Should there be military chaplains?

800pxmilitary_chaplain2 I was baptised by a US Army chaplain who was later captured by the Japanese Army on Bataan, confined at Camp O’Donnell, PI and then executed by the sword there.  So, I have a point of view.

Nevertheless, the scattered negative reaction from various people to my post of a public prayer for the Gulf South inspires me to invite comment on the proper role, or lack of it, of religion in public life, with some focus on whether there should be military chaplains.  pl

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56 Responses to Should there be military chaplains?

  1. Mongoose says:

    Your invitation will surely invite a range of comments. As someone who never “felt” the call of faith (with the usual nod to “spirituality”), I have no problem with chaplains serving our men and women in uniform. I’m hesitant to generalize too much, but as someone who teaches history at university, I’m much more concerned with and appalled by the lack of basic knowledge of students who profess Christianity. Their ignorance of their faith astonishes, whether we’re talking about a general outline of theology, doctrines or histories, let alone the various nuances of interpretation among different branches of the faith. Perhaps I’m hoping that chaplains educate those whom they offer spiritual comfort, etc.

  2. alnval says:

    Col. Lang:
    Of course the military should have chaplains. I’m not sure that part of the military is broke and needs fixing. Where else are you going to find the spiritual guidance and comfort you need when the challenges of the job begin to erode your faith?
    At a more secular level I truly believe that the military sector should mirror the civilian as much as is possible in the areas of values, ethics, morality and law. The removal of the chaplain from that mix would take the leaven out of the bread.

  3. J says:

    Should there be military chaplains?
    in one word — YES. chaplains have a definite place in military life. civilian religious figures no matter how hard they may try, do not fully understand the ‘military nature’ of things, whereas a military chaplain does. whatever religious affiliation their background, military chaplains all have one thing in common — they are members of the military family.

  4. I don’t have an opinion on Army chaplains. The military is just not my area of expertise or opinion.
    Prayers in public depend upon context. Colonel Lang put up a prayer here on this blog, a personal space viewed by the public. He is our host, it’s his “living room”, he pays for the server space. He can put up whatever he wants. If his expressions about God bother you so much that you are offended, then maybe you need to read somebody else’s blog, or skip the next post he puts up that has God in it.
    Now Col. Lang and I may not agree about doctrine on many points – we’re from different traditions in Christianity and anyway I’m a syncretist hippie Californian. However I appreciate his spiritual expressions for themselves. Much prefer his prayers to his comments about Barack Obama! But if I don’t like what he says about Obama, I can ignore it or leave.
    In our public and governmental spaces, it’s a different story.
    I am concerned about the amount of praying and preachifying I heard on the floor of the Senate in a Youtube clip intended to prove that Barack Obama does so say the pledge of allegiance. In the longer version of the clip, a Protestant minister opened the day’s Senate proceedings with a very long prayer full of Jesus and bible verses. Is this what they do all the time now? What about separation of church and state?
    I thought that our government and its activities were supposed to be secular and not sponsor any particular faith. What if I, as a believer with my own views, don’t like the doctrine and interpretation of the person delivering the opening prayer at the Senate? What about the non-Christians listening or forced to participate?
    This is why we don’t have open religious prayers in public schools – not everybody believes the same thing, prays the same way, or believes at all. If you say that everybody’s religious beliefs will get represented in turn, “to be fair,” are you going to let Starhawk, a pagan priestess of the Wicca religion, up onto the floor of the Senate to invoke the four directions and the gods of the Celtic Pantheon? How well is that going to go over with strict Christians, Muslims and Jews?
    But why do we open the Senate in the name of our Lord and Savior? I’m sorry, God belongs in church, not in the Senate. If you believe in God then you know God is there anyway – but go ahead and pray in private. Why impose your particular prayers on the legislative body conducting the material business of the nation? God will hear your silent prayers as well as your big public invocations and sermons and preachifying.
    In this country we have a right not to believe in God at all. Our founding fathers put that in the Constitution. All that preachifying not only offends those who might believe in a different way, but also those who have the Constitutional right NOT TO BELIEVE AT ALL. Keep God out of the Senate’s business. (House, too). God won’t be offended. S/He’s not a jealous, petty, vain God who needs public applause.
    That bit of Gospel about going into a closet when you pray makes a lot of sense. But on the other hand at a time of public stress, it is a comfort to pray with many others. Hence the Gustav prayer, which I liked.
    Those of you who don’t care for praying might consider respecting somebody else’s spiritual tradition when practiced in their own space. Col. Lang didn’t go to YOUR blog and post a prayer in comments.
    How long will you last in Rome or Cairo if you can’t stand to hear other people expressing their faith and belief? Be a little more respectful and tolerant, just out of common manners. It won’t kill you, and you won’t be “infected” with spirituality. Well, if you are, it won’t kill you.

