combat writing badge C O M B A T
the Literary Expression of Battlefield Touchstones
ISSN 1542-1546 Volume 05 Number 01 Winter ©Jan 2007

Bugle and Bell
musings on the soul of war

Saints have no moderation, nor do poets, just exuberance.
by Anne Sexton ["The Saints Come Marching In"]

Render unto Caesar What Is Caesar's
And unto Allah What Is Allah's:
an Inquiry into the Self That Renders

Can't different religions just get along with each other? Can't they focus on what they have in common?

Apparently, they can't. Even the same committee of the same church in the same town is not always successful in preventing its members, who know one another intimately, from engaging in back-biting, polarizing, and taking revenge for emotional wounds both real and imagined. If we can't achieve harmony at the level of the microcosm, what makes us think that we can achieve it at the level of the macrocosm?

However, if there is one thing that different religions can agree on, it is that reality transcends that which is readily apparent. Experience suggests that it is apparent that different religions cannot get along with each other. Faith suggests that different religions can get along with each other. Were it otherwise, Anwar Sadat would not have accepted the invitation of Jimmy Carter, in 1978, to come to Camp David and meet with Menachem Begin in an attempt to negotiate the differences between his Muslim nation of Egypt and the Jewish nation of Israel. Were it otherwise, Pope Benedict XVI would not have traveled to Turkey, in 2006, in an effort to reconcile Christians and Muslims.

Faith involves not only the possibilities of life in the sky. Faith also and especially involves the possibilities of life on earth. Were it otherwise, an American infantryman would not risk his life living in and building up an obscure Afghan village.

Faith is a kind of optimism without rose-colored glasses. It is both individual and corporate. It is a kind of esprit de corps. It requires a kind of self-confidence which is less dependent on what one is confident in than on the nature of the self who is confident, who has faith.

"Faith," said R. Buckminster Fuller, "is much better than belief. Belief is when someone else does the thinking." If faith is something personal, what is a person?

Is it any wonder that nations and beliefs are so divided when the concept of self, particularly in our culture, is so divided? The risk taken, in writing a spirituality column such as Bugle and Bell, lies in inadvertently accentuating the rift that already distinguishes a spiritual self from a physical self. The trick is to be able to present the facets of the divided self in the same way that Christian doctrine is able to present a divine Trinity while, at the same time, maintaining a monotheistic stance toward the Deity.

A kind of Trinitarian self was posited by Vince Lombardi, the paragon of football coaches, when he said to his players: "Think of only three things – your God, your family, and the Green Bay Packers – in that order." Your drill instructor, in basic training, might have expressed a similar sentiment while substituting your branch of the military service for the aforementioned Packers. One particular Marine D. I., Corporal Odachowski, in 1964, managed to flip-flop the priorities in stating that, if the Marine Corps wanted you to have a wife, it would have issued you one.

The requirements of the military mission have helped many a man and woman to come to a more integrated concept of self. Battles are won and lives are saved by flesh and spirit. You can't merely wish for military success, and you can't just physically punch your card. Esprit de corps is the harmony of flesh and spirit, in which it is not so much an issue of mind over matter as it is of mind in cooperation with matter.

Another kind of mission is a pilgrimage. Muslims undertake a pilgrimage when they go to Mecca on the Hajj. Jews undertake a pilgrimage when they go to the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. A pilgrimage is a kind of prayer that is manifested physically as well as spiritually. It involves the whole person.

The much-published Roman Catholic monk, Thomas Merton, took a special interest in the Sufis. Although foundationally Muslim, the Sufis – sometimes called whirling dervishes by outsiders – are physical in their worship, as are Catholics when they genuflect or fondle their rosary beads ... and as are Protestants when they incorporate liturgical dance into their services or clap their hands to a lively, gospel tune. Ironically, it is often in conjunction with these physical expressions of worship that believers of all creeds experience that pure gift of spirituality, mysticism. It is therein that talking the talk and walking the walk become one.

In the Hebrew Bible's Second Book of Samuel, reference is made to the fact that "David danced before the Lord with all his might" (6:14) and to "King David leaping and whirling before the Lord" (6:16).

Christian doctrine says that we will be lifted bodily into heaven, albeit with a glorified body. Mormons believe that God the Father Himself has a glorified body of flesh and bone.

