Unlimited Liability, Suffering, and Meaning
Unlike civilians who pursue potentially dangerous jobs in the service of society, 'soldiers go to their work with the deliberate intention of destroying lives and property' (English 2004, 33). The chapter on Military Culture and Ethics in the Report of the Somalia Commission of Inquiry states: 'The concept of unlimited liability in defence of national interests distinguishes members of the military profession from other professions. Furthermore, the military allows for the lawful killing of others in the performance of duty. Moreover, the responsibility of military leadership permits the sacrifice of soldiers' lives in order to achieve military objectives. The stark and brutal reality of these differences from normal society has traditionally been a distinguishing feature of military life, contributing to a sense of separateness - even superiority - in relation to the civilian population' (Commission of Inquiry into the Deployment of Canadian Forces to Somalia 1997).
One senior military commander emphatically described the way in which unlimited liability influences religious thinking among personnel: 'Soldiers take part in a profession that... calls for [them] to commit an act [killing] . . . that in any other circumstance would be illegal! Both killing and being killed are central to the aspect of unlimited liability that goes with soldiering - soldiers recognize this. The spiritual context of a soldier's thinking comes from the full realization that he's going against what I consider to be a fundamental element of human nature. The profession of the soldier, in that sense, goes against everything that society and religion teach with regards to valuing human life. Yet it can be understood as a need for maintaining order in human society and even preserving human life!' He continued, 'So, in a soldier's mind, he's experiencing the limits of both societies and there is an enormous amount of inner thinking that is dedicated to that - even in the most macho guys and girls. It's an entirely different plane from the civilian world and from other professions. It's a whole different framework.'
A young infantryman reiterated this point of view, saying, 'While most people aren't very religious, you can't separate religion from the military because, when you have some young guy signing up to go to Afghanistan and he's filling out his will, you can't tell me he's not thinking about life and death and what's going to happen to him spiritually.' One senior female officer explained, 'People want to go overseas and fire machine guns. It's not a "normal" world. You might see 15-20% where they enter and end up in "safe roles" but that's not the norm. Military personnel are risk takers.'
A chaplain serving with an infantry regiment composed mostly of 20-something young men explained that the personnel he serves are 'not pious or moral in the sense that civilian church people are stereotyped as being. But they do have a sense of mortality that most civilians don't have. They handle dangerous equipment and they're trained to kill people - even though they don't talk about it in those terms - they're taught in terms of "targets" but that's what it is. You can't handle some of that big firepower equipment without thinking about and knowing that it will kill people.' He continued, 'I get some funny questions sometimes. One young guy came up to me and said, "I don't believe in a specific god but I believe there is a creator. If I died, what kind of prayers would you say for me?" I think what he was asking was, "How do you, with your clearly defined religious perspective, relate to me with my fuzzy theology?" So they're not religious in that sense but they are willing to talk about prayer, the soul, the creator. They have that postmodern spirituality without a home.'
A Francophone counsellor in a trauma centre said, 'When they are talking about their experiences on a mission... when they are talking about people who were killed and why . . . to me, these are spiritual questions. When I'm counselling people, hearing about their values and existential questions helps me understand their experience. They are mainly asking questions about life and death and their mission and they are very quick to name God. They [often] felt so helpless because they were in a defensive position but they were not allowed to intervene. [They can find] no meaning in that so they ask, "Where is God?"' Civilians who do not work in an environment of heightened mortal danger may not be as attuned to the types of spiritual and existential questions military personnel ask.