  5. Cieran says:

    Colonel Lang:
    I believe that this particular question (in both senses that you have posed here) was answered once and for all by some truly visionary Americans, who wrote:
    Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;
    In that spirit, I found your public suggestion of prayers for those in the path of the hurricane both morally generous and fully supported by the laws of our land.
    And as long as chaplains are not in the business of establishment of a particular religion, no problems should be found there, either (though good evidence exists that some in the military are not honoring this Constitutional principle, and they should be held to account, given their oaths to defend and bear allegiance to the constitution)
    Finally, as I sit on my front porch here this evening, I can see the clouds from Gustav sliding into view above my home. Given that I’m a long way from the Gulf Coast, those directly in the path of that behemoth can likely use all the help they can get. And while we cannot be certain that prayers help, we can be fully confident that they do not hurt.

  6. Mike S. says:

    As an atheist, I prefer to hear expressions of compassion for and solidarity with others, such as your earlier post, expressed in non-religious terms. However, I would much rather live in a world where such sentiments are expressed in terms I don’t necessarily agree with than a world where they aren’t expressed at all.
    Tolerance of others’ religious belief can be a difficult exercise even in the relatively ideal conditions for non-believers which exist in the US. When political leaders of all sorts routinely imply that atheists and non-christians are of lesser political importance and moral worth, the fact that many public acts are suffused with religious language can seem exclusionary or confrontational.
    I judge specific practices based on whether the potential affront to people like me (keeping in mind that I am not overly sensitive about such issues) is whether the benefit to the religious folks is great enough that it makes my annoyance look petty in comparison. As long as they don’t actively prostyletize or cultivate an environment where non-practitioners are seen as outsiders, Military chaplains seem like a case where the benefits would outweigh the costs.

  7. zanzibar says:

    Although I am a firm believer in the separation of church and state I do believe there is a significant role for religious belief and faith in peoples personal lives. However, its a very personal choice what faith and the practice of that faith. IMO, even an atheist deserves respect for their personal choice.
    In addition I think its important that the state not promote or align itself with any particular religious sect and its practices but remain secular in order to respect the diversity of the personal choices of its citizens with respect to religious belief.
    Having said the above I believe there is a role for military chaplains who provide spiritual comfort to those who may be faced with their mortality as result of their duty to the collective good. I would hope that such chaplains reflect the religious diversity of our serving men and women and are not restricted to the religious beliefs of the majority.
    A secular society IMO does not mean each individual who holds public office cannot call on the divine for advice, support and/or comfort. I realize in contemporary discourse secularism is considered a form of religious belief by some that believe their religious faith should be inextricably tied to their role as a public official.

  8. Charles Cameron (hipbone) says:

    You are a Catholic, Col. Lang, and should pray as you please.
    And besides, your prayer was simple, direct, heartfelt and beautiful.

  9. Albertde says:

    oming from a country built on compromise and as a compromise, where until recently in my province there were Catholic and Protestant schools and a crucifix still hangs in the legislature and in most town halls, offering a public prayer when confronted with a natural catastrophe is a normal part of life.
    Not only that but I feel that, given the stress of combat, military chaplains are a necessary part of military life.

  10. TomByrd says:

    While being the rare “atheist in foxhole” during my 7 years in the Army, I have no problem with chaplains in the military…so long as their services are available to those who want them and are not given with pressure to attend by those who don’t want them. In ‘Nam, there were many areas where such pressure, spoken and unspoken, was the norm. Like the PX, religion should be available to all but forced on none.

  11. Jon T. says:

    Without question, my belief and experience is that formally trained Clerics are valuable in any situation of extreme duress.
    As well, words of surcease, uplift and solace have power of transformation and belong in the public square as much as pornography, professional sports, greed masquerading as opportunity or a never ending culture of entertainment.
    This is not about dogma or law, not about one cult, camp, sect or religion owning access to truth. This is about honoring and turning to The Light of Truth.
    We need counsel, relief and reconciliation. In my view, only those who have never ‘been down to the end of the road’ in one way or another would deny that privilege to anyone. There are those that may try and suppress truth, and it may come to pass, briefly. It cannot, by nature, last.

  12. Nancy K says:

    My husband who was in the Israeli army states that there was a rabbi who helped him through difficult times especially after he was wounded. Even though my husband is not a religious man he says he found it a great source of comfort.

  13. frank durkee says:

    As a retired liberal episcopal priest I would support tombyrd’s comments whole heartedly. the critical element in pratice is the skill, gifts and abilities of the individual performing the role. there is no doubt that someone who is part of the institution and understands it is normally in a better position to respond pastorally to thos around them.
    However ant and all attempts at direct and/or indirect coercion shold be prohibited.

