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Jesus killed Mohammed: The crusade for a Christian military
May 29, 2009 11:35 AM   Subscribe


 
It's really good to see Mikey Weinstein getting this kind of press. He does really good work, though he does have just about the most abrasive personality imaginable.

Maybe this is a stepping stone on the way to an article in a publication that anybody who's not a dyed-in-the-wool liberal actually reads.
posted by gurple at 11:44 AM on May 29, 2009


“God was to be Lord of all or not Lord at all.”

Wait, which "side" is fanatical kill-em-or-convert-em extremists again? This turns my stomach.
posted by joe lisboa at 12:13 PM on May 29, 2009


Jeff Sharlet's previous articles for Harper's are a great read as well. Soldier's of Christ is particularly good. I think it was posted here a while ago.
posted by chunking express at 12:16 PM on May 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


I wish this were surprising. Thanks for the link, though.
posted by Rykey at 12:24 PM on May 29, 2009


Man, this stuff infuriates me. So much stupid, and so much blood and death to follow.

"It was like a blessing on the academy’s hierarchical system, and Butcher took it to heart, turning his body and spirit over to the guidance of older Christian cadets. A Christian, he explained in full earnestness, “is someone who chooses to be a slave, essentially.”"
posted by bitmage at 12:28 PM on May 29, 2009


An evenhanded Indianan

The word is 'Hoosier,' cluckbreath.
posted by mwhybark at 12:29 PM on May 29, 2009 [3 favorites]


Yay! this article is finally beyond the paywall!

ARGH! Now I'm terrified!
posted by ScotchRox at 12:29 PM on May 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


And so help me God (heh) if any of our esteemed commentariat trot out a LOLXTIANS on this. This should disturb, if not terrify, religious Americans as much as the irreligious folks. And that's not even taking into account the anti-Constitutional aspects so much as, the author quotes, the fact that "no one wants men with guns telling them whom to vote for," much less what god(s) to believe in. We're staring into the abyss and, instead of it staring back, I imagine it's facepalming at the absurdity and incoherence of it all. Or so I "believe."
posted by joe lisboa at 12:30 PM on May 29, 2009 [6 favorites]


But, then, on the other hand, there's the coming Evangelical collapse.
posted by jquinby at 12:44 PM on May 29, 2009 [2 favorites]


I just realized someone.

People who are religious tend to see things.. religiously. All people fall into categories of, you are with us or against us. Your God against my God.

They really must see us as some Christian evangelists come to kill their religion and God. Everything we do must be an act of war against their beliefs.

Not to mention the above link.

In any case.. a world without religion is starting to look a little better each day.
posted by Malice at 12:46 PM on May 29, 2009


Someone=something.*
posted by Malice at 12:46 PM on May 29, 2009


::adds extra zero to ACLU donation check::
posted by ScotchRox at 12:48 PM on May 29, 2009 [5 favorites]


Terrifying stuff, including the links to other articles by Jeff Sharlet.
posted by fuq at 12:53 PM on May 29, 2009


After 9/11, [recently retired three-star general William “Jerry”] Boykin went on the prayer-breakfast circuit to boast, in uniform, that his God was “bigger” than the Islamic divine of Somali warlord Osman Atto, whom Boykin had hunted. “I knew that my God was a real God and his was an idol,” he declared, displaying as evidence photographs of black clouds over Mogadishu: the “demonic spirit” his troops had been fighting. “The principality of darkness,” he went on to declare, “a guy called Satan.” Under fire from congressional Democrats, Boykin claimed he hadn’t been speaking about Islam, but in a weird non sequitur he insisted, “My references to. . . our nation as a Christian nation are historically undeniable.” These strategic insights earned Boykin promotion to deputy undersecretary of defense for intelligence, a position in which he advised on interrogation techniques until August 2007.
Heckuva job. A 3-star general who gets clouds confused with demons gets a promotion instead of a psych consult.
posted by now i'm piste at 12:54 PM on May 29, 2009 [6 favorites]


::adds extra zero to ACLU donation check::

Mikey (Military Religious Freedom Foundation) takes donations, too, is horrifically under-funded, and works exclusively on this stuff. And, of course, there's Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

All three figure on my donation list in a big way.
posted by gurple at 12:55 PM on May 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


31"When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. 32All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
34"Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'

37"Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?'

40"The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'

41"Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.'

44"They also will answer, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?'

45"He will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.'

46"Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life."

Matthew 25:31-45
posted by jpdoane at 12:56 PM on May 29, 2009 [7 favorites]


Another veteran serving in the Senate ... offers a variation on Captain Morton’s analysis of the military’s turn toward religion. Although the military was integrated before much of the United States, he points out, it almost split along racial lines, particularly in the last days of Vietnam. If the military was to rebuild itself, the Southern white men at the heart of its warrior culture had to come to an understanding of themselves based on something other than skin color. Many, says the senator, turned toward religion, particularly fundamentalist evangelical Christianity—a tradition that, despite its particularly potent legacy of racism, reoriented itself during the post–civil rights era as a religion of “reconciliation” between the races, a faith that would come to define itself in the early 1990s with the image of white men hugging black men, tears all around, at Promise Keeper rallies. “They replaced race with religion,” says the senator. “The principle remains the same—an identity built on being separate from a society viewed as weak and corrupt.”

Interesting analysis.
posted by mwhybark at 1:02 PM on May 29, 2009 [3 favorites]


Religion is a poison of the mind. Every cosmopolitan and intellectual sect is eventually destroyed by its fundamentalist, reptile-brain cousins.
posted by sonic meat machine at 1:06 PM on May 29, 2009 [4 favorites]


He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

jpdoane: Yes, but God's right is our left, dummies! You're mistaking yourselves for God!
posted by saulgoodman at 1:10 PM on May 29, 2009 [3 favorites]


But, then, on the other hand, there's the coming Evangelical collapse.

Gee, *someone* doesn't have their own MegaChurch.
posted by Artw at 1:12 PM on May 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink,

43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.'


