The Sandbox

GWOT hot wash, straight from the wire

Welcome to The Sandbox, a forum for service members who have served or are currently serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, returned vets, spouses and caregivers. The Sandbox's focus is not on policy and partisanship (go to our Blowback page for that), but on the unclassified details of deployment -- the everyday, the extraordinary, the wonderful, the messed-up, the absurd. All correspondence is read, and as much as possible is posted, lightly edited. If you know someone who is deployed who might have something to say, please tell them about us. To submit a post click here.


August 07, 2007

Name: SPC Freeman
Posting date: 8/7/07
Stationed in: Iraq
Milblog url:

War and faith, it seems to me, must always have had a close relationship. Ironic, since many mainline forms of religion would consider war antithetical to their charters. That being said, for those close to death, there are few more effective salves for the spirit than faith. Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, or Pagan -- the true diversity of our military is reflected in our expressions of faith.

Our Constitution refutes the assertion that America is an expressly Christian nation. And yet: Christians, particularly Evangelicals, dominate the American military. Not surprising, I suppose, given the way that faith and politics have intertwined in recent years. Faith gives people a story and a role; politics gives us the means to enact that role. Even our films and books portray the end times arising from political auspices. When the lines between Church and State blur, what else is to be expected?

And so we are told that we are fighting a Culture War. The running storyline: America, the last bastion of Christian democracy, is locked in a battle-to-the-death with wild-eyed heathens in a distant land. America, they tell us, is in grave danger of being wiped out by dark-skinned foes; foes who want to burn down our churches, bomb our urban centers, brainwash our children, and subjugate our women. They say that unless we take the war to their soil, the hordes will descend upon us like a plague of Old Testament locusts. So to their soil we take it. And all the while, good men and women die as powerful old men, safe in air-conditioned offices, reap huge profits and tell us the economy has never been better.

The subplot: The Arab world, the cradle of civilization, is locked in a war with pale-skinned occupiers from a distant land. The Muslim world, they tell each other, is in grave danger of being crushed under the jackboots of latter-day Crusaders; sinners and unbelievers who want to tear down the mosques, ransack the local culture, brainwash children with dreams of materialistic excess, and befoul the purity of Muslim women. They say unless all Arabs take up the cause of jihad, the heart of everything Muslim will be gutted and sold to the highest Western bidder. And yet, as people leap upon the sword of the American juggernaut, the clerics who sent them there only grow in power.

There, as here, some people believe the hype more than others. Reasoning minds rise above the bloodshed and call for peace. But for those with little or nothing but faith, the perceived Divine call for vengeance is tempting. Christian. Muslim. Church. State. Theocrat. Theocrat. Are we really so different? And where is there room in all of this for the Buddhist?

It's not easy being a Buddhist in the military. On my time off, should I want for spiritual counsel, can I count on the local Chaplaincy? Not likely. Try as they might, there are too few in this military who know anything about the Buddhist faith, let alone how to give solace to one. On my time off, the best I can hope for is to find a quiet spot for my altar and a few undisturbed minutes for meditation. Buddha, yes, Dharma, yes, but no Sangha. A faith supported on two pillars cannot stand.

The Buddhist prizes Detachment where others prize Purity; the Buddhist prizes Compassion where others prize Salvation. The Buddhist rejects Suffering where others try -- always failing -- to reject Sin. Buddhists may not be strangers to War, but we are particular about the wars we choose. So what happens when we find ourselves fighting other faiths' wars? I cannot detach myself from this. I cannot be at peace amidst this. Christians die, Muslims die; good people on both sides of the fence die. And on both sides, the faithful are sent to slaughter by people in power, who always claim to hold the Moral High Ground. Power as Virtue. War as Faith. I'm standing in the middle of a stampede, motionless. And the dust is only making it harder to see.


Hey there,

Wish I had more time to write just now, but wanted to say that you write powerfully and well. Vividly.

Ah ... it feels ridiculous and sad all at once.

I don't know what Sangha is, but I hope you can find some peace in the midst of it all.

Thanks for sharing.

Well spoken. Personally, I'd say, "Do what you must to survive. The conundrums and hypocracy can wait 'till more peacefull times are upon you." It's too easy to get caught up in the evil that causes war -- not the evils OF war. Those are obvious and ubiquitous. The evil causes; extremism, misguided loyalties, lies, rage, brutality and hatred, will not go away.

I know I am still troubled by my part in a war 40 years finished. But I am alive to feel the angst. I have my own children, to hear that angst. They will follow a different path because they know my angst, and they are forewarned. I do not wish my life on anyone, but I can still clearly prefer life, to it's alternative.

So, I urge you to choose life. To continue, to live, to exist. You will find a path through this. You will see it. It will not be attractive, or shining, or pure, but it will be a clear alternative. Take that choice.

Come back alive, deal with the angst, teach your descendents what you have learned. It is worth doing.

Just posting a definition of Sangha. Lovely post by the way, I'm sorry for your isolation, but appreciated your words.

