You are hereAn Interview with Dr. Larry Schweikart
An Interview with Dr. Larry Schweikart
Our latest interview is with Dr. Larry Schweikart, a professor of history at the University of Dayton. Dr. Schweikar has written more than twenty books on national defense, business and financial history; last week he was a guest on the Rush Limbaugh Show and FrontPageMagazine.com and also worked as a ghost-writer for a well-known television evangelist. Dr. Schweikart was generous enough to take some time away from his busy schedule and answer some questions in light of his brand new book, America's Victories: Why the U.S. Wins Wars and Will Win the War on Terror, a book getting very positive reviews from Rush Limbaugh, The National Review and the Wall Street Journal.Virgil Vaduva: Dr. Schweikart, thank you so much for your time and for agreeing to answer some of my questions. I know that there is a saying in English to not judge a book by its cover, but I just love the cover of your new book. One could say that it is the best expression of the book itself: an unmatched resolve of our military forces. Is there a story behind the cover picture?
Dr. Larry Schweikart: Hi Virgil. Actually, I'm very happy with that cover, but the image I tried to get our publisher to use was one of just two soldiers, one in a Continental dress in the shadows passing off the flag to a modern soldier in the bright foreground. Fortunately, my publisher is better at selecting images than I am. And, no, there is no particular "story" to this image, other than it encapsulates several of the themes: discipline, yet individuality (note the number of dress styles, yet they are all regulation); intensity, yet informality enough to allow adaptation and change; and, of course, determination.
Virgil Vaduva: As you already know I spent much of my life in a Communist country where throughout my childhood and teenage years I was constantly told by my father that "America will eventually free us from Communism." I believe this kind of perspective on the United States is prevalent throughout the world in places experiencing dictatorships and government abuse; the U.S. is always expected to come and deliver the defenseless from the jaws of totalitarianism. Why do you think that is?
Dr. Larry Schweikart: First, it's "our turn." Greece did this job for a hundred years, keeping the Persian hordes from overrunning Europe. Later, the British Empire spread western ideas of human worth and republican government around the world. Neither of these, Greece or England, was perfect, and neither was a representative democracy as we are, but the concepts of the west were embedded deeply in their militaries. We are now, in some cases, almost alone in standing up to Islamic jihadism---with some essential help from the Aussies, the Brits, the Italians, some of the eastern Europeans, of course. But it was the U.S. that took the first step after 9/11 to say we not only had to respond to the attacks themselves, but to clean out that part of the world's cesspool that breeds such problems. Now we're out front, taking the arrows, so to speak, because we are doing the job few others will do. Just look at Iran. Everyone keeps ducking the Iran issue because, deep down, they KNOW that a United States under George W. Bush will not tolerate a nuclear Iran to become a genuine threat to us, or to other nations. "Let America do it" is their cry.
Virgil Vaduva: A major thesis of your book is that the United States will win the war on terror (and other wars) not only because of military might, but because of the different kind of spirit and attitude American people have towards war, life and difficulties encountered through life. I certainly agree with you, but could you elaborate on what in particular you see as the reason for Americans having a different kind of spirit and attitude than the rest of the world?
Dr. Larry Schweikart: It is a continuation of the Hanson thesis that the West has developed an essentially different way of fighting that includes concern for the sanctity of life, free expression, a willingness to use technology, a reliance on citizen soldiers who are then allowed extensive autonomy, and an ability to learn from losses. Some of these are no-brainers for us in the West: "Learn from loss? Who doesn't?" Yet bushido Japan and jihadist Muslim states have shared the view that to make an error is a shame, to admit it, a double shame. How can you learn from a mistake if it is a shame to admit you made a mistake in the first place? Whether in war or business, we are incredibly tolerant of failure---look at our bankruptcy laws, which is another essentially western device.
Virgil Vaduva: You also mentioned Rome and other great civilizations of the past which have eventually collapsed for many reasons, one of which is the lack of respect for the sanctity of life; you give numerous examples in your book of instances when many American lives were lost in the effort to save those who were in distress, even enemies. How would you parallel that effort with what we often see as a losing fight against abortion here in the United States? Is the U.S. in danger of losing respect for the sanctity of life as well?
