Evangelicals in the Military and the Code of Conduct
by Lori Lyn Bogle
In his 2005 The Faith of the
American Soldier evangelist and best-selling author Stephen Mansfield
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The period of most intense religiosity in the military hierarchy came at the beginning of the cold war when a number of factors combined which empowered key high-ranking evangelicals. The post WWII anticommunist Christian revival led by evangelists such as Billy Graham certainly played a role. At the heart of the nationwide upsurge in religious piety was a pervasive belief that the country was in the midst of a national character crisis that left it vulnerable to attack. While it’s difficult to determine how many admirals and generals identified themselves as born-again Christians, there was general agreement in the Pentagon with Graham that Americans, strong during the war, now were self-indulgent, apathetic, and effeminate. Universal Military Training (UMT), according to its proponents, religious and secular, was essential to national defense not to produce battle-ready warriors but to teach American youth obedience, discipline, masculinity, and good citizenship – values then thought lacking in the citizen soldier.
Presidents Harry S. Truman and Dwight D. Eisenhower believed that weaknesses in the public’s character, even if only perceived, could encourage Soviet aggression. Both, inspired by the postwar revival movement, advocated strengthening the spiritual armor of the American soldier. As a result a number of morale programs developed that combined militant anticommunism with lessons in religious nationalism. In addition, chaplains, increasingly evangelical since the end of WWII, often found wider opportunities to preach the gospel. The U.S. Air Force Chief of Chaplains, Major General Charles I. Carpenter organized his subordinates to pressure recruits to profess a faith. He also enlisted the help of Moody Bible Institute in a number of revival meetings that had, according to one chaplain, led many officers and men “from the valley of doubt and darkness to light, understanding and faith.”
Finally, religion gained influence at
the Pentagon because of a new emphasis in diplomacy on ideology. In 1946
diplomat George F. Kennan included in his famous containment policy, a proposal
for an ideological mobilization of the nation's resources in response to Soviet
psychological warfare. More importantly, in 1950 the State
Department identified the lack of an American creed as a vulnerability in the
nation’s defenses. According to the top
secret NSC-68, the federal government needed to minimize dissent and to develop
an American ideology. A new unified
national will would then replace the nation's diffuse pluralism and enable
The Truman and then the Eisenhower
administrations struggled to identify this ideology or “American way of life”
for various psychological warfare operations abroad. The
By 1953 Pentagon officials were ready
and able to broaden their in-service efforts to elevate the national character
to include civilians. The catalyst for
their public outreach came when 21 Americans, held captive and reportedly
“brainwashed” during the Korean Conflict, refused to return home following
prisoner of war exchanges.
Eisenhower, an advocate of civilian citizen education, explained that the
military had been unable to prepare soldiers for communist indoctrination,
because the nation’s youth no longer possessed a "knowledge of what
What is surprising about the Korean
War POW controversy is that the DOD portrayed it as a scandal at all. With just a little effort the captivity
experience could have been spun as a triumph of American superiority. After all, the Korean Conflict was the first
war that voluntary repatriation played a role in prisoner exchanges. The
The Pentagon propagated the Korean
War POW myth in its public relations campaign introducing the Code of Conduct
In the final text the Burgess
committee had ignored expert testimony that made it clear that a Spartan code
of name, rank, and serial number only had always been impossible for servicemen
to meet. It did so, the committee
explained, because it was convinced that an inflexible standard of behavior was
needed to "toughen up" recruits and revitalize the nation
spiritually. The final code, however, was ambiguously
worded in regard to what actions POWs would be held accountable to so each
service (but especially the air force) could interpret the document during
training according to their specific needs. There was no misunderstanding, however, that
the text clearly implied that a new, more rigorous standard of conduct would
henceforth be expected of POWs and of all Americans. The Code should not be considered a formula
for learning how to be a POW, Lt. Col. William E. Mayer, the army’s Code expert
claimed, rather, it should be considered "the first principle of American
Secretary of Defense Wilson called the text the “heart and conscience of all
Admiral Radford used his position on
the JCS to turn that agency into the chief advocate of the Code of Conduct and
its companion program, Militant Liberty, for both an international and domestic
audience. John C. Broger, an evangelist before Radford
brought him into the DOD, designed Militant Liberty as a program of “personal
evangelism in the political rather than the religious field.” The controversial
program compared democracy’s “sensitive individual conscience” to communism’s
“annihilated individual conscience” for third world nations and provided a
“political religion,” according to its proponents, for revitalizing
While the armed forces embraced the Code of Conduct, they quickly rejected Militant Liberty because of its strident civil religious message. To Radford's dismay, military academies refused to incorporate Militant Liberty into their curriculum. The Marine Corps spoke for a number of critics when it argued that the concept was inappropriate for service personnel as it was based on a fear approach and far too much like political indoctrination. But when links between political extremists and Militant Liberty (as well as connections between some members of the military and the radical right in the notorious cold war seminars of the early 1960s) caught the attention of investigative reporters it became extremely difficult for evangelicals in the military (whether religious or political) to pursue their civilian efforts further.
