Book Review: Never Surrender
LtGen Jerry Boykin
Faith Words, 2008.
Topic: Military/Christian Experience
Never Surrender is the memoir of Lt Gen (Ret) William G. “Jerry” Boykin, a name familiar to many even outside of military circles. It documents his military career and much of his personal life, in his “journey to the crossroads of faith and freedom.”
In a career that spanned more than three decades, General Boykin was predominantly a member of Special Operations units, including being one of the initial cadre (and ultimately a commander) of the Army’s elite Delta Force. He was involved in virtually every combat action since the early 1980s, from the aborted rescue attempt of the Americans held hostage in Iran to the hunting of war criminals in the Balkans.
According to the book, Boykin was virtually always expressive of his faith. As a young Army officer, he worked with a church bus ministry and invited the children of other military members living on base to his church. He was even initially told he would not be recommended for the Delta Force because he depended too much on faith and not enough on himself. More recently, Boykin made international headlines when he made statements regarding religion, God, and war that were often taken far out of context.
Boykin is an animated character who rarely minces his words, and the book reflects his style. The direct nature of his comments on controversial subjects have made him a frequent target for those trolling for sound bites to lift from their context.
Never Surrender contains detailed accounts of many of the military operations in which General Boykin was involved. He also notes the times he called on God to see him through trials, and those times he felt abandoned by God because of them. He discusses the apparent contradictions in a Special Operations soldier being a Christian—not only dealing with the Christian in the military as a participant in war, but also with the unique challenges of Delta—like learning how to deceive, and do it well. He tells of his total dependence on God to help him recover from wounds received in battle.
There are many examples where Boykin acts as a Christian officer, and many where he sees others do the same. There are encouragements about being successful as a Christian and as a military officer.
Never Surrender’s shortcoming is its casual treatment of Boykin’s family life. While intimate details are shared about nearly every military campaign since Vietnam, and he speaks openly of his faith, there are barely a handful of pages that even mention Boykin’s family relationships. This seems inconsistent with fairly accepted standard priorities in a Christian life, which include God, then family, and then profession. Regrettably, the bulk of the story on Boykin’s family involves his admission of his “failure” as a husband, his divorce after 30 years of marriage, and his subsequent marriage to a single mother.
While on one hand the book seems to tell the tale of a successful, outspoken and assertive Christian military officer, on the other it reveals the failure of his marriage with little comment or reaction.
Of course, Boykin would be neither the first nor the most prominent Christian to struggle with family issues. However, his decision to omit a discussion on the cause or how he may have prevented its demise results in a missed opportunity. As an apparently successful Christian military officer, Christians will be looking at his example. One of the most frequently asked questions by young military Christians–or those considering a military profession–is if it is possible to have both a successful career and a successful family.
Just as being a Christian is not incompatible with being a successful military officer, neither is a successful military career incompatible with a successful marriage, a point Boykin’s book fails to adequately address.
Despite that shortcoming and taken as a whole, Never Surrender is an interesting read into the intersection of faith and the military profession. It will entertain those interested in the military genre, and enlighten those who are interested in the interactions of the Christian faith and the military.
Boykin is currently the Wheat Professor of Leadership Studies at Hamden-Sydney College, a private men’s liberal arts college in Virginia. He has also teamed with Stu Weber to form KingdomWarriors.net.
Recommended. Never Surrender is a lengthy but engaging read. Though the balance of content slightly favors general military operations, the integration of Boykin’s faith and spirituality is woven throughout the book. The book is both an interesting read and a real-life example of one man’s Christian life as applied to the military profession.