A friend of mine — a Navy veteran — posted this Breitbart article on Facebook last week, alleging that the Pentagon may court martial soldiers, including military chaplains, who share or promote their faith. As is typical in a case like this, the conservative news sources find the most egregious examples of religious crack-downs (an officer being asked to remove a Bible from his desk) and cite them as the new SOP. Meanwhile, more sympathetic, liberal news sources share examples of their own (a soldier asked to remove an atheist bumper sticker from their car) and insist this is only about soldiers who actively proselytize. Any such policy, they say, would be exercised with discretion on a case-by-case basis.
It has been a common criticism of the religious that too many only turn to God in times of great need. Lately, however, our society seems adamant to drive God and His servants even from the scenes of sorrow and tragedy where He is most needed. The Army has been dealing with rising rates of suicide and PTSD, but heaven forbid a chaplain shares a message of hope: that our broken world isn’t all there is, and that suffering can have value and meaning. Even though I suspected there might be some nuance that was not represented in the Breitbart article, I suppose I prefer clearer standards and definitions with my court martials, so I completed the Family Research Council’s online petition against such a policy, just in case.
Mikey Weinstein of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation characterized what is happening in the military as spiritual rape. What little I’ve read about his firsthand experience in the Air Force Academy and the Air Force suggest he has cause for complaint — but his choice of words is telling. Rape is not always motivated by power, but, I would argue, generally requires a weaker victim. Are Weinstein and those he represents (who, by his own assertion, are of various faiths and no faiths at all) somehow them spiritually weaker, that they may be victimized? When the Army began administering a “spiritual fitness” quiz, which asks soldiers (anonymously and confidentially) about their own spiritual habits and recommends a range of practices that may help them cope with the stress of combat, Weinstein was there with a threatened lawsuit. He and his ilk bristle at the notion that their spirituality or lack thereof has any bearing on their fitness to be a soldier, but show me a warrior tradition in the world that doesn’t recognize a warrior as more than flesh, blood, and bone.
I will try here to recall a story I heard told of General Patton, in which, while visiting wounded soldiers in a hospital, he came across a young man who was uninjured and physically healthy, but emotionally unable or unwilling to fight. Patton struck and cursed the soldier, threatening to send him back to the front lines immediately. When the leaders in Washington heard about this, Patton was reprimanded and made to assemble a large group of troops to which he would offer an apology for his harsh behavior. But when he approached the crowd, the men broke into such raucous and sustained applause and chanting in support of their general that after some time, he climbed back into his car with tears in his eyes and drove away.
Winston Churchill once famously said, “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” General Patton knew he needed men willing to push through hell, and to lay down their lives for their friends. The soldiers gathered to hear his “apology” wanted none of it; they knew what was expected, and wanted the same from the men next to them. In this respect, the man who is healthy in his whole self — mind, body, and soul — seems to me to be the better soldier. Why shouldn’t we want them fighting, openly, for us?