How can any Christian fail to recognize that this passage reads like it was lifted almost verbatim from the Republican's domestic policy platform?
posted by saulgoodman at 1:14 PM on May 29, 2009 [6 favorites]


saulgoodman - did you think I was trying to make the opposite point somehow? This "War for Jesus" stuff infuriates me as a Christain.
posted by jpdoane at 1:21 PM on May 29, 2009


Not "you" specifically, of course--you in the "you people" sense, meaning people who actually do take this stuff that literally.
posted by saulgoodman at 1:23 PM on May 29, 2009


jpdoane: oops. our comments crossed paths. realized too late that came across as snippy at you and meant to clarify. /sorry
posted by saulgoodman at 1:24 PM on May 29, 2009


This "War for Jesus" stuff infuriates me as a Christain..

Likewise. Mt 7:20 bears frequent recollection as well.
posted by jquinby at 1:26 PM on May 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


saul: No problem - I liked your right/left joke :)

When I was young and much more conservative, I liked Ecclesiastes 10:2: "A wise man's heart directs him toward the right, but the foolish man's heart directs him toward the left."

Now that I'm older and wiser, I'll have to remember that God's right is our left.
posted by jpdoane at 1:36 PM on May 29, 2009 [3 favorites]


So Jesus prefers sheep over goats? Got it.
posted by monospace at 1:37 PM on May 29, 2009


Wait, you don't stand behind God?


...kidding.
posted by Artw at 1:39 PM on May 29, 2009




Wait, you don't stand behind God?

Perhaps the pro-war, pro-rich 'Christians' have turned their backs on God.
posted by jpdoane at 1:48 PM on May 29, 2009


There's a whole generation of kids that's been raised to be 'warriors for christ', so this isn't too surprising. What's chilling my bones is that now that all these kids that have been bred for warfare are now in the armed forces, and their parents are now calling for the citizens to rise up in arms to 'take back America'.
posted by lysdexic at 1:50 PM on May 29, 2009


lysdexic, where I'm from, we would call those kids' actions 'treason'.
posted by kldickson at 1:54 PM on May 29, 2009 [2 favorites]


Wait, you don't stand behind God?

Artw: Sadly, in certain circles, you would probably have just won what many considered a theological debate of vital importance.

(...Until I rebutted, "No, I bow at God's feet, knowing my place. Only wicked and prideful men dare try to approach God from the rear." See what I did there, how I snuck a veiled appeal to my audience's latent homophobia in there, too? Now that's how you make a winning theological argument, post-Scholasticism!)
posted by saulgoodman at 1:58 PM on May 29, 2009 [2 favorites]


lysdexic, where I'm from, we would call those kids' actions 'treason'.

Go back to Russia!
posted by joe lisboa at 1:59 PM on May 29, 2009


I just realized someone.

Have you ever had one of those days when something just seems to be trying to tell you somebody?
posted by homunculus at 2:22 PM on May 29, 2009 [2 favorites]


Count me in as another Christian appalled by this stuff. I have tried to get involved with AU on a local level, but around here they seem to be pretty disorganized.
posted by Biblio at 2:24 PM on May 29, 2009


Have you ever had one of those days when something just seems to be trying to tell you somebody?
posted by homunculus at 2:22 PM on May 29


Only when the typo daemon pays me a visit.
posted by Malice at 2:33 PM on May 29, 2009


lysdexic, where I'm from, we would call those kids' actions 'treason'.

Only if they lose.
posted by lysdexic at 2:39 PM on May 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


Matthew 25:31-45

Yeah, but the US military doesn't just visit the sick and imprisoned, it visits the shit out of them.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 2:41 PM on May 29, 2009 [6 favorites]


WOLVERINES! FOR CHRIST!
posted by Artw at 2:41 PM on May 29, 2009


I've been following the excerpts of this that were posted to Killing the Buddha. Jeff Sharlet is doing great work here. People need to see clearly just how blurry the lines between certain evangelical sects and the US armed forces have gotten.

I have to say, this strikes me as an almost inevitable outgrowth of the American left's abandonment and demonization of the military. If thoughtful, rational people are scared off from military service and the pursuit of military commissions because to do so is to throw your lot in with baby killers, should we be surprised when barbarians begin to predominate? Put it another way, all that agitating to have the ROTC kicked off of college campuses merely ensures that students from left-leaning colleges and universities will be underrepresented in the military officers' corps.

I don't know what the solution is here, but now that the idea of the soldier-citizen is well-nigh dead as a societal ideal, this strikes me as post-Vietnam chickens coming home to roost.
posted by felix betachat at 2:59 PM on May 29, 2009 [11 favorites]


People like this are why I'm trying to get into shape.

Just in case.
posted by Pope Guilty at 3:22 PM on May 29, 2009


I'm an atheist and a liberal, as many of you well know. May be about time to add 'well-armed' to the list of the many things I am.
posted by kldickson at 3:30 PM on May 29, 2009


felix, the ideal of the soldier-citizen was always flawed. Training intended to make you better at killing people is not a sound basis for success in thoughtful society. Remember that the eras dominated by soldiers were generally imperialistic, ugly times, however romanticized they may be in our culture.
posted by sonic meat machine at 3:35 PM on May 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


A Christian, he explained in full earnestness, “is someone who chooses to be a slave, essentially.”"


You know who else believes in absolute submission to god?
posted by ricochet biscuit at 3:50 PM on May 29, 2009 [2 favorites]


I'm an atheist and a liberal, as many of you well know. May be about time to add 'well-armed' to the list of the many things I am.

Please do... as a fellow atheist/liberal (who is reasonably well armed), it's disconcerting that most of the guns are on the "other side".
posted by wildcrdj at 3:59 PM on May 29, 2009


Where do these freaks get the idea that Jesus wants them to be in an army?
posted by Flunkie at 4:03 PM on May 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


Same place people get the idea that Jesus wants them to have an SUV and a dodgy mortgage.
posted by Artw at 4:04 PM on May 29, 2009 [5 favorites]


He was pure, but was he holy? He needed direction. He found it in Romans 13: 'There is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God.'

"Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's, and unto God the things that are God's." Doesn't Jesus trump Paul?

Also:

'The idea of separation of church and state?' an Air Force Academy senior named Bruce Hrabak says. "There's this whole idea in America that it's in the Constitution, but it's not.'
posted by kirkaracha at 4:15 PM on May 29, 2009


felix betachat I have to say, this strikes me as an almost inevitable outgrowth of the American left's abandonment and demonization of the military. If thoughtful, rational people are scared off from military service and the pursuit of military commissions because to do so is to throw your lot in with baby killers, should we be surprised when barbarians begin to predominate?

You couldn't be more right, and it's a long-term trend. "Left-wingers" as a stereotype are less angry, less vengeful, more intelligent, more compassionate, more planners rather than doers, more theorists rather than practical, than "right-wingers" as a stereotype. Each of those traits represents a potential problem for military or police service. The left-winger doesn't want to be a private in the army because he has no great desire to "kill the enemy"; and the army doesn't want him thinking about who is and isn't "the enemy" and why.

The proper battleground of this particular culture war is the officer corps. There are many good reasons why officers would not want Christian fundamentalist lunatics influencing the soldiers under their command. It takes them "off the program", making them less inclined to obey orders that conflict with their ideological agenda, and more inclined to exceed orders, commit atrocities, spend excessive time and effort on, and compromise the overall mission in the pursuit of orders that match their ideological agenda. It encourages, even depends on, the formation of conspiratorial "cells" of soldiers, separate to the chain of command and the organizational structure. Many of the teachings of it are actively corrosive to the chain of command, encouraging soldiers to question orders in response to the essentially random ideological purity of the officer issuing them, rather than the nature of the orders themselves. As the "JESUS KILLED MOHAMMED" episode demonstrates, fundamentalist enthusiasm leads to breaches of discipline and is completely disruptive to public relations and diplomacy.

You don't want a second cult in your army. There's only room for one.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 4:18 PM on May 29, 2009 [9 favorites]


sonic meat machine: the ideal of the soldier-citizen was always flawed

Tell that to Pericles.

aeschenkarnos: Sadly, a similar process is taking place in Israel. The older image of the secular Zionist officer is giving way to a right-wing, religious idealization of military leadership. The interpenetration of IDF officers and the religious settler movement has gotten so extreme that there are now legitimate worries that an eventual order to dismantle the settlements in the West Bank would be refused by the IDF command. The consequences for the Israeli democracy would be predictably disastrous. Again, I wonder if this isn't the consequence of a similar degradation of the ideal of military service within Israeli society's left wing.
posted by felix betachat at 4:36 PM on May 29, 2009 [3 favorites]


Pericles has been dead for 2,400 years.
posted by sonic meat machine at 4:51 PM on May 29, 2009


What would benefit us most, is not an influx of lefties into the services (good luck with that) but a substantial reigning in of the military industrial complex. It's been recognized as a cancer since before Eisenhower talked openly about it in polite company.

As it stands now, it is a voracious destroyer of resources, talents better spent elsewhere and a constant temptation for unscrupulous and unimaginative politicians (hello, GWB!). The built in lobby associated with such a behemoth also seriously distorts the national discourse and narrows our options when it comes to confronting the true challenges of the future: a sustainable economy, environment and a civil society.

It's time to let go of the outmoded warrior worship. Nobody is invading America. We could stand to cut down our military by 80%, and we'd still be entirely safe - perhaps no longer powerful enough to invade countries where we have no true vital interests, but that's all to the good.

What we need is an honest debate about what should be the nature of the American military of the future. Sadly, I see about zero chance of that happening at this point. So it must start with people questioning this sacred cow.
posted by VikingSword at 4:55 PM on May 29, 2009 [3 favorites]


felix betachat -eh? I thought they had compulsory service? Or are we mainly talking about the ones who stick around?
posted by Artw at 4:56 PM on May 29, 2009


Or are we mainly talking about the ones who stick around?

Yes, those. The backbone of the officers corps in the IDF used to be drawn from the secular kibbutznikim. Now that the kibbutzim are turning into retirement colonies and for-profit industrial parks, the ideological center of the military is shifting toward a religio-national, triumphalist ideal.
posted by felix betachat at 5:06 PM on May 29, 2009


aeschenkarnos, an astute observation.

How best would the military be restructured, though? Obviously, we need to provide for defense, but the combat landscape is changing, due to the fact that we're conducting wars at longer ranges than we ever have been; we don't use anything but the best guns we can find, much less non-projectile weapons, and we're capable of mutually assured destruction.

And indeed, the military is a problem - WHEN they are headed by people with vastly corrupt aims, which, of course, people with a good head on their shoulders should question. To what extent have the fundie filth infiltrated the officer corps? Will the military be a crucial place to watch and influence to make sure the country does not continue its long slide toward fascism? What must we do to turn the military around and keep it securely in the hands of government and not infiltrated by fundie filth?

Bloodlust and martialism ought to be obsolete.
posted by kldickson at 8:02 PM on May 29, 2009


I'm an atheist and a liberal, as many of you well know. May be about time to add 'well-armed' to the list of the many things I am.

Please do... as a fellow atheist/liberal (who is reasonably well armed), it's disconcerting that most of the guns are on the "other side".