Canadian military missions in the twenty-first century frequently take the form of operations other than war that we examined in chapter 2. Canadian Disaster Assistance Recovery Teams (DART) offer primary medical care and clean water after tsunamis, earthquakes, landslides, and floods (DND 2005c). Civil-military cooperation, or 'CIMIC' efforts, such as the Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) that go in ahead of troops to 'win the hearts and minds' of locals, work with civilian governments, members of non-governmental organizations, and other non-military personnel (Neufeld 2008). Each of these scenarios requires personnel to leave home for an extended period and adapt to harsh conditions. Sometimes these missions are positive experiences that bring relief to suffering populations, such as the DART mission to Sri Lanka following the 2004 tsunami. Other times they are devastating experiences, such as the 1994 UN mission to Rwanda, that leave people emotionally, spiritually, and psychologically scarred. A chaplain who had served on a security mission to Asia described the environment as 'very difficult' because 'there was a lot of rain, a lot of mosquitoes, a lot of spiders and... dangerous snakes. We were sleeping on the ground . . . We would wake up in water up to our knees. You could only take your wet blanket and cover yourself. It was the same cycle every night for six months.' He continued, shaking his head, 'There were a lot of physical ailments, malaria, fever, nausea, vomiting, that [kind of] stuff. As a chaplain part of my job was to keep them focused on the mission but they did not feel the [purpose of the] mission had been made clear in the first place. I had to try to help them to change their attitude because you don't have any control once you're there in the bush in the middle of nowhere. You have no control of that but you have control of your attitude. So you can have an attitude that will lead to depression and nervous breakdown or an attitude that will keep you happy.' This example is an experience common to all personnel who are deployed to harsh environments. On these missions members are obligated to subjugate their human needs and experiences and act as functionaries for military objectives regardless of the personal toll.
Along with the hardship they must endure, some missions confront members with concerns they would not otherwise have to face. A Francophone soldier described arriving in Afghanistan wearing full combat gear and thinking, '"What kind of a mess are we in?" We weren't feeling too cocky just then... you can't be the same after that. You just can't. At the same time, you are using all kind of techniques to protect yourself - you would cry every minute if you really took the time to think about what you're going through. It's awful to think about death, it's unbelievable.'
A captain serving with an infantry unit in Kandahar gave this scenario: 'The majority of us came to that theatre with the experience of . . . the former Yugoslavia with the mindset we had in that theatre - where you could go out among the civilians, you could go for a pop, or a slice of pizza. But here! . . . There's no way any soldier's going to be able to do any of that stuff here without putting himself at great risk . . . There was a lot of harassment outside the camp. We experienced a lot of suicide bombings, a lot of IEDs [improvised explosive devices] . . . That kind of thing makes people pretty jumpy . . . [our team experienced] rocket packs going right through the back seats of the LAVs [light armoured vehicles], rollovers, poor road conditions, suicide bombers - you know, [the Afghanis] would fire into engine blocks of cars or support vehicles, they would not yield or back away from our vehicles . . . You had to force them to give way. All of this was pretty new for Canada - and that was a PRT [Provincial Reconstruction Team]! They're supposed to be, you know, the "soft and friendly" group going in and building relationships with the locals so the mission can go forward smoothly but it's really not like that.'
A sergeant described losing a member of his team at the end of his tour in Afghanistan. He said, 'All the work was done and the guys were just weeks from going home. They'd done their job, they'd completed their mission and then this rollover happens and one of their buddies is dead - it was really hard to take. That was really very difficult.' An army major explained, 'The experience of being on a mission is unique; we're all exposing our lives there. Today we're all together but maybe tomorrow one of us won't be there. When you go into a theatre of operations where you are confronted with death, you need to make some kind of sense of your life.' He explained that in an environment where you see death and dying every day, questions about the purpose and nature of life feel commonplace. In a context where rockets are hitting the camp every night, it doesn't seem so strange to discuss the 'big issues' of human existence.
While military personnel, who are well trained and prepared for the environments into which they are posted, might be able to deal with the stresses of a single tour of duty, Canada's relatively small total force size means that the bigger concern for continuing operational effectiveness is accumulated stress from multiple deployments (Canadian Forces Health Services 2004, 2008). As noted in the previous chapter, seeking help for stress and mental health concerns carries a significant stigma within military culture, where toughness and resilience are prized qualities (DND 2002b, 2003f; Marin 2004; Mosse 2000). Regardless of their military training, personal toughness, and emotional resilience, however, military duties and repeated deployments to difficult environments virtually guarantee that CF members will experience anxiety, hardship, or trauma at some point during their military careers. As one commander explained, mental health problems resulting from military duties are simply 'another type of injury - not a sickness or a weak frame of mind - it's an outright injury. Some will lose an arm and some will have their grey cells screwed up! We should not be singling out that injury as unusual or weak or cowardly - it's an honourable injury received from doing an honourable job.' While this may be true, the reality of the stigma associated with mental disorders is a serious barrier affecting the treatment of CF personnel. In fact, between 2002 and 2007 reported instances of mental health problems have tripled and 'the number of clients with a PTSD condition has more than tripled, increasing from 1,802 to 6,504 as of March 31, 2007' (CBC News 2008) and are likely to continue to rise (CBC News 2009, 2010; DND 2002b, 2003f). Other studies show that military personnel are twice as likely to suffer from depression and anxiety as the civilian population, but, despite the higher prevalence, only one person in ten (half the number of civilians) will seek help (Statistics Canada 2002).
