Thursday, March 15, 2012

One of the difficult things for me

“Down went the gunner, and then the gunner’s mate,

up jumped the sky pilot, gave the boys a look,

and manned the gun himself as he laid aside the Book,


Praise the Lord, and pass the ammunition!

Praise the Lord, and pass the ammunition!

Praise the Lord, and pass the ammunition!

And we’ll always stay free.”[1]

“The Chaplain of the 25th Aviation Battalion

at Cu Chi

prays for the souls of the enemy

on Sunday morning

and earns flight pay as a helicopter door gunner

during the rest of the week.”[2]

One of the most difficult concepts I’ve struggled with since my call to military chaplaincy is that military chaplains are not allowed to bear arms. I struggled with this because my prior military training was as Marine Corps infantry rifleman. I worry that not bearing arms will label me as a hypocrite, as I encourage men and women around me who do. Herman Wouk’s novel The Caine Mutiny speaks to this same concern, as echoed by Ensign Wille Kieth who wanted to be on the front lines of battle. Keith’s father told his son in a letter of comfort, “It’s your way of fighting the war.”[3] Each member of the United State military has their own unique way of contributing to the battle.

Chaplains have their own unique way of fighting the war. A large portion of our current military is not made up of individuals who do the shooting, and their contribution is no less important to the mission than those who are directly fighting. Chaplains fit into the category of those whose contributions to fighting are more indirect.

There is an aphorism that states “there are no atheists in foxholes.” This is getting at the basic idea that “many ministry opportunities derive from close proximity to combat action.”[4] Recognizing the importance of faith on the minds of those fighting military doctrine further “encourages the concentrating of ministry efforts in forward combat areas.”[5] Chaplains in combat seek to be a person of faith that shows the importance of compassion in the midst of the wasteland of war. Chaplains have a unique role that can filled by no other member of the armed services.

A chaplain’s conduct in war is limited however. Current Navy Regulations stipulate that “while assigned to a combat area during a period of armed conflict, members of . . . Chaplain . . . Corps . . . shall be detailed to perform such duties as are related to . . . religious service and the administration of . . . religious units and establishments.”[6] Chaplains have a unique status as noncombatants and any action on their part to change this cause’s far greater harm to the whole. Simply put, becoming a combatant gains chaplains very little and they stand to lose a lot.

William Tecumseh Sherman is often attributed to have said that “war is hell.” The realization of this truth is found in rules that have been established more firmly over the last two centuries that seek to limit the horrible aspects of war that make it such a hell. The Geneva Conventions have sought to establish the boundaries of war. Within the treaties chaplains are given a special status that concerns the treatment, benefits and responsibilities of men and women of faith who serve their God and their country amid the horrors of armed conflict.

One of the most important aspects regarding the laws of armed conflict (LOAC), concerns who or what are legitimate targets in war. Another is the rights of people capture during war. One of the biggest distinctions between who can be targeted and who cannot is the status of combatant and noncombatant. Combatants are defined as individuals who are directly engaged in the fight while noncombatants are defined as those who are not engaged in the fight. Chaplains are grouped in the list of people who are noncombatants.

Chaplains have not always enjoyed this status. Chaplains were expected to teach the troops, provide medical treatment, administer field hospitals, serve as unit postmasters, organize shipboard libraries, take charge of unit recreation programs and supervise the commander’s mess.[7] Chaplains were recognized as heroic warriors in the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812 for actions that today would be considered very un-chaplain like.[8] These fighting parsons continued to engage in combatant roles in the Civil War where they worked as aides-de-camp, spies, and direct participants in fighting. [9] These combat chaplains continued to blur the lines of combatant and noncombatant in the twentieth century and twenty-first century .[10]

The role of a chaplain in combat is to act as a force multiplier.

When ground forces go into action, their chaplain should be with them. This may mean he will move from one platoon to another or will minister to the wounded in exposed positions but never place himself in unnecessary danger. He must be careful that his movements do not disclose hidden positions to the enemy nor draw his fire. If casualties are numerous, he will serve best at the forward aid station. He may be placed in charge of collecting the wounded and bringing them there or he may assist in bandaging and similar forms of relief in emergencies. His skills may save the lives of wounded men. While he will do everything in his power to relieve and increase the physical comfort of the men, he will bear in mind that his is not his primary function. He will do his utmost to comfort the suffering and give the consolations of religion to the dying. . . . The chaplain who shares the peril of battle, showing kindness that never fails and a sincere concern for their welfare, will gain a place in their confidence that will reinforce powerfully all his efforts give moral and religious instruction and inspiration . . . Many proper services performed by the chaplains are an indirect injury to the enemy. If he raises the moral of the men, he makes them better fighters. If he bandages a wound, he may save the life of a soldier who will fight again at a later time. If he distributes chocolate bars in fox holes, he may make the soldiers more energetic physically and more resolute of mind. These, however, are proper functions, and he would do the same for enemy wounded or prisoners. If he were to observe the enemy position and tell the artillery where to fire, or were to carry ammunition to the firing line, or convey information or orders about combat operations; it would be direct participation in hostilities.[11]

Despite the dubious actions of chaplains in previous wars modern military doctrine prohibits chaplains from taking any direct combat role in armed conflict. The reasons for the ban on chaplains bearing arms and participating in combat stems from the protected status of chaplains in the Geneva Conventions.

