by Jon Soltz
When I signed up to serve in the United States Army, I did so because I wanted to serve my country. I wanted to - if called - put my life on the line to defend her, and all she stands for. We who served take an oath to defend this nation and its Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic. As a Jew, one of the most important principles to me in our Constitution is religious freedom. Steeped in the history of colonization of America by those who were persecuted for their worship, tolerance of all religions and not putting one ahead of another, is a core principle I would die for.
Little did I know that while I was preparing to go to Iraq, the Bush administration was using Bible passages (both Old and New Testaments) on cover sheets of security reports, emblazoned on top of pictures of our armed forces. The implication was clear - this was a religious war, and our troops were fighting for the God of the Bible.
GQ has a bunch of these cover sheets, hand delivered by Donald Rumsfeld to the White House.
Again and again, security updates were adorned with bible passages. "Open the gates that the righteous nation may enter, the nation that keeps faith (Isaiah 26:2)." "Behold, the eye of the LORD is on those who fear Him, On those who hope for His loving kindness, To Deliver their soul from death. (Psalm 33:16-19)."
"Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. (Ephesians 6:13)."
Again and again, no one at the White House seemed to object and demand the practice end, as the reports with biblical quotes kept coming and coming.
We know that the Bush administration launched the war based on flimsy and false intelligence, and used torture to try to falsely link Iraq to 9/11. But, what we now know is that in the opening days of the war in Iraq, even the flimsy intelligence took a backseat to the idea that this was a Biblical fight between the forces of good (those who worship the God of the Old and New Testaments) against those who worship the God that is chronicled in the Koran.
It doesn't just offend me as a Jew that I was apparently fighting for the New Testament in the eyes of the Bush Administration. And it doesn't just offend me as an American that they thought it proper to engage our troops in what they obviously saw as a religious crusade.
As someone who still has friends over in Iraq and Afghanistan, it boils my blood to think that insurgents and terrorists now have something else to show around as "proof" that America is "fighting a war on Islam." Rumsfeld and those at the Pentagon (as well as the White House) had to know that there was a possibility that these would come out, and only exacerbate the religious and cultural misunderstandings about the United States in the region. And yet, they didn't care.
This kind of message from the top trickled down, allowing some troops to feel comfortable in presenting themselves as Holy Warriors, and expressing that in areas where that kind of message hurts more than helps. Earlier this month, it was revealed that some troops were handing out Bibles in Afghanistan, written in Pashto and Dari. A chaplain told some troops that their job was to "hunt people for Jesus."
When Colin Powell endorsed Barack Obama for the Presidency, he made a point of raising the photo of the grieving mother of Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan at his grave at Arlington Cemetery. Khan - a Muslim - died for this country, in Iraq. He didn't die for the Bible. He wasn't even fighting for the Bible. He wasn't "hunting people for Jesus." If anything, brave men and women like Khan should serve as examples to the Muslim world that we don't fight religious wars.
Yet, now the long arm of the Bush administration has reached from the past into the present, again. We need to investigate how widespread this notion that we were in a religious war spread, and how far it trickled down. And, most of all, the President and Secretary of Defense must make clear to our forces that it is a false notion, and any actions based on it must stop now.
Jon Soltz, Co-Founder and Chair of VoteVets.org, is a leader of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans community and is originally from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. From May to September 2003, Soltz served as a Captain during Operation Iraqi Freedom, deploying logistics convoys with the 1st Armored Division. During 2005, Soltz was mobilized for 365 days at Fort Dix New Jersey, training soldiers for combat in Afghanistan and Iraq. He also served his country with distinction in the Kosovo Campaign as a Tank Platoon Leader between June and December 2000. Soltz is a graduate of Washington & Jefferson College with dual degree in Political Science and History. He has completed graduate work at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public and International Affairs.