A number of people who served on missions identified the hardship and uncertainty of their experiences as a motivation for seeking spiritual guidance and support. A sailor remarked, 'We lost someone at sea. He fell overboard and was lost. He had been in the Gulf with us. When you work on a ship, being lost at sea is something you think about. You think, "Is this going to happen to me? I'd be so cold and so afraid and eventually I'd drown" - it's frightening. The chaplain knew we were feeling this way and he talked to me about it, and he talked to others and he said that at a time like that you can lean on religion if you want and he helped us.' A different sailor who described himself as having no religion was in the Persian Gulf during the Gulf War. He told me that the chaplain was able to comfort him and fellow sailors when they faced up to the danger of the mission. He said, 'In the Gulf [War] they gave out these nuclear attack suits and that got to me. I thought, "Holy shit, we could really die here." Obviously they gave them out because they believed there was a real risk of that kind of threat so I was frightened and I was able to talk to [the padre] about that and he helped me. Mostly he gave me a sense of not being alone, that others were afraid too and that we were all there together. That helped a lot. It's not that the mission was even that tough; it's just that when you're away from home for a long time it's really hard. Your whole life is disrupted and it's hard.'
Personnel on military missions face the fear of death, the hardship and danger of their duties, the trauma of seeing others suffering, and situations that challenge their values. In these situations, many people will turn to religious resources for comfort and consolation as well as direction and advice on finding meaning and purpose in their roles. A chaplain explained, 'Soldiers are not typically emotionally needy people. They're tough and they know how to suck it up and they have to be fairly motivated and disciplined to do well here so they tend to have fairly good coping skills. They're not unemotional people; their toughness makes them resilient but it also inclines them to bottle things up and that can lead to problems. Most often they need contextual information to help them process things - they need to know these are normal feelings and that someone cares enough to listen to them.'
A young female chaplain related this story of a non-religious soldier who sought her help to deal with atrocities he had witnessed during his duties: 'He had been in Bosnia and he had seen some pretty bad stuff. Then when we were in Afghanistan he saw something that brought it all back to him and he couldn't get it out of his head. It had something to do with a dead child, and what he had seen in Bosnia, and the fact that he had kids at home about the same age. He was a really big, tough guy and he was just sitting with me weeping. He came to my office one day and he said, "Padre, I feel I can talk to you," and he sat down and started telling me about all the horrors he had seen in Bosnia and how he felt so powerless - and still felt powerless even now - in the way he thought about it and expressed his anger and emotions. This was stuff he couldn't tell anyone without risking his job and career opportunities.'
A chaplain posted with Francophone troops in Haiti described a scenario where the soldiers struggled to find meaning and purpose in their difficult and unpleasant duties: 'The engineers were having nightmares over one of the tasks we had. They were burying several hundred corpses every six or seven weeks. During one of my meetings with the engineers someone made the comment that "Not even a prayer is offered." So, we organized a funeral service and we went over to the site - it's called the Valley of the Bones - where our engineers would dig deep into the ground and bury the bodies. With the small funeral service, we gave meaning to the situation. We explained that what we were doing was a service to the community that didn't have the money to bury their own dead. Each of those bodies was somebody's baby, their mothers, grandmothers, and grandfathers - and we did it with as much dignity as possible. And that made sense to us as Canadians in something that didn't make sense.'
In both these examples, although personnel were not necessarily religious themselves, they turned to the chaplain to help them find meaning in their experiences and comfort for their suffering.