Well, as an atheist liberal who doesn't want to keep guns for the purpose of killing humans, I promise to keep up with my first aid training so that if an ideological civil war explodes I'll be ready to patch up whomever collapses on my doorstep, regardless of belief or lack thereof.
posted by Phalene at 8:44 PM on May 29, 2009 [2 favorites]


This must be a fairly recent trend, when I was in the Air Force ('87-'90) I didn't see anything like this. Sure, there were evangelicals around but they were pretty low key. Of course in the lower enlisted ranks Jesus tended to rate somewhere below booze, porn and women of questionable virtue so attempts to proselytize would only serve to invite ridicule. The only "trouble" we ever had was when a devout Xtian filed a complaint with the IG that our training film library consisted entirely of pornography which he was being forced to watch every Friday afternoon.
posted by MikeMc at 9:56 PM on May 29, 2009


My six year old son has no idea who or what God is, which is kind of amusing. On the other hand, he stomped on an ant today, so my wife and I warned him if he did that he would come back in the next life as an ant, which made him stop and think.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:42 PM on May 29, 2009


"It was like a blessing on the academy’s hierarchical system, and Butcher took it to heart, turning his body and spirit over to the guidance of older Christian cadets. A Christian, he explained in full earnestness, “is someone who chooses to be a slave, essentially.”"

Nietzsche would be proud.
posted by phrontist at 11:22 PM on May 29, 2009


They really must see us as some Christian evangelists come to kill their religion and God. Everything we do must be an act of war against their beliefs.

Not really true, previously, but they're coming around to it:

America as a Jihad State - Middle Eastern perceptions of modern American theopolitics
posted by BinGregory at 11:31 PM on May 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


That is extremely disturbing but not much a of a surprise though. Its been clear for some time that many Evangelicals view the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as a holy war to fulfil some biblical prophecy.
posted by Juglandaceae at 2:07 AM on May 30, 2009


first off... as a Naval Officer having served in Iraq twice and member of OCF I can assure you that we are not planning a religious Coup d'éta, but simply studying the Bible in homes. That being said go on shore leave with any general group of service member, both officer and otherwise it wont' be Sunday school, but much closer to Sodom,: booze, women, etc. (much to the chagrin of some of the PAOs)
Are their Christians in the military - absolutely - but I assure you that we when swore to uphold the Constitution it is that, to follow the orders of those over us from a Sgt to POTUS.
posted by aggienfo at 3:29 AM on May 30, 2009


aggienfo, why are you proselytizing anyway?
posted by kldickson at 7:34 AM on May 30, 2009


The Army's not supposed to be using any book of any belief system. They're supposed to be secular.
posted by kldickson at 7:35 AM on May 30, 2009


I was in the army for 2 months, but opted out before basic training. It was because I couldn't brook this shit.
posted by saysthis at 8:57 AM on May 30, 2009


I was in the army for 2 months, but opted out before basic training. It was because I couldn't brook this shit.

I hear that. Replace 'army' with society and 'basic training' with school and I can relate. All this shit begins right here at home, one way or another.
posted by metagnathous at 9:59 AM on May 30, 2009


"Doesn't Jesus trump Paul?"

No, because there's nothing to be trumped, they don't contradict each other. Historic orthodoxy reads the Bible as an integrated whole. Paul is seen as an equally valid witness to the teaching of Christ, not as a novelty.

"How can any Christian fail to recognize that this passage reads like it was lifted almost verbatim from the Republican's domestic policy platform?"

It doesn't say: "When I was naked the government clothed me."

"The Army's not supposed to be using any book of any belief system. They're supposed to be secular."

The American system isn't "secular" so it would be a surprise if the military was supposed to be.
posted by Jahaza at 10:50 AM on May 30, 2009


Thing is, the American system is SUPPOSED to be secular.

It's the primary reason I'm bailing on the whole kit and caboodle by the time I finish my PhD. It's gotten progressively more sexist and conservative and fascist and... well, I don't like it.
posted by kldickson at 11:28 AM on May 30, 2009


just a tangent, but the the whole 'christians are against government programs for the poor, and are therefor hypocrites' is a lousy argument.

For an evangelical, the point of charity is proselytization, not actually improving the lives of the poor and sick. If they're lives are improved, well, that's fine, but the point is using the charity as an opportunity to bring them to the church.

They don't want the government to help the poor, because that's their market. If you don't have desperate people, you don't have converts.
posted by empath at 1:22 PM on May 30, 2009 [4 favorites]


The American system isn't "secular" so it would be a surprise if the military was supposed to be.

Do you know what 'secular' means?
posted by empath at 1:24 PM on May 30, 2009


He was pure, but was he holy? He needed direction. He found it in Romans 13: 'There is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God.'

"Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's, and unto God the things that are God's." Doesn't Jesus trump Paul?


Well, since Jesus was a figment of Paul's imagination, I don't see how that's possible.
posted by empath at 1:25 PM on May 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


A: The American system isn't "secular" so it would be a surprise if the military was supposed to be.

B: Do you know what 'secular' means?

From an outside perspective, it depends whether the claim that the American system isn't secular is meant as a description of things as they are or a description of the ostensible plan. Clearly your constitutional arrangements are notionally secular, but in practice, you appear to be soaking in Christianity of a rather peculiar kind. For example, you can't be President without a public profession of Christian faith.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 2:59 PM on May 30, 2009


It doesn't say: "When I was naked the government clothed me."

What do you think our "Government by the People, For the People, and of the People" is made of? Aliens and robots? Artificially intelligent computer systems? A nation should be held to the same ethical standards any individual person should, or else that government doesn't reflect its people and isn't legitimate. On the basis of what Christian principle should any person who claims to hold the values Jesus taught as their own actively oppose the furtherance of those moral aims by whatever means they might be furthered?

And as for what Paul said--well, you've got to remember, Paul was a Pharisee and a persecutor of Christians before converting and becoming one of Jesus' disciples. The Pharisees had a reputation for single-minded devotion to the rule of law. Maybe in some dark corner of his heart, he still served two masters when he spoke of earthly legal authority deriving from God's authority, because there's far more scriptural support for the opposing view that Jesus viewed Rome, specifically, as illegitimate in God's eyes (assuming you accept the nearly universal Christian doctrine that the son and the father are one and the same).

