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Onward Christian Soldiers

Doug Stych takes a view on comments by Marine Corps General James Conway warning that announcing a date for troop withdrawal from Afghanistan aids the Taliban [link; WSJ]:

What this general has done is called insubordination, his job is to implement the orders he receives from the commander in chief. For him to publicly criticize the commander-in-chief’s orders is not in any way implementing them. He should be immediately reprimanded, if not cashiered.

Oddly enough the Fundamental Christianization of the military seems to have really started to get traction around [1993], a scary process that continues to this day. Why is is scary? Because armies are supposed to defend the country, not the faith. [link]

I really have no idea if Stych is right or wrong here; I don’t understand the first thing about the military and its relationship to the Office of the President, nor whether comparisons between World War II and the present day are fair.

I’m more interested in Stych’s characterization of the military as undergoing a process of Christianization. This basic idea — that the military has become disproportionately Christian — also surfaced in Lauren Sandler’s 2006 book Righteous: Dispatches from the Evangelical Youth Movement [Amazon],where she spent an entire chapter being appalled at something; I really couldn’t tell you if she was appalled by the fact that soldiers serving a post-Christian nation were Christian, by the details of their faith, or by the fact that they apparently saw the ongoing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq in religious terms.

I do hear spooky stories from time to time about how one branch of public service or another is being overrun by crazies of one sort or another (a popular one a couple of years ago had Mormons taking over the American diplomatic corps and giving preferential treatment to foreign Mormons), but I never know how to analyze them. In this case I think I’d want to know something like

  • The proportion of self-identifying Christians in the military circa the end of the draft in 1973
  • The rates at which draft-era military people aged out and retired
  • Proportions of various religious groups in likely volunteer pools in the general population
  • Rates at which these groups actually volunteered over the course of the last 37 years.

It’s fairly easy and rather irresponsible to visit a distinct but foreign subculture, fail to see things that makes one comfortable, and freak out in print. I definitely got the impression that Sandler overstated how religious the military was. I remember there being a tendency in some quarters to see 9/11 in religious terms and people joining the military as a reaction to 9/11; I don’t have a feel for how many of these were Christian, much less how many were Evangelical or fundamentalist.

I would be tempted to cast a lot of this as a variant of the prevailing notion that Barack Obama is a “bad king” and needs to be resisted, however, against George W. Bush being a “good king” that needed to be obeyed, just writ in a particularly military vernacular.

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