Thursday, June 01, 2006

Krista Tippett -- Speaking of Faith

We take a citizen off the street of Minneapolis, and we turn them into a warrior, a person who, upon demand, without a split-second hesitation will point a weapon at another human being and shoot them until they don't get up again. You don't just easily train people to do that. That is an amazing transformation. It takes six months to get a person ready to do that, and then we put them in combat for 12 months. Then, in 300 hours, we can have them from their last mission back on the street in Minneapolis in their civilian clothes. There's a problem there. The active duty doesn't do that. They bring their soldiers back to bases, they have a transition period, they have programs, they watch their soldiers. We just release them. And how do you reverse from warrior back to citizen in 300 hours? It can't be done, and it's not being done well around the country.
Major John Morris is being interviewed by Krista Tippett on her program Speaking of Faith. The Gulf War veteran and Marine chaplain is her guest in a program titled The Soul of War.
It is about an hour long. I listened on the radio last night and was impressed.

Couple of points...

I had not thought about how regular troops are trained and deployed differently from guardsmen. In the case of guardsmen the mission is longer with little in the way of "decompression." Also, the "volunteer" army is being marketed as being "more professional." I think there are arguments to be made against that point, particularly with the ongoing recruitment of people less thant twenty-five years old, but that is just my view.

And there ARE athiests in foxholes, along with a lot of others.

Maj. Morris: It's not true. There are atheists in foxholes. Stephen Mansfield's written a great book called The Faith of the American Soldier, and he chronicles what he saw in Iraq same time I was there. I think he got it very, very well.

What I saw in Iraq, and I ended up my tour of duty in Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. But what I saw in my combat experience, and I've seen through my 22 years, is on the battlefield, using crude numbers, a third of the soldiers were men and women of faith, growing in their faith or coming to a new understanding of faith. A third of the soldiers were indifferent or fatalistic. And that's — that religion on the battlefield bears a lot of looking at. The other third were either indifferent or jettisoning their faith. And many would say to me, very bluntly, "I've lost my faith. I saw my buddy get blown away," or "I was involved in a firefight that killed innocent people, and if there's a good God, He wouldn't let that to happen. So I do not want to believe anymore."

The guys I worried about that were fatalistic were people who had really hardened in their soul. And they had what I would call the thousand-yard stare, the classic combat look of a fatigued soldier. And they were droning through each day not thinking too far ahead and not being retrospectful. To look ahead meant you had to have hope for future. To look within meant you had to deal with the pain and the challenge. Too much energy to expend that — you know, to do that, so they wouldn't do that. And they had seen so much chaos — and war is chaos. You could do everything right and still die, and you see that on a regular basis. So that's so counter to American philosophy where the good guys win in the end, and if you do everything right, you're rewarded.

Ms. Tippett: I think it's the movie philosophy.

Maj. Morris: Sure, and here, you know, a guy that's barefoot with an AK-47 can kill the best and the bravest soldier. Or a mortar round can fire inexplicably into your PX and kill innocent people. It's chaotic, and that chaos seems to so harden people into saying, "I can't think about transcendent things. Nobody's in control. The only thing I can control is the space around me right now. And whatever is, is; and whatever will be, will be. And I'm not going to worry about it, so don't bother me with anything transcendent or eternal."

Now, the thing that really throws a wrench into all of this is being shot at by people who were praying a few minutes earlier in a sacred place and who may be shooting you out of that sacred place. That really hardens some people to say, "I don't know what kind of god you all are talking about, but I don't want to have anything to do with any kind of god that uses the sacred to condone this. And so I don't want to deal with any of you people that have anything to do with religion, because you guys are causing the wars of the world today."

So you meet a real mix, just like you do on any street in America, the American military's no different. Everything from the atheist to the devout Orthodox Jew to the Wiccan to the Pagan to everything in between, it's all there.

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