Marine Commandant Describes Using Religion During Iraq War

Gen Robert Neller, Commandant of the Marine Corps and a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, recently attended an iftar meal ending Ramadan fasting in Baltimore. Generally speaking, such events should be non-events, though senior military leaders publicly attending religious events occasionally brings criticism (normally when they’re Christian events).

One notable statement from Gen Neller [emphasis added]:

Neller shared some stories about his travels as a Marine to places where he was the minority as a white, Catholic American. He spoke about using what he knows about Islam to find common ground with Iraqi leaders during a year spent in Anbar province.

We’re all sons of Abraham – why are you fighting me?” Neller recalled telling them.

It’s a fascinating statement on several levels. It’s a valid military tactic, certainly — but likely only one that could be made by a religious service member with boldness of faith and confidence in integrating his faith and profession. Obviously, too, it requires a certain understanding of both Islam and Christianity, as well as cultural sensitivity and a belief that such a statement will be helpful.

It seems unlikely that a troop who had been cowed into keeping his faith to himself, or one that was an atheist, would be willing to take such a step.

Gen Neller’s anecdote is evidence for the value of the military encouraging service members in their faiths — not just ‘tolerating’ them — and for teaching the virtue of faith. Yet Gen Neller’s story isn’t the first like it — and still, officially, the US military often seems more reticent to promote the value of its troops exercising and expressing their faiths.

Remember, too, that Americans weren’t the ones who ‘brought religion’ into the current military conflicts. The adversaries did that.

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