Home Religion Religion in the Ranks: Belief and Religious Experience in the Canadian Forces
Values and Ethics
The religious reflection that results from the unique stresses of military service is evident in the values military personnel embrace regarding self-sacrifice, honour, duty, and the greater good. Military personnel, regardless of religious identity, commit themselves to protecting and upholding Canadian values as they are described in the Canadian Forces document Duty with Honour: The Profession of Arms in Canada (DND 2003c). This manual claims that military values are based fully on Canadian values that 'are expressed first and foremost in founding legislation such as the Constitution Act of 1982 and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (the Charter) contained therein... Understanding this legal-political framework permits Canadians to express such values as the democratic ideal, the concept of peace, order and good government, and the rule of law' (28-9).
The influence of this legislation is evident in the Statement of Defence Ethics, which requires military members 'to respect the dignity of all people; to serve Canada before self and to obey and support lawful authority.' Moreover, according to the manual, 'Canadian values mandate members of the Canadian profession of arms to perform their tasks with humanity . . . While they must act resolutely, and sometimes with lethal force, the concept of humanity forbids any notion of a carte blanche or unbounded behaviour. Further, it demands consideration for non-combatants and items of cultural worth. Performing with humanity contributes to the honour earned by Canadian Forces members and helps make Canadians at home proud and supportive of their armed forces' (28-9).
Civil-military analysts identify the reciprocal influences of a military force and the society from which it stems (Ben-Eliezer 1998; Edmonds 1990). Canadian society maintains many Judeo-Christian values that secular Canadians simply identify as 'Canadian values.' The Canadian Forces has enshrined these values in their statements of military ethos and codes of conduct.10 However, while military socialization is important for teaching values, the values people bring with them to the military are far more significant for determining how fully they will embrace the military ethos (Bercuson 1996, 108-9).11 The nature of religion in late modernity as subject to individual interpretations of meaning, and the reality that many values stem from religious traditions, suggest that many CF members may not have a clear sense of their personal values (religious or otherwise). As a result, while they can commit themselves to upholding 'Canadian values,' they may not always be certain about what this entails and how to do so appropriately.
In their efforts to better understand and support the values they are required to uphold, military personnel sometimes turn to chaplains for direction and insight. One chaplain explained, 'The forces are supposed to look like Canada and act like Canada except that they're willing to give up their right to a safe environment. They're willing to put themselves in danger to preserve those values.' He said that even as personnel engage in roles that uphold these values, they are not always clear about what the values are. He continued, 'There are very few opportunities for young soldiers to ask questions and talk about things. The CF is very much about proficiencies but there are few opportunities to talk about the purpose behind missions and that type of thing. Soldiers should always [have the] opportunity to ask, "Am I doing the right thing?" I usually ask returning soldiers how they felt about the mission and, while they're not very articulate about it, they usually say it was good because "Those folks really need [help]." They also say things like, "Man, that's one screwed up place!" But they have a sense of the good in [their role].'
A navy chaplain said, 'They want to be Canadians first. They want to uphold Canadian values and there seems to be enormous reflection on how they're supporting those values.' He added that members 'depend on us to tell them when they're going astray. They're willing, as soldiers, to let others lead. They have a very high sense of honour and shame and they want to do their job well. They want to do a good job for a good cause but they're not always reflecting on the bigger picture. Chaplains need to clarify for soldiers and COs when the activities are no longer representing [Canadian] values. We need to clarify for them what they're doing and relay that information - especially if there's a disconnect between the goals of the mission and the behaviour that's occurring - up the chain.'
A Francophone chaplain said, 'People like to talk about their existential frustrations; it comes up when people don't have a sense of who they are and what they're doing and so forth. And these are spiritual questions because they are associated with values, morals, meaning, etc.'
On top of 'Canadian values,' many military members superimpose their own 'warrior's code.' Duty with Honour makes brief reference to this warrior code in the context of 'honour' that governs one's ability to act in a disciplined, restrained way that demonstrates group loyalty and respect for the laws of the land (DND 2003c, 32). One chaplain explained, 'In terms of spirituality, soldiers understand the Code of the Warrior, what Zen Buddhism calls Bushido. They connect strongly with the sense of honour and duty that belongs to the warrior - that's their religion. It's mostly unspoken but it's there.' Another chaplain working with an infantry regiment commented, 'The military is a strangely anachronistic setting where they'll still use words like "chivalry" without a smirk. There's a retained sense of the soldier as gentleman that goes right back to the Knights of the Round Table.' Among the young personnel, the image of the gallant knight changes somewhat; as one young tattooed and pierced member of an infantry unit with a reputation for being very tough explained, 'We might meet a guy who's an alcoholic and a chain smoker, who's divorced and is totally screwed up. But he's been in Afghanistan and on other missions and to us, that guy's a hero because he has given himself body and soul to the CF - to support the missions, to fight and protect - to uphold Canadian values. He is tougher and harder than other people. He's a survivor. That guy is a hero to us.'
