January 22, 2021

Veterans Day Thoughts 2013


So many dead men. You just wouldn’t believe it.

– Donald Sutherland as Christ
Johnny Got His Gun (1971)

* * *

For Veterans Day this year, I watched an anti-war movie. I figured this was a fitting tribute to those who have fought and died in wars. For what they and all of us want most is that we will never again have to send our children or grandchildren into harm’s way on some godforsaken battlefield.

I first saw this movie in 1972. It is Dalton Trumbo’s film version of his controversial novel, Johnny Got His Gun. It tells the story of a young American, Joe Bonham, wounded on the final day of World War I. A bomb fell near him after he had buried the body of a dead comrade. So severe were his wounds that he lost both arms, both legs, his face and all ability to of hear, see, and talk. However, Joe’s brain still functioned, keeping him alive, enabling him to move his head a bit, and, unbeknownst to the doctors, carry on a conscious inner monologue. It became his fate to simply lie there in darkness, thinking and dreaming.

This is the absurdity of war.

The anti-war message of Trumbo’s film does not come in didactic speeches, but in the story of this one unfortunate man. In vivid color, we enter Joe Bonham’s dreams and relive the past with him, delighting in the richness and complexity of his youth and relationships. In contrast, his current condition is rendered in stark black and white. To guard him from curious onlookers, he is cared for in a locked, bare utility room with windows closed. Then a caring nurse breaks through and human communication becomes possible once more for the helpless soldier, only to be stifled by those in authority. The room fades to black as Joe cries, “SOS! Help me!”

One recurring theme in Johnny Got His Gun is that of a carnival sideshow. The young man comes to feel that he should be placed in one. People should come and look at him. They should be amazed that “a piece of meat” can live.

Sometimes I wonder if our war veterans feel a little bit like that too. In Slaid Cleaves’ song, Still Fighting The War, he observes:

Men go to war for a hundred reasons,
But they all come back with the same demons.

None of us who have escaped our nation’s veterans’ experiences on the battlefields can ever truly relate to what they’ve seen and known. We pin medals on their chests, honor them with annual holidays, put them on public display at ballgames, and wax poetic about their sacrifices. No doubt many of them are proud of their service and grateful for the recognition. However, I wonder if they think the rest of us are just spouting a lot of public patriotic bullshit when we so often forget about them in private, where such a great number of vets are homeless, jobless, fighting PTSD and countless other war-related debilities, going through divorces, battling alcohol and drug abuse, and at high risk for suicide. It must make a person feel freakish when he or she can’t attend a patriotic fireworks display because the explosions are too jarring, too upsetting.

I have so many mixed feelings on Veterans Day.

500fullFirst of all, I have little personal experience with the military. My father and my father’s father and I were lucky. Our lives fell right in the cracks between wars in the 20th century, and though they performed military service in peacetime, I did not.

I turned 18 in 1974, barely missing Vietnam and the draft. Some of you know what that time was like in the U.S., and I was one who was not in favor of the war, to put it mildly. I had no interest in the military in those days.

My sons and daughters now live in the age of the all-volunteer military, and none of them enlisted. I’m glad, especially given the extended wars we have fought over the past twelve years.

Second, I have made the acquaintance of many who have served, and who are veterans of wars. One of our churches was near Great Lakes Naval Training Center north of Chicago. We had military personnel and families in and out of our congregation, and I visited patients in the VA hospital there. Since becoming a hospice chaplain, I have had the privilege of conversing with many veterans, especially from World War II. Most are loathe to speak of their war experiences in specific terms, and for good reason. I’ve met people who fought in most of the great battles of that war, which is to say, they have seen horror and human suffering on a scale and in detail that I can scarcely imagine. I have gained great respect for these G.I. Joes. In fact, I admire them, like them, and have grown to treasure learning from them. But it sickens my stomach to think of my sons or daughters or grandchildren going through what they endured.

