General Rebuked For Talk Of God
Speeches Tied War, Religion
By Bradley Graham
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 17, 2003; Page A24
Remarks by a three-star
U.S. Army general casting the war on terrorism in religious terms drew
rebukes yesterday from politicians and military specialists and calls
from religious groups for the officer to be reassigned or reprimanded.
Pentagon's top military commander defended the officer, Lt. Gen.
William G. "Jerry" Boykin, saying he did not think any military rules
had been broken.
The controversy followed reports Wednesday on "NBC
Nightly News" and yesterday in the Los Angeles Times citing Boykin, who
is an evangelical Christian, speaking in uniform to church audiences
over the past two years. He spoke of Islamic extremists hating the
United States because "we're a Christian nation" and added that our
"spiritual enemy will only be defeated if we come against them in the
name of Jesus." He said that President Bush "is in the White House
because God put him there," and that "we in the army of God . . . have
been raised for such a time as this."
Discussing a U.S. Army battle against a Muslim warlord
in Somalia in 1993, Boykin told one audience: "I knew my god was bigger
than his. I knew that my god was a real god and his was an idol."
A much-decorated veteran of covert military
operations, Boykin took over in June as deputy undersecretary of
defense for intelligence, heading a new Pentagon office focused on
hunting al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, former Iraqi president Saddam
Hussein and other high-profile targets.
His tendency to frame the fight against terrorism as a
religious battle contrasts with attempts by Bush and senior aides to
avoid such language out of concern that it could sound inflammatory in
the Muslim world and play into efforts by Islamic extremists to portray
themselves as engaged in a holy war.
"The lesson here is not whether someone has a
constitutional right to say what he wants," said Peter Feaver, an
associate professor at Duke University specializing in civil-military
affairs. "The lesson is how things spoken in one context will be
interpreted differently in another."
Outraged by Boykin's remarks, the Interfaith Alliance
appealed to Bush to reprimand the general. An Islamic rights group, the
Council on American-Islamic Relations, demanded that Boykin be
"Putting a man with such extremist views in a critical
policymaking position sends entirely the wrong message to a Muslim
world that is already skeptical about America's motives and
intentions," said Nihad Awad, the council's executive director.
Sen. Lincoln D. Chafee (R-R.I.) called the reported
remarks "deplorable," and Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.) said the Armed
Services Committee, which he chairs -- and which recommended Boykin be
confirmed for the Pentagon post -- would examine the matter.
But at a Pentagon news conference, Gen. Richard B.
Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that "at first
blush" he did not think Boykin's remarks had violated any military
"There is a very wide gray area on what the rules
permit," Myers said, noting that he also had spoken at a prayer meeting
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, appearing with
Myers, offered no opinion on Boykin's comments but praised the general
as "an officer that has an outstanding record in the United States
Even with such backing, however, Boykin indicated that
he had learned a lesson, telling NBC News that he will be curtailing
his speechmaking. Said Feaver, "This is the kind of thing that's
corrected within minutes of being made aware of."
2003 The Washington Post Company