Sometimes military ethos identifiable in the notion of being a 'warrior' supersedes the obligation to uphold Canadian values, and moral leadership is not always available. One example where Canadian Forces members' actions were discordant with Canadian values and where moral leadership was lacking occurred in 1991 when the First Canadian Airborne Regiment served on an observation and peacekeeping mission in Somalia. A number of improprieties and abuses occurred during this mission, including the murder of a Somali teenager and the refusal of members to cooperate with the inquiry (Commission of Inquiry into the Deployment of Canadian Forces to Somalia 1997). Following this tour of duty, the Canadian Airborne Regiment was disbanded and a full investigation occurred to discover the cause of the failure of the mission.12
That incident made it clear that military personnel need both moral leadership and encouragement to think and act in ways that accord with Canadian values, and since then, moral and ethical training has taken a more prominent place in pre-tour work-up training. Chaplains are now frequently relied upon to act as moral leaders who draw attention to the lapses between desired and actual values. The Chaplain Branch calls on padres to 'provide ethical advice and counsel... [and] deliver ethical training to units as required. The chaplain is called to exercise a prophetic ministry in challenging Reserve and Regular Force Units to exhibit the highest possible ethical standards in the conduct of peacekeeping and humanitarian operations as well as in theatres of war or regional conflict. The chaplain must be the moral conscience of the unit' (DND 2003b, 6.4).
One Francophone chaplain who had served in Afghanistan described the importance of having a moral advisor among military units: 'In the CF we anticipate a higher level of consciousness from most of our soldiers. If you just obey because you are afraid, there is a problem. A lot of our people are limited to peer pressure to conform - Somalia was an example of that - because you live and breathe with a small group that controls the whole game and puts a lot of pressure on you. It is very easy to give in to that. What is "right" and what is "wrong" is determined by the group; it shouldn't be like that.' A naval chaplain explained how chaplains are in a position to guide people in their moral decision-making: 'Chaplains can help to clarify situations for soldiers. So, when things are not going well, when there are problems happening, a chaplain can help the soldier see what is going on and offer them some perspective that can lead to good moral choices.' Another stated, 'My biggest job is to help people find their place in the organization and to flourish in their role and, most of all, help them keep away from the "dark side of the force."' He smiled. 'When individuals don't have a lot of power they can end up going over to the "dark side" without anyone noticing - it's easy for them to be coerced into "group think" because they think that's just how it is in the military. Somalia is the perfect example of that. Lots of little unchecked actions resulted first in individuals and then the whole group going over to the dark side.'
The notion of 'group think' refers to a concept introduced by Irving Janis (1972). Those who participate in 'group think' tend to value unity within the group above quality alternatives that may result in a more positive outcome. Janis argues that a number of 'fiascos' can be blamed on 'group think' (1982). I asked the chaplain how the situation in Somalia, a 'fiasco' in Canadian military history, might have been prevented, and he replied, 'People in authority, with power, should have spoken up about what they were seeing and hearing and noticing much earlier than they did. A lot of this system works very informally; if you can address the problems before the next decisions are made then you can resolve the problem. A chaplain in a case like that one might have the capacity to influence individuals away from these types of situations by clarifying for them the path they're taking. When you can help them see the route they're taking and how it's out of sync with the mission, then a lot of times the problems will correct themselves.' He continued, 'In real life the "bad guys" are not always so easy to identify. When you're in theatre, there can be a real cognitive dissonance between what you expected or what's supposed to be happening and what's really going on around you. The people you're supposed to protect might appear as bad as the "bad guys." So you start to lose perspective about right and wrong, good and bad. You need someone outside of that situation to give that perspective back and identify and clarify what's going on. Your spouse isn't there and your friends are all dealing with the same thing so it falls to the padre to help you work through the cognitive dissonance that is happening in the field.'