All throughout the new testament scriptures, the theme is reinforced again and again that the world we occupy, in contrast to the Kingdom of Heaven, is lorded over by a wicked, even satanic power ("the prince of the power of the air," "belial," "deceiver of nations," etc.). But the one, true God Jesus teaches about (as opposed to the false god of this world), is a loving God of pure goodness and light.

Want cites? Here:

30 Jesus said, "This voice was for your benefit, not mine.
31 Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out.
32 But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself."


Also there's this:

7 When the thousand years are over, Satan will be released from his prison
8 and will go out to deceive the nations in the four corners of the earth—Gog and Magog—to gather them for battle.


And then, if it's still not spelled out plainly enough for you, there's this:

1Jo 5:19 We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one.

Then there's also this revelation about the shady character who'll return to rule this world 1,000 years after Jesus' first resurrection (which I think we can all agree we've long since passed by now, right?):

7 When the thousand years are over, Satan will be released from his prison
8 and will go out to deceive the nations in the four corners of the earth—Gog and Magog—to gather them for battle.


So that's the guy who runs the show down here. Jesus' God, meanwhile, rolls a little more like this:

5 This is the message we have heard from him [Jesus] and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.

Now I'm not saying I necessarily subscribe to all this stuff (that's my business and my business alone), but even though I may be a card carrying left-wing antichrist doomed to roast on a charcoal spit through all eternity, even I can read and get the gist of what Jesus was trying to say. It is, after all, a pretty simple message.
posted by saulgoodman at 3:11 PM on May 30, 2009 [2 favorites]


Something went screwy with your post, saulgoodman.
posted by Decimask at 8:39 PM on May 30, 2009


This must be a fairly recent trend, when I was in the Air Force ('87-'90) I didn't see anything like this.

Well, I was in the Army recently (2004 to 2008) and I didn't see anything like this either.

I basically only saw chaplains when I was working at aid stations and they'd be there to pray over the dead. And sometimes they'd inquire after our (meaning the medical staff's) spiritual health, to which I'd say, "No thanks," and they'd say, "Ok, see ya later." When I served with infantry or military police units, they were too busy brutally teasing and trashing each other for any possible thing, including religion, to actually get into something like evangelizing.

Maybe I got lucky. Or I just missed a lot of the crazy shit because I'm a non-Christian heathen and have never been to a church service of any kind in the military or overseas. I believe that it happens, since I've had enough experience with civilian proselytizers to know what they can be like, so I support any efforts to push back against it... but I've never seen it in the military with my own two eyes.

Just a data point, I guess.
posted by lullaby at 8:42 PM on May 30, 2009


I have to say, this strikes me as an almost inevitable outgrowth of the American left's abandonment and demonization of the military.

"The nation that will insist upon drawing a broad line of demarcation between the fighting man and the thinking man is liable to find its fighting done by fools and its thinking by cowards."
- Sir William Francis Butler
posted by lullaby at 8:45 PM on May 30, 2009 [4 favorites]


It surprises and disappoints me to hear that this is happening, because there really shouldn't be a whole lot of room for religion in the military. The military has its own sets of rituals, texts, dogma, iconography, hierarchy — look at it from an anthropologist's perspective and it's pretty much got all the ingredients of a religion (or, uncharitably, perhaps a cult) there already. All totally secular, but still profoundly powerful.

It should not be particularly fertile ground for religion, at least not of the kind that really binds people into groups; that function ought to be taken.

Obviously there are purely spiritual or metaphysical questions that the military belief system just doesn't get into, and that's traditionally been the role that the chaplaincy has filled. But a lot of the more practical things that civilian religious groups provide, things like identification as part of an exclusive group, or behavioral standards, are already provided by the military. Perhaps most importantly, this religion doesn't conflict in any way with the military's stated role; it's built, essentially, around the military as an institution. It fills in gaps, but doesn't replace or subvert anything.

That organized religion above and beyond Sunday-morning chaplain services seems to have found such a strong foothold in the military, suggests to me that perhaps members of the officer corps are not taking the military belief structure seriously enough, or are not impressing its value and seriousness on those they lead, and this is creating a vacuum that is leading to the rise of alternative belief structures — ones not compatible, in some cases, with a military that is secular and owes its allegiance exclusively to the Constitution and the civilian government.

Where that lack of seriousness — I won't go so far as to say faith, but you could — in the secular military ethos could be coming from, or what exactly we can do about it, I'm not really sure. But if I were in charge of looking for answers, I think I'd hire a bunch of anthropologists to look into it, and figure out what exactly is missing: what is it that makes the secular military warrior ethos less compelling than the dangerously non-secular Christian-supremacist / Crusades II stuff? Find out what makes their mojo so powerful, and what the military is doing to make people so receptive to it, and close the gap.
posted by Kadin2048 at 1:10 AM on May 31, 2009 [2 favorites]


Something went screwy with your post, saulgoodman.

How so? Looks normal in my browser. Are the links borked or something?
posted by saulgoodman at 4:55 PM on May 31, 2009


lullaby, show me an enemy attacking me, my family, my friends—I'll fight. I'll be a devious guerrilla bastard if I have to. I will not, however, romanticize these imperialistic adventures we've engaged in for the last fifty years or so. Pericles and Butler were writing in a pre-modern time. Sure, Butler was 19th Century, but he didn't fight in the American Civil War and he died before World War I began.

We have perfected war. In its modern form it makes the idiocy of the militarists obvious. No one should be able to look at what we can do now and feel anything but horror. What is the use of thinking men in our wars? The bombs still kill them, the napalm burns them, the bullets from the machine guns destroy their flesh as easily as other men. Shouldn't thinking men be given resources and free reign to try to solve real problems? Should we really view fighting other human beings for the scraps of the "old stuff" as a solution?

We should have enough of an army to defend ourselves. Beyond that level, the military-industrial complex is only a tool of evil.
posted by sonic meat machine at 8:54 PM on May 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


Sure, Butler was 19th Century, but he didn't fight in the American Civil War and he died before World War I began.