Third, I am not a proponent of civil religion. I do believe that love of country is natural and good, a gift of common grace. I consider it a duty to show appreciation for those who sacrificed to make our lives better. I am also proud to honor the symbols of our nation and embrace the notions of liberty and representative democracy that they represent. But I do not give them ultimate value or worship them. The national flag does not belong in the sanctuaries of our churches — they are foreign embassies of a different Kingdom. I pray “God bless America” as a part of my intercessions “for everyone, for kings and all who are in high positions” (1Tim. 2:1). A friend of mine has a bumper sticker that says, “God bless all nations,” and I concur. Veterans Day is not a holy day on the church calendar, though at the same time, such remembrances do (and should) play a role as we think about our faith.

Fourth, all my life I have heard, “Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it.” What I’ve seen is that remembering doesn’t seem to help much either. We continue to fight wars, thinking they will bring peace. In fact, we are just wrapping up the two longest wars the U.S. has ever fought, and the possibility of future wars lies just beyond the horizon. The amount of resources we have expended to defeat our enemies over the past twelve years boggles the mind. The human cost has been and remains staggering on all sides. For generations, families will suffer because this generation felt it necessary to go to war. “Remembering” on Veteran’s Day must not only involve rituals of honor, but also a renewed commitment to care for those whose lives have been disrupted and devastated by war. And above all, we must pursue determined, diligent efforts to promote liberty and justice for all, the things that make for peace.

Fifth, when thinking about these things, I try to take my cues from the Bible and the best of Christian tradition. Scripture reflects the violence and conflict that is pervasive in a sinful world, even among the religious. Church history likewise. However, from both we also hear prophets’ voices above the din, bringing words from God, proclaiming and promoting shalom — human flourishing in a renewed and reconciled world. The ultimate vision of Christianity is a new creation in which the Tree of Life provides healing for all nations. Veterans Day provides yet another opportunity for the Church to proclaim this hope-filled Gospel, this message of the peace that was won when Jesus absorbed violence rather than exercising it. Losing the war, he won shalom for all. Eagerly, we now long for its consummation.

And how, on Veterans Day, shall we be messengers of that peace?


  1. Per your third point, one thing I’ve seen is the flag in the church on the Sunday closest to Veteran’s Day, Memorial Day, and the 4th of July. At the start of the service, veterans are asked to stand and be recognized (applauded) by the rest of the congregants. I’ve never heard the preaching glorify war itself. Do you think that is inappropriate?
    (not trying to pick a fight, just wondering if recognizing the veterans in church veers to close to civil religion…)

    • Marcus Johnson says

      As a veteran, I didn’t mind when it happened in my church yesterday. I considered myself in the same category as mothers on Mother’s Day, or fathers on Father’s Day, or anyone else who gets recognized for their service. I think it’s also important for folks to see us, sometimes. We are still a woefully underserved population, and the bad-ass recruitment commercials make it easy for folks to identify us with some sort of false hyper-masculinity, instead of the humanity we share with our brothers and sisters in Christ. Getting recognized is a way to let people know, “Yeah, I’m just like you, and I’m a veteran.”

      That being said, the flag in the church is a little weird. I don’t mind being a patriot, but it is a label I think I can leave behind when I enter a sanctuary.

    • I don’t mind recognizing veterans in church — it is recognition of their vocation (though friends in the peace churches will disagree). I don’t think the flag belongs there.

    • When that happens, I wonder how the planners would feel if alongside the american veterans stand those who fought in WW2 for Germany or just recently for Iraq.

  2. I pray “God bless America” as a part of my intercessions “for everyone, for kings and all who are in high positions” (1Tim. 2:1). A friend of mine has a bumper sticker that says, “God bless all nations,” and I concur.

    My girls plastered our old Honda with bumper stickers, one of them “God bless the whole world—no exceptions”. I’ve often thought, instead of “God bless America” it should be reversed: “America bless God”.