  14. Please correct me if I’m wrong, but I was led to believe that the only reason why we know about the My Lai massacre was because of an Army chaplain…
    A LTC Francis Lewis, if I’m not mistaken…
    I asked our BDE chaplain to re-enlist me in 1998. I did not care for my commander, so I thought it was a pretty good choice.

  15. Andy says:

    As an agnostic who currently serves in the military, I believe that military chaplains are a critical part of military readiness – IOW they are essential for a well disciplined and effective military force.
    Last year Christian Science Monitor published a series of articles about Chaplains, which are all excellent. There are some links there that will give readers a kind of “chaplain 101” education.
    Additionally, one episode in the recent PBS series “Carrier” was all about faith and showed the diversity of spiritualism that exists in the military and how important that is for individual servicemembers.

  16. Mad Dogs says:

    While I’m a lapsed Catholic agnostic (and veteran) myself, I have no problem with the military having chaplains.
    In fact, I can’t for the life of me, understand why this would be a problem for folks.
    If it were mandatory to attend services, participate in other religious activities such as group prayer, singing of religious songs, or have ones promotion prospects be as a result of religious participation or not, then I would have a very big problem!
    A society by definition demands tolerance.
    And Pat, with regard to your Gustav prayer post, while I am an agnostic, I had no problem joining in and sharing the sentiment you posted.
    That you apparently endured some comments of criticism, I cannot begin to fathom why.

  17. McGee says:

    Complete aside here as IMHO military chaplains are fine, along with military cooks, police and even the occasional Military Intel type. Thought I’d lighten the discussion with one of the greatest military movie lines of all time – when Hotlips tries to complain (with obvious anger and indignation) to MASH chaplain Father James Mulcahy about Hawkeye:
    Houlihan: I wonder how such a degenerated person ever reached a position of authority in the Army Medical Corps!
    Mulcahy: He was drafted.

  18. Don says:

    Col. Lang,
    First, thank you for the insightful analysis you offer here on a variety of matters.
    As a minister, I have various thoughts about your question. First, as to chaplains: I see them primarily to comfort and support troops in what for many may be trying spiritual conflicts. I have no problem with that. Indeed, they are probably one of the strongest bulwarks we have for maintaining their humanity and keeping their return to civilian life as successful as it normally is.
    As to separation of state, I am sure the military tries to be even-handed and simply provide what most soldiers would want. Yet if one were to preach in uniform against killing and war itself – thus raising doubts among the rank and file, I’m sure they would censure that. Thus do they actually represent the state in what they preach?
    As to your praying – expressions of compassion should be welcome by all. We do not have to protect public discourse from this.
    The public preaching from all kinds of clergy (officially so or not) has its roots in a rich ancient tradition of prophets. Often it has taken the form of intense condemnation from a framework of deep love.
    As long as the state does not promote one or a few while excluding or silencing others, we should, in my view, welcome it even when it makes us uncomfortable.
    Thanks for what you do!

  19. patagonia says:

    I’m a long-time reader, tho’ not a contributor, who has appreciated being able to access the type of expertise you so generously offer here. I offer the following opinion because you seem to genuinely be asking.
    Your prayer for the gulf area was an ispiring, poetic piece that made this agnostic slightly uncomfortable. Specifically, it seemed like you were praying for one particular group to be spared the wrath of nature through divine intervention. If this were a prayer to be offered by an elected official, I would be more comfortable with one that prayed for rescuers to have strength, for agency heads to be wise, for meterologists to be extra sharp, and for residents to have the sense and wherewithal to evacuate. I’m not comfortable with public officials encouraging people to hope for a miracle as it may prevent some people (especially those already frozen with fear) from taking more concrete action.
    Regarding the military, obviously having a chaplain is a valuable tool to help soldiers process the horror they face during war. I’m thinking a chaplain’s job during WW2 must have been a bit clearer than it is now for a chaplain stationed in Iraq. WMDs? Mushroom Clouds? Violations of UN agreements? The issue at the Air Force Academy mentioned above is disturbing to me because this lapsed Irish Roman Catholic doesn’t quite understand the ideology of some of the evangelical groups. For example, I want a chaplain in Iraq to be able to say unequivocally, “Even if you do say you accept Jesus as your savior, if you continue to put Iraqi prisoners in naked human pyramids you are going straight to hell.”

  20. wcw says:

    Who complained about a prayer on your own freaking blog? I’m as atheist as they come, and that rankles as much as state-promulgated religion.
    Though (we make the best atheists) as an ex-Catholic, I can see why our host asks the question about military clerics. There may be a billion Catholics in the world, but in the US, things look a little different.