The Geneva Convention defines a combatant as someone who meets the following requirements: “(1) the person’s unit is commanded by a person responsible for his subordinates; (2) the person has a fixed distinctive sign recognizable at a distance; (3) the person is carrying arms openly; and (4) the persons unit is conducting their operations in accordance with the laws and customs of war.”[12] The purpose of a chaplain as defined by the Geneva Convention is to “bring the solace of religion and moral consolation to the wounded and dying where they are present at the last moments of men who have been mortally wounded.”[13] A chaplain who bore arms becomes a combatant and a legitimate target and can no longer fulfill his or her duty. Current regulations prohibit chaplains from bearing arms.[14]

Being a non combatant comprise more than not bearing arms and performing only religious duties. Having a noncombatant state-of-mind “serves to protect the noncombatant status of military chaplains,” [15] and retain their protected status. A letter sent to all Navy chaplains after the September 11th attacks reminds chaplains of their role. “We chaplains are, first and foremost, noncombatants.” As chaplains you must “do more than simply refrain from carrying or using weapons; it requires a noncombat state-of-mind.” Chaplains, “must never participate in any activity that compromises noncombatant status or other chaplains.” By taking this stance it allows chaplains to be “respected and protected in all circumstances”[16] on the battlefield. All circumstances applies when “they are with their own army, or in no man’s land as when they have fallen into the hands of the enemy.”[17]

One of the other protections of the Geneva Convention extended to chaplains is their role if they are captured during war. Chaplains are not considered prisoners of war (POW) but rather “retained persons.” This status affords chaplains unique protections. These protections are some of the greatest reasons that chaplains should not bear arms.

The first protection afforded to chaplains concerns the duration of their retention. Normal POWs are held until the end of the war. Chaplains on the other hand “should be repatriated if captured.”[18] Chaplain can be retained if there is a need for their religious services but if not they should returned to their side as soon as it is practical.[19] This protection allows chaplains to continue to serve their vital role of providing moral, and religious instruction and inspiring those they serve. Another protection is that even though they are not POWs they are afforded the protection given POWs. These protections include, “humane treatment, rapid evacuation from the battlefield, possession of personal property, hygienic and healthful conditions, adequate maintenance, equality of treatment, limited questioning by captors, right to send and receive correspondence, and religious liberties.”[20] Chaplains also have a limited role in fulfilling the obligations of the Code of Conduct.[21]

One of the greatest duties and protections of the noncombatant role of chaplains is the performance of their duties after capture. According to the Geneva Convention “under no circumstances can commissioned officers be required to work,”[22] this however does not apply to chaplains. Chaplains are encouraged to continue to perform their religious duties to all those around them. Chaplains are also free to serve “in accordance with their professional ethics,”[23] “in accordance with their professional etiquette,”[24] and “in accordance with their religious conscience.”[25] With these freedoms chaplains are free to “lift some of the depression and pressures inherent” in a POW camp.[26]

The religious duties of chaplain in a POW camp benefit both the POWs and their captors. The drafters of the Geneva Convention noted that religious observance was part of the “moral welfare” of men or women captured in war.[27] The convention thought that it was necessary that chaplains be able to see to the needs of POWs because religion can have “beneficial results” on the individual POWs “psychological state.”[28] It was also noted that in POW camps a general feeling of hardship and despair exist and that “individuals who had abandoned their faith practices as adults actually ‘reverted to their childhood practices’ when they became prisoners of war and ‘found comfort’ comfort in such pursuits.”[29] By helping to comfort POWS chaplains are able to provide a service to both POWs and their captors.

These protections and freedoms in and of themselves outweigh any foreseen benefits from a chaplain becoming a combatant. If a chaplain were to become a POW they could not perform the duties of a chaplain that would be needed by soldiers, sailors, or marines in a POW camp. Even though chaplains have historically walked a fine line and sometimes even crossed it, they do so at the peril of the entire Chaplain Corps. Chaplains who cross the line often justify it by saying they carry weapons to protect those with them and themselves in case of attack.[30] The United State military has millions of armed men and women who are willing to be the point of the spear. The military only has a couple thousand men and women to remind the rest “that life is bigger, that God’s love is more enduring, than war.” A couple thousand men and women are all that stand to help motivate, inspire, and comfort those who need it the most.

