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Christian soldiers march onward

Don't know whether you caught Tom Minnery's bizarre op-ed in the G last Friday. If you didn't, too bad. For those who fancy themselves connoisseurs of the weird, it was something of a treat.

Minnery, the public voice of Focus on the Family, discussed the role of religion at the Air Force Academy. You'd expect that he'd defend and support the evangelical Christians whose beliefs appear to dominate religious discourse at the Academy. And he does, in passing. But he spends most of his time lashing out at the "hardcore secular left," whose supposed intent is to "...strip the Academy of meaningful religious encounters" and thereby "deny [future prisoners of war] the solace that comes with leaning on God."

According to Minnery, "The leftists see every emanation of God as an illegal establishment of religion." Moreover, Barry Lynn, the president of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, an organization that has had the temerity to question official religiosity at the Academy, is a person so contemptible that "[he] testified that child porn should be protected free speech."

Minnery's intent is clear: He sets up a classic straw man, a godless child porn-lovin' secular leftist, while casting himself as the defender of everything good and holy. It's ludicrous and infantile -- the kind of argument that would get a "D" in any college English class. It's tempting just to laugh, shake your head and move on to the sports pages, but for one tiny fact: Millions of Americans agree with Minnery.

Let's think about the armed forces for a minute. Increasingly, enlisted personnel come from small-town, working-class America. They're kids to whom the military looks like a good deal. Officers, most of whom have attended the service academies, more often than not are the ambitious, disciplined, hard-working kids of the conservative middle class.

So what do we have? If your parents were rich, or liberal, or Jewish, or atheist, or Unitarian, or mildly intellectual, or if you went to a private school, you probably didn't join the military. Absent a draft, and given the highly ordered, excessively religious atmosphere that seems to pervade the service academies, that's not going to change.

And so it seems likely that, although things may appear to change, the basic problems will remain. At the Air Force Academy, we'll still have wonderful kids, but there won't be many skeptical liberals, or even moderate Democrats. And if the sons and daughters of our country's leaders -- the CEOs, the governors, the senators -- continue to avoid the military, what will that mean?

It will mean that the future will look a lot like the past. Like it or not, we no longer have a citizen military. We have a Christian Officers' Guild that competently -- and sometimes brilliantly -- commands an Army of the Poor. And we shouldn't blame the Academy, or Tom Minnery or George W. for this state of affairs. It's the wholly predictable consequence of abandoning the draft in favor of an all-volunteer force.

Growing up in the 50s, in the era between Korea and Vietnam, kids knew they'd have to serve. They could wait to be drafted, or join a branch of the service, or go to a service academy, or join the ROTC at their college. Military service was the great leveler; rich or poor, smart or dumb, black, brown, or white, you had to go.

But that's no longer the case. Tom Minnery is well aware that conservative Christians and Christian evangelicals are far more numerous in today's military than are so-called secular leftists. That's fine with him; he'd like the military to be more welcoming to the Christian right, and less attractive to everyone else. In his Gazette op-ed, he specifically calls upon "every combat veteran and air force retiree [to repel] this assault [upon] the spiritual aspect of military life...".

Frankly, I doubt whether Minnery is worried about the spiritual aspect of military life. I think that he sees this controversy as a way to drive a wedge right down the middle of America -- to persuade Christian conservatives that their kids are fighting and dying for people who won't even let them worship their God. He'd like his followers to think that those "secular leftists" are cowardly, unpatriotic Christ-hating freeloaders.

And if you follow that line of thinking, to what logical conclusion do you come? The same one to which Germany came in the 1930s...

Get rid of the freeloaders.

-- johnhazlehurst@earthlink.net

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