  21. kao-hsien-chih says:

    Col. Lang,
    I always wondered about this question in general and had always been curious in particular about your position, as a man of faith, on this. I don’t know if you would post this question public on your blog, but I would be most grateful if you would send me a reply (to my email address above.)
    Some years ago, I had a discussion with someone on a blog–of increasingly pacifist leanings–who was particularly irate about the decision by Archbishop O’Brien, the archbishop for military services, to downplay the Pope’s opposition to the war in Iraq. He felt, in particular, that the US Catholic bishops, including military chaplains, had the duty to point out that the Vatican was publicly opposed to the invasion and ask the soldiers to think about their mission in their light.
    I’ll be honest and admit that I didn’t really know how to think about it: I had never served in armed forces before. I don’t think I put quite so much weight on statements from the Vatican on current affairs, in fact. At the same time, for all manner of reasons, it would be impossible for the Pope to even attempt making his positions on current affairs a religious doctrine of the Church. In other words, I suppose, the Pope’s positions are, in the end, his opinions and that’s that.
    Given that the Pope’s opposition is merely his opinion, should military chaplains try to put any emphasis on this, at the risk of undermining soldiers’ trust in their leaders and their mission? That didn’t seem particularly right: in the end, I guess, the duty of military chaplains is to help soldiers of religious faith in course of fulfilling their missions, not actively undermine it on the basis of their own views, whether religiously inspired or not.
    Getting to this point bothered me to no end. Does this mean that military chaplains are to function merely as auxiliaries to the military, always helping, in a way, justify their mission? Surely, there will be some missions where there are indeed morally questionable components incompatible with Christian faith. Under such circumstances, might chaplains actively promote insubordination and otherwise undermine the men’s missions?
    One should hope that soldiers are never subject to conditions where such missions are thinkable–but many such instances have already surfaced in course of the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. To some degree, the objections might filter to the purpose of the war itself: whether the war itself fits just war doctrine (which has been obviously an important issue with regards to Iraq). Should chaplains ignore these issues in their jobs? If their jobs are incompatible with their sense of morality, what should they do?
    Thank you.

  22. Juan Moment says:

    A prayer on a weblog for the souls caught in the Gulf South is more than welcome, a sign of a heartfelt connection between its author and people in need. Seeing myself fitting more in the agnostic pigeonhole than any other theism, I’d still have to agree with Cieran above, while we cannot be certain that prayers help, we can be fully confident that they do not hurt.
    Regarding the issue of chaplains in the military. Whilst I don’t really have an opinion on the issue, I do wonder how men of Christian faith can sign up with a troop of people who train to become the best professional killers on planet earth. Is this what Jesus would have done? Is that the message they get from the gospel, to go out and give moral support to soldiers invading foreign countries with shock and awe, causing tens of thousands of innocent deaths? I have my doubts, but then again, you never know.

  23. Will says:

    personal prayer is good. it shouldn’t be pushed on people. and it is more seemly the more private it is, that is my taste, anyway.
    at the same time, there are the limitations that God made. Once he made the world, as Thales first taught, he surely created a system of natural physical laws for such natural occurrences as weather, & earthquakes.
    But that is the greatness of mind, holding contradictions at the same time.

  24. condfusedponderer says:

    In my personal view there should be army chaplains. Soldiers have a need for spiritual support and counsel, especially in light the harrowing experiences they go through in war. It would be unfair to leave them alone in this. But this spiritual support has to be an option and must never mandatory or quasi mandatory.
    So what definitely must not be there is proselytising and what Mikey Weinstein calls ‘weaponising the gospel’. I find the reports of incidents like that happening in the US armed forces (at the US Air Force academy for instance) disturbing to say the least.
    Command authority and proselytising don’t go well with each other at all, and it is all the more disturbing that apparently senior Air Force officers didn’t have qualms about that. Considering evangelical fervour I would be surprised if this phenomenon is limited to only that branch of the armed services.
    In my view that’s a potentially very dangerous development as it has the potential to subvert the armed forces. And then, the mental image of a missile control officer looking forward to Armageddon is not something that I find reassuring. Not my country, but radioactive fallout transcends borders.

  25. jonst says:

    McGee wrote:
    “Complete aside here as IMHO military chaplains are fine, along with military cooks, police and even the occasional Military Intel type”.
    I draw the line with military cooks. Certainly necessary, but not “fine”.
    Sure, chaplains should be part of the team if they comfort the troops. OTOH….if there is any ‘fire’ behind the ‘smoke’ coming from the ‘Air Force story and the evangelic influence’, and I don’t know, or not know, there is, that is another matter and should be explored.
    While it has always confounded this lapsed Catholic why one would pray to a god to avert a storm he/she/it conjured up, or, at a minimum, passively ‘allowed’ is beside me. But I visited my 89 y.o mother in a nursing home Sunday …and she wanted to hold my hand, and wanted me to remain silent (she often does)as she prayed for the people of area potentially effected. I said ‘sure’. And silently, to myself, ‘why the hell not’. I feel the same way about the Col’s posted prayer. If it brings comfort (it brings none to me)to anyone, why the hell not?