    And I agree that the flag does not belong in a sanctuary, but in our church there is never any attention paid to it, so it’s not a hill I’m going to fight on.

    Our church must be pretty typical—the veterans were honored and applauded; we also sang “America the Beautiful” and I confess I skimmed the lyrics first, and reassured myself that it is indeed a worshipful song, not merely a patriotic one.

    So OK for now. But…

  3. “In fact, we are just wrapping up the two longest wars the U.S. has ever fought, and the possibility of future wars lies just beyond the horizon.”

    Except that technically they are not wars; nor were the first Gulf . . .action, Vietnam, or Korea. Our congress has not formally declared war since WWII.

    Thought-provoking piece, CM. Thank you.

  4. CM, I have to re-read this and give it some thought. My gut reaction is that the divorce of so many Americans from those who serve in uniform is part of the problem….”they” become a different species from regular people. Before Vietnam, and most certainly during WWII, those were “our boys”, and EVERYONE had a friend or loved one in the service, and almost every adult male in 1955 had served, either in WWII and/or Korea.

    I come about 180 degrees from the opposite direction in personal history. My late father and father-in-law were career Army….in fact, it is through their assignments together in a small specialty area that the families became friends and my husband and I met and fell in love. My husband and I are BOTH vets, and both of our sons have been in uniform. One is out, the other will likely make it a career. I have never, since the age of 10 when they are issued, been without a military ID card…..as a “dependent” child, then as a soldier, a dependent spouse, and now the spouse of a retired reservist. You make some good points that I will have to mull over and address later, CM.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      It’s becoming possible in a military family to never have interaction with any civilians or anyone outside the base for life. And the children go into the family profession, and their children, and their children…

      Warrior caste. Completely separate from the civilians, with no interaction. Getting resentful of civilian ignorance/misunderstanding, sometimes outright hostility (“VIETNAAAAAAM!”). How long before the resentment builds to critical mass? (A lot of people I talk to expect to see a military coup in this country within their lifetimes. And we’ve got a couple preachers and radio talk-show yellers calling for “the noble military” to step in and “save the country”. Just like the Late Roman Republic.)

      • Isaac (or possibly Obed) says

        I’m a Navy brat whose parents were an Army brat and the youngest in a one-time Navy family (grandfather killed himself due to what we’d now call PTSD when my mom was a toddler). Both of my parents were company commanders in their high school JROTC. Growing up on military bases, we definitely experienced what you describe above. Until we started going to churches that weren’t the base chapel, we never had non-military friends. In high school, all of us had to take the ASVAB test around the same time that we were taking the SATs. Consequentially, we all had recruiters from all four branches calling us once a week throughout our senior year. My father didn’t encourage us to follow in his footsteps, but when we wanted to go talk to the recruiter, he insisted on going with us so that we wouldn’t sign up for something blindly. I’m glad he did because he saved me from making some vocational mistakes. Most of my classmates, however, did sign up. It was the culture. It was the ‘family business.’

        I live in a town that is heavily military (we used to have over half a dozen or so bases contiguous to the city… a few have closed, but I think we still have at least four). The vast majority of folks in my churches have always been veterans or current servicemen. And I hear some of those rumblings you’re talking about from those that claim to be ‘in the know.’ I pray they’re wrong.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          Growing up on military bases, we definitely experienced what you describe above. Until we started going to churches that weren’t the base chapel, we never had non-military friends.

          Sounds like those accounts of high-involvement Fundagelical churches where nobody in church knows anyone outside of church except as “Heathen” Witnessing targets. Where all social needs are handled in church by church.

