts."
In a cynical age, when the presumption of duplicity taints even the mildest use of lofty rhetoric, it requires a real exercise in historical imagination to appreciate the impact of Woodrow Wilson's summons of America to a world mission. But in 1917 the President's desperate conviction-for he hated war and could accept its necessity only for purposes that approached the transcendent-and the popular American susceptibility to the imagery of salvation invested Wilson's summons with extraordinary power.
Of course, the Wilsonian crusade failed. Far from discrediting Wilson's vision, however, failure somehow seemed to validate it. Wilson's insistence that for Americans the struggle for peace and worldwide liberty defined the cause "nearest our hearts" became enshrined as prescient and profound. Although rejected, Wilson himself became a mythic figure, a prophet abandoned and betrayed by small-minded men of ill will. Textbooks provided to later generations of American school children often claimed that his betrayal had made inevitable a second and even more terrible war.
For Wilsonians, that war provided a much anticipated "second chance." Once again, Americans were called upon to resist monstrous evil. Wilson's political heirs in World War II hastened to revive his assurances that American sacrifices in this conflict would purchase permanent world peace.
Despite the triumph over Nazi Germany and imperial Japan, however, peace again failed to materialize-frustrated this time by a Cold War the Wil- sonians had not anticipated. And yet, to its proponents, this second failure did not mean that the Wilsonian enterprise itself had failed. That the world would make only halting progress toward redemption-that in the ensuing decades violence, avarice, vanity, and iniquity continued to mark the conduct of international affairs-simply suggested that Wilson's prophetic vision would remain unfulfilled until the end of the Cold War itself.
Suddenly, at the end of the 1980s with the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Wilsonian moment seemed at hand. Long-stalled, the march toward peace could now resume. At long last, American power and American ideals would work their magic, culminating (so we were advised) in the creation of a New World Order under the benevolent direction of the United States.
A bare half-dozen years later, the very idea seems laughable. The phrase "New World Order" has become an object of derision. More importantly, the entire Wilsonian premise-that by eliminating monstrous evil America's power would permit a world hungry for peace to find salvation in American ideals-has begun to appear preposterous. Nowhere is this more clearly the case than in Bosnia, where the face of evil is not so much monstrous as contemptible, yet where evil remains as persistent and as unyielding as human nature itself.
In a performance that would undoubtedly have embarrassed and angered Woodrow Wilson, the United States has waffled and temporized over Bosnia, attempting to get by with half measures. Yet the uncertainty that has marked the American response to that crisis does not arise from confusion regarding the moral and political issues being contested there. Nor does American hesitation in employing its power in Bosnia reflect any serious disagreement regarding the operational risks and requirements of such an undertaking. Rather, uncertainty and hesitation have risen from the recognition-now impossible to suppress-that even massive intervention in Bosnia would solve very little. Although the United States undoubtedly possesses the capability to end the conflict, the Wilsonian goal of securing the "universal dominion of right" appears infeasible for the former Yugoslavia. Transforming the Balkans-just the Balkans, not the entire planet-exceeds the capability of the world's only superpower.
The dilemma that the United States faces in Bosnia exemplifies the larger dilemma of post-Cold War American foreign policy. In the real world (rather than the world of Wilsonian delusions), diplomacy involves choosing from among various imperfect alternatives to achieve limited purposes. This does not mean that any use of American power becomes an exercise in futility. Employing that power judiciously, case by case, the United States can-though never without substantial cost-punish some evil-doers, thwart some aggressors, and ameliorate the suffering of some oppressed people. Even if such an effort succeeds, however, the United States is sure to be confronted the next day with evil in some fresh incarnation, with new threats of disorder, and with yet further instances of humanitarian catastrophe to tug at our conscience. To pretend otherwise is to commit the United States to waging-in the words of an early and much reviled critic of Wilsonian pretensions-"perpetual war for perpetual peace." Down that road lies only frustration, exhaustion, and failure. Simple prudence demands that the United States craft its policies and establish its priorities accordingly.