  26. Patrick Lang says:

    “Should chaplains ignore these issues in their jobs? If their jobs are incompatible with their sense of morality, what should they do?”
    I think that any officer in any armed force should not do things incompatible with their sense of morality. Commissioned officers in the US armed forces serve under different circumstances than enlisted personnel. They can resign from the service. Under wartime conditions it may not be possible to immediately obtain the agreement of the government to that resignation, but the procedure exists. For example, an officer serving in Iraq might have to wait for his unit to return from the combat zone to “get out.”
    It used to be the case that a chaplain’s commission was more of an administrative convenience than anything else. Nobody took the rank very seriously and a chaplain has no authority to command anyone except his assistant. A chaplain’s name is normally written thusly “Chaplain (captain) John Jones.” It might be better if chaplains were not officers.
    Archbishop O’Brien was then head of the military archdiocese of the United States. This is the catholic administrative “district”that deals with the spiritual needs of Catholics in the armed forces and Foreign Service worldwide. In fact the pope’s opinion on foreign affairs is just his opinion. Given O’Brien’s job and his personal status as a retired US Army chaplain I think he would have had little choice but to resign as head of the military diocese if he had been profoundly in distress over the Iraq War.
    This discussion brings to mind the scene in the film, “Ulzana’s Raid” in which the very young lieutenant tells his commanding officer that he believes that he can be a “christian soldier.” The major looks doubtful and responds, “Maybe…” pl

  27. b says:

    My comment on the prayer thread was not published. I tried to include more people in current catastrophes and that probably was the reason.
    As to chaplains in the military I have a mixed experience and feeling.
    My German tank battalion from was once send of to Shilo, Canada for tank gunnery training. A protestant and a catholic chaplain accompanied us. The catholic brought two big guns with him as he planed to use the ‘vacation’ to shot moose.
    When in Shilo a battalion wide interfaith service was planned and my captain ordered the whole company to take part. That order was outright illegal. I explained this to others and we didn’t follow that order.
    After a short, lively discussion this was accepted and we were then ordered to instead clean up our barracks. That was a somewhat illegal order too, but we did it as the point was made.
    While I have nothing against chaplains in the field, I always wonder how much they indeed further the war effort and how that reconciles with the peace they preach.
    I see the danger of proselytizing (see Air Force Academy) especially to people under pressure. It adds the ‘guilt’ of being non-religious on top of other war problems an agnostic or atheist soldier may have.
    In my view to comfort the troops should be the job of NCO’s and officers, not that of outsiders.

  28. lina says:

    As a taxpayer, I’d rather my defense dollars go to military chaplains than go to useless weapons systems.

  29. LeaNder says:

    I was baptised by a US Army chaplain who was later captured by the Japanese Army on Bataan, confined at Camp O’Donnell, PI and then executed by the sword there. So, I have a point of view.
    Japanese Army and Bataan? You must have been a very, very young man then?
    I liked your prayer. I like two things about it. First it shows your concern for others. And second there is indeed not much else one can do in certain situations.
    That said: I think basically ethics may well be beyond religion, as religion has a problematic symbiotic history with power.
    The German Egyptologist Jan Assman once said something wonderfully simple about the monotheist religions:
    All have two essential components, he said, one we never can never ever give up, the other we have to watch carefully.
    a) help the poor, care for the helpless
    b) to fight “the other”.

  30. Dave of Maryland says:

    Soldiers under fire need chaplains as much as a man in front of a firing squad needs a blindfold. (Most crave blindfolds. I was in a similar situation once.)
    Well, okay. They need GOOD chaplains. How many good ones are there in the army? I don’t know.

  31. Patrick Lang says:

    Two weeks old to be specific. Catholic children are baptised as infants.
    I never met the man, but heard about him and his end from my parents who were quite bitter about it.
    Under the Geneva Conventions chaplains and medical personne are not combatants and properly should not be held as POWs at all.
    The distinction was lost on the Japanese. pl

  32. Jim V says:

    As an atheist, I am sorry that apparently some people were boorish enough to object to your making a sincere expression of faith on your own blog. Shame on them.
    There have been some great comments on this post.
    Personally, I would vote “no” on the issue of military chaplains, for the same reason I would vote against leaving out milk and cookies for the leprechauns at night on military bases (a clumsy attempt to show my world view, not meant to be an insult), but am happy to abide by the will of the majority – which appears to be in favor of the proposition.