          Many years ago, when I still had one ear in Christianese media, I remember FotF(?) gushing about how so many of our military after Vietnam were now “Born-Again Bible-Believing Christians”. (And recent news coverage of harassment of non-Born-Again personnel by Born-Agains, with the immediate screams of “PERSECUTION!!!!” when the brass stepped in to stop hazing by religious origin.) I wonder if those preacher types on the news calling for a military coup had that in mind; that the Army was now a Christian(TM) Army opposing those Godless Heathens in the Gubmint. (And like Red Fanboy Intellectuals during the Cold War, said preachers saw themselves as the natural choice for the Party Commissars on top giving all the orders.)

      • @HUG….may I suggest that you are showing one side of the coin, the military family who doesn’t know any (or many) civilian families. I would like to point out the OTHER side of the equation, the VAST number of Americans who do not really know anyone in uniform, and consider the military to be some other type of people apart from themselves. The misunderstanding run both ways. As I said in my first comment yesterday, gone are the days when every family and neighborhood had “their” young people in harm’s way. I really feel strongly that a mandatory service period for every young adult would make more people aware of their responsibility to others. I do not think that the military should be the only option, just one of several that includes teaching in remote areas, health care support of the elderly and disabled (you need not be a nurse to assist in daily tasks). I would make war less common and tolerated, while also demonstrating to young men and women that they are NOT the center of the universe, and that they have something to offer others. Just my cranky two cents worth!

  5. “So many dead men. You just wouldn’t believe it.”

    “….I had not thought death had undone so many…” Dante’s Inferno, Canto III

    God’s peace to all those who have traversed the inferno of war, and for all those who traverse that inferno still.

    • AMEN

      my dear niece was a critical care nurse at an outpost in Afghanistan from where she once posted ‘there are no words’ in a moment of reflection. . . .

      Big sign outside the trauma center surgical tents read: ‘BRINGING A KNIFE TO A GUNFIGHT “

  6. My grandfather was a pilot in WWII. My father-in-law was in Korea, though not in a combat position. My father survived Vietnam (forward recon) though I still remember his struggles in the 70s and the few stories he has shared are horrific. I’m a peacetime veteran myself. (One thing many don’t understand about modern military training is that it’s designed to do as much as possibility to teach you to act under the intense pressures of combat as you’ve been trained and to overcome the natural aversion we all have toward killing another human being. Its goal is to reduce the number of people who die when they first encounter combat.) One older son joined the Army during this period of elective wars, but fortunately was injured, not seriously, but enough to prevent him from completed training.

    My thoughts? As a nation, we require a military. The power of the state to some degree rests on the power of the sword. Given that, though, I only see one way to avoid extended elective wars. We can’t relegate military service to a tiny fraction of our population. It’s a lot easier to send people off to fight (for repeated tours today) when they aren’t your sons and daughters. If the draft had been in place, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq never would have lasted so long, if they had even been fought in the first place.

    It’s always been a struggle for Christianity and it’s instructive to read the thoughts and canons both of those who lived within a persecuted Church and those who lived within Christianized empires, particularly those in the East (the birthplace of Christianity, after all). Shedding human blood was always recognized as evil and those who had done so were always seen to be in particular need of healing. By canon, a priest who shed blood was defrocked because a hand of violence could not serve the body and blood of the Lord of Peace. (I say ‘by canon’ because in all things the Church practiced discernment and economia rather than a blind enforcement of rules.) There are not and have never been easy answers for the Church, but one thing seems clear to me — celebrating the taking of human life in the context of a Christian worship service approaches blasphemy.

    I’m a member of an SBC church and I’ve noticed it mostly seems to be the iconoclastic strains of Christianity who tend to replace Christian icons with icons like the American flag. I think it says something about our nature as human beings. While icons have become somewhat less in the forefront in the architecture and design of many modern American Catholic Churches, look at any older Catholic Church or any Orthodox Church and try to imagine any country’s flag displayed within it. It would look jarringly out of place. (And anyone who thinks the flag is not a venerated icon within American evangelicalism has clearly never attended an SBC patriotic “worship” service.)

