Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Bringing God to Men

Bringing God to Men: American Military Chaplains and the Vietnam War

Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 312
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Bringing God to Men
    Book Description:

    During the second half of the twentieth century, the American military chaplaincy underwent a profound transformation. Broad-based and ecumenical in the World War II era, the chaplaincy emerged from the Vietnam War as generally conservative and evangelical. Before and after the Vietnam War, the chaplaincy tended to mirror broader social, political, military, and religious trends. During the Vietnam War, however, chaplains' experiences and interpretations of war placed them on the margins of both military and religious cultures. Because chaplains lived and worked amid many communities--religious and secular, military and civilian, denominational and ecumenical--they often found themselves mediating heated struggles over the conflict, on the home front as well as on the front lines.In this benchmark study, Jacqueline Whitt foregrounds the voices of chaplains themselves to explore how those serving in Vietnam acted as vital links between diverse communities, working personally and publicly to reconcile apparent tensions between their various constituencies. Whitt also offers a unique perspective on the realities of religious practice in the war's foxholes and firebases, as chaplains ministered with a focus on soldiers' shared experiences rather than traditional theologies.

    eISBN: 978-1-4696-1452-6
    Subjects: History, Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xiv)
    (pp. 1-18)

    God and country. Peace and war. Civilian and military. Sacred and secular. American and foreign national. Officer and enlisted. At every turn, American military chaplains inhabit these liminal spaces at the intersections of religion and war. First, they occupy a space somewhere between military and civilian life: they are full-fledged members of the military, but they are also responsible to their various religious communities. Second, they often mediate between the more clearly defined categories of officers and enlisted personnel, an intermediary position symbolized by their title of “Chaplain” rather than their rank. Third, they fall somewhere between their own religious...

  5. CHAPTER ONE Consensus and Civil Religion
    (pp. 19-42)

    By most measures, the decade following World War II was a period of renewed religious commitment. According to polls, church membership and attendance rose, as did financial support of religious institutions, and charismatic evangelical leaders left their mark on a mass audience using advances in media and technology to increase their reach. The religious atmosphere that emerged was simultaneously theistic and civic. It owed much of its character to mainline Protestantism with a smattering of other beliefs mixed in. In the civic realm, it encouraged loyalty to the nation, in some cases substituting the ideals of patriotism and nationalism for...

  6. CHAPTER TWO Duty and Relationships
    (pp. 43-75)

    Chaplains’ duties in Vietnam included a wide variety of pastoral and administrative tasks. In addition to conducting public worship services, carrying out sacramental rites, counseling troops on moral and personal matters, and advising commanders on morale and morality, some chaplains were also responsible for tasks more suited to stateside service, for example giving character guidance lectures and maintaining a religious education program. In addition to these prescribed duties, chaplains also assisted in civic action programs, worked with Vietnamese religious congregations and leaders, and coordinated delivery of holiday gifts and packages to troops and to Vietnamese civilians.

    The composition of the...

  7. CHAPTER THREE Conflict and Identity
    (pp. 76-108)

    As he rode with the convoy back to the base after a civic action mission to provide humanitarian assistance to a South Vietnamese village in June 1967, chaplain Paul Mitchell, who was scheduled to return to the United States the following day, reflected on his time in Vietnam. He had conducted three general Protestant services that morning, which was typical of his routine during his year in Vietnam, where he “had traveled many miles by land and air, led men in many worship services, visited, prayed, and counseled with them.” Through this priestly ministry of presence, counseling, and conducting worship...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR Liturgy and Interpretation
    (pp. 109-131)

    Somewhere in Vietnam, in a bomb crater filled with water, Joseph Dulany baptized soldiers, and in those moments, remnants of death and destruction became founts for the symbolic waters of life. On another military base, James Johnson grieved as he held the lifeless body of a friend who was killed on a mission Johnson would have been on had he not stayed behind to baptize another soldier, and was left pondering the significance of trading a new spiritual birth for a death. Later, Johnson recorded in great detail the mutilation of a Viet Cong corpse by American servicemen with C-ration...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE Discourse and Debate
    (pp. 132-164)

    Chaplains’ dual status as clergy and officers often situated them on the margins of two communities in which they were ostensibly full members. This simultaneous position as insider and outsider thrust chaplains into public discourse on the Vietnam War as both symbols and spokesmen in a conversation about a war that challenged American religious, cultural, moral, and military ideals. The military chaplaincy offered a safe topic for discussion because it was connected to military and civilian, religious and secular worlds, but not central to any of them. While chaplains’ participation in the war demonstrated many ways in which tension between...

  10. CHAPTER SIX Reflection and Reconciliation
    (pp. 165-195)

    Though chaplain David Knight went to Vietnam with romantic visions of war, wishing for a “baptism by fire,” he returned with a more sober view of it: “I saw the horror, the brutality, and the sinfulness of a nation raped by [war]. I witnessed war as the ultimate breakdown of human morality.” Nevertheless, Knight concluded that his wartime experiences allowed him to return “home with a greater understanding of the Lord than ever before. . . . I discovered that, regardless of man’s sin and rebellion, we are not at the mercy of an impersonal God. We are not subject...

  11. CHAPTER SEVEN Dissent and Mission
    (pp. 196-221)

    “To hell with Jehovah.” One line in one song included in the Armed Forces Hymnal sparked the controversy. In 1974, a tense congressional election year, the inclusion of Sydney Carter’s song “It Was on a Friday Morning” provoked accusations of blasphemy not only from religious groups but also from American politicians and policy-makers, including Senator Strom Thurmond and Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger. The incident was a flash in the pan of the larger “culture wars” that increasingly engulfed the United States, but it indicated a growing divide between the ecumenical ideals of the traditional chaplaincy and the increasingly sectarian...

    (pp. 222-232)

    In 2003, former chaplain and Vietnam War Medal of Honor recipient Charles Liteky, formerly known as Angelo, again found himself opposed to an American war. He addressed an open letter to American soldiers in Iraq on 7 May of that year. His letter proclaimed that he had renounced his Medal of Honor because “what the U.S. was supporting in El Salvador and Nicaragua, namely the savagery and domination of the poor, reminded me of what I was a part of in Vietnam 15 years earlier.” He declared the war against Iraq unjust and unlawful, but he also conceded, “I’m sure...

  13. NOTES
    (pp. 233-266)
    (pp. 267-286)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 287-298)