  33. frank durkee says:

    a question not a post. Yesterday there were reports that the Dutch had brought part of their espionage team out of Iran on the assumption that the US planned at least cruise missle attack in the near future. what credence do you give this, if any?
    Frank Durkee

  34. LeaNder says:

    Obviously! Sometimes my gray cells are knotted up. Last time something similar happened to me, I seem to have made myself an enemy for life.
    I hope you are less unforgiving. 😉

  35. Cold War Zoomie says:

    I think it’s A-OK to have chaplains on the federal payroll in order to be at service for active duty personnel, akin to psychiatrists, psychologists and medical personnel. If you need their services, you go to them. In fact, it’s more than A-OK – it’s a serious need.
    The slope gets slippery when my tax money is spent actively proselytizing, especially by officers in a direct chain of command. It’s tough as a junior enlisted guy to say “no” to a senior NCO or any officer.
    As far as I’m concerned, proactive proselytizing in the military is unconstitutional since an officer of the USG is promoting religion, regardless of the faith or denomination.

  36. LeaNder says:

    Obviously! Sometimes my gray cells are knotted up. Last time something similar happened to me, I made myself an enemy for life. 😉
    I hope you are less unforgiving.

  37. Patrick Lang says:

    Proselytization in the chain of command should be a court martial offense. I never saw that in the Army. Today? Who knows? pl

  38. psd says:

    As the stepmom of a naval chaplain who has two deployments to Iraq with the Marines under his belt, of course I’m definitely in favor of military chaplains. My son is a Lutheran minister, but his major function with his troops is as a morale officer. His role was not only to minister to his men, but to keep his Battalion CO abreast of any difficulties, especially between the men and their officers. He traveled every day of the week to various outposts and FOBs staying in touch, getting the pulse, and was so well thought of after the first deployment that the CO pushed to have him remain with the unit for their second deployment 2 years later, definitely not SOP in the naval chaplain corps.
    Marc served as substitute father, brother, son; as a counselor, listener, and mediator; and as a confessor and minister. We are all very very proud of his calling and of his service. And I would imagine that a definite majority of the men he served with would say they were lucky to have him.
    While not every military chaplain is going to be as effective as my son, I know there is a real place for them in the military. They are a balance, a reminder of what lies on the other side of war for those fortunate to make the trip home. In fact, a good portion of his duties related to transitioning the men back to life at home, a process that started when they were still under fire in Iraq–talk about doing double duty.
    Having written and corresponded with him sometimes daily during those times, I am proud to say that he’s my hero. Interestingly enough, he and I are also at the opposite ends of the political spectrum, but my admiration of him and his job is unqualified.

  39. Sidney O. Smith III says:

    I am all for military chaplains. Absolutely. My aunt was married to one. He died on the USS Forrestal before I was born.
    And wasn’t the Grunt Padre — Fr. Vincent Capocanno — loved by all?
    But here’s as an interesting twist — one that is the inverse of a chaplain facing the moral dilemma of ministering during a war that fails to satisfy the “just war” doctrine.
    Chris Hedges has written that right wing evangelists are attempting to take over the chaplaincies. I have absolutely no idea if he is right. But here’s a quote and a link:
    “The drive by the Christian right to take control of military chaplaincies, which now sees radical Christians holding roughly 50 percent of chaplaincy appointments in the armed services and service academies, is part of a much larger effort to politicize the military and law enforcement.”

  40. alnval says:

    Col. Lang:
    I can’t allow the discussion of chaplains in the military to pass without mentioning Patton directing all his chaplains to pray for dry weather when his Third Army was stuck in the mud just prior to the Battle of the Bulge in December of 1944. He specifically ordered his own Third Army Chaplain, Chaplain O’Neill, to write a prayer for dry weather for battle.
    Colonel Paul Harkins, Patton’s deputy Chief of Staff, recorded the event and writes in the Atkinson Edition of Patton’s War As I Knew It that after receiving O’Neill’s prayer Patton agreed to create a Christmas card to be distributed to the troops with Christmas greetings on one side and the chaplain’s prayer on the other.
    Harkins continues:
    “Whether it was the help of the Divine guidance asked for in the prayer or just the normal course of human events, we never knew; at any rate, on the twenty-third, the day after the prayer was issued, the weather cleared and remained perfect for about six days. Enough to allow the Allies to break the backbone of the Von Rundstedt offensive and turn a temporary setback into a crushing defeat for the enemy.”

