Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Robert D. Kaplan Again

Kaplan's article "The Man Who Would Be Khan" in the March 2004 issue of the Atlantic Monthly introduced Colonel Tom Wilhelm as a soldier-diplomat in Mongolia. It's a fascinating portrait of the man and the mission. I note the article here because Wilhelm makes the claim that the effectiveness of the American military today stems from the growth of evangelical Christianity in its ranks, especially among its officers. Wilhelm is no evangelical, but he says that evangelicalism has reformed officers' personal behavior, broken down hierarchy, and brought the officers closer to the men serving under them, thereby enhancing bonding and loyalty.

I wish that I could quote his exact words, but the article has been archived (as you discovered).

Anyway, I was curious about this claim when I first encountered it about a year ago, so I wrote to a cousin of mine who is a officer at the Pentagon as well as an evangelical, asking his opinion. He hadn't read the article, but he admires Kaplan's work. His response was interesting in that despite being an evangelical, he didn't attempt to give credit to evangelicalism for the military's effectiveness. In his opinion, the reformed army's improvements stem from changes made by officers who had served in Vietnam and had seen firsthand the flaws that needed to be corrected.

I'd like to know more about Kaplan's own views on evangelicalism's role in the American military. Does anybody have a reference to an article or book where he discusses this?


At 4:46 PM, Blogger lirelou said...

As a former Foreign Area Officer, and Vietnam veteran, I took offense at Wilhelm's swipe at the Vietnam era army. It had a lot of problems that stemmed from the society of the times, compounded by the way the war was run by the U.S. military. (The individual replacement system was but one source of many problems). I
served in the II Corps MIKE Force in Vietnam in 1968, and you would not have found a single church-goer in the group. (OK, I did go to church occasionally, as did a few others, and we all participated in tribal religious ceremonies that involved animal sacrifices and drinking of home-made rice wine.) A popular song in the teamhouse was "Jesus Saves", but the first line "Jesus saves his money at the Chase Manhatten bank, Jesus..." will give you a clue to its tone. We had a lot of other songs too, all unprintable. We barely tolerated chaplins, who showed up in the unit only when we had to bury someone (a common occurrence). A true, bible-thumping preacher would probably have been run off. Our parties, which occurred on a monthly basis when the largest number of companies were out of the field, were wild affairs that included free booze and sexually nimble young ladies. Some men participated wholeheartedly, and men were more reserved, staying faithful to wives, lovers, or principles. Everyone's moral compass was their own. When the party was over, the kids packed their rucksacks, and in a few days they were back out well beyond the range of friendly artillery, running the Cambodian border, entering enemy "safe" areas, or lifting into special forces camps on the verge of being overrun. Five "Roundeyes" (Americans or Aussies) and a hundred and fifty tribal paratroopers. Five distinguished service crosses were awarded while I was there, all posthumously. Two of our Aussies won the Victoria Cross within months of my leaving.

I have seen today's kids, and I have the greatest respect and admiration for the job they are doing, but very few among Wilhelm and his evangelical soldiers would have made a pimple on the ass of a 1968 II Corps MIKE Force trooper.
That said, some of our former members have turned evangelical in their advanced years, and one of our more notorious and colorful troopers, Larry Dring, did so while recovering from wounds received getting blown off a tank in Tet 68.

Religion has its place in a free society, but if we ever get to the point where the armed forces are being sustained by religious bigots whose views are not matched by the society at large, we will be on a slippery slope indeed.

At 5:03 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, lirelou, for your remarks. I had to go googling to find out about the "II Corps MIKE Force" and who "Larry Dring" was -- and even what a "Foreign Area Officer" is.

Despite growing up in the 60s, I didn't reach draftable age until 1975, and by then, we were out of Vietnam.

Until I read Victor Davis Hanson's analysis of the Tet Offensive (and discovered how ignorant I am of the Vietnam War), I simply hadn't known that the North's Tet Offensive had failed to achieve its military aims.

My sole excuse is that my field wasn't military history, but I'm trying to make up for that now.

(I've recently read Roger Trinquier's "Modern Warfare: A French View of Counterinsurgency" but don't know what to make of it.)

Jeffery Hodges


Post a Comment

<< Home