By George B. Kauffman
The Prince of War: Billy Graham’s Crusade for a Wholly Christian Empire (2nd ed.). An unauthorized biography with selected book reviews by author Cecil Bothwell. Brave Ulysses Books (braveulysses.com), 2010, 215 pp., paperback, $16; ISBN 978- 1456325909.
“Billy Graham represents a basic kind of patriotism in this country—an unquestioning, obeying patriotism, a loyalty to the president. Billy was always uncritical, unchallenging, unquestioning.”—Bill Moyers, quoted by Robert Sherrill, “Preachers to Power,” The Nation, July 13, 1998
On Sept. 27, 2007, William Hughes reviewed the first edition of Bothwell’s book:
The shepherd always tries to persuade the sheep that their interests and his own are the same.”—Stendhal
The propaganda machine of the Evangelical Christian Right will soon be in counterattack mode. One of its darling preachers is about to take it on the proverbial chin. The Rev. Billy Graham, who has created a multimillion-dollar media empire, that a Rupert Murdock would envy, is the subject of a shocking exposé due out on Nov. 15, 2007. It’s entitled, The Prince of War: Billy Graham’s Crusade for a Wholly Christian Empire. The author is Ceci l Bothwell. He hails from Asheville, N.C., and is an award-winning investigative reporter. Bothwell’s unflattering portrait of Rev. Graham shows him as a wily warmonger and a lackey for the Establishment. He describes Rev. Graham as a public figure who: “Undermined the Founders’ skeptical Deism and sought to rebrand the U.S. as a Christian nation, [and] its armies [as] the rightful instruments of [a] Christian crusade and empire.”
Bothwell documents that there wasn’t a war the U.S. was involved in that Rev. Graham couldn’t bless. In fact, he reveals that during the horrific Vietnam conflict (1959–75) he had urged then-President Richard M. Nixon to bomb North Vietnam! In a 13-page letter that Rev. Graham had forwarded to the White House in April 1969, it was stated: “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 overnight 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 long after, Nixon moved the air war north and west.”
There is more. After the deadly Kent State University affair (May 4, 1970), where four students who were protesting the Nixon-Henry Kissinger-inspired bombing of Cambodia were killed by Ohio’s National Guard troops, Rev. Graham invited the mostly unbalanced Nixon to address his crusade. It was held in Knoxville, Tenn. While parents of the students were still grieving and burying their dead, Rev. Graham shamelessly shilled: “All Americans may not agree with the decision a president makes—but he is our president.”
Also, every chance Rev. Graham got he ripped into antiwar protesters in this country while the Vietnam inferno was raging. After a large pro-peace demonstration in late 1969, he railed in a letter to then President Lyndon B. Johnson that the protesters were “radicals and those seeking to overthrow the American way of life.”
When the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., spoke out in 1967 against the war in a sermon at the Riverside Church in New York City, Rev. Graham jumped right in and tagged his criticism as “an affront to the thousands of loyal Negro troops who are in Vietnam.” When Dr. King marched for civil rights in Selma, Ala., Rev. Graham was nowhere to be found. And after Dr. King was gunned down in Memphis, Tenn., Rev. Graham couldn’t be bothered to attend his funeral either.
Rev. Graham made a career out of sucking up to U.S. presidents. Mr. Bothwell wrote how he loved those “endless photo-ops” at the White House and how he was always “so eager to shake the hands of…despots, movie stars and industrial kingpins, and to offer grandiose approval of their greatness. Obsequy, more than money, seemed to drive the man—though his pockets were never empty.” Fortunately, not all the presidents bought into Rev. Graham’s bogus act.
One of my favorites, President Harry S. Truman, who was born in Lamar, Mo., knew a wide variety of people from political bosses to political hacks. He had a built-in BS detector. This is what President Truman had to say about the war-loving, camera-mugging preacher: “Graham has gone off the beam. He’s… well, I hadn’t ought to say this, but he’s one of those ‘counterfeits’ I was telling you about. He claims he’s a friend of all the presidents, but he was never a friend of mine when I was president. I just don’t go for people like that. All he’s interested in is getting his name in the paper.”