Yet accepting the irrevocable failure of America's redeeming mission, acknowledging the blunt fact that American ideals will not transcend politics, does not come easily. The Wilsonian conceit that America can bend history to suit its will has conferred psychic and substantive rewards not willingly surrendered. It has permitted a nation given to seeing itself as historically unique to indulge in the proposition that it can enjoy the prerogatives of being a Great Power and yet remain above the squalid nastiness inherent in the actual exercise of power. It has enabled a foreign policy establishment long since grown lazy and complacent to sustain extraordinary popular deference by proclaiming itself sole arbiter of the practical implications of the Wilsonian enterprise.
Shorn of the grandeur of Wilsonian idealism, United States foreign policy loses its presumptive claim to moral superiority. Americans are left to contemplate the unwelcome realization that American exceptionalism-at least on the world stage-is illusory. No longer able to justify American diplomacy in terms of some pretentious obligation to humankind, foreign policy experts intent on making a case for intervening in places like Bosnia must devise a new rationale in a new vocabulary. Making such a case is not easy-and should not be.
Divesting the United States of its infatuation with Wilsonianism does not legitimize amoral statecraft. But only by stripping American policy of its Wilsonian fig leaf can the United States take a first step toward seeing the true dimensions of the challenge it faces in a turbulent post-Cold War world: that of a democracy and a superpower whose behavior must somehow reconcile both moral and pragmatic imperatives. If nothing else, Bosnia suggests just how daunting that challenge is likely to be.
The amazing Republican victory in the election of 1994 has prompted many commentators to suggest that we are experiencing a populist resurgence of the first order. The Republicans have captured what Jeffrey Bell has called "the populist stream of opinion" and are possibly presiding over a political realignment. If the Republicans hold their gains in Congress and capture the Presidency in 1996 they will pull off what, in a democratic society, is the equivalent of a revolution.
In the political sphere, then, we are witnessing the people exerting their will. To employ the famous image of Peter Berger, the Indians (the many ordinary Americans who are religious) are in the process of throwing out the Swedes (the governing class who are pervasively secularist.) In our society in general we sense the growing mistrust of the headquarters of anything-government, media, church, business, or school. Indeed, the sensitivity to this mistrust is so sharp that a telephone operator at our national church headquarters corrected me when I called it "headquarters." She suggested I call it "church-wide offices."
But what of the churches? Shouldn't there be signs of a "people's movement" in the churches, especially the mainstream Protestant churches? After all, there are fascinating parallels between the practices-now being rejected-of the federal government and the practices of the mainstream Protestant denominations. Here are a few examples to ponder, examples drawn mainly from my own church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, but which could apply to many mainstream churches.
First, there are the irritants and outrages of the regulatory state. The federal government has spun a thousand spiderwebs of ensnaring regulation. So has the church. The ELCA, begun in 1988, wanted so badly to be a "new church" that it produced detailed regulations imposing racial, ethnic, and gender quotas on the entire organized life of the church. These quotas are supposed to guarantee "inclusiveness." They unfortunately include among the formerly "excluded" a menagerie of self- described "victims," self-marginalized complainers, and self-conscious heretics-all now required by the regulatory church to be represented at every table of deliberation. The spirit of interest group liberalism pervades every nook and cranny of the church. So it is that traditional Lutheranism becomes just one of many perspectives-alongside feminism, multiculturalism, and political correctness-to be taken into account in the affairs of the regulatory church.
Sometimes the regulations are very subtle and informal. The prime example here is the move to "inclusive language." The switch to gender- neutral or inclusive language with regard to human beings took place at least a decade ago. But now the regulations have been expanded to exclude the use of any masculine pronouns for God. (None of this has been debated or formally legislated; it has been done by "executive order.") "Father" can be used in the trinitarian formula, the creeds, and the Lord's-or should I say "Sovereign's"-Prayer, but scarcely anywhere else. Church publishing houses, journals, and magazines now are thoroughly sanitized of the offending pronouns. Worship materials slavishly follow the new regulations and are visited on the unsuspecting laity without comment or debate. Seminaries give these regulations real muscle by enforcing inclusive language on all students. The "pronoun snippers" are having their way.