He didn't fight in the US Civil War because he was an officer in the British Army. His wiki article indicates he was a part of military campaigns in Canada and across Africa, though. This isn't very important, but I thought I'd point that out. If you would prefer a more contemporary comment, one that came to mind from felix betachat's mention of ROTC on college campuses:
After the talk, a young professor stood. "How can you support the presence of ROTC at a place like Dartmouth?" she asked. "It will militarize the campus and threaten our culture of tolerance."

"Wrong," replied Ricks. "It will liberalize the military." He explained that in a democracy, the military should be representative of the people. It should reflect the best of American society, not stand apart from it.
(From the book 'One Bullet Away,' referring to Thomas Ricks.)

What is the use of thinking men in our wars?

You don't see a use to having bright, intelligent, thoughtful individuals making decisions on the battlefield? Especially, but not exclusively, in command positions? Bombs and bullets don't discriminate based on brains, but if you're fighting a war, the possibility of casualties is a poor reason to not put forward your best. Furthermore, smart soldiers making smart decisions is especially important when even low level decisions can have very wide ramifications.

As for romanticizing our imperialistic adventures of the last fifty years -- I don't believe anyone here has asked you to do so. You're commenting on the necessity of our military at all, whereas I've only been talking about the character of those who serve in the military.
posted by lullaby at 10:15 PM on May 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


Lullaby, the reason I made the comment about the American Civil War was because it was one of the first wars in which two roughly symmetric industrial forces met. It was a war of carnage. I've seen an estimate that said the Revolutionary war claimed about thirty thousand lives on the American side. In the Civil War, the Confederates lost thirty thousand troops in one battle alone.

Butler put down a rebellion in Canada and fought the Zulus.

(From the book 'One Bullet Away,' referring to Thomas Ricks.)

As for liberalizing the military—that's a dead end. The military is fundamentally conservative because it is an instrument of state power. The military must be subordinate to and supportive of the regime, or the military will develop into a center of power by and for itself.

You don't see a use to having bright, intelligent, thoughtful individuals making decisions on the battlefield?

Absolutely, from a tactical point of view. Tactics are not the most important aspect of warfare, however; both strategy and logistics have a more important role, particularly since contemporary warfare does not, in general, feature decisive tactical opportunities. Cavalry, tanks, symmetric infantry warfare, aerial dogfighting, and so on are all tactical. Getting blown up by a suicide bomber? Getting killed in a helicopter blasted out of the sky by a shoulder-launched RPG? Drive your car over a concealed IED? Yeah, you may as well be stupid, because there's nothing a smart person can do against well-executed guerrilla tactics.

Trouble is, intelligent people can see that. They can also look at the state of the world and the use of our military and say: I really don't want to go to Iraq and murder people for the sake of oil. I don't want to fly UAVs and bomb wedding parties. I have no urge to watch my compatriots paint "Jesus killed Mohammed" on the side of a vehicle and know that these are my countrymen. I don't want to become a Guantanamo guard and be asked to torture people.

It's not cowardliness, it's intelligence.

What are you suggesting that the thoughtful, intelligent people do? Join the army and then refuse to participate in war crimes? "No, sir, I will not force-feed this inmate." "No, sir, I will not blast this village with thousands of pounds of explosives without proof that there is a single combatant there."

There seems to be an unnecessary step there.
posted by sonic meat machine at 10:48 PM on May 31, 2009 [3 favorites]


All right. Then I don't really see what the problem is with Butler's military experience when it comes to his comment on thinking men and fighting men. He never fought a symmetrical war -- and right now we aren't fighting one either. Can you elaborate on why you think it's relevant? I seem to have missed your point.

The military must be subordinate to and supportive of the regime, or the military will develop into a center of power by and for itself.

I don't quite see how "in a democracy, the military should be representative of the people. It should reflect the best of American society, not stand apart from it" would lead to a rogue military that no longer obeys civilian leadership.

Yeah, you may as well be stupid, because there's nothing a smart person can do against well-executed guerrilla tactics.

This does not really follow to me. Intelligent soldiers are only necessary in more conventional warfare, and since this is not a conventional war -- we might as well just have dumb soldiers for cannon fodder? I would argue that counterinsurgency warfare requires more than dumb cannon fodder to navigate the murky waters. The strategic corporal, the joe who has modern firepower and immediate media coverage at hand, needs to be smarter and more responsible than the joes of many wars past.

I have no urge to watch my compatriots paint "Jesus killed Mohammed" on the side of a vehicle and know that these are my countrymen.

So rather than bringing more 'thinking men' into the military to maintain an environment in which no one would be painting something as moronic as "Jesus killed Mohammed" on their vehicle, thinking men should avoid the military so that they don't have to watch it?

This is the whole point, isn't it? Instead we've got dumbasses who think it'd be a good idea to hand out Pashto language Bibles to the Afghans.

It's not cowardliness, it's intelligence.

(I understand this is part of the point you're making, but I do hope I don't come off as suggesting that people are cowards for not serving in the military -- because that's not how I feel.)

What are you suggesting that the thoughtful, intelligent people do? Join the army and then refuse to participate in war crimes?

I have disobeyed direct orders from my commanding officer while in Iraq because I knew what he was telling me to do was illegal. I am not saying I'm a genius and the Army simply needs more mes, but I don't really know how many of my comrades would've said, "No, sir," and how many would have obeyed. Which is one of the things that keeps me up at night. (And I don't even have a job with lots of firepower in my control.) Obedience is paramount in any military, but critical thinking can be too.
posted by lullaby at 11:20 AM on June 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


Butler was the executor of an aggressive imperial agenda. The Zulu wars were wars of colonial conquest; the Africans fought with spears against British repeating rifles and machine guns. His prognostications are tainted by this. He never saw real, modern warfare, with its millions of anonymous dead and technologies that render the intelligence, skill, and training of a "superior" military superfluous. It was easy to be brave and to produce Quotable Quotes8482; when your war consisted of mowing down thousands of natives who had little hope of retaliation—with a few heroic last stands peppered in for spice, of course.