Dr. Larry Schweikart: I differ from you insofar as I don't see us losing that fight at all. The numbers, in fact, are overwhelmingly on the side of the pro-life movement, and slowly, even courts are rolling back abortion "rights." Surveys show that younger people especially are pro-life, and a couple of years ago we crossed the threshholed where a majority of Americans no longer believed Roe v. Wade was a legitimate ruling. The lesson I tend to draw from Rome is, if you plan to expand your territory, you better increase your population in those territories with loyal subjects. If the Romans, from the get-go, had developed a citizenship process for the Germans that involved some degree of "Roman-ification," they would have lasted even longer. But they went half-way, trying to keep the Germans as an effective buffer while at the same time denying them citizenship. We, on the other hand, through our Northwest Ordinance, have been nearly alone among all countries in the world in allowing conquered peoples to become citizens. We set Cuba free, pulled out of North Africa and France, and even left the Philippines. We offered Puerto Rico independence, and they turned us down. No other power in history has gone to such lengths to ensure that those within its borders are homogenous.
Virgil Vaduva: Do you see the mainstream media as being dangerously antagonistic towards our military forces, or simply just another manifestation of the free nature of our society and government?
Dr. Larry Schweikart: No, the media is a different animal. It stopped being just "another manifestation" in the 1960s, and now has lost all perspective. The reasons are numerous: 1) self-selection and inbreeding among journalists at the top papers and television stations, in which they have all come from the same journalism schools and have no background at all in business or the military; 2) lack of military service, in which most editors and reporters have never served, and thus, are hostile to the military; and 3) insulation from market pressures. The mainstream newspapers and television news shows, for example, are mostly parts of larger chains that can carry a loss in the news division if it means increased prestige at swank parties. There is no way a market-responsive NY Times could print what it does and survive if it was not being subsidized at many levels. Just consider advertising: the "majors" don't have to advertise, because the other papers all quote the NY Times and the LA Times, and the WaPo.That is millions of dollars in freebies every year.
Virgil Vaduva: One thing that I personally struggle with is Christ's commandment to love our brothers and even love our enemies, and bless those who persecute us. Although it seems like an impossibility, how do you see reconciliation between Jesus commanding us to love enemies and the necessity of war against those bent on killing us at any cost? Is it even possible to reconcile the two, or is the question getting lost between the lines?
Dr. Larry Schweikart: That's a great question and a constant source of, I think, misunderstanding for Christians. I begin everything in my Christian life with John 1:1: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was WITH GOD. . . ." All scholars accept that this word "logos" there means Jesus. If Jesus was "with God" in the beginning, then He must have been there when God commanded the Israelites to wipe out Jericho, AI, and dozens of other cities, or to fight innumerable battles. What did Jesus say when God issued those commands? The Bible tells us there can be no disagreement between God and Jesus, anymore than your eyeballs can disagree where to look: They are the same, one. So Jesus said "Yes, and Amen" when God gave those orders. We have for too long tried to detach Jesus from His presence in the Old Testament, and thereby create a pacifist Jesus. I'm convinced the commandments on blessing your enemies and praying for those who persecute you are absolute; but they are also individual. They do not refer to nations. Paul tells us in Romans that the government does not bear the sword in vain, but to "execute wrath." Isn't that interesting? He didn't even say, "execute judgment," but wrath! Why? For the same reason that there is a prohibition against murder in the Old Testament, but not against the government executing people by law: Goverment, the representative of God's authority on earth, as Paul tells us, must do collectively so that we do not take upon ourselves individually to do. In the case of murder, you might be tempted to kill the killer of someone you loved. You don't have that right---only the state does, because you are not God's agent, the government is. And remember, Paul said this of a PAGAN government, Rome. How much more appropriate is it of a Christian and just government, ours?
Now, here's something that I think will blow the doors off some of your readers' cars. We know that prior to His going into the ministry at age 30, Jesus did what work? He was a carpenter, right? The town of Nazareth, where He worked, was a garrison town for the Roman army. What, exactly, do you think carpenters in Nazareth did? What do you think software companies near Wright-Pat Air Base do? He worked for the Roman army. I'm convinced that Joseph and Son were contractors for the Romans, and that they built barrackes, watch towers, ballistas, and even . . . crosses. Yep, the same Jesus who said to love your neighbor supplied weapons to the Roman army. Except there isn't a contradiction. Jesus said, "Peace. My peace I give to you, NOT AS THE WORLD GIVES IT." Well, how does the world give peace? Cease-fires. Treaties. Temporary cessations of violence. He did not come to give us that kind of peace, but a deeper, real, genuine peace that no government can provide. And finally, when He comes again, it will not be throwing flowers like someone from 1960s San Francisco, but with a sword, and, yes, people will die.