Despite the Code of Conduct’s extraordinary origin as a hard-hitting solution to America’s early cold war ideological crisis, it has persisted as a faith-based warrior code because its original ambiguous wording gave it the flexibility to adapt to the changing needs of the military. Or it did after its first revision during the Vietnam War when the DOD modified its interpretation of treasonous behavior to reflect the realities of torture by changing one word and eliminating another in
I am bound to give only name, rank, service number, and date of birth. (1955)
I am required to give name, rank, service number, and date of birth. (1977)
The original Code of Conduct was a
battle cry for an ideological war against atheistic communism. Despite the fact that the military was well
aware that American soldiers in
Stephen Mansfield, The Faith of the
American Soldier (
Code of Conduct for Members of the Armed Forces of the United States,
Executive Order 10631, August 17, 1955. Paragraph V changed by Executive Order
 Rita Kirk Whillock, "Dream Believers: The
Unifying Visions and Competing Values of Adherents to American Civil
Religion" Presidential Studies Quarterly (Spring, 1994): 375-376;
Robert Neely Bellah, "Civil Religion in
 Douglas A. Sweeny, "The Neo-Evangelical Movement, 1941-1960: Toward a More Thorough Historiographical Approach" (M.A. thesis, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, 1984); Joel Carpenter, "Youth for Christ and the New Evangelicals" in D.G. Hart, ed. Reckoning with the Past: Historical Essays on American Evangelicalism from the Institute for the Study of American Evangelicals (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books,1996), 354-375.
Michael Pearlman, To Make Democracy Safe for
 In July, 1948, the army’s Character Guidance
Program, officially was designated as a command responsibility, but also fell
under the direction of the camp chaplain. Stressing a civil/military religious
theme, with titles such as "Man is a Moral Being," "Worship in
Life," "The Nation we Serve," and "Religion in Our Way of
Life," lessons instructed recruits to worship God, "the source of our
way of life" in order to effectively serve
 During the early cold war the National
Association of Evangelicals (NAE) first embraced the opportunity provided by
the chaplaincy to advance its particular messianic vision and to counter
Catholic and liberal Protestant influences in the armed services. See Anne C. Loveland, American
Evangelicals and the
Gene Arnold Getz,“A History of Moody Bible Institute and its Contributions to Evangelical Education” (Ph.D. diss, New York University, 1968), 503.
George Kennan as quoted in Foreign Relations of the United States, 1946,
vol. 6 (
 Ideological mobilization was just one of NSC-68’s recommendations. NSC-68 as quoted in Ernest R. May, ed. American Cold War Strategy: Interpreting NSC 68 (NY: Bedford Books of St. Martin Press, 1993), 35, 54.
 Edward W. Barrett, Truth is our Weapon (N.Y.: Funk and Wagnalls Co., 1953), 260, 264. Barrett was the father of the Campaign for Truth overseas information program.
 Albert D. Biderman, March to
Calumny: The Story of American POWs in the Korean War (N.Y.: MacMillan Co.,
1963),1-12; Eugene Kinkead, In Every War but One (N.Y.: W.W. Norton and
Company, 1959), 18, 148-149; Susan L. Carruthers, “Not Just Washed but
Dry Cleaned: Korea and the ‘Brainwashing’ Scare of the 1950s”in Gary D.
Rawnsley, ed., Cold War Propaganda in the 1950s (N.Y.: MacMillan Press,
Ltd., 1999),47-66;Virginia Pasley, 21 Stayed: The Story of the American GI's
Who Chose Communist China -- Who They Were and Why They Stayed (N.Y.:
Farrar, Straus and Cudahy, 1955);William E. Mayer, "Why Did Many GI
Captives Cave In?"
 Eisenhower quoted in Thomas
Alfred Palmer, "Why We Fight: A Study of Indoctrination Activities in the
The various services had regulations regarding POW behavior but there had never
been a clearly defined code of conduct applicable to all military men. In 1907
 Department of Defense, Code of Conduct Program: First Progress Report, 2. Special Assistant Series, Subject Subseries, box 2, file "Code of Conduct Program: Defense (1)," Eisenhower Library (The three separate progress reports will be cited hereafter as First, Second, and Third Progress Report).
