As I attempt to address the issue of Christian Soldiering, it seems clear to me that the term is imbued with a derogatory connotation which prejudices any attempt to rationally ex-amine the profession of arms. I arrived at this admittedly Holmesian conclusion (remember the dog who didn’t bark) after a recent review of both contemporary and historical literature which contains a remarkable lack of reference to non-Christian soldiering. The absence of a series of learned dialogues whose center thrust dealt with the moral dilemma of Judaic soldiering, or Muslim soldiering, or even atheistic soldiering, leads to the conclusion that there is something unique in the concept of Christian soldiering which sets it apart from all others. This uniqueness appears to be based upon the apparent tension between the practice of Christianity and the profession of arms. I submit that this tension is the result of a perception on the part of those who fail to see the function of societal security as a worthwhile part of overall social welfare, and who therefore conclude that any participation in, or expenditure for, defense is in opposition to the practice of Christianity in its purest form.
As one who was proudly a member of the profession of arms for a quarter of a century, and was able throughout that period to remain both a good Christian and a good Roman Catholic, I would like to suggest that the term Christian soldiering reflects a true and beneficial symbiotic relationship rather than an antipathetic symbiosis. The Man from Nazareth provided, for the first time in history, the hope for peace on earth. The practical translation of this ideal has, since its articulation, been thwarted by the fallibility of humanity. It is in the pursuit of this ideal that the Christian soldier is called upon to act as a facilitating agent, insuring that the environment required for the promulgation and growth of this ideal are allowed to flourish untrammeled. There is no question that the force of arms cannot impose an ideal, but it is also true that the very strength of those arms can insure that the ideal is allowed to exist in that other a vacuum.
The solider, committed not only to his God, but to the preservation of a way of life which is working to solve its imperfections, is concretely responding to the challenge of making God’s promise reality. In the United States, the daily endeavors and sacrifices of the thousands of Christian men and women in the armed forces insure that our nation continues on a course towards a goal to establish maximum human welfare, individual dignity, universal justice and peaceful existence with the rest of humanity. Their very service is a concrete recognition that, due to man’s fallibility, the practice of the Christian ethic cannot exist separately from a political environment which permits its existence.
The recent American Catholic bishops’ pastoral letter “The Challenge of Peace” presents an interesting obfuscation of the global political reality by their arbitrary equating of the superpowers. It is hard to see how they have not misappropriated the essential elements of Christianity in applying those elements to Marxist Communism. I mention this because it is a key issue in the daily life of the Christian soldier today. By blurring the unique requirements essential to Christianity in order to make a case for “global systems of governance” the bishops appear to be willing to ignore not only the course of history, but also to abandon those who have allowed Christianity to flourish without restraint. To-day’s Christian soldier is very well informed of the danger that faces the world he is pledged to keep free and can only view the bishops’ approach as both irresponsible and incredibly naive. The life and death of Christ offer no such in-consistencies and provide support and comfort to the Christian soldier who, for the good of his fellow man, is prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice.
The concept of Christianity is one of universality, yet it is difficult to understand how, in today’s world, it can be separated from the political environment which allows it to flourish. As one who has been a soldier, in peace and in combat, and believes that the system I support was consistent with the broad goals found in the Christian ethic, I have often wondered how one could be a Christian soldier and still support a regime planning the demise of Christianity. The dearth of Communist bloc pastoral letters is, in itself, perhaps eloquent testimony to the value of Christian soldiering apparently overlooked by the American bishops.
In summary, while there may appear to be a tension between the concepts of Christianity and Soldiering, I submit that they are mutually supportive and, in both of their purest forms, have the achievement and maintenance of peace as their raison d’etre. It will be the Christian soldiers who lead the way in beating their swords into plowshares when humanity will allow that to happen. Until that day, it will be the Christian soldier who will preserve the forum in which Christ’s teaching will be heard.