Back in 1990, when the U.S. deployed troops to Saudi Arabia for Operation Desert Shield, the defensive mission to prevent an Iraqi invasion of Saudi Arabia in the build-up to Operation Desert Storm, Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf was faced with a problem that, as discovered by the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), has become an epidemic in the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan -- evangelical Christian missionaries using the U.S. military to convert Muslims to Christianity.
In his autobiography, It Doesn't Take a Hero, Gen. Schwarzkopf recounted his run in with Franklin Graham's organization, Samaritan's Purse -- an incident that made it clear that the Saudis' fears and complaints of Christian evangelizing were not unfounded. While some of the Saudis' fears, as the general explained, had resulted from Iraqi propaganda about American troops disrespecting Islamic shrines, the attempt by Samaritan's Purse to get U.S. troops to distribute tens of thousands of Arabic language New Testaments to Muslims was real.
"The Saudi concern about religious pollution seemed overblown to me but understandable, and on a few occasions I agreed they really did have a gripe. There was a fundamentalist Christian group in North Carolina called Samaritan's Purse that had the bright idea of sending unsolicited copies of the New Testament in Arabic to our troops. A little note with each book read: 'Enclosed is a copy of the New Testament in the Arab language. You may want to get a Saudi friend to help you to read it.' One day Khalid* handed me a copy. 'What is this all about?' he asked mildly. This time he didn't need to protest -- he knew how dismayed I'd be."
*Lt. Gen. Khalid Bin Sultan al-Saud, commander of Saudi Arabia's air defense forces, appointed by King Fahd as Gen. Schwarzkopf's counterpart.
As the New York Times reported in December 1990, following this incident, the Pentagon issued guidelines which included putting restrictions on American troops discussing religion with the Saudis and taking Bibles outside of military compounds. The troops, of course, still had access to the usual variety of worship services on their bases, but they were told to be discreet about things such as wearing crosses or Stars of David, being instructed to wear these religious symbols inside rather than outside their uniforms.
It was left to the discretion of individual company commanders to determine how visible religious services should be, depending on their particular location's proximity to Saudi populations. In some cases, decisions not to display crucifixes or other religious symbols were made, and while this led to a few complaints, the majority of the troops willingly complied, understanding that these decisions were being made for their own security. As one Jewish soldier quoted in the New York Times article put it, "I may just finish up in an Iraqi P.O.W. camp some day, and I'd just as soon not have them single out a Jew for special treatment." A Christian soldier, quoted in the same article, saw no infringement of his freedom to worship in the policies, saying, "I think the religious services here are super. We need that spiritual growth, that spiritual comfort, and I don't need a cross in the room to allow me to worship God."
Gen. Schwarzkopf allowed chaplains in the field with combat units to continue wearing their religious insignia, but asked those in the cities to remove theirs. Recounting in his autobiography the speech he made to the chaplains, Schwarzkopf noted that he told them, "...if you're worth a damn as chaplains, your troops already know who you are. You don't need insignia." Schwarzkopf received an unexpectedly positive reaction from the chaplains to this new policy, writing:
"I'd expected protests, particularly on the issue of taking off the insignia, but to my surprise the chaplains readily agreed, and even went a step further: they started calling themselves 'morale officers.'"
What a far cry these chaplains were from those of today, who turn every instance of not being able to display a cross or pray in Jesus' name in every situation into an imaginary war on Christianity.
Also restricted by the Pentagon in 1990 was news coverage of U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia engaged in non-Islamic worship services, for fear that television broadcasts of these services could be used as a propaganda tool. As a Defense Department official quoted in the New York Times article put it:
"Can't you see Saddam getting videotape of a Hanukkah service or of soldiers singing 'Silent Night' and running it on TV over and over again, and arguing that the Islamic holy places are being defiled? It would be garbage, of course. But it would also be dangerous for everyone."
Ignoring the experience and wisdom of Gen. Schwarzkopf, and the common sense policy decisions handed down by the Pentagon officials of 1990 to keep our troops safe, the U.S military is now not only permitting, but participating in and promoting, everything that Schwarzkopf said had to be stopped for the safety of our troops.
What's now being allowed so far eclipses what was seen as dangerous in 1990 that its stupidity is almost incomprehensible.
