Military Paper Derides Christian Belief

The past week or so has seen the renewal in notice of a 2008 paper written by Army Maj Brian L. Stuckert. (The paper was criticized in December 2009 by the WorldNetDaily, and defended by MediaMatters in the same period.)  Entitled “Strategic Implications of American Millennialism,” (pdf) the Major’s paper is largely critical of some aspects of Christian belief.

First, points of clarification:  The paper was written as an academic product while Stuckert was a student at the School of Advanced Military Studies, which is an official professional military education course.  Such military courses often permit a wide variety of topics for their students’ papers.  The topic of religion is not off limits in this environment.  In addition, while this paper has been characterized as a “report,” it is not the product of an official military investigation; it is merely an academic paper.  Such papers are in no way intended to represent an official military position.  Policies are made at far higher levels than PME students.  As noted by a person interviewed at SAMS, “it has no institutional consequences.”

In those regards, there is nothing inappropriate about Stuckert’s paper or its topic.

It is fairly unusual, however, to see an American military officer both characterize theological beliefs so negatively and imply those beliefs should be separated from American military and political leadership.  The assertion military officers will have to overcome the handicap of Americal spiritual beliefs–which implies such officers must also not hold those beliefs–is difficult to reconcile with Constitutionally-protected freedoms.

Like all military papers, Stuckert’s “monograph” has its strengths and weaknesses.  It has many sources, though some are strongly biased (a point the author at one point highlights in the annotated bibliography, but not in the paper itself).  One of Stuckert’s primary faults in the paper was his repeated commission of the elementary student faux pas of using “many” and “most” (“many Americans,” “most Christians,” etc.) without providing justification for such a description.  (Some academic courses even ban the use of the words many, most, and their ilk to avoid the false appearance of legitimacy.)  The result is an apparent strength of position based on large representations, but without the data to support it.  In one example, from page 39:

The [Left Behind] series has sold more than 50 million copies and in the last decade has only been outperformed by the Harry Potter books. While technically a work of fiction, many Americans consider the books an important guide to understanding world events. (emphasis added)

In a second example, from page 56:

Most pre-millennialists agree that China is the central figure in the ‘kings of the east’ that will gather to attack Israel at the Battle of Armageddon, as described in Revelation 16:12-16. (emphasis added)

The strength of Stuckert’s point rides on the assertions that “many Americans” and “most pre-millennialists” believe certain things; if those beliefs are fringe, his objective fails.  However, in neither case does Stuckert provide any verifiable support for his generalizations.  The use of these unsupported generalizations is prevalent throughout the paper.  Thus, in several cases Stuckert characterizes “millennialism” or aspects of Christianity without justification or evidentiary support; it appears he is merely stating his personal beliefs.

With regard to the paper’s content, while many of the factual/historical aspects of Stuckert’s paper are true, he applies them from a biased perspective.  Stuckert’s primary announced topic is “millennialism,” but the term sometimes seems to be a placeholder for “Christianity,” as the paradigms he assigns to millennialism are largely consistent with mainstream Christianity in America.  In reading Stuckert’s paper, it would seem not only that Christian influence in America can do no good, but also all bad that has happened is due to Christianity.

For example, Stuckert seemed to criticize Reagan’s renewed “atheistic evil” view of the Soviet Union (“in spite of nearly two decades of détente,” page 31), which Stuckert asserts was a result of Reagan understanding the “role of the religious right in his own rise to power.”  However, Stuckert fails to acknowledge the historic credit that Reagan receives for the fall of the Iron Curtain and the dissolution of the Soviet Union, which was a direct result of Reagan’s position on the USSR.

Likewise, Stuckert seems to criticize American support for Israel, believing it is solely the result of American Christian influence; he also emphasized the 1948 US recognition of Israel was “against the unanimous advice of senior government and military officials.” (p48) 

Because of the pre-millennial worldview, the U.S. will continue to adopt an adversarial approach to any country perceived as at odds with Israel. (p51)

Stuckert does not indicate support for any other reasons, beyond a pre-millennial worldview, for which America should be aligned with Israel.  Say, the defense of the only nation in the world to be the object of threats from other states saying it should be “wiped off the face of the earth” because of its theological and cultural heritage.