Leaders may experience the alienation, hardship, and distress of military duties more acutely than their subordinates. Those in command experience what one lieutenant colonel referred to as the 'loneliness of leadership' and come to the chaplains as a place to talk about their decisions and concerns with a mission. As one chaplain explained, 'You see, we train our officers to be more self-sufficient and to find their own answers - and we should do that since they're in leadership roles - but that usually means that they come with the bigger problems.' While they have similar experiences to the personnel who rank beneath them, they bear the added burden of responsibility both for the safety of their people and local civilians, and also for the success of a mission. One senior officer said, 'I know that some of the people that were with me [during a particularly difficult mission] say, "Listen, we did all we could and on top of that, we saved a bunch of them!" and they find comfort in that. That's ok for them. For a commander, it's different. Those in leadership are overcome with guilt at being left alive. Sure, there's fear of battle, fear of death but there are also complications in these missions in terms of the use of force or the non-use of force, crimes against humanity, barbarianism, horror, etc.'
A captain described the extreme stress he had experienced during his last mission and explained how, just as he was preparing to leave, he had an almost prescient sense of doom for one young soldier in his unit. He said, 'I was watching him standing there in his role - he was really keen and eager - I had a soft spot for this kid - a real nice kid. He was so proud to be there doing his job. But I'm standing there watching him, with his back to the event, watching the crowd and seeing his face ...' His voice broke and he started to weep as he explained how he had been overcome by a strong sense that that young man was going to die during the mission. Several weeks after his return to Canada and while still on leave, he saw the news announcement that the earnest young soldier he had admired so much had been killed in operations. With tears streaming down his face he said, 'That was tough. Because, relationally, you're connected. I would have been able to handle it better if I'd been there but when you're home and you're on your own and you know these guys. By God that was hard!'
Another platoon commander said, 'One day a suicide bomber detonated his vehicle right beside mine - our vehicle was built to withstand a blast but they're not foolproof. The vehicle was heavily damaged but we had no casualties. We had to secure the area and then get transportation to another base and when we arrived the media was waiting and there were quick calls home to reassure everyone - but they were made at an unusual time so that immediately put everyone on high alert at home. It was pretty crazy and they were all worried.' He continued, 'I found that during those high-stress times I was just really focused on the job - getting the task done and taking care of my subordinates. I'm in a leadership role so I feel I really have to be focused for the sake of my people. But afterwards when you think about what happened . . . yeah, then it really hits you. At the time, you just fall into your training and you react and deal with the situation. Later you have time to think it through a little more.'
Those in authority have the added pressure of being in a position to expose others to grave danger. This role can heighten the sense of stress and anxiety felt by those in a position to protect civilians or command other members.
Despite their lack of interest in formal religions while at home, some people find that during operations the chapel can become a sanctuary of comfort, consolation, and peace. One Roman Catholic priest who had served in the Balkans explained, 'I held weekly services and was in charge of three different camps that were spread out geographically. I would go to them by truck. People would come pretty frequently to the chapel because it was the one place you could just be there, just sit there, and be still and quiet. Quite a few came.' Another padre described a weekly Bible study he had conducted while on a mission: 'I was seeing 50 to 60 people who came faithfully [each week]. I saw a lot of people becoming Christians who were not believers before.' He added that more people attend chapel during a mission both because of 'the context, and they don't have as many other distractions either!' He continued, 'There are other kinds of activities like a game room where we have a pool table and all kinds of other things to do, but life is more than just having fun and the chapel becomes important for people. They have the time to [attend chapel] there.' Another who had served in a combat mission in Afghanistan said, 'We'd see people stopping in [to the chapel] before going out on a mission for a spiritual check-up, some prayer time, some solitude. Most definitely we'd see people attending chapel that don't go to church at home. Troops definitely take advantage of the spiritual resources on a mission - and the chaplain. Some of those people had a religious leaning at home, but not all of them.' A navy chaplain said, 'I ran a chapel on board ship except when we were in port - there was too much competition then because there were bars!' He laughed. 'But we had a core group of about 15 or 20 people from the 240 on board who would come regularly. That wasn't bad. But even those who didn't come, people were glad to know that worship was happening and that we were praying and having worship. We became like an icon for everyone else - it made people feel better knowing that we were there!' The evidence of increased interest in places of 'sanctuary' noted by these chaplains was not a phenomenon exclusive to Christian chapels or those who are religious.
