Tuesday, May 31, 2005


A Test of Faith

Kathryn Jean Lopez, editor for National Review Online, has a very meaningful interview with Stephen Mansfield, the author of The Faith of the American Soldier, which explores what part religion plays in the lives of U.S. Soldiers, entitled “God & Man on the Frontlines.”

Lopez introduces her interview with the following quotations:
“When soldiers step upon the battlefield, they immediately confront the kind of horror and hardship that has moved men through the centuries to reach for the spiritual," writes Stephen Mansfield. Death and destruction, "the loneliness and the fear, the boredom and the rage" all "drive men to the invisible; each forces the soldier to decide what he truly believes, making the battlefield as much a test of faith as it is a test of arms."
Lopez gets right to matters of the deepest significance to Soldiers, whether they are religious or not. But from Mansfield’s investigation, most Soldiers share a common need to find honor in their profession of arms. They need to believe and accept the morality of a conflict to be able to risk their lives, and feel confident that they will be honored and respected when they come home:
NRO: What does honor mean for the American on the battlefield?

MANSFIELD: Honor on the battlefield results from living by a code that rescues the warrior from barbarism and elevates the profession of arms. It means understanding soldiering as a spiritual service as much as a martial role. Honorable soldiers are devoted to the moral objectives of their nation in war, are willing to lay their lives on an altar of sacrifice, are courageous in subduing the enemy yet compassionate to civilians and prisoners, are devoted to a godly esprit de corps, and are eager to master the art of arms by way of fulfilling a calling.

NRO: How important was it that the Iraq war be addressed in theological just-war terms?

MANSFIELD: It is vital for a government to establish the morality of a war before sending soldiers into battle. The traditional just-war concept has to be satisfied. Soldiers don’t want to fight simply to defend a nation’s vanity or to support a corrupt vision. They want to know they are doing good. This is essential for them and for the nation that is going to welcome them home again. I have talked to hundreds of soldiers during the research of this book. Almost every one of them mentioned his or her need to believe in the goodness of their nation’s purposes in war.
This is precisely right in my view. This is why, despite every effort to stir up those dissident voices in the military, the media comes up empty. There are very few Soldiers who have any cause to think we are misguided, that things go badly, that we doubt or don't believe in what we're doing here. Some might call us deluded, or brainwashed, but the simple fact is, for us it’s simple.

Radical Islamic Terrorists, supported by State Sponsors of Terrorism, on September 11, 2001, inflicted the gravest harm to our country and its citizens since Pearl Harbor. Our newly energized, progressive, and muscular foreign policy resolved to take the fight to those states and non-state actors who represent the gravest terrorist threat. Sometimes that fight is against a terrorist haven like Afghanistan. Sometimes the fight needs to be taken up against a state sponsor, like Saddam (or Libya, Iran, Syria, North Korea).

It matters a great deal to us that President Bush viewed the war with Saddam as inevitable. This showed wisdom, foresight and resolve. And it was correct. President Bush was prepared to go to war with the coalition at hand, but only after working through every effort of the UN and its “inspectors,” trying to bring Saddam to account. The strategy was to draw Al Qaeda into a fight on our terms, and they responded overwhelmingly. And they have been devastated, with no follow up attacks in the U.S. We have seen a wave of consequence from the fall of Saddam, and the first free elections in the Middle East.

All of these outcomes make the world a better, safer place, despite all the hysteria and hand wringing and (false) claims that America used to be loved and respected (when was that, exactly, not in my lifetime), but now we are viewed as the “biggest threat to world security.” If you’re a Marxist, Socialist, Dictator or other denier of freedom to captive and oppressed people, I suppose that’s true.

Lopez asked Mansfield to identify the one story from Iraq that every American should hear:
NRO: How much time did you spend over in Iraq? What's one story every American should know from your time over there?

MANSFIELD: I was in Iraq for several weeks. I discovered many moving stories of faith and heroism, but they are all summarized in the comment a journalist made to me on the C130 flying out of Baghdad International Airport. He said, “I came over here expecting Animal House and Debbie Does Dallas. Instead, I found Braveheart and Saving Private Ryan.” That captures a good deal of what I experienced.
In response to questions about our Soldiers by my debating partner at Debate Space, The Liberal Avenger, I’ve detailed the many ways that troops today are held to a far higher standard or behavior than any fighting force in history, and overwhelmingly meeting that standard.

Finally, Lopez explores with Mansfield the extent to which the President’s character and faith affects the military:
NRO: Does the commander in chief's openness about his faith affect the troops in any practical sense?

Mansfield: Both while I was in Iraq and in interviews we conducted here in the states, soldiers spoke often about believing that George W. Bush’s faith and character were important to them. There were many references to the near depression in the military during the Clinton administration. Yet, with the Bush presidency, soldiers began to feel as though they were valued and that they were an extension of the president’s moral resolve. Even among soldiers who were disillusioned by supply problems or wearied by their hard months in the field, the belief that the president is a moral man conducting the war for righteous reasons made all the difference in their fighting spirit. Character really is the core of leadership.
Again, precisely right in my experience and opinion. Soldiers will not want to follow a leader they don’t respect, and they won’t abide evil, hypocrisy, or evil actions that so many on the left have directly suggested or broadly intimated. Character is essential, and character is reflected in commitment, courage, honesty, honoring vows, and other behavior that reveals character or lack thereof.

Critics don’t understand the incomparable value of their military. Honor bound. Committed to timeless values of duty, faithfulness, honesty, and integrity. Following through on their commitments, their responsibilities. Keeping true faith and allegiance. Being accountable and holding others accountable.

This is the character of the war we fight; these are the character traits of the men and women who fight it.

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