Is “There Are No Atheists in Foxholes” Offensive?
A seemingly benign local article highlighted the roles of various National Guardsmen in their units and communities. Speaking of Chaplain (Maj) Steven Veinotte, it said
Major Steven Veinotte of Campton has seen the truth of that old adage that there are no atheists in foxholes.
“I think that’s natural,” he said. “It’s part of human nature, when the pressure gets ratcheted up, you tend to ask God for more things.”
However, Jason Torpy’s Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers took issue:
Active NH National Guard chaplain disparages atheism…MAAF is following up with New Hampshire NG and other leaders.
Though the article doesn’t actually quote the Chaplain, nor does it attribute the phrase to him, Torpy blames him for it. His response highlights a few things:
First, the accessibility of military leadership to activists: Any statement a military person makes may be cause for someone to lodge a complaint with his military superiors. Thanks to the internet and email, virtually any person has immediate access to military officers, commanders, even Generals. Thus, it is no large effort for Torpy to engage with the Guard and “other leaders” on his chosen agenda. For his part, the Chaplain is likely now getting “feedback” on a comment that was probably read by very few people to begin with; it still managed to catch Torpy’s search algorithm, though.
Such access can sometimes move at previously unheard of speeds. Michael Weinstein’s MRFF watches this site so closely that the time between content appearing on this site and a frivolous MRFF complaint to the military has almost been measured in minutes.
Second, it would appear atheists are in a campaign to become Atheists: that is, a titled and protected category among other belief systems, rather than the “nons” outside of a classification system. Ironically, this flies in the face of traditional atheist claims. For example, when Atheism is accused of simply being another faith system, atheists are known to retort that “if atheism is a religion, then bald is a hair color.” It appears Torpy would assert that bald should, indeed, be treated like a hair color.
Is the phrase “There are no atheists in foxholes” offensive? How about an equivalent statement about “theists”?* Is either phrase actionable? Ie, can Torpy’s MAAF successfully get the National Guard to censure the Chaplain?
For the record, at least one Soldier filed both an EO and an IG complaint when a superior officer used the phrase. The military determined it might be “insensitive,” but “did not rise to the level of an offense.”
*The phrase “There are no Christians in foxholes” has actually been used as well. The “proof” was that if the enemy was charging and a Soldier was offered a choice between his rifle and a Bible, he would naturally take the rifle. Thus, he would have abandoned his faith. In response, the following retort: “I believe God protects me. But I still look both ways before I cross the street.”