I prefer to get my British military commentary from Wilfred Owen:
If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
his hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jold, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old lie: dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori
.
I think he had a more honest view of war.

I don't quite see how "in a democracy, the military should be representative of the people. It should reflect the best of American society, not stand apart from it" would lead to a rogue military that no longer obeys civilian leadership.

The problem is that the military functions as a conservative force. It is essentially the most important portion of the Executive branch, if you like. Its job is not to reflect public sentiment, but to follow orders. Liberalization—the advent of free-thinking within the military—would not be allowed to progress to any meaningful degree because free-thinkers are less likely to obey unthinkingly. Hell, the entire purpose of military training is to teach you to follow orders.

I would argue that counterinsurgency warfare requires more than dumb cannon fodder to navigate the murky waters. The strategic corporal, the joe who has modern firepower and immediate media coverage at hand, needs to be smarter and more responsible than the joes of many wars past.

Well, technically, counterinsurgency warfare has never worked in the modern era. It's not really clear what would be needed. Intelligence helps when the insurgents are foolish enough to start a real firefight, of course, but the trick is to never give the rich kids anything to shoot.

So rather than bringing more 'thinking men' into the military to maintain an environment in which no one would be painting something as moronic as "Jesus killed Mohammed" on their vehicle, thinking men should avoid the military so that they don't have to watch it?

The entire process of war requires that the combatant view his enemy as evil. Primal, demonic, detestable. Us or them. I would bet anyone who'd spoken out against this crap that night would have found himself on the wrong end of a fist, or worse. Remember Vietnam; it was the last American war in which the "thinking man" took part, arguably, because of the draft. Of course, a ton of American thinking men thought it was a detestable example of military adventurism and dodged the draft.

In retrospect, I doubt many intelligent people would argue they were wrong.

I have disobeyed direct orders from my commanding officer while in Iraq because I knew what he was telling me to do was illegal.

Have you reported him? He may be a war criminal. By failing to report him, you are an accessory—he simply got someone else to do the task you refused.

Obedience is paramount in any military, but critical thinking can be too.

Except that, historically, people who refused orders could be shot or imprisoned. Critical thinking is not and cannot be a selection criterion for military service; honestly, it's practically a deal-breaker.
posted by sonic meat machine at 5:09 PM on June 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


You think Butler's words are invalidated by the nature of his military experience, and I don't. I think he had a point that continues to resonate, and you don't. Okay.

Well, technically, counterinsurgency warfare has never worked in the modern era. It's not really clear what would be needed.

If we're considering the basic point of COIN -- providing civilians with reasons to not support the insurgency -- then I don't see what's especially unclear. It's already understood that you can't defeat insurgencies with regular military tactics, and that it requires increased governance, economic development, security, social services, etc., to so-called win hearts and minds. In turn, all of that necessitates more creativity and flexibility (and, yes, intelligence) on the part of the soldiers working to those ends.

Though you've made it clear that you believe if one was actually intelligent, one would not be in the military in the first place - so it seems likely that we'll only further end up in circles about the need for intelligent people in war.

The entire process of war requires that the combatant view his enemy as evil.

And in a counterinsurgency war, soldiers are also to understand that there are civilians as well as enemy forces out there.

I would bet anyone who'd spoken out against this crap that night would have found himself on the wrong end of a fist, or worse.

I'd assume that the concern would've been less the threat of violence and more that the men involved included a lieutenant and some NCOs - men in leadership positions. Now you've got confirmation your platoon leader is an idiot, and people with rank can fuck with you without having to bother with physical violence.

Have you reported him? He may be a war criminal. By failing to report him, you are an accessory—he simply got someone else to do the task you refused.

Considering he ordered me not to do something, and I did it anyway, it would have been rather difficult for him to find someone else to complete the task. And the matter went up the chain of command and was dealt with satisfactorily.

I'll note I was neither shot nor imprisoned.
posted by lullaby at 12:06 AM on June 2, 2009


Liberalization—the advent of free-thinking within the military—would not be allowed to progress to any meaningful degree because free-thinkers are less likely to obey unthinkingly. Hell, the entire purpose of military training is to teach you to follow orders.

This is not an accurate characterization of the military, at least not of the officer corps, and not really of the NCO and enlisted corps either. There's more to military training than BCT.

Yes, everyone in the military follows orders. But, guess what, just about everyone in life follows orders; they're typically not just laid out quite so obviously as such. And in many cases, military orders leave the executing personnel significant latitude in choosing how to accomplish the task at hand.

You don't get a flexible, responsive force by turning everyone into zombies; it's practically dogma that in order to get flexibility — one of the Fundamentals of Modern Warfare — you have to delegate decision-making authority as far down the chain of command as possible. That requires people, pretty much from squad leader on up, who can think for themselves and respond to fluid situations and act on judgment calls when the situation calls for it.

There's certainly always tension between delegating authority downwards in search of flexibility versus retaining it higher in the chain of command and getting tighter coordination. Whole books, and probably the careers of more than a few people at the various war colleges, have been spent pondering how best to achieve that balance. It may not be struck perfectly or even well all the time, but I do think there is an earnest desire to find it.

The military doesn't really demand unthinking obedience all the time, either; there are just more rules about what constitutes an appropriate time and place for debate. A planning meeting is an appropriate time to raise questions; when you are lying on your face in the mud and somebody is yelling at you to pick your ass up and move forward, it probably isn't. (Maybe because, in the time it would take to argue, you're about to get lit up.)

Although the risk of death (usually) isn't there, the issue of appropriate time and place certainly exist in the civilian world as well, there's just less formal structure built around it to guide you. E.g., it might be one thing to criticize your boss' great new idea in an internal meeting, but a faux pas and possibly career-limiting move to say the same thing in front of clients.