Mr. Freeman,

I am curious as to why you, a Buddhist, enlisted. Did you convert in the service or enter as one? In any case, may your time in Iraq add to your search.

I'm a Sandbox reader from day one, and a first time commenter.

There are, I am sure, many people of faith such as myself who see the hypocrisy of many of the leaders. Leaders of the religions, leaders of the nations, leaders of their own self interest.

For those of us who wish to empathize with others who seemingly helplessly observe these injustices, I'd highly recommend the latest music CD from the Canadian rock band Rush, "Snakes and Arrows". It is a heartfelt, intellectual work, that addresses the very struggle of the wars around faith.

Thanks for posting, Freeman, come back safe.

Dear Freeman: My heart is heavy for you. I can't imagine the turmoil that's going on in Iraq, plus the danger to our troops. Keep your faith going strong. Hope you find peace in your thoughts. I have always kept our military, plus the innocent Iraqi victims in my thoughts and prayers everyday. Be safe.

Very good post. I would be interested to hear how people of other faces are treated by military chaplains.

As we sing our patriotic songs about liberty, the American brand of the Taliban works behind the scene to gain control of our military and restrict the freedoms of Americans, so that they may not be offended by our actions.

As much as I fear terrorism and radical Islam, I also fear the radical, totalitarian dreams of our conservative religious leaders.

I suppose being a Buddhist in the military is something like being a Jewish worker on a pig ranch; there's no way to avoid stepping in what you shouldn't be encountering in the first place.

I agree with the comments above: do your best to stay alive to tell your story. You have a gift for analysis and for expression; don't let the stampede take that gift away from us.

Dear SPC Freeman,

Thank you for your service in Iraq. I also would like to know how the chaplains treat you as a Buddhist over there, or if you have spoken of your faith to them. I want to let you know that you are not alone, we Buddhists are out there! I am a Navy Buddhist chaplain, and we have an Army Buddhist chaplain candidate. Please let me know if you would like to get in touch with him. I agree it is not easy to be Buddhist in predominantly Christian society. But we have had a long history in America, and our voices need to be heard, maybe especially in the military. Buddhists cannot be detached from society - is there anywhere Buddha's compassion does not reach? Does it not reach soldiers and sailors and Marines as well as scholars?

I'm that there are people who hate our troops enough to recommend an album by Rush. They are appalling. "Intellectual"???Are you incapable of decency? There is no such thing as a Canadian "rock band." Any talented Canadian gets south as soon as possible and becomes an American, thank God!



Community is so important to anyone's faith. Hopefully, you will be able to continue on and find other similarly minded.

I've heard differing stories about Pagans in the service - and there are quite a few serving - a lot of us dont have the turn-the-other-cheek thing that gives moral headaches to Christians, and the Asatru folks (thats followers of Norse beliefs, fyi) are pretty well suited for a job which requires thumping on thy fellow man. I've heard of covens on-base without command blinking, I've heard of an openly pagan guy on a carrier who was nicknamed The Witch of -such and such- deck.
I had an evangelical Warrant who, on my last day on my ship, was shocked and horrified that I wasnt Saved. Whatever, I was on terminal leave, see ya - but my life would have been much harder had I not kept my mouth shut until then.
Its not that different from gays in the service - some people are absolutly horrified by the thought, others just shrug their shoulders and say 'long as they do the job'.
Thats all that really counts in the end, you know?

I was very moved by your post. I would assume the military is no place for a member of an essentially pacifistic faith. Thanks for enlightening me. Always the struggle however between light and darkness.

I'm a retired USAF Vietnam war vet. My years of living in Asia caused my conversion from Agnosticism to Buddhism. We have military people who join our Sangha here in Hawaii.
I'm sure it must be hard now in the military with all of the 'fundies' and Mormons who use it as their way to convert others to the faith. The lack of separation of church and state in the military should be of interest to us all.
Good luck to you, my brother in Iraq. It sounds a lot worse than what we had in the 'Nam.

Max Edison -
Your unpleasant comments are the exact opposite of Buddhist compassion, and Christian love as well. It was a totally uncalled for response.

Thank you Trudy. I certainly do not hate the troops, and was simply attempting to offer a common place of empathy through music. A Christian, sharing music written by Agnostics, with an album title based on a Buddhist board game.

I was moved by your words and your experiences. I personally believe that it doesn't matter what religion you are, everyone trying to live a good life in a war struggles with their faith and their beliefs about humankind and themselves. It's even harder when you don't have the spiritual support you need. I empathize with anyone who struggles with such questions alone, no matter what their religion or lack thereof. I think that God or Allah has little to do with the decisions of politicians, it seems to me that their own personal power has more to do with it and Deity becomes the means through which they control others. But that doesn't cheapen the individual struggles of human beings trying to find meaning in this world, whether you are Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, Wiccan, etc.. I have a Wiccan friend in the Airforce who is lucky enough to have a Wiccan chaplain to go to on his base as well as a handful of individuals with which to practice. I also know others who say they are completely alone and feel afraid to admit their faith. I sincerely believe that the greatest tragedy is to be alone without others to understand you, no matter who you are or what you believe. I hope you will soon find another with whom you can find open ears and an open heart, and perhaps a little solace.