Other than the Christian chapels, a number of personnel cited an interest in having religiously neutral 'sacred spaces' available to them, particularly on ships and during missions. One sailor who described herself as 'not religious' commented that, while Sunday services were regularly held at sea, what she and other sailors would really like is a neutral sacred space on the ship. She said, 'There's no chapel [on board]. When we're at sea a Sunday service is held in one of the messes. They have services with voluntary attendance. A lot of people go - you can even get a replacement if you're on watch so you can attend - but I have never attended one of these services. It would be wonderful to have
[a sacred space] and I know people would use it - definitely... especially if it was a neutral place. It is very hard to be alone on a ship and people would go there just for the silence and to be alone. Even when you're sleeping you've got 50 people to a room and bunks with a curtain across that you can't even sit fully upright in! There are always some people up and some people sleeping and there's nowhere to go unless you maybe head up to the smoking area outside on the upper deck! People would definitely go to a sacred space room. I know they would.'
An army commander said, 'We need ecumenical chapels where people can just come and sit in peace. We're going to become more multiethnic and multi-religious so it's illogical to keep building one Roman Catholic chapel here and a Protestant chapel there and a Jewish one and so on.'
Despite the lack of a physical space, some non-religious personnel are able to create private sanctuaries for themselves. An infantryman with no religious inclinations explained that he found consolation and relaxation possible through 'downtime.' He said, 'I had my own room but the walls are paper thin, you're never really alone or away from everything. But I'd put on the head phones and listen to some music and zone out - make people disappear, make camp disappear. There was a chapel there and the padres were available, but I never really felt the need. Hanging out with the guys in my unit was really good too - we'd talk about what was going on and support each other and that community really helped us out.' One person, describing a personal system for dealing with stress and hardship, said, 'I have a remembrance that I think of whenever I am stressed or lonely or upset. It's of a place where I have never felt better in my whole life. It was in the Arctic in July. I had climbed a small mountain - about 3500 feet - and it was snowing at the summit. When I looked out over the valley below me there was this full rainbow beneath me. I often reflect on that and I can get there whenever I need to in my own head.' The reliance on 'sanctuary,' whether physical or ethereal, as a place to 'get away' from one's troubles, separate oneself from the demands of the modern world, or simply find peace and quiet, is yet another indication of the continuing relevance of religion, albeit in a new and highly subjective form, for members of late modern society.
Beyond sacred spaces and spiritual practices, some personnel find that religious artefacts, such as Bibles and religious medals, become more meaningful for them during military operations. There is considerable evidence of people in civilian society responding to trauma and crises in similar ways, such as after the attacks of 11 September 20017 and when secular engineering students at l'Ecole Polytechnique in Montreal in 1989 responded to the deaths of 14 of their female peers by organizing a candle-lit vigil at the Roman Catholic shrine l'Oratoire St-Joseph (Milot 1991).8 Milot refers to these surprising and even 'superstitious' religious responses to tragic circumstances as a 'life insurance' approach to faith. David Seljak argues that 'Like life insurance, faith may provide a certain peace of mind in daily life but one never really thinks about it - until tragedy strikes' (1997, 6). Lemieux and Montminy have argued that this approach to religion is not uncommon among Catholics from Quebec (2000).
Many personnel in the CF display this tendency too. When describing the religious responses during a tour of duty, one Roman Catholic priest posted with a French Canadian unit said, 'There was typically a very low turnout at Mass but there seemed to be a high level of spirituality. I would make religious articles available - crosses, medals, Bibles - and they would disappear as soon as I put them out. For some people going on a tour really heightens their spirituality and they pray more and become more religiously minded. When you're facing questions of your own mortality it becomes natural to have questions about life after death and so on. It's not necessarily fear-related; it can come from a healthy sense of your own mortality. Although most people didn't attend services - that's not surprising because it reflects the situation in society and in Quebec [the home province of the personnel he was serving] - there was a real connection with physical symbols of religion.' I asked why the interest in these articles was higher during a tour and he said, 'Whether they thought these could protect or connect them with God ... ?' He shrugged. 'But people talked about praying more and reading their Bibles.'
An Anglican priest said, 'For some people it's superstitious . . . they believe the medal can protect them. For other people, they believe in the power behind the medal - the divine power that it represents.' Another chaplain said, 'I leave out devotionals and I offer them a little cross they can hang on their dog tags.' He noted that, while some people take these, others say, '"No thanks, it's not my thing" and that is ok.' A navy chaplain remarked, 'I was surprised when we went out to sea - we got about 100 Bibles from the Canadian Bible Society and I made them available to people and they were just gone! People came and took them.' Then, laughing, she added, 'But then, maybe they were just looking for something to read!' What these chaplains note about the interest of personnel in religious symbols is reiterated by members who rely on these resources.
