Andrew Preston, Sword of the Spirit, Shield of Faith: Religion in American War and Diplomacy. New York: Anchor Books, 2012. ISBN 978-1-4000-7858-5. 815 pp., $37.50 hardcover, $18.00 trade paperback.
In the introduction to this very ambitious book, the author, Andrew Preston, who teaches American history and international relations at Cambridge University, describes his work as "a new survey of the history of American foreign relations, told predominantly through a religious lens." It is, he writes, " a study of how religion shaped America's engagement with the wider world." Preston does not claim that religion has been the predominant influence on U.S. foreign policy or that it has always determined the conduct of U.S. foreign policy. Instead, he contends that religion has influenced policymakers and policies throughout American history and thereby contributed to shaping America's approach to the world.
Preston combines historical narrative with examinations of the personal religious beliefs of Presidents and other important American statesmen, the use of religious-inspired rhetoric to explain and justify foreign policies, and the role of clergy, religious groups, and prominent religious individuals in promoting and debating international issues. His narrative stretches from the colonial period to the present, with emphasis on America's wars: colonial wars against Native Americans and France; the War of Independence; the War of 1812; the Mexican-American War; the Spanish-American War; World War I; World War II; the Cold War, including Vietnam; and the War on Terror. His approach and treatment of the role of religion in shaping attitudes during these conflicts is mostly balanced and judicious. His focus on religion's role in policymaking, however, tends to downplay other, arguably more important, factors that influenced and shaped U.S. policies.
The influence of Protestantism in the colonial period is undeniable. "English Protestants," writes Preston, "saw themselves as a chosen people destined to preserve their liberties by cultivating a new England overseas." Richard Hakluyt, who Preston calls "England's leading intellectual architect of colonial expansion," combined geopolitics with spirituality in promoting overseas expansion of territory and faith. Wars with native populations for control of territory, such as the Pequot War and King Philip's War, were often viewed or justified as righteous struggles of good against evil, and, according...