Today's Q&A is with Philippe Buc, author of Holy War, Martyrdom, and Terror: Christianity, Violence, and the West, which examines the ways that Christian theology has shaped centuries of conflict from the Jewish-Roman War of late antiquity through the First Crusade, the French Revolution, and up to the Iraq War. Buc connects the ancient past to the troubled present, showing how religious ideals of sacrifice and purification made violence meaningful throughout history.
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Penn Press: How would you characterize the American ideology of war? What are its principal traits?
Philippe Buc: An at first sight strange presumption that American wars are about “liberty” and concern “the world,” even when limited in ambit; the frequent but not obligatory sense that somehow war can purify the nation; the contradiction between the idea that American wars are gentler than those waged by others, yet the willingness to fight them very hard, given that these are wars with universal meaning; and (in connection to this) the sense that this could be the war to end all wars.
How does this relate to the history of European violence?
The presumption is strange only if one does not realize that in the not so distant past European nations and political groups have very much imagined the same about their own wars—that they purify or regenerate, that they have universal meaning, that they have something to do with “freedom,” and that they are embedded in a forward march of history leading to eternal peace.