8.28.2009

christian crusaders and neo-nazis welcome in u.s. military; jews and gays, not so much

A while back, I blogged about the Christianization of the United States military, where evangelical soldiers are "hunting people for Jesus". Their hunting ground is Afghanistan. This is easily dismissed as aberration, until you realize that Donald Rumsfeld felt much the same way.

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.

14 comments:

James said...

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.

And now we have people declaring themselves to be "proud right-wing terrorists" -- and getting praised by their GOP congressmen when they do.

David Cho said...

Laura, I am curious.

Evangelicals complain about the "secularization of America" all the time. But then I hear about the "Christianization" of various American institutions from you and other alarmed people on the left.

Evangelicals claim that they are simply trying to bring back an America they grew up in. I used to take them at their word especially if they were older. I am not so sure any more.

What was it like before the Christianization of the US military? From you, I am gathering that it used to be more secular, while Evangelicals speak glowingly about its "God honoring" past because of which the US never lost a war until the 60's when America faced a wave of secularity (Playing in the background Dylan's God on our side :)).

If I may take a crack at answering my own question....

Perhaps people used to keep their religion to themselves more? You know the old saying about the three things are you not to discuss: politics, religion and sex. If that is the case, the more appropriate term is the "Evangelicalization" of the military. Evangelicalism by definition is all about telling others about Jesus and getting them to convert. Keeping religion to oneself is heresy.

L-girl said...

James, thanks, scary link. Wow.

David Cho said...

Oh geez James. That's Redding California. I often delude myself into believing that people like that are just in "red states."

What am I talking about? I live in Orange County surrounded by people like that.

L-girl said...

Evangelicals claim that they are simply trying to bring back an America they grew up in. I used to take them at their word especially if they were older. I am not so sure any more.

Most (maybe all) right-wing movements harken back to some undefined glory days, before society was corrupted by whoever their enemy of choice is.

In different societies at different times, that enemy might be Jews, communists, gays, feminists, foreigners, or all of the above.

This rhetoric is not unique to US Christian evanglicals. It's a hallmark of the right wing.

These good old days are largely invented.

The "good old days" in the US is usually a shorthand for saying when white men ruled unchallenged - when women were denied equal rights, when African Americans were segregated and shut out, when gay people were all closeted. Before people stood up and said, I'm an American, too, I demand to be treated as an equal.

What was it like before the Christianization of the US military? From you, I am gathering that it used to be more secular

The US was always a Christian nation (and still is) in the sense that the majority of the population identifies as Christian. But the military was secular, and has been since it was first formed.

The US was not founded as a religious country. I'm sure you know that. But since the Reagan years, the religious right has been trying (and often succeeding) in imposing its own beliefs on a diverse, secular nation.

They are no more conservative than the Taliban or the ultra-Orthodox Israelis - radicals all.

L-girl said...

Evangelicals claim that they are simply trying to bring back an America they grew up in.

In other words, the "America they grew up in" was not more Christian. But the supremacy of certain people was still unchallenged - the challenges didn't yet amount to enough to change society. That's what they want to get back to, IMO.

David Cho said...

Thanks Laura.

BTW, no statement on the death of Ted Kennedy?

At least I'd expect a post along the line of "he was not as liberal as the media make him out to be." Something. I mean you commented on the passing of Gerald Ford who was basically a blip on the radar screen compared to Kennedy's stature in the political world.

L-girl said...

BTW, no statement on the death of Ted Kennedy?

Nope.

I usually write obits for people who meant a lot to me, or whose work I loved and admired, and/or whose deaths are under-recognized by the mainstream. Or, on a very rare occasion, someone I loathed whose death occasions a "good riddance".

Ted Kennedy's death doesn't fall into any of those categories.

Honestly, I can't imagine what I could say about him on this blog.

I mean you commented on the passing of Gerald Ford

What did I say? I don't remember it and can't find it.

Was it about Chevy Chase doing him on SNL? "Sit, Liberty." That's the only memory of Gerald Ford I can come up with.

redsock said...

December 2006 -- You mention the famous NYDN headline.

L-girl said...

December 2006 -- You mention the famous NYDN headline

Oh of course! Ford to New York: Drop Dead! I don't have to click to know what that is.

That's not exactly commemorating the ex-prez's death. That's a watershed moment for my home town - also a huge media trickery.

And my one-time boss, Oz Elliott (who is memorialized in this blog), was involved in getting NYC back from the brink. Long, long before I knew him.

James said...

What was it like before the Christianization of the US military?

One major change, relatively recently, is that Ronald Reagan's administration altered the rules on how chaplains are distributed in the military. It used to be in very broad categories: Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu (or some such grouping). Under Reagan, it got much finer: Catholic, Baptist, Lutheran, Pentacostal, Presbyterian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu (just as an example, I don't know the actual categories) -- you'll notice that, now, Protestants have much more representation than they did before, since Catholics don't have many subdivisions. Furthermore, because the groupings are much finer, the chaplains used don't have to be nearly as ecumenical as they used to be, so you get much more fundamentalism and evangelism.

US military policy has always been that chaplains can't try to convert soldiers, and no-one can discriminate against soldiers based on religion (though this wasn't always followed even pre-Reagan). After Reagan, these rules were ignored more and more often, but it really took off under Bush, especially with Bush's pushing of evangelical programs and the lowering of military admission standards.

L-girl said...

James' comment is a great example of how a small change that doesn't get publicized, that very few people would know or think about, amount to big changes that affect many people.

Tom said...

I used to donate to the SPLC too.

I love the line about not letting in people for who we love.

I've had the heated conversation with my parents about the 50's. They praise it for the era when life was simple and everyone was respectful. They get so mad when I remind them of the separate washrooms and water fountains, the McCarthy witch hunt (Red Menace), and no glbt rights at all.

L-girl said...

and everyone was respectful

Unless you were an African American in Mississippi. Then the respect went in one direction and you could be killed for expecting otherwise.

Ah, the 50s... Thank goodness we didn't live then! (Or weren't adults, anyway.)