The cognitive dissonance described here often results from a clash of, or perceived absence of, values that causes a kind of moral anomie. The moral and ethical questions that military duties raise for people sometimes cause them to turn to religion because of this sense of moral anomie. The secularization of society that removes a religious or moral framework of understanding can also result in a sense of instability and un-rootedness known as anomie (Berger 1967; Durkheim 1965 ; Hervieu-Leger 2006). On some difficult missions military personnel experience a conflict between the Canadian values they are expected to uphold and those in evidence in their host environment. As a result, they experience uncertainty, discomfort, fear, and frustration (anomie) with the mission. Those in authority can sometimes address some of these concerns by clarifying the goals of the mission; however, those in command are typically obliged to deal with tactical and strategic issues before personnel issues and often they are struggling with their own moral and ethical concerns. In these cases, personnel go to chaplains for help sorting out ethical dilemmas and developing an understanding of the values and ethics they are supporting (or resisting) during the mission. This was certainly the case during the UNAMIR mission to Rwanda. In the face of genocide, an act utterly opposed to Canadian values to protect human life and appreciate differences, it fell to the chaplains to help personnel find meaning in the chaos that surrounded them. Unit padre David Melanson 'found himself listening to an endless flow of stories and emotional outpourings' from personnel on the mission. He later reported, 'Our jobs took us into areas of the country that the troops called... "killing fields." The majority of these places . . . were local community parishes and churches. Around the church grounds and in the sanctuaries we found the remains of thousands of human beings; children, women and men slaughtered without mercy. The scenes, the smell and the horror of it was beyond any words that could be uttered. Silence was the only language understood at these sights. In the darkness of night these "killing fields" were often revisited in our dreams" (Fowler 1996, 258-9).
On deployments that take personnel to unstable regions where they face the suffering of local people experiencing famine, the aftereffects of a natural disaster, injury, and loss of life, as well as civil and military unrest, their sense of dislocation, culture shock, and anomie can be significant - not just in terms of being in a different environment, climate, and terrain, but also with respect to conflicting values in the local society. Individual reports and transcripts from the Somalia Commission of Inquiry offer vivid examples of personnel dealing with culture shock, a frustrating and uncertain mission, and a serious lack of understanding of the Somali culture and value systems (Commando. org 2004; Commission of Inquiry into the Deployment of Canadian Forces to Somalia 1997). In fact, one analysis of the abuses that occurred in Somalia suggests that lack of knowledge about the culture and values at work in the region led personnel to 'dehumanize' the Somalis (Whitworth 2005). A counsellor at an OTSSC said, 'Here [in Canada] we don't have a clue of what war is really like. The thing that struck me while I was over there [in Afghanistan] is the peace and the freedom and the abundance that we have in Canada. They didn't have any of these. They hear bombs all the time, they can't speak freely, and they don't have food and comforts. Canada is such a clean, sterile country and then these soldiers get sent into a place where people are killing each other and being left there - that never leaves you. You can really lose faith in humanity. I have people asking me, "How could they do that? How can people do that to one another?"'
A chaplain serving with a Francophone unit said, 'Soldiers go through an emotional trauma because of a value judgment they make about the event. For example, what is wrong with a child being killed unless there is a value associated with it? The event is filtered through our ethical and moral value system. I have had a lot of people telling me stories where they were so hopeless and they were so upset because somewhere somehow they felt they should have been able to control the event.'
The sense of moral anomie reported to this chaplain is not just a result of one's own value judgments and decisions. Sometimes it results from the tensions between the values Canadian Forces members take with them on a mission and those that are evident in the society where they are posted. An army major provided one such example: 'I think anybody who goes into a situation that is different than what they have normally seen will be changed. In the military we go off on tours, we come back different. You're affected by the environment. One of the major contributors is the feeling of helplessness. I remember when I was in Bosnia, it was during the Kosovo bombing, and I remember a trucker coming back to camp just weeping because they had driven by a convoy of maybe 500 people - women and children out in the rain, out in the cold. He came back crying because, what could we do for those women and children who are suffering and didn't ask for this?' He shrugged. 'Well, there wasn't much we could do. It wasn't our role to be doing a humanitarian task. The UN had people there taking care of that so our role was to bring stability to the country. But we're not used to that; we don't come from a country where there are wars, and you don't see people who are abandoned along the side of the road. You're in those countries and a woman's on the side of the road giving birth. What do you do? You stop, you put her in the back of the truck and you allow her to give birth in the back of the truck. But you're not trained for that! You're trying to assist out of human interest - you do the best you can. What happens if the baby dies? That would be traumatic! Is that your fault? No, but it's a traumatic event because it doesn't happen here.'
