Training our Soldiers to be Godless

“[T]he spiritual and moral health of the Armed Forces is a vital element in our national security.” – President Harry S. Truman, December 20, 1946.

During the 1950s and early 1960s a US Army lesson plan titled “One Nation Under God” listed two objectives: “To help the individual [soldier] to understand the effect of faith in a Supreme Being has had on the origin and development of our country” and “To lead the individual [soldier] to a recognition of the importance of the spiritual element in his training.” The fifty-minute lecture to all Army soldiers aimed at proving that “We as a nation are DEPENDENT upon and RESPONSIBLE to Almighty God.”

Today, there is a growing concern among former military leaders that the United States military is becoming more and more secular and therefore Godless. In 1998 Kathleen Johnson an Army Sergeant First Class founded the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers (MAAF). The group’s early efforts included letter writing campaigns reminding public figures such as Tom Brokaw not to use the phrase, “There are no atheists in foxholes.”

There are growing indications that the US military is being used as a “social petri dish” to further short term political agendas versus address growing kinetic national security threats from Iran, Russia, China, North Africa and Syria. Recent examples of this accelerating trend include:

  • Declaring climate change as a national security priority. In May 2014 the CNA Corporation’s Military Advisory Board issued the report National Security and the Accelerating Risks. The report states, “It is through this [CNA] analytical prism that 11 retired Generals and Admirals came together in 2007, under the moniker of CNA’s Military Advisory Board, to examine the security implications of climate change. Their landmark report, National Security and the Threat of Climate Change, was the first time that such an elite body of military leaders expressed their concern over the security implications of climate change.”
  • The repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell by the US Congress in 2010. Dr. Judith Reisman reported that in the US military  in 2013 there were confirmed  10,700 rapes of men by men. Historically, only 17% of rapes are ever reported indicating that the number of men raped by men can be over 63,000 of the 1.2 million men in the military.
  • The growing restrictions placed upon both military chaplains and those in uniform on when, where and how they may proselytize and pray. The Thomas More Law Center released a video showing members of the US Armed Forces speaking out about the culture of fear and intimidation in the US military that is forcing Christian soldiers to hide their faith.
  • The de-funding of the US military as part of the sequestration imposed by Congress. Sequestration led former Congressman and Lieutenant Colonel Allen West, US Army (Ret.)  to ask, “So, as we decimate our military, cut retiree and veteran benefits, and cut benefits to our military families, [while] we are arming federal agencies. Why?”
  • The changes, over time, to the Rules of Engagement (ROE) that allows our military to function effectively in a hostile environment. Capt. Joseph John, USN/FBI (Ret) wrote, “Two well-known losses of combat personnel are examples of how the imposition of the new and ‘dangerous’ ROE forced on combat personnel increased the dangerous environment on the battlefield.  The first example was depicted in the movie ‘Lone Survivor’ where the fear of being charged by civilians in the Pentagon with war crimes, if they silenced a hostile Afghan, resulted in compromising an entire operation and resulted in the death of 3 SEALs.  The second event, Extortion 17, occurred because the request for suppression fire at a landing zone, that used to be normally approved to allow a helicopter to land in a hot zone, was denied by senior commanders because of the new and ‘dangerous’ ROE.  That lack of support resulted in the loss of 48 military personnel flying on Extortion 17 (those killed included 16 members of SEAL Team SIX, 20 Spec Ops Warriors, 5 helo crew members, and 7 Afghan military allies); Extortion 17 was the largest loss of life of US military personnel in one day in the 13 year history of combat operations in Afghanistan.  There have been thousands of incidents over the last 5 years that resulted in casualties that could have been avoided, if the “standard” ROE were being employed.

Each of these issues, and others such as the growing numbers of military suicides and cases of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, raise a red flag that the US military has lost its character and moral compass.

It appears God has been removed from the soldier, Godlessness is becoming the norm.

This is not a new issue. In the July 2000 Journal of Military History column Character Education in the U.S. Army, 1947-1977, Anne C. Loveland wrote,  “In 1947, amidst great fanfare, the US Army activated and experimental unit at Fort Knox, Kentucky, made up of 664 young men between the ages of 17 and 20 (average age 17 1/2). Since the autumn of 1945, the Truman Administration had been pressing Congress to institute universal military training (UMT), and the Fort Know unit was set up to demonstrate the kind of instruction it would involve… But the most publicized aspect of the experiment was the program of moral, religious, and citizenship instruction administered by three chaplains who delivered fifty-minute lectures on such subjects as ‘The Ten Commandments,’ ‘Grounds for Moral Conduct,’ ‘Purity in Thought, Word and Deed,’ ‘Marriage as a Sacred Institution,’ The Citizen and Morality,’ and ‘Citizen and Honesty’.”

“The program developed for the Fort Knox experimental unit and subsequently expanded to the Army as a whole emphasized three inter-dependent components: religion, character building, and citizenship,” notes Loveland. “Army publications explicitly stated the religious basis of Character guidance, pointed out that the principles the chaplains taught came from God. A lecture entitled ‘Natural Law’ and ‘Moral Law’ concluded with the declaration that ‘our chief responsibly as moral beings is toward God.”

Over time Loveland reports that there was push back against character and morals training by unit commanders, who wanted the time spent on unit training. Loveland writes, “Whatever the reason for it, it is clear that chaplain disaffection played as important a role as command resistance in undermining character education in the 1970s. In 1977, the Army officially discontinued the already moribund Human Self Development program [which replaced moral and character programs]. Thus ended the Army’s thirty-year experiment in character education.”

Loveland concludes, “If the concern with national preparedness in the 1940s impelled Army leaders to institute character education, the decision to end the draft in 1973 hastened the demise of the program. In the early 1970s, when Army leaders began planning implementation of the all-volunteer force, they decided to deemphasize the existing character education program. With public approval of the draft no longer a concern, they sidelined a program designed to inculcate personal and civic values in an army of citizen-soldiers, relying instead on a revitalized military ethic to teach the values and behavior of professional soldiers.”

I submit that the values and behaviors of professional soldiers are not comparable to the character and morals of citizen soldiers. The question is: Do we now have a Godless military?


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The following are part of a collection of articles from the Air Force Law Review 2007, 59 A.F. L. Rev. 1

Religion in the Military: Navigating the channel between the religion clauses
Katcoff v. Marsh at twenty-one: The Military Chaplaincy and the Separation of Church and State
“Religion and the US Military” After Dinner Speech for the International Symposium on Military Ethics Springfield, VA on January 25, 2007
Evangelical Proselytizing at the U.S. Air Force Academy: The Civilian-Military Controversy, 2004-2006
Jesus killed Mohammed: The crusade for a Christian military By Jeff Sharlet
Pastoral Care in a New Public: Lessons Learned in the Public Square

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