Virgil Vaduva: In your book you also mentioned "forgiveness" as another major tenet of Western Civilization. In contrast, Islamic societies are almost always revolving around shame and maintaining one's honor at any cost, including killing the innocent. Is this not another Biblically-derived attribute of our own society?
Dr. Larry Schweikart: It is, and that's a critical point. The whole notion of forgiveness is a Judeo-Christian concept. Yet it translates into our economy (bankruptcy laws) and our military (surrender). Forgiveness involves placing shame before the Father, and letting Him deal with it. So many cultures---bushido Japan, modern jihadist cultures, however---do not have such concepts. "Shame and honor" cultures will not allow you to make a mistake---an error is a shame, not just an error. This is why even economically these other areas of the world have difficulty surpassing us: they can copy us, quite well, up to a point, but they always lack the inventiveness. U-California Berkeley has MORE NOBEL PRIZES THAN ANY OTHER NATION!!! Why less inventiveness? Because invention involves repeated failure, and society has to be tolerant of failure. In Christianity, we live daily with the realization that we cannot measure up, yet are forgiven, so while I wouldn't say we "celebrate" failure (although some modern churches are coming dangerously close), we tolerate it like no other society. As a result, we always end up with more good ideas, whether in business or the military. I will categorically state that no "shame/honor" society can ever defeat an essentially free society without shedding its shame/honor code.
Virgil Vaduva: In light of the U.S. war on terror, and the current events taking place in the Middle East, what do you make of some of the recurring prophetic hysteria we see associated with these types of events?
Dr. Larry Schweikart: Well, it makes for good reading, that's for sure! I've read and enjoyed all the "Left Behind" series, and think the last one, "The Glorious Appearing" had some fantastic insights into what, I believe, will indeed happen. My problem with "end times" guys isn't that they are all wrong, but that I as of yet don't see the conditions as described in the Bible as ready for the apocalypse. For example---and these are just my views gleaned from scripture, and I know other Christians interpret these passages differently---the prophecy of David said that Jesus would sit at the right hand of God until all His enemies were made His footstool. Well, if Jesus is with God and we are here on earth, and we are the body, then that would mean that God's enemies ON EARTH would have to be His footstool. I don't see that happening as of 2006, do you? Paul said we would come into a "unity of the faith" before Jesus came. Well, that is starting to happen: Orthodox and Roman Cathlics are making noises about burying the hatchet, and the charismatic movement has brought Baptists and Catholics together in ways I never dreamed possible growing up in a Southern Baptist Church as a kid. But we're not there yet. All in all, I think the "hysteria" you refer to is that gnawing feeling out there, even among so-called unbelievers, that this stuff is real, and that there is a literal Jesus, and one day He is going to literally come down and kick butt.
Virgil Vaduva: Finally, as Christians, I believe that we should look for ways to better the world, help the poor and be living examples to those around us. It is evident to me that sometimes war is necessary, yet I can't help but think of a future when perhaps we could, as humans, get past our differences and try to solve problems without having to kill each other. Speaking both as a Christian and a historian, do you believe longing for a future without war is just a pipe dream or could it become a reality?
Dr. Larry Schweikart: I believe that God has supplied us with all we need to be healthy, happy, and victorious---war aside---and I also believe that just as in Jesus's day, there will be people of little or no faith. Remember He went back to Nazareth, having raised the dead and made the lame to walk, but in His home town, He couldn't even (as David Shiftlett says) "fix a parking ticket." He couldn't do anything. Why? The Bible is clear: "Because of their unbelief." So it doesn't matter how successful the "good" Christians are, you can only move as far as the weakest member in the faith process will take you. Upon reaching the Promised Land, two of the spies, Joshua and Caleb, said they could easily defeat the Canaanites, but 10 said they couldn't. The faith of Joshua and Caleb, because they were part of a community, was limited by the other 10. Now, we're JUST TALKING ABOUT CHRISTIANS in this future scenario, so even if the world were all Christians, it would be something of a pipe dream, because many Christians have "little faith." Reality is, even if the prophecies are interpreted as I think they should be---that many of the people in the world will come to Christ---you will still have substantial numbers of unbelievers, and you cannot walk over the free will of another person. They have a right not to believe. God gave them that right. So, longing for a future without war is not only a pipe dream, Jesus Himself said that just before His coming there would be "wars and rumors of wars." That doesn't sound very peaceful to me!
Virgil Vaduva: Dr. Schweikart, again thank you for this interview and for your time, and congratulations on a well-written, and excellent book that both honors and brings encouragement to our armed forces. God bless!
Dr. Larry Schweikart: Thank you for a wonderful interview.