MICHAEL McKINLEY. Defence policies and alliances have become a new religion. Part 3 of 5 : Alliance Wars: Papal Prerogatives and Vaticanisation.

Government pronouncements in Australia, especially in the fields of Strategy and National Security, it is claimed, are determined by scientific rationality and definitely not configured according to religious belief. This is both fraudulent and a dangerous conceit: religion, has not been banished; indeed, the present reeks of ecclesiastical history and religion (more specifically, its deformation, religiosity). Accordingly, the proposition is that a more politically accurate understanding of Australia’s mindset is to be afforded by an interrogation of five aspects:  the present state of world politics in history; the acutely deranged state of the present; the emergence of the Papal Presidency in the US; the religious state of the Australia-US Alliance; and White Papers and their like as religious documents.

One of the paradoxes of revolutions is that they so frequently disclose their consequences as the opposite of what was originally intended when the struggle against the old regime was undertaken: the Protestant Reformation, for example, began as a religious overturning and yet over time generated both secularism and a scientific revolution antithetical to the beliefs of those who effected it.  A similar inversion has taken place in the United States, nominally a project quintessential Reformation origins, as it indulged its self-proclaimed Exceptionalism; indeed, it was in the ascendant long before 2001, when President George W. Bush prompted the reflection.

Over time, a “papal presidency” has emerged which, depending on the exigencies facing the Administration at the time, is attracted to historical papal styles and prerogatives analogous to its requirements.  (Now, for example, the White House finds the examples set by the  Renaissance Popes of the Borgia, Medici and della Rovere families in the period 1475-1565 to be worthy of imitation).  Most notable is the enthusiasm of successive Administrations to adopt prerogatives inimical to a republic and more closely identified with the worst excesses of the Vatican’s Romanita – rule by legislation, admonition, and fiat – all stamped with a sacred character under the seal of the magisterium.

In the process, the US has become a political theocracy, the mirror image of its model, the theocratic polity which, inter alia,  gave the world the Crusades, the Inquisition, and sanctioned the genocidal campaigns in pursuit of empire by Portugal and Spain in the 15th and 16th centuries.

One additional aspect of this transformation – the American Way War – must suffice to make the point for the light it throws on Alliance Wars, and especially the ongoing Global War On Terror orchestrated in response to the 9/11 attacks.  The reactions included a sense that existing laws, conventions and customs, national and international, failed the test of immediate utility in the cause of the moment; accordingly In the name of a “crusade” they were, therefore, dispensed with in a manner congruent with the absolutions and indulgences extended to the original crusaders by Pope Urban II in the 11th Century.

When necessity determined that attention be given to rationalisations, laws were invented and applied retrospectively.  By any comprehension it is a return to rule by a form of absolutism, but under such rubrics as the Patriot Act, “unlawful combatants,” and “extra-territoriality,” or, failing these, “national security” which, in itself, or in combination is regarded as sufficient justification for holding suspects without trial indefinitely.

In extremis, the appeal was to an acceptance of the President as the author of legality.  Richard Nixon’s formulation, “When the President does it, that means it is not illegal,” has subsequently been not only acted upon, but institutionalised by the Administrations of George W. Bush (as confirmed by Condoleezza Rice) and Barack Obama’s abrogations of the fifth and fourteenth amendments of the US Constitution in relation to ordering the killing of US citizens without due process.

Both departures were justified in a preposterous manner recalling Pius IX and his demand that, on matters of faith and morals, his personal decrees were without error, which is to say infallible.  And the wars which followed them are an eerily consistent in their annihilationist intentions, tendencies and episodes.

In the immediate aftermath of 9/11 advice from the faithful was no less than was given in 1209 by Arnaud-Amaury, Abbot of Citeaux, when asked by the Crusaders what to do with the citizens of Beziers who were a mixture of Catholics and Cathars: Tuez-les tous; Dieu reconnaitra les siens
(“Kill them all; for the Lord knoweth them that are His”).  In the New York Post, Steve Dunleavy wrote:

The response . . . . should be as simple as it is swift – kill the bastards . . . . Train assassins . . . Hire mercenaries . . . . As for the cities or countries that host these worms, bomb them into basketball courts.

For Richard Brookhiser in the New York Observer, basketball courts were indicative of a lack of commitment:

The response to such a stroke cannot be legal or diplomatic – the international equivalent of mediation, or Judge Judy.  This is what we have a military for.  Let’s not build any more atomic bombs until we use the ones we have.

And Anne Coulter, writing for National Review Online, went so far as to suggest a fusion of the proselytising zeal of Pius IX and President William McKinley:

We should invade their countries, kill their leaders, and convert them to Christianity.

In the instance of the need to extract information from uncooperative prisoners, consigliere are available to advise that the Geneva Convention’s proscriptions against torture are dispensable. Significantly, there is a remarkably unnerving equality of meaning between current US policy and the practices of the Spanish Inquisition.  The present situation admits “extraordinary rendition” whereby a suspect is clothed in an orange jump-suit, held without legal representation, accused anonymously in many cases,  interrogated, maltreated, and even tortured, and then deported illegally to another country for the purpose of being tortured again and quite likely killed.

Under Tomas de Torquemada, suspects were arrested without divulging the reasons for doing so, charged on the basis of testimony by anonymous witnesses, or information which had not been communicated to the accused.  They were made aware that torture was a definite prospect (in conspectus tormentorum) and, if insufficiently forthcoming, actually tortured in caput alienum (so as to confess knowledge of the crimes of others).

Access to legal advice was available but the abrogados de los pesos so provided were officials of the Inquisition, dependent upon, and working with it.  Those convicted wore either a yellow, or a black (depending on the sentence) penitential garment – the sanbenito – which signified infamy. Those in black – the condemned – were “relaxed” to the civil authorities to be executed.

The difference? At best, geographical.  Once it was Seville, Cordoba, Valencia, Barcelona, the Languedoc, and the Vaudois; now we must speak of Bagram, Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, the “black sites” of Poland and Romania, and destinations of no return in the Middle East.

From 1982 to 1988, Michael McKinley taught diplomacy international relations and strategy in the department of Politics, at UWA. From 1988 to 2014 he taught diplomacy, international relations and strategy at the ANU. He is currently a member of the Emeritus Faculty at the ANU.

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