Another focus of the present populist resentment in politics is the suspicion that the government undermines the virtue of the people, turning them into dependent clients of the custodial state by not affirming crucial public values concerning sexual ethics, marriage and family life, work and citizenship. A corresponding suspicion is held of the mainstream Protestant churches. Ordinary lay people have the sense that the headquarters elite continually subvert their core values, either through loss of courage and clarity or through outright contempt. It is difficult to imagine any of the mainstream churches vigorously promoting chastity with the slogan "True Love Waits," as the Baptists have. They would be embarrassed to say something so clear and direct.
Rather, the good liberals who control most church headquarters have trouble saying "no" or setting clear limits. In some cases, for example with regard to homosexual behavior and sex before marriage, they constantly agitate for changes that directly challenge the traditional values of the laity. The notorious 1993 ELCA draft on human sexuality is a perfect case in point. It is no wonder that laity often consider the church headquarters an enemy of their Christian convictions.
Meanwhile, sexual sins by the clergy are ferreted out and prosecuted with unrelenting fury. Serious cases of unfaithfulness, which ought to be severely punished, are mixed with more minor violations that often bring draconian punishment. And since the perpetrator is always male, the offense is never a shared sinful act with the "victim," but a "hegemonic abuse of power." Old-fashioned lust, often reciprocated by the victim, is no longer recognized as a motivation. "Sin" is out, "abuse of power" is in.
The Republican victory of 1994 seemed to strike a blow against increased growth of the central government and for the shifting of political power to state and local levels. The voters expressed their conviction that growth in the federal government was not paying off in increased effectiveness. Taxpayers were paying more but getting less. A similar suspicion floats among the laity of the mainstream churches. Regarding the national church's crucial tasks of foreign and home missions, we are clearly paying more but getting less. The ratio of bureaucrats to actual overseas missionaries keeps climbing. National staffs keep huffing and puffing, but there are fewer home mission starts each year. Meanwhile, interest group concerns-commissions on women and multiculturalism- continue to soak up funds.
One of the first actions of the victorious Republicans was the Congressional Reforms Accountability Act. Among its provisions was the requirement that Congress submit to the same federal rules and regulations that the people have to observe. This legislation was met with great approval; even the Democrats said they would have done the same thing. Such is not the case in the church. After widespread agitation to get rid of quotas, the ELCA Conference of Bishops held that the "representational principles" of the ELCA should continue. The Bishops do not accept, however, that "representational principles" should govern the election of bishops. They remain overwhelmingly white males and do not wish to have quotas applied to them. Neither do I, of course, but why are they immune to a system to which everyone else must bow?
One could point to many other parallels. Taxation without representation, unfunded mandates, and unnecessary bureaucratic inefficiency all exist in the church. But why is there no populist upheaval? The first thing to note is that there is at least populist resistance, if resistance means that people are keeping their money close to home. Giving to local congregations has gone up along with inflation, but local parishes are not sending proportional monies to regional judicatories, which in turn are not sending as much to national organizations. Thus, the famous shrinkage of all mainstream headquarters. (This is also happening among more conservative churches, but they have traditionally been more congregational in polity than the mainstream ones.)
Few leaders among the mainstream churches have responded to this shrinkage by altering their behavior. One reason may be the "softness" of the systems of accountability in the churches. The churches, like the schools, are relatively invulnerable to popular pressures because their main actors are not accountable to the direct vote as in the political realm or the direct dollar as in economic life. Leadership often resides in well-insulated bureaucracies not directly responsive to votes or dollars. That is why they can maintain theological and political orientations far different from their grassroots membership.
Given this elite recalcitrance, why has there been no real effort to "throw the rascals out," as there has been in national and state politics? Why have church locals not tried to "take back" their church as American locals have tried to "take back" their government? Even given the lack of direct accountability, there must be some deeper reason why populist concerns do not powerfully affect the church. Alas, the sad reason is that most mainstream church members simply do not think that the larger church is important enough to merit close attention. The various delinquencies of church headquarters just don't affect the people in the pews enough to get them stirred up. Once in a while, when the media magnify issues such as those surrounding sexual ethics, the troops respond and demands arise for reform and accountability. But most of the time life goes on as usual at the parish level. And pastors generally maintain peace by keeping the laity blissfully ignorant of the shenanigans occurring at the church headquarters.