    But do pray for those who serve our country in its military on Veteran’s Day. Prayer is always an appropriate Christian response toward those in need. And if you have the opportunity to help one in need, do not turn from them.

    • ” If the draft had been in place, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq never would have lasted so long, if they had even been fought in the first place.”

      Indeed. In the first year or so of the Iraq War, an older gentleman in the church I was attending asked if the students on campus had expressed any significant anti-war sentiment. I was an older grad student at the time, and at a technical school in the South at that, so he wasn’t too surprised whenI reported that I hadn’t seen much evidence myself. But the real reason wasn’t that I was surrounded by neo-con ROTC engineers waiting for big-bucks jobs someday. It was just that there wasn’t a draft and thus students could tune the war out as much as anyone else if they chose to.

      Today, it’s only military families, who endure long and repeated deployments, who are at war. Even worse: the rest of us weren’t even asked to sacrifice to pay for any of these wars. In my view, the bankruptcy of modern American values is demonstrated, not by those who want to tax the rich to pay for Program X (legitimate questions here too, of course), but rather from those who say “Support the troops” and then turn around and demand a tax cut. The thing is, this doesn’t even qualify as hypocrisy;. I’s much worse: it doesn’t even occur to those who do this that it could even be hypocritical. (Or if you don’t like the idea of tax hikes, then how about war bonds? ANYTHING to show that we’ve all got skin in the game.)

      People during WW II endured rations and shortages — and this after a decade of Depression. Today? I got a permanent temporary tax cut and read about the wars on-line, at least when Yahoo! wasn’t insisting that I read about what Miley Cyrus “stepped out” wearing instead.

      As far as the draft goes, there’s this, though. Milton Friedman, patron saint of free-market economics, was asked what he felt his greatest achievement was. His answer? That he convinced Nixon to end the draft. He felt it would improve the quality and morale of the military, and he was right. Also, a peacetime draft didn’t exist at all until the 20th century. But I’m amazed and awed that so many fine men and women still chose to serve when they could be doing anything else.

      But the cost is that the rest of us aren’t as connected to their sacrifices as other generations would be.

  7. ” Veterans Day provides yet another opportunity for the Church to proclaim this hope-filled Gospel, this message of the peace that was won when Jesus absorbed violence rather than exercising it. Losing the war, he won shalom for all. Eagerly, we now long for its consummation.”

    Wait. Jesus lost the war? You got some ‘splainin’ to do, Chaplain Mike.

    Jesus told his strategy and tactics in advance even though his hearers didn’t understand what he meant. How is that ‘losing the war’?

    I apparently have a higher view of the crucifixion than you do. Because the crucifixion is a part of this hope-filled Gospel too. It’s part of the victory, not a defeat. Satan thought so at the time, but he was wrong.

    • I meant he lost from the standpoint of human violence. The Romans and Jews disposed of their enemy by putting him to death. Of course, in God’s plan, that was the route to victory. We’re on the same page.

  8. I think this entire subject should push all of us to deal with the subject of where conflict originates. There are principles which help one to understand the immense diversity of life forms. Only some Christians seem inclined to understand the truth of that. There are also principles that help to understand the immense diversity of cultural forms. These as hidden is the theme of much great literature. You can’t circumvent mimetic desire in humans, its obvious. But the truth of its role in conflict is as dissimulated as ever.

  9. Jerry Goodman says

    As I read all the posts here, I thought that each was very thought provoking. I often as a Christ-follower struggle with what the Apostle Paul wrote that “we don’t struggle with any human being but against principalities and darkness in the Truth and Righteousness of God in Jesus Christ. (Forgive me here for my own paraphrasing) I struggle for in my own way and am reminded by the Holy Spirit to LOVE my enemy. Often fail as I see them (enemy) in my eyes and not in my spirit as Jesus would have it. Does anyone struggle here? I do

  10. Andrew Ryder says

    Beautifully captures the tensions between our respect for veterans’ personal service and our desire for national peace.