Just before Bush 1 (George H.W. Bush) launched the Persian Gulf War, he invited Rev. Graham to the White House. On Jan. 16, 1991, they both watched the “air war against Iraq on CNN.” Later that same evening, he prayed “three times” with the president before he delivered a “televised address to the nation.” In a phone call to Bush 1 prior to that White House invite, Rev. Graham had supposedly referred to Saddam Hussein as the “Antichrist.” This conversation reportedly helped Bush 1 to resolve “all the moral issues in my mind. It’s black and white, good versus evil.” Can anyone imagine Jesus watching a war on TV, without weeping aloud for its innocent victims, and demanding that it be stopped immediately?
As for the ongoing Iraq War, started by Bush 2 (George W. Bush Jr.), and based on a pack of rotten lies, not one word of criticism has been heard from Rev. Graham. Even after the notorious torture scandal at Abu Ghraib was revealed, the preacher maintained his vow of silence on this country’s worst president, a man who deserves impeachment and jail time for violating his oath of office.
The country has lost 3,801 of its finest sons and daughters in Iraq and wasted $455 billion there. Another 27,000 U.S. troops have been seriously injured. An estimated one million Iraqis are now dead and about 3.7 million have become refugees. Yet Rev. Graham, a supposed follower of the “Prince of Peace,” has remained mute in his criticism of the outrageous conduct of this president and his insane policies.
Why have we rarely heard Rev. Graham preach about Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount?” Why have we rarely, if ever, heard him repeat these words that came directly from the mouth of Christ: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God?”
Mr. Bothwell suggests a possible reason why Rev. Graham has failed to speak out about the unjust Iraq War and Bush 2’s responsibility for it. At p. 164, he relates how the preacher, in 1985, had supposedly “saved” Bush 2 from perdition. It was at the family compound in Kennebunkport. Bush 2 was drunk and had allegedly “insulted a friend of his mother.” It was around the time of Bush 2’s 39th birthday.
Mr. Bothwell writes: “George senior and Barbara blew up. Words were exchanged along the lines of something having to be done. George senior, then the vice-president, dialed up his friend, Billy Graham, who came to the compound and spent several days with George W. in probing exchanges and walks on the beach. George W. was soon ‘born again.’ He stopped drinking, attended Bible study and wrestled with issues of fervent faith. A man who was lost was saved.”
We now know that Bush 2, although he may have stopped hitting the bottle, never did anything in the realm of therapy about his alcoholism problem. He’s known by the experts in the field as a “dry drunk,” a potential danger to himself and to others. As for Bush 2 being “born again,” the question must be asked: “Born again for what?” To kill Iraqis? Invade Iran? Bankrupt our Republic? “Brother” Elliott Nesch, an evangelical and peace advocate, believes that pro-war Christians “should repent.” I agree with him.
The bottom line is clerics, like Rev. Graham, dominate today much of the religious right in America. Bothwell’s tome, however, deals with a lot more relevant issues than just the preacher’s disgusting war addiction. It’s an insightful book that I am highly recommend.
Finally, I wrote last year that “Rev. Graham wasn’t a Phil Berrigan.” The latter, an ex-priest, was a true apostle of peace, who spent 11 of his 79 years behind bars in the cause of justice. Unlike Rev. Graham, who skipped out of WWII, Berrigan was involved in the Normandy invasion and the Battle of the Bulge as a member of the U.S. Army. I’m convinced that unless the Christian community in this country, Protestant and Catholic alike, opens its eyes to what Rev. Graham and his Establishment-serving ilk have been doing “in Christ’s name,” this nation is headed for a fall that will make the collapse of Rome look like a Sunday picnic.
George B. Kauffman, Ph.D., chemistry professor emeritus at Fresno State and a Guggenheim Fellow, is a recipient of the American Chemical Society’s George C. Pimentel Award in Chemical Education, the Helen M. Free Award for Public Outreach and the Award for Research at an Undergraduate Institution, and numerous domestic and international honors. In 2002 and 2011, he was appointed a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Chemical Society, respectively.