The politics of Armageddon

Reagan links Bible Prophecy with Nuclear War

By Andrew Lang

In the last issue of Convergence, we described the religious doctrine-openly preached by Jerry Falwell and other key personalities in the New Christian Right-that nuclear war with the Soviet Union is imminent and inevitable. Using the Bible as an infallible almanac to predict humanity Future, Dr. Falwell and his supporters believe that the ''Tribulation,'' the final violent stage of human history, will begin within the next 50 years.

In the ideology of the New Christian Right, the Tribulation is a seven-year crisis of nuclear warfare and global chaos. It ends with the war of Armageddon a military campaign against GodS enemies fought by an army of born-again Christians under the leadership of Jesus Christ.

Long before this battle begins, however, the Soviet Union will lie in ashes. According to Falwell, the destruction,of soviet power was predicted centuries ago by the Hebrew prophet Ezekiel.

The conviction that nuclear Armageddon a inevitable provides a decisive motivation for supporters of the New Christian Right, not only in their personal lives (as an ''aid to holiness,'' Falwell explains) but for their political agenda. Thus, Dr. Falwells support for President Reagan's ''Star Wars'' program as ''our last and final 'hope is predicated on the belief that the United States and the Soviet ''evil empire '' are destined to collide.

The New Christian Right is a dynamic and influential movement in American politics. Its doctrine of nuclear Armageddon is gaining wide acceptance in our society. A report published last year by pollster Daniel Yankelovich showed that almost four out of ten Americans believe that "when the Bible predicts that the earth will be destroyed by fire, its telling us about a nuclear war.''

The leading proponent of Armageddon ideology in the Reagan Administration is. . Ronald Reagan. As Governor of california, as a private citizen, as a Presidential candidate and as Commander in Chief; he has publicly and privately, speculated that "Armageddon'' may happen in this generation. The following article examines the President's views.

"Armageddon" was unexpectedly thrust into the 1984 Presidential campaign on Oct. 21, the morning of the second debate between President Reagan and Walter Mondale. Acting on information supplied by the Christic Institute, both The New York Times and United Press International reported that Ronald Reagan, on several occa- sions, has speculated that this generation might see the fulfillment of Bible prophecies concerning Armageddon.

Prompted by the stories, journalists on the debate panel asked Reagan to explain. While reporters overheard Nancy Reagan gasp "Oh, no!" the President replied that "no one knows whether those prophecies mean that Armageddon is a thousand years away or the day after tomorrow." "So," he added, "I have never seriously warned and said we must plan according to Armageddon."

What did the President mean? Some reporters concluded that the Commander in ChieFs interest in "Armageddon" was a private religious hobby unrelated to his views about nuclear weapons and the Soviet Union. Others were not so easily reassured.

"The President's remarks," wrote Hendrick Herzberg in The New Republic, "established beyond doubt that he believes that Armageddon is inevitable. The only uestion is whether the end will come before or after the election."

"It is hard to believe that the President actually allows Armageddon ideology to shape his policies toward the Soviet Union," The New York Times editorialized. "Yet it was he who first portrayed the Russians as satanic and who keeps on talking about the Final battle."

The reports that the President may share the Religious Right's perspective on Bible prophecy are not, of course, the only evidence that he remains committed to the rightwing dream of total victory over Soviet power. But Armageddon is an important piece of the puzzle that, once assembled, may explain Ronald Reagan's vision of America's role in a nuclear age.

During the President's first year in office, key personalities in his Administration spoke freely and often recklessly of their conviction that nuclear war with the Soviet Union might be inevitable but probably could be survived. Views like those expressed by Defense Undersecretary T.K. Jones, who told a reporter that everyone would survive a nuclear war if there were enough shovels to go around," caused a sensation in the press and threatened enormous political damage to the President's image.

These statements demonstrated the prevalence of two right-wing views in the Administration: the theory of "protracted conflict" with the Soviet Union, first formulated bi Robert Strausz-Hup in the 1950s, which precludes virtually any possibility of detente or serious movement towards nuclear arms control the belief that a limited nuclear war would not destroy American society and, after a relatively brief period of rebuilding, might permit the United States to reemerge as the dominant world power.

After 1382, the White House took steps to suppres frank public discussion of these views. The last official expression of extremist ideology was the President's famous "evil empire" speech to the National Association of Evangelicals in Octoberll, 1983, in which he characterized the Soviet Union as the "focus of evil in the modern world' and Communism as "another sad, bizarre chapter in human history whose last pages even now are being written."

Dramatic offers to negotiate

Since then, the President's political strategists have carefully projected a new- image of Ronald Reagan as a peace President. Through a series of symbolic gestures and dramatic offers to negotiate, the President has reassured public opinion-here and in Western Europe-that he believes the United States and the Soviet Union can manage their differences without resort to nuclear war-fare. Extremist talk about the inevitability of war with Communism has generally disappeared from public view.

But Ronald Reagan has speculated privately and publicly that "Bible prophecies" concerning "Armageddon" are ''coming together in modern history. Beginning during his First term as Governor of California and continuing until 1884, the record of these statements should be read as a warning that the right-wing vision of apocalyptic struggle with Soviet power has deep roots in the President's personality.

Most of the evidence linking Reagan with nuclear Armageddon doctrine has been assembled by two investigative journalists: publisher Ronnie Dugger of the Texas Observer and independent radio producer Joe Cuomo. Dugger's findings were publislied in April, 1984, but The Washington Post. Cuomo's documentary, "Ronald Reagan and the Prophecy of Armageddon," was broadcast on 175 public radio stations later that year.

