Much has been written about evangelicals in the US Army, most notably by Jeff Sharlet, author of The Family. His story "Jesus killed Mohammed: The crusade for a Christian military" is eye-opening - and scary.
I thought of that Harper's story when James sent me this first-person account of anti-Semitism in that same institution.
During my second year at the West Point, my Squad Leader for summer training expressed disapproval on numerous occasions with my being Jewish, and, during one mission, he grabbed my MRE (a military meal) as we sat down for lunch and handed me another. He ordered me to eat the pork chop and I reminded him that I refrain from pork for religious reasons. He told me that I could eat the pork or eat nothing. . . . The next day, my cadet Platoon Leader presented me with a written counseling statement detailing my signs of "anorexia" and a "troubling" refusal to eat which was detrimental to my health and indicative of "incapacity for leadership". . . . When I explained the events in detail, he told me that my Cadet Chain of Command was right to be concerned, and spoke words I will never forget: "the Army is not in the business of catering to people like you"...
You can read more of this at Unreasonable Faith, and here on Dispatches from the Culture Wars, Ed Brayton's ScienceBlog page.
Alongside fundamentalists, another brand of extremist is becoming increasingly comfortable in the US military: neo-Nazis. One would think the US government shy away from training people who advocate violence against it, preferring to let them get their weapons and explosive training, and their military discipline, elsehwere. But while the country wages two separate resource wars, even the poverty draft and stop-loss doesn't yield enough body supply. Everyone on board.
Unless, of course, you're gay. As my friend Ish said recently, So it's not ok to be in the military if you love a certain person. But it is ok to be in the military if you hate a certain person.
Last month on Truthout:
The Southern Poverty Law Center today urged Congress to investigate growing evidence that racial extremists are infiltrating the US military in order to ensure that the armed forces are not inadvertently training future domestic terrorists.
In a letter to committee chairmen with oversight over homeland security and the armed services, the SPLC said it recently found dozens of personal profiles on a neo-Nazi website where individuals listed "military" as their occupation - the latest evidence of extremist infiltration gathered by the SPLC. It also cites FBI and Department of Homeland Security reports supporting the SPLC's concerns.
"Evidence continues to mount that current Pentagon policies are inadequate to prevent racial extremists from joining and serving in the armed forces," SPLC founder Morris Dees wrote. He added, "Because the presence of extremists in the armed forces is a serious threat to the safety of the American public, we believe Congressional action is warranted."
The letter was sent to the chairmen of the House and Senate committees on Homeland Security and Armed Services. The SPLC has raised its concerns with Pentagon officials since publishing a report in 2006, but no apparent action has been taken.
. . .
The SPLC letter notes that since 1994 the military has discharged more than 12,500 servicemembers simply because of their homosexuality. "It seems quite anomalous that the Pentagon would consider homosexuals more of a threat to the good order of the military than neo-Nazis and other white supremacists who reject our Constitution's most cherished principles," said Mark Potok, director of the SPLC's Intelligence Project, which monitors extremist activity.
The letter also says that "the overwhelming majority of U.S. servicemembers reject extremism and are dedicated to serving and protecting the highest ideals of our country" and notes that there will never be a fail-safe system to weed out all extremists. "But we owe it to our courageous men and women in uniform, and the American public, to remain vigilant to ensure that the ranks are as free of extremists as possible," Dees wrote.
I used to belong to the Southern Poverty Law Center, especially while I was teaching, and subscribed to their "Teaching Tolerance" program. They've done some amazing work tracking right-wing extremists in the US. More on that shortly.