Huffpost Politics
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Chris Rodda Headshot

Marine Corps Lawyers Claim Crusades Weren't a Religious War

Posted: Updated:

Last month, I wrote about Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 122, the unit whose commander, in his infinite wisdom, had decided to change the unit's nickname from the "Werewolves" to the "Crusaders," a change that came complete with a nice big crusader shield and cross being painted on its planes.

This unit, given the nickname Werewolves before its first WWII combat tour, was renamed the Crusaders in 1958 when the plane it was flying was the F-8 Crusader. But in 2008, when the unit was preparing to deploy to Iraq, the name was changed back to the Werewolves by the unit's then commander, Lt. Col. William Lieblein, who, stating the obvious, said, "The notion of being a crusader in that part of the world doesn't float."

But earlier this year, the unit's new commander, Lt. Col. Wade Wiegel, decided to change the name back to Crusaders, telling the Beaufort Gazette that he just didn't see calling a U.S. military unit the Crusaders as being "politically incorrect."

On April 18, after receiving dozens of complaints about this name change, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) sent a letter to the Commandant of the Marine Corps and Secretary of the Navy demanding that the unit stop using the name Crusaders and the cross and shield imagery.

After receiving MRFF's demand letter, the decision was made to change the unit's name back to the Werewolves. So, problem solved, no more issue, right? Well, not quite.

On May 18, the General Counsel of the Commandant of the Marine Corps, Robert D. Hogue, and one of his colleagues spoke on the phone with MRFF's lead legal counsel on this matter, Caroline Mitchell of the firm Jones Day. MRFF was not aware at the time of this phone call that the decision had allegedly (according to what the military said after the fact) already been made to change the unit's name back - and, apparently, neither was the General Counsel of the Commandant of the Marine Corps, who proceeded to explain to Ms. Mitchell that there was a secular purpose to using the Crusaders name and imagery.

When msnbc.com reported on this story last week, they mentioned the phone call between MRFF's counsel and the Marine Corps counsel, but this part of the story is so insane that it deserves more attention. Seriously, you ain't gonna believe the points that General Counsel of the Commandant of the Marine Corps made in his attempt to defend the use of the Crusader name and cross.

The most incomprehensibly unbelievable point advanced by these legal geniuses was that the Crusades were not religious. They were just military in nature, and therefore the term Crusades evokes "military" history, not "religion." I kid you not. The General Counsel of the Commandant of the Marine Corps DOESN'T THINK THE CRUSADES WERE RELIGIOUS!

These Marine Corps lawyers then asked Ms. Mitchell if a cross always has a religious connotation, and they were ready with an example of one that doesn't - the X on the Confederate flag! That's right. Their great example of the secular use of a cross is a symbol that evokes something much better - the Dukes of Hazzard (oh yeah, and racism and slavery, too).

But wait, there's more! They also asked Ms. Mitchell if the use of the Crusaders name and imagery would be permissible in a theater where the people are "illiterate," apparently assuming that everyone in the Middle East is illiterate, and that the image of a shield with a cross on it wouldn't be clear to anyone, whether they could read or not.

They next asked if the usage of this name and imagery would be acceptable in Africa, apparently unaware that there are significant Muslim populations in Africa as well as the Middle East.

Other questions included whether or not it would be acceptable to remove the cross, but leave the shield and continue use of the Crusaders name, or to use an image of a Crusader plane instead and keep the name.

Yes, folks, these brilliant points and questions were brought to you by the General Counsel of the Commandant of the Marine Corps - the senior legal advisor to the Commandant of the Marine Corps, the Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps, the Deputy Commandants of the Marine Corps, and other top officials of the Marine Corps. We have a serious problem here.