Today’s question is: How many ties does brotherhood need to bind it together?
You may have heard that Army Spc. Jeremy Hall has filed a suit against the US Department of Defense and Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, claiming his rights to religious freedom under the First Amendment were violated. Hall, a former Baptist who served two tours of duty in Iraq and who has a near perfect record, says he no longer believes in God, fate, luck or anything supernatural. And he says that because of his lack of belief in a deity, he was threatened by his fellow soldiers while on active duty, and that his military career was effectively ruined.
There were instances where Hall refused to pray at his table during mess, and was told to go sit somewhere else. At one point, he was nearly killed during an attack on his Humvee, and another soldier reportedly asked him, “Do you believe in Jesus now?” Plus, Hall was sent home early from Iraq and assigned to Fort Riley in Junction City, Kansas, to complete his tour of duty.
Fort Riley, Kansas? How much good can a soldier with two tours experience in Iraq do in Kansas?
Forget for a minute the constitutional implications of this case. Forget for a minute the religious and philosophical implications. I asked the initial question “How many ties does brotherhood need to bind it together?” because more than legal and philosophical issues, this case raises questions about the state of the US military in general.
If a person is going to be accepted into the military brotherhood, shouldn’t the main reason be his or her value as a soldier? Shouldn’t that trump and negate everything else, including his or her religious views?
My younger brother is a Major in the United States Army. He’s a West Point graduate, and a decorated officer, having served in Iraq. I’ve had the great pleasure of meeting many of his classmates and fellow active officers. Now, it may be a function of their status as officers, but none of the men and women I have met seem tied together by any shared religious affiliation. They all, however, are intrinsically tied by the job, by being soldiers, by the training, by their duty, by the tasks that are expected of them. Religion is way down on the list of things from which their strong camaraderie springs, if it’s on there at all.
Certainly many of them are religious people, but it’s been my experience that that particular tie is not what binds them. Religion is not what holds their brotherhood together. So it’s disturbing to learn of incidents among the troops like the ones described by Hall in his lawsuit. He even claims in the suit that the United States military has become a Christian organization.
This idea is dangerous on more than one level. First, it belies the more important thread that should be shared by the men and women of the armed services; that being their duty to defend the American people and the rights inherent in the Constitution. And second, it doesn’t take a genius to see the historical ramifications of a military that identifies itself as a Christian organization at war in a mostly Islamic region.
Again, cases like Hall’s might be isolated, and relegated to mostly enlisted men and women. And the US military is of course not officially a religious organization at all. But there are undeniable theocratic tendencies among many leaders in Washington, including the current Commander in Chief. And the major ongoing US military conflicts are in highly volatile and heavily religious areas of the world. Can the US military afford to have religion be the main tie that binds the soldiers together?
What do you all think?