The populist revolt can only begin in earnest when and if pastors decide to mobilize their laity in a self-conscious movement within the church. But rather than lead such a movement, many pastors would prefer to "go independent"-something that is likely to happen much more frequently if things continue as they are.
All this, however, is not to suggest that a populist movement in the churches would necessarily be a good thing. "The people" are not automatically any more trustworthy than the elite. What is trustworthy is the Holy Spirit working through the authoritative tradition of the Church. But much of that tradition has been eroded by rampant individualism among the laity and malfeasance among the elite. Real hope for a mainstream church such as the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America resides in a repentant centering on the confessional tradition that has held Lutheranism together for these last four centuries. Hope for the future of the church is only to be found among those of its adherents-laity and elite alike-who have a sure grasp of its tradition.
Peter L. Berger
In a recent issue of the Spectator, the spunky British conservative magazine, there were two articles on aspects of the military culture of the United Kingdom. One, by Alasdair Palmer, dealt with attitudes toward homosexuals in the British army. The other, by Noel Malcolm, discussed the pro-Serbian bias of British government statements on the Bosnian conflict and of senior British soldiers serving with the United Nations forces in Bosnia. The two articles address quite discrepant issues, yet in an interesting way they belong together, and their common if not immediately obvious topic is relevant to every Western democracy. That topic is the character of the military today.
Palmer records the strong anti-homosexual sentiments in the British military and the strong conviction among British professional soldiers that the presence of homosexuals undermines the morale of the troops. Palmer has no sympathy with these sentiments and beliefs. He claims that there is no evidence concerning the alleged damage to military morale, a claim about which one might raise some questions. But he also makes the telling point that, if sexual attraction and sexual play are a morale issue, the presence of women in the armed forces constitutes a much bigger problem than the presence of homosexuals. In support of this point he might have cited recent revelations about the number of pregnancies incurred by women serving on American battleships and about incidents of illicit heterosexual behavior in various branches of the American military.
Malcolm's article has nothing to do with sex, gay or straight. He shows how official British pronouncements on the Bosnian conflict tend toward a position of moral equivalency between the aggressors and the victims (a tendency that has also characterized a number of official American statements). This bias has an obvious political function. It serves to legitimate the weak response of the Western powers to the Serbian aggression: If the Bosnian government is no better than its Serbian enemies, a stronger Western response is not indicated. But Malcolm makes another point, which links it to Palmer's theme. It appears that British officers have developed a sense of "military camaraderie" (Malcolm's phrase) with their Serbian counterparts. In a not-so-subliminal way, these officers identify with the swashbuckling characters on the Serbian side.
Implicit in these two articles is a very important issue: What kind of military do we want to have in our Western democracies? And what kind of military do we need?
One does not have to disagree with the democratic doctrine concerning civilian control of the armed forces or with the ideal of a citizens army to recognize a simple fact: the defining purpose of the military is to kill enemies. Anthropologists continue to argue whether homicidal aggression is intrinsic to human nature, but it is fairly evident that people raised in societies softened by philanthropic moralities have some difficulty turning themselves into killers (or, at any rate, most of them do). They have to be trained to do so. Perhaps, if some anthropologists are right, this may not have been necessary for roving bands of warriors in Neolithic times. It is certainly necessary in modern Western societies, as any drill sergeant in basic training camps will testify.
Consequently, a distinctive military ethos has developed in modern times. It has put constraints on the murderous impulses of the warrior band, introducing values of honor and chivalry, and these values have been codified in such internationally recognized expressions of ius in bello as the Geneva Conventions on the treatment of prisoners and noncombatants. But this military ethos has nevertheless preserved the intrinsic character of the bond that holds together a group of human beings committed to lethal violence and prepared to risk their lives in this enterprise. The more reflective interpreters of this ethos have been very much aware of the moral dilemmas it may entail. A classic expression of this awareness is Alfred de Vigny's novel The Military Necessity; on a lesser literary level, Herman Wouk's novel The Caine Mutiny and the play and film based on it illustrate the same moral tension.