  11. Isaac (or possibly Obed) says

    As a student of Church History, one of the things that I’ve been trying to wrap my mind around (or rather, around the theological implications of the following) is how very nationalistic the Reformation ended up being. While there were certainly pockets of non-conformity, the assumption by the time the dust was settling seemed to universally be that each State would have its own national church. Or, at least it’s own State Religion. So, when I pull out my Book of Common Prayer, it is very definitely an American prayer book, complete with prayers to be said for the Army and Navy, for Congress when its in session, for the President, etc. One of the reasons for the American version of the Book of Common Prayer to have been even born was that the prayer book in use at the time of the War for Independence was too darn British.

    I find myself wondering how this mindset has influenced the willingness of the various “Christian Nations” to go to war with each other over the centuries. While I certainly believe in the concept that Sts. Augustine and Aquinas developed into “just war theory,” I have a suspicion that the vast majority of our conflicts have not fit the bill. And while the Church has offered (at times) a prophetic voice against such bloodshed, it’s also done its share of baptizing very un-holy warfare.

    • An interesting question might be how one compares the nationalism within Eastern Orthodoxy with what you note in Protestant western/northern Europe.

      To be sure, EO lands had plenty of violence through the centuries (czarist pogroms, e.g.), but in general, it doesn’t seem like EO countries pushed each other around to quite the same degree as in the West. I’m thinking out loud here, but here’s all that really comes to mind:

      1) Russia vs. Georgia — both canonically Orthodox, but often at loggerheads
      2) Russia vs. Ukraine – mostly low-grade conflict, but not a hot one for many centuries now
      3) Moldova-Romania-Ukraine – complicated situation

      With Greece, the Balkans, and the churches of the Levant under the Ottoman thumb until the last 100-200 years, there wasn’t necessarily much opportunity for these now-liberated national churches(Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia, Greece, Aniochians) to watch their respective countries go to war with one another — they had a common enemy.

      In any case, my impression is that traditionally EO nations just don’t fight each other all that much, comparatively speaking. The differences among EO nations are merely ethnic, rather than theological. In the West, you had nationalism + Lutheran/Calvinist/Anglican dimensions to boot.

  12. I’ve always been a bit turned off by nationalistic hoopla in church, such as making a big deal out of the Fourth of July. I worship God, not country. Veterans Day has always been borderline in my mind because of that. I’m not saying that recognizing those who’ve served is nationalistic, but it “feels” nationalistic.

    Well, a different issue popped up for me yesterday. Over the past couple of years, several refugee families from the Congo and various other parts of Africa have begun attending our church, people who’ve fled men dressed in military uniforms who carry rifles and have killed friends and loved ones.

    A video clip was played, showing a few people joining the military, showing soldiers on parade – the rifles, the cadence, the camouflage – and as I watched it, I wondered if it was making the refugee families uncomfortable. They come from a culture of violence, where the military maybe ISN’T the “good guy.” They may have been perplexed by what was being done, by the “spectacle,” not understanding OUR culture of valuing the freedom-fighting soldier.

    Anyway, I plan on talking to some of them about it, and to my pastor. We are living in a more diverse nation. Some of our old way of doing things might need a bit more explanation to help those new to the country understand why it’s being done. And we should at least be sensitive to what others might be feeling and experiencing, especially in a church where you’re trying to provide an avenue of worshipping God and Jesus, not potentially feeding deep-seated anxietites.

  13. My father is a WWII Pacific vet. He was honored in his small southern town this Saturday for his service. My husband nearly came unglued when one of the three presenters – a preacher, who is locally famous – gave his little “talk” before his 13.5 minute prayer. The preacher sermonized about the virtues of freedom and climaxed by equating Jesus dying on the cross to the soldiers who had fallen. He actually followed up that metaphor with this phrase “Jesus died so that we might have freedom.” He really was not implying freedom from sin. He really was implying Jesus died so we could have America! My husband nearly came unglued. Civil religion much?

