Society implores us to not discuss religion and politics in public, especially in the workplace. I think stifling these topics is more dangerous than instigating a public conversation that may prompt dissent.
Religion and politics bode to either protect or destroy a population, and despite the separation of church and state, or any rhetoric professing their segregation, both are completely intertwined.
They have certainly dominated the events and outcome of my life. Had the environments of my youth, college and young adulthood been more fostering of religious and political discourse, especially from an objective and nurturing perspective, perhaps what happened to me could have been prevented.
As a West Point graduate and Iraq war veteran, under the guise of protection, I feel that both my religion and government put my life in far more danger than necessary, while also making me feel that I had to apologize for my inferior gender. Had West Point taken better measures to educate and empower cadets to make genuinely informed decisions about their religious beliefs and political affiliations, perhaps I wouldn’t have sealed my own fate during the 2000 Presidential election.
In 2000, I was finally old enough to vote in an election. I was a senior at West Point, entrenched in its evangelical community. My deep involvement with the church was only a natural extension of my oppressive childhood, where my father obsessed about my virginity and warned me about losing the “sparkle in my eye.” At West Point, not only was sex banned in the barracks; my bible study leaders constantly preached about purity and chastity. They also told us women cadets that our primary purpose in life was to serve our future husbands. My entire time there, I only met one person who openly admitted they were a Democrat.
Even though the military restricts the political activities of its members and also requires its chaplains to remain non-denominational and representative of all faiths, let’s face it, it was really cool to be a Christian at West Point and in the Army. Even when the first two women graduated from Ranger school last year, the chaplain presiding over the graduation ceremony aggressively, albeit illegally, emphasized that he was praying in “Jesus’s name.”
George Bush also professed to love Jesus.
So in attempt to do right by God, please my family, church community and be an upstanding Army leader, I vowed to save myself for marriage and naturally gravitated to the Republican party. I was accustomed to having my body controlled by white men.
So on that fated October 2000 day in the West Point barracks, I opened my absentee ballot. My FLORIDA absentee ballot. Being a diligent and meticulous West Pointer, I carefully followed the instructions and ensured I left no hanging chads.
I watched the election recount and was stunned, realizing just how important my vote was in deciding our nation’s fate.
On June 2, 2001, I graduated from West Point and was commissioned as an officer in the Army. When I was handed my diploma, I also received a set of “butter bars,” my new second lieutenant rank, a gift from the Class of 1951. Earlier in my senior year, that same class published a white paper, expressing their opposition to having women at West Point. And now they were allowed to sponsor our graduation. Many of these men who spewed hate toward me were undoubtedly Christian and Republican.
Then 9/11 happened, just three short months later. Our entire world changed, as did the course of my new Army career.
President Bush claimed that God told him to invade Iraq, so off I went.
I was not allowed to question my Commander in Chief.
While participating in the Iraq invasion liberation (we were forbidden from saying invasion), I served a chain of command obsessed with glorifying the war effort. They wanted to become heroes, even at the expense of our safety. I became a disposable resource, all in the name of Jesus, my brigade commander’s Distinguished Flying Cross and Halliburton.
We drove into a steady stream of bombs in canvas Humvees, traveling at two miles per hour with our headlights on. Frustration and confusion set in. I no longer understood what or whom I was serving. I read my bible for comfort and inspiration while we simultaneously destroyed Iraq and its innocent people. Suddenly, it made no difference if I was still a virgin; my innocence was long gone.
The fabric of my values unraveled. I abandoned my religion. I bid adieu to Christianity and its doctrine designed to subjugate me, because of my gender. Eventually (but not quickly enough), I also left the Republican party, saying good riddance to not only the greed that changed the course of my health and life overall, but the need to control my body and promote the financial interests of our nation’s wealthiest citizens, all in the name of Jesus. Ironically, I can’t imagine the humble Christ ever invading a country, toting a gun or refusing to help the poor.
I’m a civilian now. I can exercise my first amendment right. This is true freedom for me. Unfortunately, many of my comrades who still serve in the military aren’t able to express their authentic sentiments about a war that has caused much detriment in their lives. Our military leaders must tote a line of politeness for the sake of respecting the chain of command (past and present), saving face and not dissing the controversy of Iraq, because their participation in such an effort is what has advanced them in their careers. Burgeoning leaders miss out on the truth. We avoid discussing the raw, unadulterated version of what it’s like to be at war, especially with respect to not believing in the mission you’re fighting for, while accepting death as the final result. Worst, we continue to be at war and have been at war for 223 years out of the 240 years we have existed as a nation.
I’m obsessed with talking about what’s taboo. I have a new memoir, War Virgin, that’s rife with provocative topics. I also have a musical play under the same name. How can we ever learn from our mistakes if we avoid revealing them? I never want another young woman to endure what I have experienced. I want all West Point cadets and officers and soldiers to have resources available to help them navigate the complexities of serving something beyond their control, especially when corruption overshadows the pure intent of their service. My hope is that if someone has a burning desire to serve their country, then that service can be honorable, and they don’t become a pawn in a political and religious battle for greed and power.
So bring on the religious and political discussions. Let’s be informed citizens. Let’s not allow fear and oppression to coerce our beliefs. Let’s realize that religion and politics dominate our lives and that humanity suffers when these institutions are abused. We must demand better from all leaders, and the only way we can begin to take our power back is to make our voices heard.