Several soldiers who had recently served in Afghanistan commented on the psychological comfort they took from wearing a religious medal of saints believed to offer protection to travellers (St Christopher) and soldiers (St Michael). When I asked personnel about these articles they described them as important symbols of their spirituality, particularly during operations. Some understood them in terms of 'additional protection,' such as you might expect from a magical talisman, while others understood them as a marker of their personal faith (e.g., Anglicans and Roman Catholics). One field sergeant told me, 'Before I left, my mother gave me a little St Christopher medallion. So I put it on my dog tags and I always had it with me for the entire time I was there. Actually, I ended up with a whole bunch of these medallions. Someone else gave me another St Christopher that I kept in my pocket. Then, one day after we had been through a number of incidents during one outing, the padre came up to our group - it had been a hairy day with one major incident after another - it all hit the news back home - and he said, "Oh, you guys are killing me!" and he started handing out these St Michael medallions. All the guys were crowding around him to get one. So I ended up with two of those in addition to my St Christopher medallions.' He chuckled and continued, 'I had one on my tags, one in my uniform, one in my gear, and one in my room!'
I asked if these people, whom he had described as 'not very religious,' were self-conscious about receiving the medallions and he remarked with some surprise, 'No! They were lining up to get them! I found that I kept checking to see if I still had it on me. Every once in a while or when something would happen I'd touch my dog tags and make sure it was still there.' He continued: 'We provided escorts for supplies. We were always on minimum four-hour standby. Our longest mission kept us out of our camp for about 36 hours. We'd been in theatre for 10 days. We had a suicide bomber, an ambush, a mortar attack, a land mine incident and one of our vehicles ended up in a sewage ditch. We were up for about 30 hours when we finally ended up in another secure camp. That was a pretty hairy day. We had a whole bunch of different guys from different backgrounds in that group. No one was openly religious - praying or talking about spirituality or anything like that - there were even a couple of atheists. I remember this one guy in our group; he never struck me as particularly religious, but he seemed pretty upset and he made this comment that he'd lost his medallion. He was trying to find the padre so he could get another but I told him that padre had shipped out. He seemed upset, agitated, even a little shaken by it because he couldn't get another. So, I told him he could have mine,' he chuckled, 'because I had about four anyway! But he was a subordinate and he was pretty upset and I felt like he needed that reassurance and I could see that he was visibly relieved when I gave it to him. His shoulders relaxed and he seemed more at ease.'
The reliance on religious symbols suggests that, even while many people accept these objects simply for their 'life insurance' quality or out of superstition, there is perhaps a grain of truth to the adage that 'there are no atheists in foxholes.'
Religious interest that is sparked during a mission is sometimes meaningful enough that it is retained even after personnel return home. This is not altogether surprising, given that human beings tend to carry their experiences with them through memory (Irwin-Zarecka 1994). Religious experience that has been helpful for dealing with trauma or hardship during a deployment might also have value for managing the memories of that experience once a member returns home (Benham Rennick 2006b). Irwin-Zarecka points to the spiritual practices of Vietnam veterans as a way for them to cope with their own experiences as well as a means of recognizing others' losses (1994, 8, 14, 47-8). Religious tendencies that stem from traumatic experiences also highlight the late modern tendency noted earlier in this chapter, by which individuals apply modern rationalism through a subjective interpretive lens to find a personally acceptable notion of 'the truth.'
One Francophone who had been on a very difficult humanitarian mission demonstrated this tendency when he explained that his formerly nominal beliefs were reshaped by the experiences of the mission: 'There was a point in my experience where I went from a place of horrible depression where I was going to be overrun and wiped out to a very nurtured position and I had a sense that a Greater Being was there with me - another Spirit, you know, a deity or something beyond this human level. Its presence there with me at that moment - that knowledge that I was not completely abandoned, because that's totally how I felt - was what was important. We were going to die. The fact that there was something else, bigger than us, gave me the ability to make the shift from despair to hope. But there is no doubt in my military mind that we're not just operating in a vacuum. When I came back from
[that mission] there was a real sense that we needed some reference points to help us make sense of what we had experienced. Whatever formal structures of religion I had - mostly Roman Catholic - before going were tested beyond all logic while I was there. But then, faith is not logical! So maybe that type of test is exactly what is needed if you are seeking a more definitive understanding of your spirituality! My faith was tested by the nature of the catastrophe and the impact of that. Everything that my religious understanding was built on helped me, or informed me and gave me a reference point for processing what was going on; however, not much of what I knew gave me any comfort!'
