Review: Conflict and Change
Anne C. Loveland. Conflict and Change in the U.S. Army Chaplain Corps since 1945. Knoxville, Tennessee: The University of Tennessee Press, 2014. xvii + 349 pp. ISBN 978-1-62190-012-2.
In her latest book, Anne C. Loveland explores the challenges that beset the army chaplaincy since the end of the Second World War. These issues include pressures from antiwar critics during the Vietnam era as well as increasing pluralism within the army in the last three decades. Debates over public prayer, sectarianism, secularism, proselytizing, and religious accommodation, Loveland argues, continue to keep army chaplains involved in the decades-long culture war over the place and role of religion in American life. An academic study written for scholars of American history and religion, this readable work will also capture the attention of former and current chaplains as well as the general public.
Conflict and Change in the U.S. Army Chaplain Corps since 1945 makes several important arguments. In her first major claim, Loveland insists that an at-times unworkable tension exists between the needs of the military and most chaplains’ faith. This tension runs throughout the book, most conspicuously appearing in chapters about the Vietnam War. Loveland argues that chaplains were often unfit to answer difficult questions that soldiers posed about the morality of killing and war. Moreover, she illuminates the conflicts that chaplains faced when they witnessed atrocities and war crimes. Drawing on private letters and testimonials from chaplains in the field in a nuanced way, Loveland notes that while some chaplains remained silent witnesses to war crimes, others confronted, condemned, and reported acts they deemed immoral or unbecoming of a soldier. Loveland is careful not to paint the chaplaincy with a broad brush on this or other issues, noting the theological and ideological diversity within the chaplain corps.
That diversity, Loveland contends, reflects larger changes in American political and religious culture. One of the major accomplishments of this book is the way it contextualizes changes within the chaplaincy alongside changes in American culture. Loveland argues that chaplains were not able to avoid the culture wars of the 1960s or 1970s and that they had to reform many practices that had gone relatively unquestioned throughout most of the twentieth century. Once tasked with improving combat effectiveness and preparing soldiers for battle, for example, chaplains took on a different function within the army in the wake of Vietnam. In their new role, they tackled the rampant drug and alcohol abuse in the army in the 1970s, which, Loveland argues, “produced tangible results” that lowered usage rates (97). They also helped decrease racial tensions and minimized the number of desertions in the army. Once focused on the mission itself, chaplains became more concerned with meeting the psychological, religious, and spiritual needs of individual soldiers. This shift from communal to individual and from focusing on the mission to emphasizing the religiosity of the soldier marks one of the major changes in the chaplaincy during the second half of the twentieth century.
The final third of the book looks at the ways chaplains responded to the culture wars of the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s, including a law suit which contended that the chaplaincy as an institution is a violation of the establishment clause of the First Amendment. Several other cases filed by organizations such as Americans United for the Separation of Church and State (AU) accused certain chaplains of praying “in Jesus’ name” at mandatory public ceremonies, of proselytizing in a way that attempted to convert soldiers from one faith to another, and of violating the free exercise rights of individuals by coercing soldiers in a number of ways.
While her analysis is often compelling and her conclusions fair, Loveland’s tone and style might offend many evangelical or conservative readers. Loveland assumes that conservative evangelicals are the aggressors in the “culture war” she examines, noting, for instance, that they have “powerful” lobbying groups in Congress but without mentioning that secular-liberal groups like AU similarly have influence in Washington (191). Loveland depicts mainline Protestant and liberal churches as inclusive and tolerant while castigating evangelical conservative churches and spokesmen as exclusionary and intolerant. A more balanced approach might show how both sides of this culture war have actors who at times use intolerant and offensive rhetoric and that both sides have responsible, fair-minded representatives who are willing to work with their theological or ideological opponents. Indeed, Loveland strikes just that balance in the first two-thirds of the book.
Those criticisms notwithstanding, this is a well-organized, highly informative, and thought-provoking study of the changes within the chaplaincy since the end of World War II. Loveland set out to write a history of the U.S. Army Chaplaincy and has succeeded in convincing the reader that chaplains’ experiences reflect broader trends in American political and religious culture. She has also made a powerful argument for civic and political leaders to look toward the army as a model for how to ease tensions between those who want to promote pluralism in American society and those who prefer a more homogenous religious landscape for the United States.
Scholars of religion, military historians, and legal scholars will find this book useful in trying to describe those trends. Loveland has done a service to those looking to explain the simultaneous rise of secularism and evangelicalism in American culture by finding a useful case study—the chaplaincy. More than that, she has shown how chaplains at once responded to, and intensified, the culture wars around them. This book is recommended for all academic audiences, including graduate school classrooms, undergraduate courses on American culture, and the general population.