  41. Steve says:

    I’m another lapsed Catholic–though getting a bit more spiritual the older I get–and appreciated your thoughts and prayers for the gulf coast.
    Whether atheists/agnostics/secularists, who on earth would begrudge someone their kind thoughts?
    And, best of all, your prayers seemed to work!
    As for chaplains . . . . as long as they don’t proselytize to those disinterested, why would anyone care? If properly trained, they should be an asset to all, the unbeliever, and the believer.

  42. Neil Richardson says:

    Dear Colonel,
    IMHO when young men and women face the loneliest hours of their lives, I absolutely want chaplains around if the kids seek them for inner comfort. We ask our people to make sacrifices and many do so willingly. The least we could do for them is to make sure that their spiritual needs are taken care of in times of need.

  43. Cold War Zoomie says:

    I never saw that [proselytizing] in the Army. Today? Who knows?
    Col Lang,
    I never saw it in the 1980s, either. But times have changed…
    Wash Post Article
    Pew Article
    This does not mean we should get rid of the chaplain services at all. Just reign in the ones who are pushing the boundaries.

  44. mikeyes says:

    Early in my active duty career, I wondered what a chaplain really did. That question did not last long in my mind because it quickly became apparent that chaplains were the “go-to” person when problems that did not have a well defined organizational answer arose. Unless you have been in the military, it is a little hard to explain that there are times when the good of the service clashes with the needs of the soldier. A lot of the time this is either due to lack of character on the part of the soldier or the commander/supervisor, but there are times when the balance of individual need and group need is not that clear. Because chaplains are outside of the chain of command yet they hold a certain moral gravitas in a command, they can facilitate a reasonable answer in times when reason is lost in the process. This has nothing to do with the specific religion of the chaplain but more to do with the fact that being a pastor is about taking care of the flock.
    I can recall several instances in which the chaplain ended up deciding what to do with a member when the commander and the doctors were at odds (I was in a medical unit.) While the chaplain did not have the authority or the expertise to deal with the situation, they were the logical (in a military sense) person to help resolve the issue.
    I am still of the opinion that chaplains are just barely qualified to serve in any capacity and that they don’t have much relevance in the military if you just look at the purpose of the military, but most chaplains I know are very military in their outlook, understand the needs of both the military and the soldiers, and do that part of the job very well.

  45. Actually the Chaplin corps is a military necessity and therefore should be continued. It provides the most rudimentary counseling and social services to our troops but does so on the cheap so to speak because military leaders don’t realize that modern medicine and psychology and social work have come a long way since WWII. We should be giving dirct commissions to MSW’s (Master of Social Work in Clinical Social Work) who could assist the troops for the whole range of probems they assist non-military individuals and families. Being brave and honorable does not mean that all are capable of resisting the difficulties brought on by service in or out of a combat zone. Time for modernization of social services in the military. And keep the Chaplin corps for it presence and accessibility when civil church organizations are too remote or unable to service the troops. PL you are amazing. The diversity of your posts makes me think the ARMY had difficulty keeping you in a box. Fortunely, you must have had some great mentors that protected your right to THINK. Glad they did that service for the rest of us.

  46. taters says:

    Dear Col. Lang,
    Yes, the military should retain chaplains.
    I thought it was a beautiful, thoughtful prayer. Then again, I believe in them.

  47. HSDell says:

    Yes, but…
    It’s a slippery slope.
    If it can be kept on a personal basis where everyone can practice their beliefs as they wish, then yes. But not if chaplains are used to indoctrinate our troops or frame their mission in religious terms, or punish those whose personal beliefs differ.
    Great question.

  48. fnord says:

    Interesting question, and one I have no ready answer for. I have always been wondering on how the military clerics themselves manage to reconcile the words of the good man jesus with the realities of combat, at least within a protestant parameter of individual responsibility unto God, etc. Id really would like to hear from one how that functions, as well as what the rules for dealing with muslims, buddhists, atheists, asatru and wiccan soldiers are. (Hail Ty!)
    When I served, the chaplain wasnt visible unless you went to him, but that was in peacetime Norway so it doent really count. I would be interested in hearing how a chaplain functions inside the muslim countries of Iraq and Afghanistan. ALso, the tales I hear from the Air Force Academy seem to be tales of quite agressive evangelical chaplains?