On the set of the Jim Bakker show during the 1980 campaign, candidate Reagan speculated that "we may be the generation that sees Armageddon." In a statement to Jewish leaders during the same campaign, Reagan said that "Israel is the only stable democracy we can rely on in a spot where Armageddon could come."

In 1981, the President told Senator Howell Heflin of Alabama that "Russia is going to get involved in it [Armageddon]." In October, 1983, he told Tom Dine of the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee that Bible prophecies concerning Armageddon might be coming true.

"You know," he said, "I turn back to your ancient prophets in the Old Testament and the signs foretelling Armageddon, and I find myself wondering if-if we're the generation that's going to see that come about. I don't know if you've noted any of thosc prophecies lately, but believe me, they certainly descrihe the times we're going through."

The end of the world

Finally, in an interrview with People magazine on December 6, 1983, the President described Armageddon as "the end of the world." He said: "[T]heologians had been studying the ancient prophecies-what would portend tbe coming of Armageddon?-and have said that never, in the time between the prophecies up untiI now, has there ever been a time in which so many of the prophecies are coming together. There have been times in the past when people thought the end of the world was coming, and so forth, but never anything like this."

Dugger and Cuomo are not the only sources for evidence that the President reads the Bible for predictions of nuclear war. Writing in the August issue of San Diego magazine, former State Senator James Mills of California revealed that Reagan, then Governor of California, told him in 1971 that- a biblical prophecy of "fire and brimstone" means that "the enemies of God's people" will be "destroyed by nuclear weapons."

The setting for this conversation was a banquet in Sacramento. Mills, as the new President pro tem of the California State Senate, was the guest of honor. As dessert was served, Reagan began to interpret chapters 38 and 39 of the book of Ezekiel.

Ezekiel, Reagan told the startled State Senator, predicted a future invasion of Israel "by the armies of the ungodly nations." The invaders would be led by "Gog," a northern power.

"Biblical scholars have been saying for generations that Gog must be Russia,'' Reagan continued. "What other powerful nation is to the north of Israel? None. But it didn't seem to make sense before the Russian revolution, when Russia was a Christian country. Now it does, now that Russia has become communistic and atheistic, now that Russia has set itself against God. Now it fits the description of Gog perfectly."

Most of the prophecies "that had to be fulfilled before Armageddon have come to pass," Reagan said. "Everything is falling into place. It can't be long now. Ezekiel says that fire and brimstone will be rained upon the enemies of God's people. That must mean that they'Il be destroyed by nuclear weapons."

These statements, and many others attributed to Ronald Reagan over a period of 17 years show that Armageddon is very much on the President's mind. His use of the term has not been imprecise. " Ancient prophecies, the President has speculated, are coming together" in modern history. These prophecies šxlint to Armageddon, which the President understands as "the end of the world." The Middle East is the "spot where Armageddon could come," and "Russia'' will be one of the protagonists.

The President believes that Gog"-the shadowy northern power described by the prophet Ezekiel-is the Soviet Union, which will lead a coalition of armies against Israel, God will pour "fire and brimstone" on his enemies, a metaphor for God's judgment which the President interprets as a prophelcy of nuclear war.

These statements mirror the Armageddon theolog of Jerry Falwell and his allies :rn the New Christian Right.

Sometime within the next 50 years Falwel believes, Soviet forces will invade tl?e Middle East and meet their doom "on the mountains of Israel This holocaust, Falwell writes, will "purge' Israel The surviving Jews will convert en masse to Christianity The Soviet Union will be "totally destroyed,'!' e:ther by nuclear weapons or by a miraculous manifestat.on! of God's power, Armageddon will be the final catastrophe of this period-a war between Christ and Antichrist fought on the Israeli plain of Jezreel.

Does Ronald Reagan seriously accept this world view?

It has been suggested that the President when he speaks of Bible prophecy and the end of the world, is merely "pandering" to his supporters in the New Christian Right. But this is unlikely. Reagan's documented statements on the subject of Armageddon began during his first term as Governor of California-long before the New Christian Right became an organized force in American politics. [Ed. note: Perhaps this is where his "Peace Through Strength" doctrine stems from. This is a critical key to his foreign policy, which birthed "Star Wars", and we may never understand the devastation which has snowballed from it.(House Rule 4867, is one example, with 61 PET bills.)]

Moreover, the President's alliance with this movement is based on his support for a specific political agenda centering on abortion, school prayer and other issues. He does not need to profess a belief in Armageddon doctrine to win fundamentalist support.

Thus, we are faced with clear evidence that President Reagan is one of millions of Americans who read the Bible as a sourcebook for predictions of global conflict.

How this would affect his performance in office is not an easy question to answer. The doctrine of nuclear Armageddon cannot explain the totality of foreign and defense policy in the Reagan Administration But it raises the disturbing possibility that our: President will be unable to act rationally in a nuclear crisis It suggests that the prevailing motive for Reagan's crash program to install a new generation of "strategic defenses'' against Soviet missiles-along with the Administration's revival of discredited plans to evacuate our cities before a nuclear attack-is not the desire to promote but to surviue a nuclear war. And it indicates a religious justification for his vision of the Soviet Union as a demonic force, an "evil empire" doomed to disappear from history.

When and how the President expects Soviet power to collapse is not an idle question. In the mind of a leader who can order the use of our strategic nuclear weapons, the prophecy of Armageddon could become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

1997 Inaugural | Park Closures | Pennsylvania Ave. Closure
Peace Park | Proposition One
Legal Overview | Regulations