Sword of the Spirit, Shield of Faith
Religion in American War and Diplomacy
Knopf, $37.50, 832 pp.
Every now and then a book appears that redefines a field. This is one of those occasions. Despite the reservations detailed below, Sword of the Spirit, Shield of Faith qualifies as a masterful work of history. In the course of his comprehensive exploration of the relationship between religion and American statecraft, Andrew Preston makes one point above all abundantly clear: there simply is no understanding the latter without giving careful attention to the former. Whether justifying or criticizing the exercise of power, Americans routinely enlist God to serve their cause, sublimely confident of their ability to interpret his intentions.
By any measure this is a big—even gargantuan—book. In lesser hands it might have been a tedious one. Yet in addition to being a prodigious researcher, Preston, a Canadian currently teaching at Cambridge University, writes crisply, has an eye for the pungent quotation, and does not shy away from bold judgments. The result is a feisty, engaging, and provocative text.
Preston’s account begins with the founding of Anglo-America and ends up several hundred years and several hundred pages later with the period since 9/11. To summarize his story is necessarily to oversimplify it. Yet the gist of the tale goes like this: Even as the American religious landscape has evolved—the early hegemony of the Puritan divines giving way over time to a more...
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About the Author
Andrew J. Bacevich is the author of America’s War for the Greater Middle East: A Military History (April 2016).