Our concept of body is going to influence our concept of the Divine, no matter what our religion or lack thereof. When mention is made of the Blessed Virgin Mary by both those Christians and Muslims who venerate her, there are implied some serious, physical ramifications about the bodily differences of men and women and of some women and other women. And ritual circumcision, as practiced by Jews and Muslims, implies some serious, physical ramifications about the differences of men and women and of some men and other men. Body-piercing and tattooing have quasi-religious overtones, regardless of the intention of the flagellants involved. God doesn't make clones. And if He did (or does someday), we would start ritually individuating ourselves ASAP.

It is one thing to hide the body behind a veil and under a tent-like burqa. It is quite another thing to exhibit the body in a bikini swimsuit or in thong skivvies. It is not the Western concept of God which frightens the Islamic world so much as the Western concept of self. And vice versa! We of the West are afraid also. A world seemingly hell-bent on protecting its women doesn't jive with our notions of gender equality.

One thing that the Western world and the Middle Eastern world can agree on, however divergent our expressions of it, is that the self includes the body. It is a small point of common ground, but it is a beachhead.

Pilgrimages, like occasions of communal prayer, manifest solidarity with those who are undergoing or have undergone the same quest.. Peace marches embody the solidarity of those who are taking part with each other and with all those who would seek to nourish a more harmonious world. During the height of the troubles in Northern Ireland, Protestants and Catholics marched together in a common abhorrence of the violence taking place. During the civil rights movement in the U.S., blacks and whites (including Catholic nuns in their burqa-like habits) marched in physical solidarity.

Although a lot of peace activists in this country have opposed the multi-national School of the Americas (now known as WINSOC) at Fort Benning, Georgia, there is something to be said for the positive value of joint, inter-national military maneuvers and of the placement of military attaches as diplomats and advisors in foreign armies. The veterans organization, Counterparts, preserves and enhances the solidarity of American military personnel who have served as advisors in foreign armies. Some of the members of Counterparts have been particularly active, over the years, in continuing to assist the Montagnard tribespeople of the Highlands of Vietnam whom they originally got to know and love when accepting assignment to Montagnard village militias as advisors during the war.

Some nations have inherited the need to incorporate diverse and even opposing cultures within their armed forces. The army of Bosnia-Hercegovina is a blend of Muslims and Christians. The Lebanese army is a mix (if not a blend) of Muslims and Christians. Canada must harmonize French-speaking citizens and English-speaking citizens in its armed forces.

Sometimes the military is more ripe for promoting conditions of harmony than is the civilian society that it serves. President Truman, as commander-in-chief of the armed forces, implemented racial integration in the military decades before it became a reality in much of the civilian society. The significant number of Hispanics and Native Americans in the U.S. Marine Corps suggests opportunities there not yet equaled in the civilian society. That is not to say that there is no discrimination in the armed forces; the Universal Code of Military Justice simply gives officers and N.C.O.s the leverage to level the playing field.

Ecumenicism has long been the norm in the military. The various believers represented in the ranks have the need to be served and to serve in a spirit of inter-religious harmony and cooperation. This has necessitated an umbrella organization – the School of Chaplains. Today, there are Buddhist and Islamic chaplains as well as the longer-established Christian and Jewish chaplaincies.

The prototypical expression of ecumenicism in the U.S. armed forces is the example given by the immortal Four Chaplains. This true story has been much-told and bears re-telling.

On February 3, 1943, in the wee hours off the coast of Greenland, a heavily-laden troopship, the Dorchester, was torpedoed by a submarine and sank quickly. Four chaplains rushed to the deck to calm the panicked men and to hand out life vests. When they ran out of life vests to distribute, they took off their own and handed them to others. Survivors reported that, when the ship was observed slipping beneath the waves, the four chaplains on the deck were linked arm-in-arm in prayer.

These men were Reverend George Fox (Methodist), Rabbi Alexander Goode (Jewish), Father John Washington (Catholic), and Reverend Clark Poling (Dutch Reformed). They were soldiers'soldiers, men of character. And where does the character of this self come from?

Anne Frank wrote in her diary: "Parents can only give good advice or put them on the right paths, but the final forming of a person's character lies in their own hands."

That is one thing that we have in common with members of other religious persuasions. Each of us is the master of who we are, and thus we are co-masters. We are made in the image of the Master.

When you assent to the freedom of choosing who you really are, you assent to the Giver of that freedom. God provides the clay, and through the grace of God, we provide the sculpting. Our YES to this raw material of self is like transmuting a forced march into a pilgrimage. It is not the yes of docile submission but, rather, the yes of Gung, ho!

We do not love and praise God in order to be free. We love and praise God because, thanks be to God, we are free. You. Me. Free. Now, Baby.

Carry on.

contributed by B. Keith Cossey

Table of

C O M B A T, the Literary Expression of Battlefield Touchstones