Morality and the Military

Republished, with permission, from Voice magazine, Jan./Feb. 2013.

Every Christian should give thoughtful consideration to the tragedy of war and to what it means for individuals and a nation to go to war. In a widely-reported story in August 2012, ten Nobel Peace Laureates, including Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu, wrote and signed a letter to NBC protesting a new reality television program, “Stars Earn Stripes.” The reality program, hosted by retired four-star general Wesley Clark, paired minor celebrities with former U.S. military personnel and put the teams through various training and simulated military exercises including live fire experiences. The Nobel Laureates protested the program, which was widely advertised during the 2012 London Olympics, arguing in part:

Preparing for war is neither amusing nor entertaining.

Real war is down in the dirt deadly. People—military and civilians—die in ways that are anything but entertaining. Communities and societies are ripped apart in armed conflict and the aftermath can be as deadly as the war itself as simmering animosities are unleashed in horrific spirals of violence. War, whether relatively short-lived or going on for decades as in too many parts of the world, leaves deep scars that can take generations to overcome, if ever.

Trying to somehow sanitize war by likening it to an athletic competition further calls into question the morality and ethics of linking the military anywhere with the entertainment industry in barely veiled efforts to make war and its multitudinous costs more palatable to the public.1

The letter drew quite a bit of attention across the political and religious spectrums. Some saw it as an indictment of the U.S. military while others saw it as an indictment of the entertainment industry or contemporary U.S culture and society as a whole. Unfortunately, most Americans and television viewers probably did not think anything about it at all.

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The Fellowship of Suffering

Reprinted with permission from Baptist Bulletin July/August 2012. All rights reserved.

Chaplain Stan Beach was not supposed to be here, not climbing up the narrow trail toward Nui Cay Tri Ridge near Vietnam’s Demilitarized Zone.

Four months earlier, the Navy had given him orders to report to the South Pole. It would have been a cold, quiet way to spend 1966, a nice place to wait out the war. But after the chaplain from Cass City, Mich., received his papers, he had petitioned the Navy for a transfer—to Vietnam.

Now he was walking toward another no-name hill in the jungle, a place the Marines called “Mutter’s Ridge” in their radio call-signs. The southern boundary of the DMZ was marked by an east-west line of mountains, Razorbacks, named for crests that might only be 15 yards wide. Tough territory to defend. And the trail, the only way up, was an obvious target.

The Marines pass by a bloody fatigue jacket, then a skull impaled on a stake. Having fought for this real estate before, they were now challenged by reinfiltration. The North Vietnamese Army was somewhere, everywhere, dug in and hiding.

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Preparing Clergy For War

Preparing Clergy for War

Explosions in woods simulate the battlefield as an instructor barks commands.

“You are not following simple instructions! Cover me while I move! Got you covered! Let’s go!”

This is the U.S. Army Chaplain Center and School at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, where the Army trains clergy of all faiths how to survive in combat.

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