In 1990, the Pentagon was worried that film of a simple non-Islamic religious service in a Muslim country would be fodder for propaganda by our enemies. Now, as I wrote about last week, we have things going on like missionaries from a Christian reality TV series being embedded with U.S. troops in Afghanistan to film episodes of their Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN) TV show, broadcasting to the world scenes of Afghans being evangelized with New Testaments in their native language.
Chief Warrant Officer Rene Llanos of the 101st Airborne Division, referring to a special military edition of a Bible study daily devotional published and donated by Bible Pathways Ministries, told Mission Network News that "the soldiers who are patrolling and walking the streets are taking along this copy, and they're using it to minister to the local residents," and that his "division is also getting ready to head toward Afghanistan, so there will be copies heading out with the soldiers." And, like the many civilian missionaries who see the U.S. occupation of Iraq as a window of opportunity to evangelize the Iraqi people, Chief Warrant Officer Llanos continued:
"The soldiers are being placed in strategic places with a purpose. They're continuing to spread the Word."
According to Army chaplain Capt. Steve Mickel, in the newsletter of the International Ministerial Fellowship, who was doing his evangelizing while passing out food in the predominantly Sunni village of Ad Dawr:
"I am able to give them tracts on how to be saved, printed in Arabic. I wish I had enough Arabic Bibles to give them as well. The issue of mailing Arabic Bibles into Iraq from the U.S. is difficult (given the current postal regulations prohibiting all religious materials contrary to Islam except for personal use of the soldiers)."
This is "difficult," Chaplain Mickel, because it is illegal!
When asked in a German TV report if his organization's activities can lead to people dying, Todd Nettleton, Director of Media Development for The Voice of the Martyrs, one of many organizations that call themselves "humanitarian" organizations to gain access to Muslim countries, responded:
"Our activities can lead to people dying, and we understand that...but, the reality is an eternity with Christ in heaven is so far better than an eternity in hell that it is a good deal. It's a good decision, even if it results in physical punishment here on earth."
And, of course, Franklin Graham's Samaritan's Purse, the organization whose activities in 1990 prompted Gen. Schwarzkopf and the Pentagon to impose their strict policies in Saudi Arabia, has been back in action since the beginning of the Iraq invasion. Samaritan's Purse was one of a number of evangelical groups who were actually poised at the Iraqi border in 2003, just waiting for the invasion to begin so they could follow and start converting Muslims. Graham's comments about Islam, which included calling it a "wicked and evil religion," led some Defense Department employees to protest his appearance at a Good Friday Prayer service that year, an event sponsored by the Pentagon Chaplain's Office.
Many U.S. military bases now participate in or promote Graham's Samaritan's Purse "Operation Christmas Child." The program, which collects and sends millions of shoeboxes full of gifts to children in foreign countries, is promoted in base newspapers and on official military websites, including the website of Shaw Air Force Base, where, recently, Hugh Wilson, the Young Adult Ministry coordinator at the base's Palmetto Chapel, said in one of several articles about the program, "Every shoe box contains the Christmas story in the native language of the child who will receive it." According to Shaw AFB, suggested gifts to put in these boxes, many of which, clearly coming from America, end up in Muslim countries, include "Bible story and picture books" to evangelize the children and draw them away from the religion of their parents.
According to MRFF founder and president Mikey Weinstein, a honor graduate of the Air Force Academy, former JAG, and a White House counsel in the Reagan administration, the successful policies and leadership of Gen. Schwarzkopf proved that ensuring religious freedom for our troops can be accomplished without posing a national security threat:
"Sadly, great American military leaders like General Schwarzkopf, who have a brilliant perspective of the practical meaning of Constitutional religious liberty in the U.S. armed forces, have almost completely disappeared and gone the way of Uncas in 'The Last of the Mohicans.' They are, unfortunately, way too few and pitifully far between. General Schwarzkopf was aptly able to maintain the religious support needed by our troops while at the same time preventing a noxious national security threat that would embolden a fundamentalist Islamic opponent and maim and kill our own soldiers. On the extreme contrary, today's Department of Defense leadership is awash with a tsunami of fundamentalist Christian religious predators, literally 'hellbent' on using the draconian spectre of military command influence not only to unconstitutionally force helpless subordinate service men and women to accept their own biblical worldview, but to turn their subordinates into religious predators themselves. MRFF calls it the way it is; a horrifyingly despicable, fundamentalist Christian parachurch-military-industrial proselytizing complex. Forget Joe Dimaggio. Where have you gone Norman Schwarzkopf?"