[1] Joanna Bourke, An Intimate History of Killing: Face-to-Face Killing in Twentieth-Century Warfare, (Great Britain: Basic Books, 1999), 270

[2] Joanna Bourke, An Intimate History of Killing: Face-to-Face Killing in Twentieth-Century Warfare, (Great Britain: Basic Books, 1999), 270

[3] Herman Wouk, The Cain Mutiny, (New York: Doubleday & Co., 1951), 58

[4] Department of the Navy, Fleet Marine Force Manual 3-61 Ministry in Combat (22 June 1992) Hereafter cited as FMFM 3-61

[5] FMFM 3-61

[6] Department of Navy Regulations (1990) art. 1063

[7] Richard Budd, Serving Two Masters: The Development of American Military Chaplaincy (Lincoln, NE: Univ. of Nebraska Press, 2002), 18-20, 48-51

[8] “John Steele, the 1756 commander of Fort Allison, Pennsylvania, also served as its chaplain and was addressed as ‘Reverend Captain.’ Massachusetts minster William Emerson of Concord carried a musket in the fight against the British in 1775. Chaplain David Jones, armed with a brace of pistols, led a cavalry reconnaissance at Brandywine Creek. John Hurt, captured on an intelligence-gathering mission of Baron Von Stuben was another chaplain who basically operated in a combat role.

Many Navy chaplains were also at the forefront of battle. Benjamin Balch, who was a minuteman at Lexington, served as chaplain on the frigate Alliance later in the war fought alongside the crew in a fight with two British men-of-war. Combat participation by Navy chaplains continued on several occasion during the War of 1812. Chaplain David Adams on board the frigate Essex was given command of three different captured prize vessels because of his knowledge of navigation and because of the shortage of line officers. Thomas Breeze, chaplain with Commodore Oliver Perry Hazard at the battle at Put-in-Bat, helped the purser and Perry fire the last gun on the Lawrence.” Jonathan Odom, “Beyond Arm Bands and Arms Banned: Chaplains, Armed Conflict and the Law,” Naval Law Review, 49 (2002): 5-6

[9] “A common role for chaplains was to acts as the regimental colonel’s aide-de-camp. Future President James A. Garfield’s chaplain acted in this role. . . The same was true for Chaplain Dean Wright of the Seventh OVI. . . at least three southern chaplains served in this same capacity. . .

There were chaplains who performed the even more dubious function of carrying or seeking military information and using their chaplain status as cover. Frederick T. Brown, also of the Seventh OVI disguise as a mountaineer in homespun clothing, his fine features shaded by a slouch hat carried unwritten dispatches to General Jacob Cox. James H. Fowler, chaplain of the Thirty-third U.S. Colored Troops, was described by his colonel as ‘our most untiring scout’ and as being ‘permitted to stray singly where no other officer would have been allowed to go, so irresistible his appeal, ‘You know I am only a chaplain.’ . . . Apparently at least one Confederate chaplain, William M. Patterson of the Sixth Missouri Infantry Regiment, also crossed the line and engaged in both spying and running contraband goods when we was supposed to be buying Bibles.

The ultimate combatant role for the chaplain, of course, was actually to stand with the troops and fire a weapon. Some went to war prepared for such an eventuality. His fellow ministers gave a Rhode Island chaplain named Jameson a sword as a present on the occasion of his leaving for the battlefields. Wearing his sword and pistol, Chaplain Denison saw no reason for chaplains not to be armed like surgeons and quartermasters. ‘If chaplains exhort men to fight’ Denison said ‘why not fight themselves if they have a chance?’ Apparently, some of the chaplains did take their place in the ranks and trade shots with the enemy. It was said of Thomas D. Witherspoon, a southern chaplain, that he had his commission only on the grounds that he could fight in the ranks with the rest of his regiment. Chapin Henry Hopkins of the 120th New York Regiment was better known for hi martial ardor than his spiritual qualities, he received the Medal of Honor for his battlefield valor.” Jonathan Odom, “Beyond Arm Bands and Arms Banned: Chaplains, Armed Conflict and the Law,” Naval Law Review, 49 (2002): 6-7

[10] Example of this can be seen in the characters of Albert J. Hoffman, who learned from sappers “the delicate business of defusing [mines]. After that, when a platoon he was traveling with came to a mine field, he insisted on going in first.” Jack Alexander, “He’s Our Guy”, Saturday Evening Post 217 (April 28, 1945) “Ammunition bearers darted and dashed across the terrain all afternoon. . . Chaplain Hoffman, as he often did when he was going in that direction, could be seen carrying up ammunition for the mortar platoon.” Homer Ankrum, Dogfaces Who Smiled Through Tears In World War II: A Chronicle, (Lake Mills, IA: Graphic Publishing, 1988), 345.