  14. David Cornwell says

    This subject always opens up a potential can of worms. However it is a can that needs to be opened for all of us to examine.

    My grandson, a very intelligent young man, with high academics, and in wonderful physical condition, joined the Marines during the summer. He wants to eventually enter law enforcement, perhaps the FBI. Because of his family circumstances college is a dream, that would be difficult for him to fulfill. Through the Marines he has been promised an eventual chance at college, plus a leg-up when attempting to later become a cop. For me the fact that he faced such a decision was very depressing. And so most of the family is cheering him on, when all I can do is weep in silence. And pray for him, and hope we stay out of a new war.

    Another great disappointment for me was when I recently learned that my alma mater, Asbury University now has an ROTC program. The supposed rationale for this is that “the need for strong moral leaders in the military has never been greater.” My response to this is that the need for strong Christian colleges and universities that offer something different has never been greater. The idea that we are going to change the military into something other than a machine for killing is naïve, to say the least.

    Whatever one’s response to war might be as a Christian, we need to make sure we understand that which of we are speaking. For instance, what do we know about Christian pacifism? It’s easy to reject—or is it? What have you read that informs your understanding? Read John Howard Yoder’s “The Politics of Jesus.” It was ranked by the “Christianity Today” as the fifth most important book of the 20th century.

    Or maybe you consider yourself a “just war” Christian. If so, what do you know about its principles? And after studying it, ask yourself the question “when was the last war fought, conducted by these precepts?” And who decides the “justice” of a particular war? The state will work its propaganda machine to insure the “justice” of every war it engages in.

    “Just war” may be the most difficult of the alternate Christian theories to practice. As Christians, and as those who belong to the Kingdom, we must understand what we are submitting ourselves to. A quick read, and one that quickly gets to the gist of the argument is made by Daniel M. Bell, Jr., in the twenty-two page PDF pamphlet entitled “Just War and Christian Discipleship.” It can be found on the website of the Ekklesia Project, in the “publications” section.

    • Thanks David. Helpful input, as always.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Another great disappointment for me was when I recently learned that my alma mater, Asbury University now has an ROTC program. The supposed rationale for this is that “the need for strong moral leaders in the military has never been greater.”

      Remember something I alluded to above? How Christianese media around 20 years ago was gushing about how so many of our military are now “Born-Again Christian”? I wonder if this has fermented into a quasi-Jihad syncretism between Christians and Military. (Far different from the early years of Christianity, when Christians were forbidden to be soldiers.)

      And after studying it, ask yourself the question “when was the last war fought, conducted by these precepts?”

      Define “War”. You DO know by the letter of the law, the USA has NOT been at war since 9/1/1945?

      And who decides the “justice” of a particular war? The state will work its propaganda machine to insure the “justice” of every war it engages in.

      Conquest and war for petty reasons, justified by long prayers.
      “Gott Mit Uns” (motto of the German Army 1870-1945)

      Or if the church/state fusion is really tight and the church is on top, something approximating Jihad.
      “God Wills It!”

    • Liberty University, founded by Jerry Falwell, is the largest of the Christian colleges or universities, and has an extensive program for military training, including drone warfare.

      Recent article “Drones for Christ” in July’s Sojourners: http://sojo.net/magazine/2013/07/drones-christ

  15. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    Sam Clemens rings in on the subject, from the time of Yanko-Spanko in 1898:

    (Though I always viewed that fable as presenting the enthusiastic people with “This is what you want. HERE ARE THE COSTS. Is it worth it? Do you still want to go through with this?”)

  16. Randy Thompson says

    This is the first reference to Dalton Trumbo’s “Johnny Got His Gun” I’ve come across in a long time. I too saw it when it came out in the early 1970’s. The film makes a lasting impression–and it should be noted that this film is definitely not for the faint of heart. It takes you deep into the psychological horror of war. As I remember it, it is more horrifying than any slasher film could aspire to be, and without gore too.