In his criticisms, Stuckert often generalizes pre-millennial (Christian) beliefs; however, at the opposite end of the academic spectrum, he also fails to realize some beliefs are not exclusive to the Christian faith:

In general, collective anxiety over things like world-ending war, the Anti-Christ, and the need to secure our eternal destiny by our own hand will add to strategic hubris, justify increasingly reckless international action, and continue to over-commit the military in ways the Nation cannot afford. (p43)

While Stuckert is criticizing the potential implications of mainstream American Christianity, he doesn’t seem to understand the relevance of those criticisms to other faiths.  For example, the “anxiety” over a “world-ending war” would be shared by Jews and Muslims, since all three Abrahamic religions believe there will ultimately be an “Armageddon” in some form.  Thus, it is not the unique vice he seems to imply it is.

It is interesting to note the specificity and confidence with which Stuckert predicts the negative direction of US policies as a direct result of pre-millennial belief:

Pre-millennialism will likely push U.S. defense policy in the wrong direction for years to come.  Beyond unnecessary defense expenditures, the lack of cooperation and partnership has far-reaching policy implications for the U.S. and the rest of the world. We will miss out on countless opportunities for meaningful cooperation between two major world powers that could contribute greatly to the resolution of problems on a global scale. (p55)

Beyond the obvious problems of policy in the Middle East, pre-millennialism will increasingly place the U.S. at odds with nearly every major actor on the global stage. (p56)

At no point does Stuckert say why “pre-millennialism” will have such an unimpeded control of national policies, even in the face of a host of competing ideologies.  In addition, at no point does Stuckert allow that the US could go the “wrong direction” for a reason besides “pre-millennialism.”

With direct relevance to military officers, Stuckert says

Because of the influence of pre-millennialism, it can be difficult for military leaders to see themselves and their government accurately and state policy goals objectively. (p58)

Pessimism and paranoia are two possible results of pre-millennial influence.  This can lead to inaccurate assessments on the part of military leaders and planners. (p59)

He appears to be talking about how leaders will have to “overcome” a vice of the American culture, but he is also implying military officers themselves will have to be “outside” of pre-millennial influence (in essence, without a certain eschatological Christian belief).

In the end, it appears Maj Stuckert wrote a paper essentially describing his personal worldview, as evidenced by his frequent use of unsupported categorical characterizations of beliefs.  This is also supported by the absence of opposing ideas; that is, he never provides or refutes a negative example (an instance in which Christian pre-millennial beliefs had a positive influence; or an instance in which a lack of Christian belief had a negative influence).  These acknowledgements and responses to potential criticisms are ordinarily a key part of a fully developed research endeavor.

That said, it is entirely possible Maj Brian Stuckert wasn’t intentionally being critical of Christianity, though many have perceived his paper that way.  In fact, there are some who believe the author is the same “Brian Stuckert” who is associated with the church of Christ (which, incidentally, tends to eschew pre-millennialism).  His worldview appears to be pre-millennial beliefs have been and will be detrimental to America as a nation; unfortunately, his definitions and commentary are so loose they encompass mainstream Christian ideologies.  Consider, for example, his assertion that the concepts of right and wrong are detrimental to foreign policy:

A proclivity for clear differentiations between good, evil, right, and wrong do not always serve us well in foreign relations or security policy. (p60)

Of course, as a faith Christianity is a set of beliefs grounded on such distinctions and similar moral “absolutes.”  One does not have to be pre-millennial to have such a “proclivity.”

Other criticisms of Stuckert’s paper have also highlighted his dismissal of absolutes.  In short, if a nation does not support a right and oppose a wrong, how can it justify sending its troops to die to achieve its end?  This morally ambiguous paradigm has far-reaching consequences to be discussed in the future.

While this is all very interesting from an academic perspective, this is not the tempest some have made it out to be.  Stuckert’s paper expresses personal views, not an official policy.  It has its academic flaws, as noted above, but any paper on any topic will be arguable from contrary perspectives as well.  His bias is evident, but he is free to hold, and express, his beliefs.

Not only is Major Stuckert’s paper permissible, but it should be of little surprise to anyone that someone should hold his apparent beliefs.  The US military reflects the society from which it is drawn; while America is largely conservative and at least nominally Christian, there are many varying beliefs in its civil society.  Those beliefs are absolutely reflected within the military service.  While some may claim the military is overtly religious or endorses a specific faith, it is quite clear “non-Christian” (or non-“standard” Christian) ideals are freely held even by officers in the service.

In those respects, Major Stuckert’s paper is a non-event.  One just hopes someday he will see past his negative bias and come to realize the many and historic virtues of religious faith in both civil society and the military.

More importantly, hopefully Major Stuckert will see the error in suggesting Christian beliefs–and those who hold them–are inconsistent with successful military and political leadership.  The implication military and governmental leaders should not hold specific religious beliefs is inconsistent with the Constitution he has sworn to support and defend.