  49. FDChief says:

    As a retired GI I knew that the reason we wore tree-colored clothes wasn’t to look chic; it was to hide in the tules to whack our fellow man like Cain whacked Abel.
    Regardless of the cause, the day-to-day business of soldiering in war is the devil’s work and no error. We may fight for truth and justice but to do so we rip bodies, kill innocents (sometimes – we try not to, but we do) and burn their homes. Any professional Christian cleric who doesn’t see a contradition between this and the peaceable kingdom his boss preached needs to recheck his mission statement.
    So while I have no problem with the military wanting chaplains, the sort of person who would want to be a Christian chaplain has me wondering which lectures in seminary he/she slept through…
    And, as an aside, my experience was that Catholic priests were often terrific chaplains, possibly because they were, in effect, “draftees”. Prods tended to be bone-ignorant fundamentalist hicks (with some notable exceptions) that you couldn’t trust to do simple things like sraighten out problems – all they wanted to do was notch another born-again on the spiritual bedpost. I never saw a rabbi or a muslim or a buddhist.

  50. Patrick Lang says:

    Like everyone else I like to write about myself. Self reference is the ultimate self indulgence of a writer.
    I had a mixed bag of commanders and bosses in the government and business.
    Some depended on me for creative solutions and for impatience with what I saw as ineffective thinking.
    Others either hated me on sight or grew to hate me. I am not good at hiding it if I think you are wrong.
    In the words of “The Dude,” I abided.
    The saving grace was that I was sometimes useful. pl

  51. Cujo359 says:

    Leila Abu-Saba encapsulated my thoughts on this matter pretty nicely, once you allow for the fact that I’m an atheist.
    The one thing that I wonder about relative to military chaplains is, can’t this function be secularized? I don’t mean that there shouldn’t be religious services or that there shouldn’t be chaplains, but how does someone who is a non-believer get similar counseling? Are the psychologists or psychiatrists the only people they can talk to? How about having some folks, anti-chaplains if you will, who have similar interests in ethics and counseling but aren’t religious?
    The proselytizing bothers me, obviously. But chaplains in and of themselves don’t, as long as there’s no discrimination against particular beliefs or non-belief.
    I’m sorry that someone took exception to your prayer, Col. Lang. I tend to take these things in the spirit they’re intended. As far as I’m concerned, prayer doesn’t help but it doesn’t hurt, either. I wrote an article on Gustav at my place. I don’t think it helped, but it didn’t hurt either.
    To each his own.

  52. Not Gneiss says:

    I’ve been curious about the role of military chaplains at abu Ghraib. Did any know what the troops were doing? If they did, what did they do or should they have done?
    Do chaplains provide moral as well as psychological support?

  53. Patrick Lang says:

    The assumption that the US military does not have a lot of psychological and counseling services is incorrect and out of date.
    The Israeli notion that combat veterans should be thought of as psychological casualties has successfully been “sold” to the leadership of the army. (I know nothing of the marines.) As a result of that successful sale, the Army is increasingly inhabited by the therapist driven world of counseling.
    This will appeal to many civilians.
    The problem that I have with it is that I think that there will continue to be a need for ground combat troops and those troops will require leadership that is combat experienced.
    What will be the effect on that leadership cadre of thereapy that tells the people involved that they are damaged goods who were damaged, perhaps irretrievably, by the cicumstances of their metier? Will “soldiers” who are convinced by the system that they are victims of the Army still be useful leaders?
    The Israelis have never fought a prolonged war against a first rate opponent. Their army is largely demobilized into civilian life after each short war. Their personnel needs are very different. pl

  54. Tom Garshol, former MP says:

    If you are a young soldier and are serving in a foreign country, or just a fresh recruit far awar from mom and dad and everything that is safe and quiet.
    A lot of new impressions. New people. Different culture.
    Things can be so confusing for a young heart. Having someone to go to for a talk or for help is important.
    A chaplain can be a shelter. I am glad I had a chaplain when I served far away from home.
    However. A prayer won´t help to find WMD´s.
    A prayer won´t help to find Osama Bin Laden.
    A prayer won´t undo Abu Graib.
    Prayers and religions have their very clear limitations.
    Though many in USA seems to believe otherwise . . . . . .

  55. kao-hsien-chih says:

    Col. Lang,
    Thank you for the reply. Your last line–about the film–made me wonder if churchmen should ever be “officially” associated with gov’t functions, including but not limited to chaplaincy. On one hand, I realize that chaplains have to administer where there are believers–including military. It seems that accepting military chaplaincy necessarily forces the clergyman to the role equivalent to embedded journalists, dependent on maintaining the military’s goodwill to carry out their jobs. It would certainly make it more difficult for them to be critical of the military’s actions in such a spot, it would seem….

  56. Blackie says:

    If I had my way, I’d abolish the military clergy in ALL militaries in ALL lands. Why? Because most military clergy have sold out, selling the party line. Why didn’t/don’t they (OUR military clergy), for the most part, protest stupid wars like Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan?? But then again, EVERY country’s military claims that God (or Allah or Jehovah or Buddha or whoever) is “on our side. And besides, an Army’s business is to kill and destroy, PRIMARILY. Nothing holy about THAT.

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