Memorial Day and Atheists in the Foxholes

I’ve always admired the veteran organizations who organize Memorial Day events and the people who came out to watch.  To give up their time on the first holiday of the summer is  admirable.

I have not made it to this event for a few years and wonder if it has changed any with the  new generations of war veterans.  One would expect, perhaps, some subtle changes.

At such affairs, a  Chaplain always offers some remarks and prayers.  For most of the two centuries of U. S. wars, there has been an assumtion that soldiers are Christians. There is the saying that, “There are no atheists in the foxhole.” 

As far as I know, nearly all graves at military cemetaries are marked with crosses, except the occasional Star of David for Jewish soldiers.  Yet, apparently there has always been about ten percent of the population that is skeptical  and it would be reasonable to assume the same is true of soldiers killed in battle.

The crosses on military graves represent what the majority of the public wanted placed there, not necessarly what the fallen soldiers themselves might have wanted.  The same is true for what is included in the cememonies on Memorial Day. 

One would expect that as secularism asserts itself in our society, we will see more of it in military ceremonies.  It will be good on Memorial Day, in my opinion, to focus on the tragedy of war and of the lives lost, regardless of what the fallen may or may not have believed.

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About Jon Lindgren

I am a former President of the Red River Freethinkers in Fargo, ND, a retired NDSU economics professor and was Mayor of Fargo for 16 years. There is more about me at Wikipedia.com.
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12 Responses to Memorial Day and Atheists in the Foxholes

  1. Wanna B Sure says:

    Jon; I don’t know if you were in the military. Just a sugestion; Why don’t you go to an American Legion meeting/convention, also the VFW, and see what their thoughts are on this? I would also suggest you canvas all the survivor spouses, and parents for their thoughts. One thing to consider also is not only the deceased party, but the survivors. They have to live on, and cope with their loss. I would also expect you to ask if the flag is appropriate at the grave site, as it too is a symbol for what they died for. Please let us know what your results are. Thank you.

    • Avatar of Jon Lindgren Jon Lindgren says:

      Wanna 3:15 I was in the Army Reserve. Polling of veterans and survivors to what end? If the majority wanted Christian crosses on all graves than that’s what should happen? That sounds like all the people I have heard from over the years who tell me that separation of church and state means we have a vote on which religion our country is going to be and that’s the end of the discussion.

      • Wanna B Sure says:

        My point/ thought is that they should respect the individual requests on a one by one basis. If they can seperate a Jew from a Christian, or a Muslum, why couldn’t they respect the Atheist’s request? Everyone should be polled first before the need. That way the individual would make known his/her wishes, and the military wouldn’t/couldn’t presume. I don’t think you have asked all the people, and assume the negative result.
        Or– is your real desire paralell with the ACLU in it’s goal of eliminating all crosses, along with any other symbols of belief of the individual, Christian, Muslum, Jew, Misc., or Atheist?

        • Avatar of Jon Lindgren Jon Lindgren says:

          Wanna 12:44 That was what I was thinking, as well, that each person’s wishes should be respected. I did not, and do not still, understand your suggestion that I talk to veterans. It doen’t seem to me to be an issue to be decided by surveys or votes.

          • Wanna B Sure says:

            Jon; I didn’t say anything about “votes”, or majority. My thoughts are that veterans may have some insight for a solution that none of us have thought about, since they have a connection to those that have died, and their respect for them. It’s a start.

          • Avatar of Jon Lindgren Jon Lindgren says:

            Wanna 1:46 You are correct. I misread your posts. Sorry.

  2. Wanna B Sure says:

    If there are any who would want to make a statement of non-faith, instead of the horizontal beams that form a cross, one could just have a O (zero) on top of the vertical, or a zero with a diagonal line through it, like a no smoking sign. (without the picture of a cigarette). Or–consider a special section of the cemetary set aside for non-believers, (at their desire of course), so as not to offend.
    Also, you should ask all the surviving troups as they get back what their opinion is on this.

  3. entech says:

    Always preferred the simple 2 minute silence on remembrance day.

  4. Ike says:

    Pat Tillman was an NFL star before joining the Army to fight in Afghanistan. He was also non-religious. There are some interesting you-tube clips about him and his death. Also how the Army handled it.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Iwsy8FEL0ls&feature=related

  5. Now there is a great project for your group(s). The physical removal of all the white crosses at all military cemeteries, eps. Arlington and the ones in France, England and other European nations. Then you could start on removing all scripture from national monuments in Washington DC because there is a ton of scripture on those walls. Good luck..no there is no such thing as luck. Never mind.
    How about getting chaplain’s prayers in the Congressional houses stopped too?

  6. I want to see them removing those crosses and wall scriptures…what a great story that would make.
    They would be stoned, probably. in the Biblical manner.

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