Shortly after I graduated from high school, a classmate of mine volunteered for the military. Many did so in those days, in the era when the draft was still if full effect. I believe my friend Dale went into the Marines.
Dale came from a very religious family. Thus, it was especially disheartening when he came home on leave a few months later a completely changed individual. No longer the sweet, virginal young man I had known, Dale had now become crude, profane and cynical.
Military service had that effect on many young men of the ‘50s and ‘60s. As our culture in general began to coarsen, the armed services seemed to reinforce the worst trends of the times. The antiwar movement of the later ‘60s and the early ‘70s only added to the debauching of the warrior culture that had prevailed through WWII and Korea. Of course there were many exceptions, but in general, the American military by the end of the Vietnam War in 1975 was at the lowest tide of its morale in living memory.
Today, our military is peerless, a fighting force with few equals in the history of the world. Though overextended, underfunded, and often unappreciated, the men and women of our armed forces are better trained, better educated, more professional, and more personally courageous than ever.
This in spite of the contrary, often hostile, impulses of the present administration.
How has this transformation come about?
Many answers can be given. The rise of technology has rendered the modern American warrior far more lethal and effective than before. Moreover, our society seems to have a more balanced understanding of the vital role of the military than was acceptable in the countercultural 1970s. Ronald Reagan’s influence cannot be overstated, with his Defense Secretary Casper Weinberger and Naval Secretary John Lehman playing pivotal parts in the revitalization of modern fighting forces. Finally, the discrediting of the antiwar movement itself that resulted from the realization that it was not Vietnam, but the draft itself, that inspired that movement, has lifted a layer of confusion from the popular mind.
Still, these alone are more effects than causes, and do not in themselves explain the remarkable transformation of America’s military that began in the 1980s, and continues up to the present. Something else has taken place.
Robert Kaplan, a journalist with the Atlantic Magazine, has written over the years on this subject. It is his judgment that the most important factor in the resurrection of the modern American military is the widespread surge of evangelical Christianity. He calls this the “confederate” influence, by which he means that southern states, with their conservative and traditional values, have contributed not only the majority of modern warriors, but a worldview that is indispensable to military prowess, personal courage, and a sense of righteous cause.
In other words, an effective military presupposes a culture of spiritual certitude. Without that, as the experience of my friend Dale attests, militarism can lead to vulgarity and savagery. Only a strong religious self-confidence can mitigate and channel the violence necessary to defend civil life and freedom. Furthermore, only a vital sense of righteous cause can create the kinds of people we will increasingly require to face off against the fanaticisms that fill our world.
What are some corollaries of this?
First, attempts to abridge free religious expression within the military is a direct undermining of the very mores of the warrior ethos. Evangelism and spiritual expression are vital in a context where individuals face imminent mortality.
Second, the secular elites of the coastal aristocracies, the people who run the media, academic, and entertainment industries, by and large do not understand the degree to which their privileged way of life is made possible and defended by those who hold to the very religious worldviews they hold in contempt.
The current administration is a product of those coastal elites and their views of the world. Mr. Obama’s heroes and mentors—Van Jones, Bill Ayers, Bernadine Dohrn, Harry Boyte, James Cone, Marty Kaufman, and many others—is a Who’s Who of anti-war, anti-American, anti-tradition leftists. Ayers himself famously took part in the bombings of governmental buildings.
Mr. Obama is a pragmatist when it suits him, and at times he supports the military and its missions, but under it all he is a hard ideologue. Long-term, his basic impulse will be to defund and delegitimize the military.
Third, the current attempt to criminalize religious activity within the military would be suicide to the morale of those we rely on to protect us. Longer term, we must change the top leadership of the country to reflect values that are in line with national defense. This means a new president, and Republican majorities in the Senate and House.
But for the time being, we must resist attempts by those who seek to overturn a system they neither cherish, nor care to understand. I support my readers signing a petition being circulated by the Family Research Council to prevent these efforts.