A Francophone infantry member who had served in Afghanistan explained, 'You give something as basic as a water bottle to a little child, and hundreds of them will jump on him and beat him up to get it. I gave [one child] a package of gum and there was a fight because they all came and jumped on him. They are like animals and they hunt like animals. But these people are in survival mode. They are threatened. They are walking the street with no shoes. There is no water supply. We don't know what it is for a woman or a man not taking a shower for months but if you have to choose between drinking the water and washing, you will drink, you won't wash. So, we don't have a clue about what it's like until we're there and you see this different life. War is beyond language, beyond words - it's an experience.'
Others reiterated the disorientation that flowed from having their personal values conflict with the values apparent in their host society. An army member who had served in Haiti described leaving the hospital morgue in the city where he was stationed during a disaster relief mission. He said, 'As I was walking out of the morgue there was a father who was walking to the morgue with a two-year-old baby in his arms. His eyes and mine met and I could see the pain in [his face]. I wasn't used to 500 bodies piled up one on top of the other in various states of decomposition... I wasn't used to that so when I walked into the morgue, the stench, the sight, was for me . . . something else.' He closed his eyes at the memory. 'Maybe he'd been there before but the pain and the hurt of having just lost his child and having to take him in there was just as real as it would be for any father here in Canada.' A woman who had been posted to Egypt said, 'We were told that if we ever got into an accident and hurt or killed someone with our vehicle we were to leave the scene right away because of the "eye for an eye" thing. They told us there was a good chance that civilians would surround you and kill you in retaliation for their loss. I was standing in the street one day when a young kid stole a truck and ended up driving it up on the sidewalk and hitting someone - the whole town pulled him out of the truck and starting beating the shit out of him. It was mob violence.' All of these examples of having one's own values in conflict with what is occurring in the operational environment point to the significant impact of moral anomie on the state of mind of military personnel.
A number of recent reports demonstrate how in some cases the profound sense of anomie a person experiences during a mission can produce extreme emotional, psychological, and spiritual stresses that can lead to serious psychological injuries. Lieutentant General Romeo Dallaire, in both his book and many of his public speaking engagements about the Rwandan genocide, relates his extreme frustration at not being able to intervene and stop the imminent slaughter (CBC News 2005; 2002, 2003). A report by the Canadian Forces Ombudsman on the experiences of Corporal Christian McEachern indicates frustration at not being 'able to make a difference' as a source of his posttraumatic stress disorder. During his duties as a member of the UN Observer Mission to Uganda in 1993, McEachern states, 'While we're over there, there were a number of incidents that happened where we weren't allowed to do anything about it 'cause we weren't in Uganda to do anything... I think the one that bothered me the most was the night the woman got raped right beside our compound, we could see the whole thing and hear her screaming. I called in about three times and asked if I could interfere, fire a shot or do something and I wasn't allowed to do anything because security for the division compound could not be compromised, so . . . we just had to stand there and watch. That bugged me, that was probably the worst . . . the act was pretty bad but not being able to do anything . . . you trained hard to go over there and be able to make a difference and then they tie your hands like that' (DND 2002b).
Members of the failed mission to Somalia describe the hopelessness of their mission and their feelings that they were unable to make any positive contributions to the region. In part this led to the anger and resentment they felt towards the Somali people (Commando.org 2004; Razack 2004; Winslow 1997). A woman I interviewed who had been posted to the Middle East and Bosnia said, 'We really noticed the cultural differences. We'd have to stand back and watch when the locals were being cruel to animals or hitting their wives. You're not allowed to get involved and that can be very upsetting. I think that has something to do with being Canadian - but not being able to intervene adds a lot of stress to a mission. The women in Bosnia saw their kids being attacked by wild dogs but we had to continue to stand guard and we couldn't help. That was terrible.' In these cases it is not just a conflict of values that causes moral anomie, it is the ensuing feelings of guilt, responsibility, and anxiety that come from not having upheld one's values.
In situations where the violation of one's personal values leads to a serious inner conflict, religion can help to restore meaning and order and establish 'good' in the face of 'evil.' In some cases, even though they are not allowed to intervene to stop the violation of these values, military personnel seek alternate ways to 'make a difference' and uphold Canadian values. I heard numerous stories of deployed personnel contacting their families and home communities to collect sports equipment, warm clothes, school, medical, and other supplies, to send overseas for military personnel to distribute. At other times, personnel use their limited free time to initiate or participate in projects to rebuild schools, orphanages, hospitals, and libraries that improve the day-today conditions of local people. Al Fowler gives the example of personnel in Rwanda going into an orphanage that 'housed about five hundred displaced children of all ages. Most were sick, with diseases ranging from scabies to cholera. The soldiers, especially those who had children at home, were deeply moved and spent a lot of their off-duty time trying to help the orphans. Eventually, the regiment was supporting 2300 children in six orphanages' (1996, 259).