Israel A.S. Yost is another example of a WWII chaplain who blurred the lines. “During this time all forces opposing German troops in Europe were alerted to the possibility of advances in their area on our border with Italy [still German-occupied] we were warned of the possibility of paratroopers dropping behind our lines. Should this occur such Nazis would want to acquire American uniforms to pass themselves off within France as Americans. We chaplains were therefore ordered to carry arms during this period whenever we were away from close contact with our own troops. I complied. On jeep trips away from Menton, Kent carried a rifle in its case on his side of the vehicle and I placed a loaded pistol beside my car seat. It was clear to me that we were armed for the protection of our uniforms and not our persons. It was only during this short time span that I was ever ‘armed’ while overseas.” Israel A.S. Yost, Combat Chaplain: The Personal Story of the WWII Chaplain of the Japanese American 100th Battalion, (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2006), 27.

Claude Newby a Vietnam era chaplain recounts that “ On October 1 . . . I found myself aboard a medevac chopper, in the right door seat behind an M-60 machine gun . . . The LZE hadn’t been hot, after all, but had we taken fire, I would have returned it. Officially a combatant or not, I couldn’t have, wouldn’t have, sat on my hands while wounded grunt and the chopper were shot at with impunity. . . . Several chaplains in the 1st Cav, even some senior ones, kept a personal weapon. One concealed a grease gun in his pack, and another carried a concealed nickel-plated revolver. . . Most field commanders, in my experience, smiled on the chaplain carrying a weapons for his own protection, and some of them on occasion allowed or forbade a chaplain to go into a hot situation, depending on whether the chaplain was prepared to ‘take care of himself.’ . . . What did I do? I carried what I jokingly called my .45 caliber camera – for close up shots. This item of equipment remained discreetly out of sight in my left-front trouser pocket, except on those occasions when none present objected to my possession of it. ‘Spare film’ I kept in an ammo pouch on my pistol belt, naturally.” Claude Newboy, It Took Heroes: A Cavalry Chaplain’s Memoir of Vietnam, (New York City: Random House Publishing, 2003)

[11] U.S. Army Technical Manual 16-205 The Chaplain, (1944) 64,67.

[12] Jonathan Odom, “Beyond Arm Bands and Arms Banned: Chaplains, Armed Conflict and the Law,” Naval Law Review, 49 (2002):9

[13] Jonathan Odom, “Beyond Arm Bands and Arms Banned: Chaplains, Armed Conflict and the Law,” Naval Law Review, 49 (2002):10

[14] FMFM 3-61, supra note 3, 1004f. “Marine Corps regulations . . . make it clear that chaplains are not to bear arms under any circumstances.” SECNAVINST 1730.7B, Religious Ministry Support Within the Department of the Navy (12 Oct 2000), “Chaplains shall not bear arms.”

[15] Jonathan Odom, “Beyond Arm Bands and Arms Banned: Chaplains, Armed Conflict and the Law,” Naval Law Review, 49 (2002):19.

[16] Geneva Convention for the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded and Sick in Armed Forces in the Field (12 August 1949) (hereafter referred to as GC I) supra note 41, at 24 .

[17] Geneva Convention for the Amelioration of the Condition of Wounded, Sick and Shipwrecked Members of the Armed Forces at Sea (12 Aug 1949) (hereafter referred to as GCII)supra note 43, at 134, 135.

[18] Jonathan Odom, “Beyond Arm Bands and Arms Banned: Chaplains, Armed Conflict and the Law,” Naval Law Review, 49 (2002):27.

[19] GC I, supra note 41, art 30.

[20] Jonathan Odom, “Beyond Arm Bands and Arms Banned: Chaplains, Armed Conflict and the Law,” Naval Law Review, 49 (2002):28.

[21] Department of Defense Instruction 1300.21, Code of Conduct Training and Education, (28 Jan 2001) also see Jonathan Odom, “Beyond Arm Bands and Arms Banned: Chaplains, Armed Conflict and the Law,” Naval Law Review, 49 (2002):36-39 for a detailed review of the Code of Conduct as it applies to chaplains.

[22] GC III supra note17, art 49.

[23] GC I, supra note 41, art. 28.

[24] GC II, supra note 17, art 33.

[25] GC III, supra note 17, art 35.

[26] U.S. Army Technical Manual 16-205 The Chaplain, (1944), 48.

[27] Jean S. Pictet, Commentary to the Convention Relative To the Treatment of Prisoners of War, (International Committee of the Red Cross, 1952) (hereafter referred to as Commentary to GC III), supra note 17, art 225

[28] Commentary to GC III, supra note 171, art 225

[29] Jonathan Odom, “Beyond Arm Bands and Arms Banned: Chaplains, Armed Conflict and the Law,” Naval Law Review, 49 (2002): 30

[30] For an example of this in the twenty first century see