 The ultimate result was that 21 Americans, 1 British, and 305 South Korean prisoners freely chose to remain with the communists while over 25,000 former enemy combatants remained in the south)Thomas Alfred Palmer, "Why We Fight: A Study of Indoctrination Activities in the Armed Forces" (Ph.D. diss., University of South Carolina, 1971), 32-33.
 At first there was disagreement in the military on how to evaluate the Korean POW but the myth was very powerful and once formed the DOD actively downplayed the results of investigations that exonerated the Korean War POW. The DOD struggled with the concept of “brainwashing” and ultimately rejected it. If POWs were truly brainwashed they could not be held responsible for their actions. Albert D. Biderman, March to Calumny: The Story of American POWs in the Korean War (n.p., 1963); First, Second, and Third Progress Report.
 Christopher S. DeRosa, “A Million
Thinking Bayonets: Political Indoctrination in the
 Peter Karsten, "American POWs in
The Fight Continues, 17.
 Ibid., 1166.
Charles E. Wilson, circular letter to heads of Congress,
George Dugan, “Religion called Key to Security,” NYT
 Radford also was instrumental in the 1953 "Moral Leadership" program that built pride in the navy and "[got] at the core of the threat of communism through the exposure of our own weaknesses in the moral and spiritual area." Cold War Education, 1808. Under the direction of navy chaplains, Radford's pet project taught sailors "Americanism" along with personal finances, marriage counseling, and the dangers of illicit sex. Ibid., 1809-1810; John G. Hubbell, "Moral Build-Up Gives New Strength to the Navy," The Navy Blue Book (Indianapolis, Indiana: Bobbs-Merrill Co., 1960), 131.
 Kenneth P. Landon to Mr. Elmer B. Staats, Feb. 11, 1955, box 71, folder OCB 091.4 "Ideological Programs" file #2 (6) (Jan. - May 1955), Eisenhower Library; Palmer, “Why We Fight,” 47-48; Loveland, American Evangelicals and the Military, 57.
 Francis Stonor Saunders, Who Paid the Piper: The CIA and the Cultural Cold War (London: Granta Books, 1999), 284-5.
 Second Progress Report, 2.
 Third Progress Report, 3.; Kenneth P. Landon to Mr. Elmer B. Staats, Feb. 11, 1955, box 71, folder OCB 091.4 "Ideological Programs" file #2 (6) (Jan. - May 1955), Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library.
 Fred C. Schwarz of the Christian Anti-Communism Crusade admired the evangelical aspect of the concept, as did Kenneth Wells of the Freedoms Foundation of Valley Forge, a patriotic award-granting organization that also was connected to ultra-conservative political organizations across the country. See Why We Fight. For more on "Militant Liberty" see Cold War Education, 1047; William Harlan Hale, "Militant Liberty and the Pentagon" The Reporter 14 (9 February 1956):30-34; Department of Defense, Militant Liberty: A Program of Evaluation and Assessment of Freedom (Washington, DC: GPO, 1955).
DOD continued the program covertly as Project Action in French Indochina
The services stopped teaching strict adherence to the original wording during
the Vietnam War when it became clear that a more compassionate stance was
needed. The DOD needed the
The Code of Conduct for Members of the Armed Forces
Executive Order 10631,
(with revisions in italics)
I am an American fighting man. I serve in the forces which guard my country and our way of life. I am prepared to give my life in their defense.
1988 revision: first sentence: I am an American, fighting in the forces which guard my country and our way of life.
I will never surrender of my own free will. If in command, I will never surrender my men while they still have the means to resist.
1988 revision: “my men” changed to “members of my command”
If I am captured, I will continue to resist by all means available. I will make every effort to escape and aid others to escape. I will accept neither parole nor special favors from the enemy.
If I become a prisoner of war, I will keep faith with my fellow prisoners of war. I will give no information or take part in any action which might be harmful to my comrades. If I am senior, I will take command. If not, I will obey the lawful orders of those appointed over me and will back them up in every way.
When questioned, should I become a prisoner of war, I am bound to give only name, rank, service number, and date of birth. I will evade answering further questions to the utmost of my ability. I will make no oral or written statements disloyal to my country and its allies or harmful to their cause.
1977 revision: When questioned, should I become a prisoner of war, I am required to give name, rank, service number, and date of birth.
I will never forget
that I am an American fighting man, responsible for my action, and dedicated to
the principles which made my country free.
I will trust in my God and in the
1988 revision: first sentence: I will never forget that I am an American, fighting for freedom, responsible for my action, and dedicated to the principles which made my country free.
 Sociologist Albert Biderman was the first to point out this irony. Albert D. Biderman, “Dangers of Negative Patriotism” Harvard Business Review (Nov.-Dec., 1962): 93-99; Biderman, March to Calumny, 244.