A chaplain I interviewed said, 'Soldiers love orphanages - working in orphanages is a way for them to concretely do something that helps people. It's important to soldiers on tour to be making a difference in people's lives.' Another chaplain who had served on a humanitarian and reconstruction mission explained how personnel there had helped to rebuild schools in the region. He said that that kind of work is 'always good for morale of the soldiers because they have the sense of helping people. They don't like to feel that they serve nothing. They have to feel that they help people. That is the Canadian soldier basically - the saviours of the world!' He laughed.
In fact, nearly all of the people I interviewed mentioned the personal objective of 'doing good' in their military duties. One person described this as 'fighting evil,' another saw it as 'improving conditions for civilians,' and someone else explained that they hoped to be able to 'make something good come out of a bad situation.'13 One commander suggested that personnel in his command, by seeing themselves on the side of 'good,' are better able to cope with the stress of the mission: 'They see themselves as an ally with God for fighting pain and evil in this world. I can tell you when we were [in Afghanistan], we did our best to fight evil. I couldn't explain it but I lived it, and I acted on it and I responded to it... So at least one of the steps that people can take [to overcome stress] is the idea that they are helping to fight evil.' Another person posted on a Provincial Reconstruction Team said, 'What was really great was that soldiers who had been there the year before could see how far things had come and they were saying, "This is worth doing!" because of how far the region had come.' An army captain told me, 'The stuff we do in the post - Cold War era is more on the side of the angels than not. Accounts from young people coming back from Afghanistan are positive - that we're there helping create democracy and tolerance. It's certainly not the stable environment we had during the Cold War - the Afghanistan mission is very complicated. This unit is trained for combat but they're not in there to kill the enemy, they're there because civilians need protection.'
One senior commander said, 'Soldiers in the field doing some of these different projects might get some level of instant gratification but if it also gives them some type of solace, an easing of some of their pain, even unconscious pain, that is very important. It's like taking cough syrup, it doesn't take the cold away, but it does help you breathe easier and makes the condition less painful. That way it's not always about bad stuff, not always about having to revert to force. If you're fighting to protect people there's a certain level of satisfaction in that but you may still be doing some pretty horrible stuff. But if you're building a bridge, you're into a whole new dimension of providing support. These projects should be made essential parts of a soldier's normal routine for these guys to be able to sustain their ability to handle the incredible trauma they can face - these are routes that give immediate consolation. These different projects can be a high point they can look back to and say, "It wasn't all bad. We weren't able to intervene here and people were killed but we were able to build that or do this and that did help some."' He continued, 'The veterans of these missions will want to talk, to laugh, and to cry - it's absolutely important that they be able to do that. If they only have things to cry about, things that bring out pain and anger, then there will be no comfort for them. They will remain bitter and broken.'
Helping people and 'making a difference' in others' lives are ways for members to 'fight evil,' 'do good,' and avoid being 'part of the problem.' These are examples of how military personnel uphold values they cherish and overcome their sense of moral anomie even when they are not allowed to intervene in other areas or impose their values on those in the region. The unlimited liability of their duties, their repeated exposure to hardship and stress, and the moral and ethical concerns inherent in their duties contribute significantly to religious interests by military personnel. Their obligations as members of a military force raise questions about existential issues, the meaning of suffering and hardship, as well as ideas about 'right' and 'wrong,' 'good' and 'evil.' Although many personnel turn to chaplains and other traditional religious resources to help them deal with these concerns, the thinking, discussions, value judgments, and questions that result from them can be considered religious in their own right, according to late modern notions of religion as subjective, quest-based, and spiritual but not religious.
As we saw at the beginning of this chapter, the majority of military personnel come out of Christian traditions. At the same time we saw that many of those people do not actively participate in their communities. However, along with the mainly secular or 'passively Christian' personnel in the ranks, and those who turn to spiritual and existential concerns when they are under the unusual pressures of their duties, there are a number of personnel in the CF who actively participate in formal religious traditions and bring their religious values into the military with them. This minority of personnel includes practising Christians, Muslims, Sikhs, and others. Like the passive Christians and secular personnel already described, these members are often helped by religious resources in the accomplishment of their duties. At other times, however, their religion can distance them from their peers and separate them from the military esprit de corps. Further ignorance about religion among the majority of military personnel puts these individuals at increased risk for discrimination, harassment, and other unfair treatment.
|< Prev||CONTENTS||Next >|