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A Military Identity Crisis

The Armed Forces, an institution revered by the American people—with which we associate the highest ideals of America—is dying the death of a thousand scandals. While Kelley Vlahos of The American Conservative points to a corporate, careerist culture, the crisis is far deeper and more fundamental in nature.

While the military has never been known as a monastery, each branch of the armed services was established to reflect a moral standard of conduct, defined and confirmed by our Christian heritage.  In 1775, John Adams drafted an Exemplary Conduct standard for Naval and Marine Corps, “Rules for the Regulation of the Navy of the United Colonies of North America,” which was codified in Title 10, and expanded to apply to the other service branches:

“All commanding officers and others in authority in the naval service are required to show in themselves a good example of virtue, honor, patriotism, and subordination; to be vigilant inspecting the conduct of all persons who are placed under their command; to guard against and suppress all dissolute and immoral practices, and to correct, according to the laws and regulations of the Navy, all persons who are guilty of them…”  10 U.S.C. §5947.

The second principle of the Continental Navy identified the foundation for moral conduct:

“The Commanders of the ships of the thirteen United Colonies are to take care that divine service be performed twice a day on board, and a sermon preached on Sundays, unless bad weather or other extraordinary accidents prevent it.”

There are no small number of prayers and recognitions of Divine Providence recorded and enshrined in the history of our military.[1]  America’s military prayer heritage reflects the character of virtue, honor and patriotism that made America exceptional, values indicative of exactly the type of person required to defend and protect our Constitution from all enemies foreign and domestic, a Constitution that, in the words of John Adams, “was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

In fact, in that same letter, Adams had this to say (emphasis added):


…we have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge, or gallantry, would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net.

Absent our moral and religious foundation, our culture—and thus our military, which is a snapshot of that culture—is reflective of “human passions unbridled by morality and religion.”

This illustrates the importance of why, until recently, the oath of an officer ended with the prayer “so help me God.”  Even an atheist officer, taking that oath, speaks in acknowledgement that the virtue required of a military officer rooted in a very unique moral and religious foundation. We know that this is America’s foundation, our law order, according to no less than four supreme Court decisions. America is declared a Christian, not a Pagan or Islamic or Buddhist or Hindu nation.

And yet, today, each branch of the military is embroiled in bribery and corruption scandals, sex scandals and cover-ups of sex scandals, and failures at every level of command that are an affront to that unique founding military character.

As these scandals rage, our government moves forward to further secularize our military, ironically maintaining a hostile position toward Christians who reflect the virtues and values that once undergirded the Armed Services.  Christian chaplains are forced to acknowledge acts that run counter to their Holy Book as Christians can quickly be marginalized as “hate groups.”

The careerist culture in our military, of which Vlahos speaks, is actually a symptom of a more fundamental crisis, which has a narrow margin for escape. Americans must remember the early guidance of men like first Chief Justice John Jay who said, “No human society has ever been able to maintain both order and freedom, both cohesiveness and liberty apart from the moral precepts of the Christian Religion. Should our Republic ever forget this fundamental precept of governance, we will then be surely doomed.”

The adversaries moving their secular agenda are but a small, vocal and well-financed cadre and if they are not rightfully ignored, we will continue to reap the whirlwind, a scandal-ridden military which is but a foreshadowing of the lawlessness to come.

America has survived banking failures, economic collapses, and long economic depressions. We have endured corruption scandals in government. We have overcome civil war, various civil conflicts, and even large-scale wars.  While our past crises had more to do with fleshing out who we were, our current crisis is about who we are. We cannot begin to address the scandalous nature of the military until we first right our path that aligns with who we are as a people, as One Nation Under God. To suggest otherwise is to expect Christian outcomes of a society devoid of absolute morality, virtue and regard for a higher Authority.

They profess that they know God; but in works they deny him.  Tit. 1:16

[1] Endowed By Their Creator:  A Collection of Historic American Military Prayers 1774-Present.  First Principles Press.  ISBN 978-0984940929.