Best Wishes and Bright Blessings,

To my Brother,

Our teachers might say that you have a unique opportunity for the most rewarding practice at this time.

Whispering mantras of compassion and purification as you go about your duties can help to preserve your sanity, aid the liberation of all beings, and reduce your attachment to the concept of "self".

The suffering you witness can aid your practice of compassion in ways that the pampered Sangha at home will never understand.

Finding peace and unity in these circumstances develops an incredible strength of mind, and will bring great benefits to your brothers in arms, as well as the population you interact with.

We have all spent many, many lifetimes as soldiers, as this has been the normal function of males throughout history. Yet few have had the benefit of the three jewels. Be grateful to your teachers and the teachings.

Practice the short mantras as often as possible. See the unity of mind everywhere. Gift the victims of violence with compassionate prayers for a better rebirth, knowing that their fates are determined by their own karmas, and that this life is but one in the endless cycle of birth, death, and rebirth.

Remember why you practice, and dedicate the merit gained to the benefit of all beings constantly.

Contact your Sangha, or any Sangha for help with Dharma materials that you can fit in your pocket. You can gain great understanding from re-reading the basic instructions. Applying the fundamentals is what it is all about.

A Brother in Service
And in the Dharma

Good Day.

Reading of your Bhuddist faith while serving in Iraq. I would like to respond, as I see a parallel of my Army service in the 25th Inf. Div., C-Troop 3/4 Calvery during peace time of 1974-1978.

I'm a practing Bhuddist of Nichiren Daishonin. You are correct in your words choosen of the conflict our goverment has put you in harms way over religious and Democratic pursuit.

In your belief of Bhuddisim, as I. We both had a purpose, and choose to serve our country in her time of need.

Your faith and learnings, in this conflict, brings a positive side to the unjust you wrote of and in effect, balance the negative aspect of this war.

Trained as a Helicopter crew chief myself. The level of readiness and absolute desire to serve my country had no conflict with being a practing Bhuddist. My belief like yours, explains why you are where you are now ( Cause and Effect ).

If you truly studied and understand your faith. Your questions will be answered.

Your insight and words expressed here. Is helping people like me and others to understand a deeper view of the war in Iraq.

Thank you very much.

I enjoyed your posting and the responses to that posting. I hope that they cause you to feel a small part of Sangha. that they represent. True brothers and sisters do not need to share the same faith to be a family. Come home safe

To often are the consequences of blurring the lines between church and state forgotten until it is too late. Here we see the evidence of that. The war that we have started is not a war on terror. Nor is it a war to spread democracy to a region that thirsted for it. We have started a holy war—one that many Christians believe to be of prophecy. Could it be that the Evangelicals in power have found it to be their divine mission to fulfill prophecy? History will only be able to tell, I suppose. Thank you for your insight. Thank you for your service. I hope that you stay safe. May we ALL find peace.

I forwarded your amazing message to a veteran friend, who forwarded it to a Buddhist friend; here is his response, which I hope will be helpful to you.

From: Karma Tenzing Wangchuk
Date: Sep 4, 2007 1:01 PM

the soldier regrets having no sangha, says that his
faith can't stand without it.

no doubt it's hard to feel strongly rooted without
others to practice with, talk with on a regular basis;
but sangha has many meanings, levels, and
permutations, and we sometimes have to work wth our
minds to find sangha where none exists as we
ordinarily perceive it.

in the vajrayana or tibetan buddhism, for instance,
when we sit down to meditate we commonly mentally
invoke a vast assemblage of sangha members and sit
surrounded by them. guru yoga in particular makes it
possible for one to never feel separated from one's
teacher--and he or she is likewise connected to
another teacher, and so on. . . .

strictly speaking, the original sangha of buddhism was
the formal community of monks and nuns gathered around
gautama buddha, and that was mostly during the long
rainy season when they tended to band together.
nowadays sangha usually means those who belong to a
dharma center or a meditation group--these can be hard
to locate in the military, and harder in a war zone.

in another sense, sangha are the teachers of one's
lineage. that can go all the way from one's own
teacher to buddha; and all can be invoked in the
mind--quite effectively as one's practice deepens.

similarly, the question of 'what is sangha' can be and
i think should be looked at in a wider sense--it my
view sangha includes any number of sentient and
nonsentient beings. grass, trees, clouds.

i pray that this soldier has access to buddhist
scripture, which can also help--pocket-sized copies of
the dhammapada--the original teachings of buddha--for
example, can be carried at all times without
inconvenience, and offer good counsel. i'd be happy to
send him a copy.

if this message can find its way back to the soldier
who wrote the message, it might be of some small help.

thanks, tenzing

The only thing that you need in this world to get through everything, is faith...
It's all about the faith, the family and your friends!!!!!!

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