Ajcongress Urges U.S. Army to Stop Using Religious Appeals to Troops in Vietnam

The American Jewish Congress called on the Army today to stop using religious appeals to troops in Vietnam “as a means of advancing the goals of the state in carrying on the war in Indo-China.” In a letter to the Department of the Army, George Soil, chairman of the Congress’ Commission on Law and Social Action, rejected an Army spokesman’s explanation of a Vietnam commander’s Easter message to his troops that compared U.S. intervention in Vietnam with “Christ’s own struggle to obliterate evil in the world.” Mr. Soil said it was “highly improper for a military or other government official to take on the role of interpreting the significance of religious tradition.” The AJCongress first wrote to Army Secretary Stanley R. Resor on May 11 to protest a message to his troops In the field from Major General E.B. Roberts of the First Cavalry Division (Airmobile) asserting that “Easter and the promise of immortality…exemplified by the resurrection of Jesus Christ nearly 2000 years ago…can sustain you in your most trying moments.”

In a reply to the AJCongress dated June 8. Colonel C.P. Benedict, chief of the Army’s Personnel Services Division, defended the Easter message on the ground that the same commander had also distributed a Passover message. The Passover message drew a “parallel” between the deliverance of the Jewish people from “the slavery of the evil Egyptian Pharaoh” and “your current lives where you and your government are engaged in a struggle to assist a nation of people in its deliverance from an equally evil force.” Although the AJCongress was unaware of the Passover message at the time of its protest on the Easter message, Mr. Soil wrote Colonel Benedict in a letter dated June 17 that such a message was equally objectionable. Noting that “there are many Jews who would differ with General Roberts’ interpretation of the Passover tradition.” Mr. Soil wrote: “What is most disturbing is that General Roberts, and apparently the War Department, are prepared to use religion, both Christian and Jewish, as a means of advancing the goals of the state in carrying on the war in Indo-China.” He added. “The messages, no matter how well intended, were an attempt to ‘employ religion as an engine of civil policy.’ in both aspects, they were violative of the command of the First Amendment.”

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