A military Web site has removed a photo originally cleared by government censors of a tank in Iraq carrying the name “New Testament” on the barrel of its main gun.
The photo showed a 70-ton, M1A1 Abrams tank with the biblical words clearly visible. A caption carried a dateline of Haditha Dam, Al Anbar, Iraq, and read “The ‘New Testament,’ a tank with 4th Tank Co., 1st Tank battalion attached to 3/25, prepares to lead the way during a recent mission.”
Taken on May 5, the photo appeared originally on the official Web site of the United States Marine Corps. It showed up on several blogs around the World Wide Web and was featured May 27 in the Washington Times.
While some commentators viewed the fact that the image cleared military censors as humorous, others said it would add to opinion in the Arab world that the U.S. occupation in Iraq is really a religious crusade. Some viewed it as an insult to the New Testament, with its messages including “Blessed are the peacemakers.”
“I hope President Bush shows the decisive leadership required, ordering the renaming of that tank and reassigning the officers who permitted it,” said Robert Parham of the Baptist Center for Ethics.
“Those commanding officers who allowed soldiers to name a tank after the Christian book that tells the story of the Prince of Peace and his peaceful kingdom showed both bad judgment and reinforced the view within Islamic circles that America is engaged in a Christian crusade,” Parham said. “They disrespected the Bible and insulted Muslims.”
The Marines didn’t comment on the picture or the caption. An accompanying story did not mention the tank by name.
A link to the photo on the Marines Web site now prompts an error message saying the entry cannot be found. It still shows up, however, on various Web sites passing it along, including MichaelMoore.com.
It isn’t the first time the military has been criticized for appearing to use religious justification for the war.
President Bush at one point described the U.S.-led war on terror as “this crusade,” but afterward avoided the term and insisted the struggle is against terrorists and not all Muslims.
The U.S. originally used the code name “Operation Infinite Justice” for its military build-up following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, but changed it to “Operation Enduring Freedom,” because in Islam infinite justice is provided only by God.
A Pentagon official in charge of America’s war on terror created controversy in 2003 when he spoke in churches calling it a struggle between Judeo-Christian forces and Satan. The president said he didn’t agree with views expressed by Lt. Gen. William “Jerry” Boykin but declined to remove him from his job as deputy undersecretary of defense for intelligence.
Recently the military has investigated complaints of religious harassment of non-Christians at the U.S. Air Force Academy and of reported mishandling of the Quran at a military prison in Cuba.
“From General Boykin to the Air Force Academy, from mishandling the Quran to the naming a tank the ‘New Testament,’ a segment of the American military lacks the necessary moral discernment to represent the best of our national tradition that respects all religions and refuses to assume that the nation’s cause is identical to God’s cause,” Parham said.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.