Using religion as a weapon of war

March 2, 2010

SOMEWHERE IN Iraq or Afghanistan, a tired soldier is carefully removing cryptically encoded references to Bible verses from gun sights.

When ABC News' Brian Ross "broke" the story of the "Jesus guns" on January 18, it appeared to be one of those hilarious, horrifyingly hypocritical, "only-in-America" moments.

References to chapter and verse of New Testament biblical passages promoting Jesus on high-powered rifle sights were the topic of Ross' outrage. The sights are used by soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, and in the training of Iraqi and Afghan soldiers.

Michigan-based Trijicon Corp. has a multi-year $600 million contract to supply the sights to the Marine Corps, and several additional contracts with the Army.

Tom Munson, the company's sales and marketing director, said that the scriptural references "have always been there," and that "there was nothing wrong or illegal with adding them." Munson blamed a group he called "not Christian" for complaining about the weapons.

The gun-sight messaging was the brainchild of company founder Glyn Bindon, a "devout Christian" from South Africa. Munson did not divulge Bindon's motives nor explain Bindon's nerve in putting references to a guy known as the "Prince of Peace" at the front end of a gun barrel without asking permission from the buyer.

Bindon's death in a plane crash in 2003 didn't stop the Biblical references. Munson added that "America's goodness is based on Biblical standards...and will strive to follow those morals."

The story was brought to ABC's attention by Michael "Mikey" Weinstein, creator of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, an organization devoted to restoring the U.S. military to a mythical past when there was a separation of church and state.

Ross and Weinstein say that the scripture references violate General Order One, which prohibits proselytizing in Iraq and Afghanistan to avoid the appearance of a "Christian crusade against Muslims." Thousands of soldiers, claims Weinstein, have complained about the messages, fearing their lives are endangered by the scripture-stained sights. The messages "allow the Mujahideen, the Taliban, al-Qaeda, the insurrectionists and jihadists to be claiming that they're being shot by 'Jesus rifles.'"

Spokespeople for the U.S. Army and Marine Corps told ABC News that they weren't aware of the scripture messages, but the rifle/gun-sight scripture combo have been a topic of comment in the blogosphere for several years. There was even a video discussion of them on YouTube. The soldiers know about them and call them Jesus guns.

Marine Capt. Geraldine Carey expressed mild concern, and an Army spokesman claimed to be looking to "see if anything is amiss here."

Major John Redfield of CentCom likens the scriptures to the "In God We Trust" on U.S. money, and says "we haven't moved away from that." He told reporters that "unless the equipment...that has these inscriptions proved to be less than effective for soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and military folks using it, I wouldn't see why we would stop using that."

Trijicon has agreed to stop embedding the messages and to furnish soldiers a kit to remove the messages from currently existing stock. New Zealand and Britain also use the Jesus weapons in Afghanistan and have expressed their concern.

This bizarre tale appears to be a short-lived case of misspent outrage. Compared to Gen. McCrystal's speaking on Afghanistan television to show concern for civilian casualties, Jesus guns don't even rate as an absurdity.

The Church most often serves the state, and victims of the bullets and the bombs probably don't much care if the war is holy or secular. Military intelligence has always been an oxymoron, and the generals only care that the bullets keep flowing. And the empire continues--refusing to implode under the weight of a thousand hypocrisies.
Cindy Beringer, Austin, Texas

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