  17. James the Mad says

    CM, I’m just enough older than you are that I did see the end of Vietnam. I was in the navy, so I never actually saw combat, but I did serve. I’ve searched the list of names on The Wall to see if friend’s names were there (they weren’t), and, probably to my shame, I will always think of Jane Fonda as Hanoi Jane.

    To make things more interesting, I became a follower of Christ about 2 months after going in, at which time me and my shiny new NAS concordance sat down and had a discussion as to whether or not I could continue to serve as a believer (I finished my 4 years, but did not re-enlist).

    Having said that, I totally agree with what you’ve written. My last church was heavily into civil religion, to the point where the men’s ministry table always displayed pictures and information on members of the church who were serving. I found that to be very disturbing. I am at a point where, even having served, I will no longer say the Pledge of Allegiance. Yes, I will stand out of basic respect, but I am no longer willing to put my country on the same (or greater) level as my faith. And I am definitely not attending the church that emphasizes civil religion to the point where I couldn’t tell where their faith left off and their patriotism began.

  18. Fascinating article CM!! I’m speechless.

  19. I’m quite sure I’ll be returning to and referencing this post for years to come. Thank you for the sober reflection.

  20. Excellent article, Chaplain Mike, and much appreciated by me for numerous reasons.

    Speaking of “numerous reasons,” I posted a response yesterday around 5.00p MST, but it was lost the instant I hit the “Post Comment” button.

  21. This is late to the party, because of the site issues on Monday, but I’m going to post it anyhow.

    Thanks CM. Much to think about, and from the commenters as well.

    I agree with Scott Morizot in general, and particularly in this: ” If the draft had been in place, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq never would have lasted so long, if they had even been fought in the first place.” Frank Schaeffer wrote a whole book about this: “AWOL: The Unexcused Absence of America’s Upper Classes from Military Service—and How It Hurts Our Country.” Haven’t read it, but it has intrigued me since I heard him speak on it. He warns against a “warrior class” and points out that those who have served in the military are usually much less eager to get our service people involved in prolonged operations than those who haven’t.

    The Eastern Church never developed a “just war theory” – all war is wrong, but sometimes, the way the world is now, before Christ returns, rulers go to war and people end up in armies. All participation in killing and hurting people is sinful, and committing these acts as a member of the armed forces is handled as any other sin, in Confession. According to the seriousness, including whether someone could be sure that they had actually killed another, the person confessing may not be allowed to take Communion for a period of time. St Basil specified 3 years, as I recall; don’t think it’s that much nowadays, but it would be long enough to make an impression. It’s not a penalty for breaking a rule; it’s a reminder that the “enemy” is really one’s brother, and in harming him, who was made in God’s image, one also harms oneself – indeed, all of humanity.

    We do some other interesting things. We pray for “the President and all those in civil authority and for the Armed Forces” at every Liturgy, using just those words – no nationalism is expressed, simply “Lord, have mercy” – that God will remember them and give them the help they need according to His own character of love and healing.

    We honor saints who were soldiers, most of whom were martyrs during the days when Christianity was illegal in the Roman Empire; they were usually martyred when they refused to take part in the Emperor Cult. A very important soldier saint is St Demetrius of Thessalonika. In Orthodox churches of Russian heritage, it has become the tradition during the Liturgy on the Saturday before his feast day, 26 October, to pray for veterans. Many churches pray only for those who have died, but my priest asks for the names of everyone we want remembered, alive or reposed, Orthodox or not. A close friend of my daughter & son-in-law (both now on active duty) committed suicide, and I always ask for prayer for him and all the casualties of suicide.

    Finally, I think it’s significant that the day chosen as the day of armistice at the end of WW I is the feast of St Martin of Tours (St Martin the Merciful in EO), another soldier saint, who was known for his care for the poor.


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