There can be no doubt that this same military ethos included a cult of virility. The bonded group of warriors have always been a group of men, in an emphatically macho sense of the word. One may well suspect that there are biological reasons for this, but, be that as it may, the link between the warrior spirit and an ideal of blustering maleness is deeply grounded. There was a song current among mercenaries in the Thirty Years' War that began with the line "We are a horde of ten thousand swine." This may not be a morally attractive sentiment, but it accurately reflects an important psychological ingredient of "military necessity." Like it or not, a measure of swinishness has been intrinsic to what makes soldiers tick. Military professionals know this instinctively; the politicians who dictate policies to them rarely do. And, like it or not, the majority of those who feel at home in these putatively swinish hordes are uneasy (at the very least) if homosexuals want to join; they are equally uneasy, or even more so, with the presence of women.
To avoid misunderstanding, I want to inject a personal observation here. I have never had the slightest problem with the presence of homosexuals in any setting in which I found myself. And I have always disliked all- male groups (they have for me the unpleasant odor of the locker room). By the same token, I would always have made a lousy soldier. The time I spent as a draftee in the U.S. Army (luckily for me, after the Korean war and before the one in Vietnam) was probably the single most miserable episode in my life.
I vividly recall two scenes from my basic training at Fort Dix, New Jersey. One was bayonet training. We were taught to run at the dummy, plunge the bayonet into its belly, then put our foot into what (if there were a man rather than a dummy) would now have been a mortal wound and jerk the bayonet out again. While we were going through this exercise, we were supposed to yell. I managed the physical part of it, more or less, but I never learned to yell with sufficient enthusiasm.
The other scene was back in the barracks. The lavatory had no dividing walls between the toilets. The men would sit there, noisily defecating in unison, while they exchanged obscene jokes and (probably mendacious) accounts of their own sexual adventures. Or, I should say, many of the men did. Others, myself included, avoided these happy squatting sessions and frequented the lavatory when it was less populated. I have no doubt which group was better fitted for the military.
Now, a good case can be made that much of the present-day military no longer requires the old ethos. Its methods of warfare are highly technological, and its organization is heavily bureaucratized. During my own unheroic term of service in the 1950s there was a noticeable antagonism between the old professional types and the careerists of the "New Army." Since then the military in all Western countries has become much more technologized and much more bureaucratized, but, as far as I can tell, there continues to be a core group of soldiers, most of them in combat units, who continue to identify with the old ethos and who feel dislike if not contempt for those who are more proficient in public relations than in ramming bayonets into enemy bellies. It is clear that the latter group has few problems with homosexuals or with women serving alongside them, or at any rate no more problems than any comparable male group in civilian occupations. They have also had no problem applying to military life the demented notions of "sexual harassment" foisted on the rest of society by the likes of Pat Schroeder. By the same token, we may safely assume, they are not tempted to a sense of "military camaraderie" with ferocious Serbs in the mountains of Bosnia.
Leaving aside for the moment both moral judgments and personal preferences in lifestyle, we are led by these considerations to a very simple question: What kind of military is needed today by Western democracies? If the only military interventions we can envisage in the future are of the high-tech sort, then we can dispense with the old ethos-including the cult of virility and the swinishness that have always gone with it. Contemporary Britain or America can produce only a limited number of individuals who will charge enthusiastically with a bayonet. But just about any Briton or American can push a button that will send a missile against an unseen adversary. Straights or gays can, men or women can, even people like me can. And the relations between those engaged in this kind of warfare need be no different from relations between people in any other technological or bureaucratic line of work.
I have no expertise in strategic analysis. I strongly suspect, though, that this will not be the only type of military intervention that the interests of Western democracies will call for in the future, especially in the wake of the Cold War. If so, the future will look more like the Bosnian conflict than the 1991 blitzkrieg in the Gulf. In that case, there must be men with bayonets, taking ground and holding it. If the Western democracies lack such men in their militaries, they will be severely limited in their responses to aggression.