No, that’s not me trying to boost ratings by pissing off adherents of two of the world’s great religions. It’s the foretitle of a piece in the May issue of Harper’s called “Jesus Killed Mohammed: The Crusade For a Christian Military.” After spending two months barricaded behind pinhole bandwidth and isolated from current print media, I’m just getting caught up on some back reading. This one stuck out, coming about the same time as allegations of proselytization at Baghram and Scripture-embellished intelligence reports in the Bush White House.
Author Jeff Scharlet describes, in this account of contact in Samarra, what happens when stupid people are entrusted with important things:
Insurgents held off Bravo Company, which was called in to rescue the men in the compound. Ammunition ran low. A helicopter tried to drop more but missed. As dusk fell, the men prepared four Bradley Fighting Vehicles for a “run and gun” to draw fire away from the compound. Humphrey headed down from the roof to get a briefing. He found his lieutenant, John D. DeGiulio, with a couple of sergeants. They were snickering like schoolboys. They had commissioned the Special Forces interpreter, an Iraqi from Texas, to paint a legend across their Bradley’s armor, in giant red Arabic script.
“What’s it mean?” asked Humphrey.
“Jesus killed Mohammed,” one of the men told him. The soldiers guffawed. JESUS KILLED MOHAMMED was about to cruise into the Iraqi night.
The Bradley, a tracked “tank killer” armed with a cannon and missiles—to most eyes, indistinguishable from a tank itself—rolled out. The Iraqi interpreter took to the roof, bullhorn in hand. The sun was setting. Humphrey heard the keen of the call to prayer, then the crackle of the bullhorn with the interpreter answering—in Arabic, then in English for the troops, insulting the prophet. Humphrey’s men loved it. “They were young guys, you know?” says Humphrey. “They were scared.” A Special Forces officer stood next to the interpreter—“a big, tall, blond, grinning type,” says Humphrey.
“Jesus kill Mohammed!” chanted the interpreter. “Jesus kill Mohammed!”
A head emerged from a window to answer, somebody fired on the roof, and the Special Forces man directed a response from an MK-19 grenade launcher. “Boom,” remembers Humphrey. The head and the window and the wall around it disappeared.
“Jesus kill Mohammed!” Another head, another shot. Boom. “Jesus kill Mohammed!” Boom. In the distance, Humphrey heard the static of AK fire and the thud of RPGs. He saw a rolling rattle of light that looked like a firefight on wheels. “Each time I go into combat I get closer to God,” DeGiulio would later say. He thought The Passion had been a sign that he would survive. The Bradley seemed to draw fire from every doorway. There couldn’t be that many insurgents in Samarra, Humphrey thought. Was this a city of terrorists? Humphrey heard Lieutenant DeGiulio reporting in from the Bradley’s cabin, opening up on all doorways that popped off a round, responding to rifle fire—each Iraqi household is allowed one gun—with 25mm shells powerful enough to smash straight through the front of a house and out the back wall.
Humphrey was stunned. He’d been blown off a tower in Kosovo and seen action in the drug war, but he’d never witnessed a maneuver so fundamentally stupid.
I wish I could claim that I’ve never seen this sort of thing, but I have, and more than once. For Scharlet, episodes like this are symptomatic of a broader culture shift – maybe “not-so-quiet revolution” is a more apt descriptor – taking place within the US military. I always thought these sorts of eccentricities were driven by senior officers who either figured they’d advanced as far as they could and had nothing to lose by it, or thought they needed to distinguish themselves from the pack through some sort of display of quirky insanity in order to earn that elusive first star. Megalomania isn’t a problem limited to uniformed officers, of course. Neither is poor judgment, or hypocrisy. But messianic militancy – more, armed and institutionalized messianic militancy – is a whole ‘nother order of problem.