Sunday, July 26, 2009

Check Your Soul at the Barracks Door

When I served in the US Army, there was a feature of US military culture that made me uneasy – for reasons I could not really fully articulate at the time.

Every theater on every US Army post is named after a posthumous recipient of the medal of honor. I used to go to the movies pretty regularly when I was in garrison, and would read the citations of the actions that caused the particular soldier to receive the medal of honor, and it seemed to me that there was a subtle narrative being communicated, and that narrative was designed to evoke the virtues of Christianity (self-sacrifice, “no greater love hath any man…”) but which was, at its heart, pretty foreign to me as a Christian.

What I read in the narrative – the values being expressed – was "all for country." Those medal of honor recipients died doing heroic things (in the classical sense) but from a Christ-ian perspective, also in the commission of horrific violence against their brothers and sisters. When Christ said, "all who live by the sword shall die by the sword," I think he was talking about more than just the tendency of soldiers to die in wars. He was talking about more than the body dying in battle; he was talking about the soul of the sword-wielder.

Through my military experiences, I came to see nationalism as the idol it surely is, and like all idols, it demanded, finally, my immortal soul. And that, I would not surrender.

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