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Minister of War

To read the Reverend Billy Graham’s obituary in the Guardian (“Billy Graham obituary,” February 21, 2018) one might think that he was a fairly well-balanced religious leader. But to those of us who grew up during the Vietnam era and dealt with that war in any number of ways, he was a much different person.

In a secret memo sent to Richard Nixon in April 1969, here is the reverend in his own words. These words are from The Prince of War: Billy Graham’s Crusade for a Wholly Christian Empire (2017) by Cecil Bothwell:

There are tens of thousands of North Vietnamese defectors to bomb and invade the North. Why should all the fighting be in the South?… Especially let them bomb the dikes which could over night [sic] destroy the economy of North Vietnam.” Mr. Bothwell underscored that such a military action against the dikes, a huge complex of earthworks, would probably “kill a million people and wipe out an already poor nation’s agricultural system.” He added that the advice in Graham’s transmittal “fell on receptive ears. Not longer after, Nixon moved the air war north and west. (William Hughes, JR’S Free Thought Pages, “The Dark Side of Rev. Billy Graham: A Prince of War Exposed”).

As if this shameless endorsement of mass murder from the sky wasn’t enough, Graham joined a chorus of the grotesque in regard to the deaths of students at Kent State University following Nixon’s April 1970 invasion of Cambodia. Graham said that “All Americans may not agree with the decision a president makes–but he is our president…” The murdered students were being buried and their families grieved when Graham made this statement. Graham added to the macabre chorus that included the governor of Ohio, James Rhodes, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, then governor of California, and J. Edgar Hoover. Nixon called the protesting students “bums.” He so angered Arthur Krause, grieving father of slain Kent State student, Allison Krause, that Krause countered and confronted the president on national television.

And as if all of this horror was not enough, Graham castigated the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., when King condemned the Vietnam War in his April 1967 speech “Beyond Vietnam” delivered at Riverside Church in New York City.

Here is how Graham’s assessed King’s momentous speech:

“… an affront to the thousands of loyal Negro troops who are in Vietnam.” When Dr. King marched for Civil Rights in Selma, Alabama, Rev. Graham was no where [sic] to be found. And, after Dr. King was gunned down in Memphis, TN, he couldn’t be bothered to attend his funeral either (“The Dark Side of Rev. Billy Graham”).

There really is no way to rationally explain how a so-called person of God could make such horrific recommendations to an unbalanced president, or could utter such unholy words about war and death. There existed a code of law that had come down from thousands of years of careful ethical/moral consideration of the nature of war. It was not nearly perfect in its outline for when wars could be fought, but it was clear in delineating the boundaries when nation states could wage so-called just wars. But Graham didn’t even come close to respecting even a single one of the rules of war and seemed to have nothing but contempt for innocent civilians—noncombatants—in war zones and the innocent on college campuses in the U.S. Graham seemed to want notoriety more than anything else and he got it. Did Graham even have a rudimentary understanding of the writings of Saint Augustine of Hippo, Saint Thomas Aquinas, or the myriad laws that included the Geneva Conventions, the Nuremberg Principles, the Charter of the U.N., to name just a few of the foundations of the laws of war? And what could be even worse: did he care? Was anticommunism one of the only moving forces in his life? He was the precursor of the fundamentalist movement in religion that seeks to align itself with the worst prejudiced inclinations of people and their leaders. This movement, in part, has given us Trump and Pence.

Graham’s prejudices don’t end with war. In CounterPunch (“When Billy Graham Urged Nixon to Kill a Million People,” November 1, 2013), Jeffrey St. Clair and Alexander Cockburn write, based on a National Archive formally secret memo from April 15, 1969, and other archived materials, about Graham’s warmongering and add a little-known interaction from the White House where Graham makes an outrageous anti-Semitic remark about how Jews are basically ruining the U.S.

A man of God?

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Howard Lisnoff is a freelance writer. He is the author of Against the Wall: Memoir of a Vietnam-Era War Resister (2017).

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