Saddam Hussein calls it a Jihad, an Islamic holy war. It is, he says, a clear case of good vs. evil, of God vs. the devil.
Using quotes from the Bible, Abraham Lincoln, and Thomas Aquinas, President Bush told a group of religious broadcasters Jan. 28 that the U.S.-led coalition is "on the side of God."Using the Bible to categorize war as just is risky business.
Yet, historically, leaders of warring nations have often claimed that they had God's support in justifying carnage and destruction in pursuit of a righteous cause. In the United States, the traditional separation of church and state has made some Americans more hesitant to do that.
On Pearl Harbor day, when the Japanese invoked their Shinto warrior code and dedicated themselves to an emperor called "the son of heaven," President Franklin D. Roosevelt chose to put his trust in "the stamina of the American people" instead of God.
After finishing his "day of infamy" speech, FDR skipped a prayer session to have a few beers with journalist Edward R. Murrow, according to historian William Manchester.
FDR was, however, in many ways exceptional.
At the Alamo, William Barret Travis declared, "The Lord is on our side," a sentiment echoed later by the Confederacy's Jefferson Davis in his inaugural address.
According to William Safire, it was Theodore Roosevelt who became the first American orator to use Armageddon imagery. In 1912, when TR decided to come out of retirement to challenge his successor for the presidency, William Howard Taft, he told the Bull Moose convention, "We stand at Armageddon and we battle for the Lord."
Abraham Lincoln, who was deeply religious, was not so sure that God so easily chose sides. As the Civil War entered its second year, he expressed anguish over the escalating conflict that was causing so much pain.
In September 1862 he wrote his "Meditation on the Divine Will," in which he speculated that God's purpose in the war might be very different from the positions as seen by either the Union or the Confederacy.
To a Quaker woman who visited him in the White House, Lincoln said, "If I had been allowed my way, this war would have been ended before this, but we find it still continues, and we must believe that He permits it for some wise purpose of His own, mysterious and unknown to us; and though with our limited understandings we may not be able to comprehend it, yet we cannot but believe that He who made the world still governs it."
In his second inaugural address, a speech famous for the phrase, "With malice toward none," he said, "The Almighty has his own purposes . . . He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came."
At Lincoln's request, Julia Ward Howe of Boston wrote "The Battle Hymn of the Republic," published in the Atlantic Monthly in 1862, which featured a wrathful God menacing rebel enemies with a terrible swift sword.
The hymn has been used to marshal religious and devoted support for American wars ever since.
The best answer comes from a riddle that Carl Sandburg says Lincoln wrote but did not intend for publication:
"The will of God prevails. In great contests each party claims to act in accordance with the will of God. Both may be, and one must be, wrong. God cannot be for and against the same thing at the same time. In the present civil war it is quite possible that God's purpose is something different from the purpose of either party; and yet the human instrumentalities, working just as they do, are the best adaptation to effect His purpose. I am almost ready to say that this is probably true; that God wills this contest, and wills that it shall not end yet. By His mere great power on the minds of the new contestants, He could have either saved or destroyed the Union without a human contest. Yet the contest began. And having begun, He could give the final victory to either side any day. Yet the contest proceeds."