If you look at the last century and a half of warfare, what you see is a pretty profound "liberalization" of command structures, as you move from the setpiece battles of the early 19th century through to maneuver warfare and into the small-unit operations that form the bulk of current military engagements. I think it's entirely likely that that trend will continue in the future, and that there will be an even greater demand and place for independent thought in the military of the future than there is today.
posted by Kadin2048 at 1:29 AM on June 2, 2009


lullaby: Yeah, they haven't shot anyone for "cowardice" since World War II, I think. That's why I said "historically."

Perhaps you guys are right and intelligence is a lot more necessary than it seems from the outside. I have no military experience, and rely on my father's stories of Vietnam and my reading.

Trouble is, there isn't a whole lot to inspire most intelligent people to join. That's part of my point with Owen contra Butler: it's not that the military has propagandized the intelligent people out of the service, or that culture has done so. Indeed, the "culture at large" seems to be quite pro-military in the United States. The problem is that intelligent people tend to run into the writings of other intelligent people who have gone to war: Owen, Sassoon, Remarque, Heller, Vonnegut, Hemingway, Harrison, Crane, Jones, Grass. Add to that a sort of moral-philosophical problem with the military actions the United States has undertaken in the last half-century and the product is a class of "intelligentsia" who view the military as anathema. This isn't cowardice, as Butler would have it.

Furthermore, however liberalized the tactical command becomes, the strategic command cannot be liberalized. Even the most "liberal" officers in the Army, for example, are currently commanding troops in Iraq/Afghanistan, training troops to be used in Iraq/Afghanistan, recruiting troops to be used in Iraq/Afghanistan, and so forth. Unless they've been put out to pasture in some harmless overseas backwater, of course.
posted by sonic meat machine at 8:48 AM on June 2, 2009


So you decided to mention what was "historically" done to soldiers during World War II in the context of an argument about why the military can't/won't/shouldn't recruit critical thinkers in 2009?

I couldn't tell you about how it looks like from the outside, but I've seen it from the inside. I've known some really stupid soldiers, and I've also known some really smart ones. There is no question which are better for these wars. On all levels. If I've understood you, you think that bringing the smart people into the military is a waste of their talents, or potential. Fair enough, you're entitled to that opinion. It does, however, seem just dishonest to say that today's military doesn't have real use for intelligent people aside from getting them killed in indiscriminate ways.

And it's not like there aren't people who read Isaac Rosenberg or William March and still enter military service. There must be something compelling enough about it if service academies (West Point, et al) have fairly high standards and easily fill their ranks every year. Even in a time of war.

I can't really tell if we're all using the term "liberalize" to mean the same thing. I thought we were, but then you said: Even the most "liberal" officers in the Army, for example, are currently commanding troops in Iraq/Afghanistan, training troops to be used in Iraq/Afghanistan, recruiting troops to be used in Iraq/Afghanistan, and so forth.

Of course they are. A well-rounded and independent-thinking officer is still going to do what officers do. The point is that he will bring those particular virtues with him. And the officer who brings that to his leadership is not an officer who spray paints "Jesus killed Mohammed" on his Bradley.
posted by lullaby at 1:44 PM on June 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


I mean can't. There's a reason they're scraping the bottom of the barrel with enlistments: the cream of the crop aren't joining and there is no compelling reason for them to join.

When you say "still going to do what officers do," you are proving my point: if you disagree with the conduct of a war—or its existence in the first place—the "inside" isn't the optimal position to be in. Those well-rounded and independent-thinking officers still invaded a sovereign nation for no reason beyond orders.
posted by sonic meat machine at 2:14 PM on June 2, 2009


It's interesting - I still don't think we're necessarily talking about the same thing here. Or maybe it's just that we disagree less. My point has been, mainly, about the need for intelligent soldiers to conduct the war, and that war, especially the counterinsurgency wars that we're currently engaged in, does benefit from thinking men.

Reconciling that with the fact that a particular bad war was started, and that as a soldier (regardless of brains or education) you are still ultimately subordinate to the whims of your military and civilian leadership, is another matter. That does not negate the need for intelligent people to serve and conduct themselves well within the context of an already existing war. You can still make good decisions during a bad war, and there is still room to do so. That's really what I've been trying to say, however successfully or unsuccessfully.
posted by lullaby at 5:15 PM on June 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


Those well-rounded and independent-thinking officers still invaded a sovereign nation for no reason beyond orders.

Your complaint seems to be that the military doesn't appeal to people who can't tolerate the absolute subordination of the military to the Constitution, and through it to the elected civilian government. I guess I'll agree with you on that one; however I think it's more a feature than a bug.

A military that's not absolutely subordinate to the elected government — both in the positive ('do this') and negative ('don't do that') sense — is spectacularly dangerous. It is not the role of the military to simply veto strategic objectives, no matter how boneheaded those objectives may be, that come down from the government, provided the government is acting in accordance with the Constitution.*

It is entirely possible and not necessarily hypocritical to disagree strongly with the direction taken by the elected government, but still act as an instrument of its will. Professional soldiers do this all the time as a matter of course.** They do it, at least in my experience, not out of blind or unthinking obedience but because they realize the overall system of civilian government and control over the military is more important than the issue at hand. Even if the issue is an inadvisable war.

Saying that "officers still invaded a sovereign nation for no reason beyond orders" implies that there's some reason they'd do so besides orders. There is not; at least none I can think of that would be good. Orders — taking direction from the elected government — is the military's raison d'être.

* Which, arguments about the 2000 election and Ron Paul's objection to the AUMF-Iraq (on the grounds that it wasn't a true declaration of war) aside, there wasn't any serious question of.

** I'd argue that not only soldiers, but virtually any professional public servant does the same thing and faces the same dilemma, albeit with lower stakes. Dealing with a directive that you feel is inadvisable but is nonetheless valid is the true acid test for a member of any hierarchical organization. Members of the diplomatic corps must deal with it very frequently, I'd imagine.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:24 PM on June 2, 2009


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