Celestial Lands The Religious Crossroads of Politics, Power, and Theology

Faith and the Strategic Corporal

Recently, the media have connected with several stories regarding enlisted soldiers who have conducted themselves in Iraq in ways that bring into question the religious motivations behind their service. In one story, a soldier at a checkpoint was handing out proselytizing coins that ask, in Arabic, where someone is going to spend eternity, and on the back was John 3:16:

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life”.

In another recent but unrelated story, a U.S. Army sniper practiced his skill by shooting thirteen rounds into a Koran.

Now, let me just say that soldiers and sailors do not always think very clearly… remember that even the sergeants are often under 30, and that they live in a somewhat closed community. Sergeants often speak of the need to “Warrior Proof” any situation, by clear training, instruction, and simplified tasks… not because soldiers are not intelligent… they certainly are. But because of the maxim from Clausewitz: “Everything in war is simple, but even the simplest thing is difficult.”

There is a new phenomenon among our military, known as “The Strategic Corporal”. If I were to re-state it, I might call it “The Strategic Private”. With modern communications, with a globalized world, with military units operating in smaller and smaller elements, and with the omnipresence of the media, we now face a situation where ethical and moral decisions that once would have rested in the hands of officers are now being made by 21 year old corporals, and even 19 year old privates.  These decisions can affect the fate not only of their missions, but of nation-states. 

And yet, we are only now beginning to envision what kind of ethical and moral training those privates and corporals should receive. Officers who go through ROTC, OCS, or our Academies receive fairly extensive training in Military Ethics, Host Nation Relations, and Civil Affairs. This was great, when we could depend on an officer being called upon, in that tactical split second situation, to make such ethically and morally charged decisions.

When the moral and ethical training that a soldier receives comes from their church and not from the military, then it is understandable how they would believe that handing out coins to save the souls of Muslims could be considered ethical behavior. We need to teach our soldiers not only not to do such things, but to give them the ethical basis to understand why.

There are no bad soldiers… only bad leaders and trainers.  Providing such ethical training is a part of my call to ministry. 

Yours in Faith,


3 Thoughts on “Faith and the Strategic Corporal

  1. Hi David,

    I agree that fateful split-second decisions are being pushed farther and farther down the chain of command, but I have a problem with characterizing either the Koran shooting incident or the religious coins incident as tactical split-second decisions.

    The Koran incident might be a legitimate “brain-fart” lack of judgement in a single decision problem, but handing out those coins was a strategic decision; pre-meditated with planning and production of the materials needed to make it happen.

    I’m deeply worried by the infiltration of the U.S. military by extreme evengelical Christians bent on converting the world to Christianity using the U.S. armed forces. I hope our government and military leadership can face this problem and root it out before it tarnishes the good name of our military forces further.


  2. Lance,

    I get what you are saying… but I think they are connected. The ethical training to know when to shoot and when not to should be the same ethical training program that instructs why we should not mistreat the local populations, and it should be the same ethical training program that reinforces the reasons why evangelizing local populations is wrong. I want them not to only know that it is wrong, I want the training programs to allow them to understand why.

    To me, that is all the same kind of integrated program of ethical training that should be a part of the military experience from the first day of Basic Training and on through the entirety of one’s time in the military.

    I dont mind someone holding evangelical beliefs… so long as they understand the ethical line around all of our beliefs and our duties as soldeirs/servicemembers. Training soldiers to see that ethical line is a command responsibility.

    Thanks for the comments!

    Yours in Faith,


  3. Hi David,

    I get what you are saying now, and agree with your desire for all-encompassing ethical training.

    I can just imagine the hullabaloo such training will raise from some quarters when it is implemented.


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