One young army sergeant said, 'I never really relied on religion much personally. I've always been a very rational, self-reliant kind of person. I worked my own issues out, sometimes with the help of my friends and family but generally in the absence of religion. But my faith has been reinvigorated because of my deployment. I'm now an active churchgoer - I go to church every Sunday!' He shook his head, smiling, and said, 'I'm still a little surprised at myself for that! It still seems a little strange to me! I find now that I'm going willingly and actively engaging my faith and seeking out understanding.' An Aboriginal explained to me, 'It's against Creator to kill people so when we go against Creator then we need healing. So we go to healing circles, spiritual powwows, that kind of thing, but it's a long process.' Another French Canadian recovering from PTSD said that, during his treatment in Quebec, he kept ending up in the Marie-Reine-du-Monde Cathedral, a large Roman Catholic church in downtown Montreal: 'I'd go there and sit in the back in the semi-darkness and listen to the music or watch the Mass - not participate in it - and absorb the solace that the building - that space - could provide. It was the atmosphere itself, the silence, the smells, that was very comforting.' In these examples, religious resources become a tool for rationalizing one's traumatic experiences and personal losses at the same time as they provide comfort and consolation for living with the memories one retains from the experience.
Religion is not always a source of comfort, however. In some instances people find that religious beliefs and values further confuse them as they try to comprehend the experiences of a mission. For example, a military psychotherapist working with personnel in a trauma hospital told me that among those who had served in Rwanda there was 'a lot of questioning about the absence of God because they saw so many peoples' dead bodies over there and they buried so many people. It's not normal. They cannot figure out how people can be so cruel - you don't see anything like this in Canada! They were not able to relate to what happened there. There was no meaning to it and they were not able to find some kind of meaning for their experience and what they saw. Romeo [Dallaire]'s way of referring to the devil is fairly common among people who served in Rwanda. When you see the eyes of evil...' his voice dropped to a whisper, 'you're looking at their eyes but you see no life! You see so much hate in their eyes, it's incredible.' He shook his head gently and said, 'It's an emptiness and coldness. People notice it and they talk about it all the time. They cannot forget it at all. It comes back to them in dreams - the look of the person. I remember one case where the client was dreaming every night and the main things he was seeing was the eyes.'
Another soldier explained to me that, during a recent mission, the religious authorities in the region were part of the problems occurring there: 'So, even as you are there debating your personal beliefs, the institution that gave these to you is part of the problem! Then you've got some real freaking out going on! It's also a bad situation when you're facing people whose religions teach them that using force and killing people is a positive part of their religion. Then you're not facing an enemy who's fighting for nationalism or even a medal - but because he wants to become a martyr and get closer to God! How are you supposed to understand that?! So your own spirituality is being tested all the time and then you're face to face with someone who's doing things you think are horrible because his religion tells him those things are good! This just exacerbates the situation and makes it even harder to unravel it and understand it.'
In scenarios like these, the cognitive dissonance of understanding religion to be one thing (good) and seeing it in the place of evil leaves people confused and disturbed rather than comforted and consoled.
Spiritual interests in the CF can be inspired by suffering and personal hardship, as well as by the difficulty of finding meaning in harsh and traumatic circumstances. Many people who are not religious and do not engage in religious activities on home soil find courage, consolation, and meaning through religious resources in the mission environment. Among these resources are the person of the chaplain, 'sacred spaces,' and religious objects such as Bibles and religious medals. Whether these resources are used as magical charms, much like a lucky rabbit foot or other talisman, or whether people believe in the 'power behind the symbol,' they turn to them in times of stress and fear as a source of comfort and consolation. Sometimes they even retain these interests after they leave the environment as a way to rationalize their experiences. At other times, however, the role religion plays in a conflict or a region can undermine its usefulness as a resource for understanding and interpreting traumatic experiences. In any case, the role religion plays in relation to military duties gives important insights into the ways in which late modern individuals use both objective and subjective means to shape and define their understanding of the world.