“For God and Country” (Pro Deo et Patria) is the motto of the Army Chaplain Corps, and for years its use in the media (including in this World War II training film featuring Ronald Reagan) was reserved for the military chaplaincy. So it is striking, to say the least, to discover (in Nicholas Schmidle’s recent New Yorker article on the killing of Osama Bin Laden) that the Navy Seal who fired the fatal shots radioed in the news by saying, “For God and country–Geronimo, Geronimo, Geronimo. [pause] “Geronimo E.K.I.A.” [enemy killed in action] (“Geronimo” was the code word signifying that Bin Laden had been located.) Subsequently, the raiding team presented President Obama an American flag with the inscription: “From the Joint Task Force Operation Neptune’s Spear, 01 May 2011: ‘For God and country. Geronimo.’ “
It thus seems that a phrase originally employed to signal the specific mission of those military personnel responsible for religion is now being used to identify the military mission itself–in this case the killing of the Muslim man who declared his own holy war against the United States. A spiritual responsibility undertaken in service to both God and Caesar has been transformed into something akin to “God Wills it” (Dieu le veut!)–the cry that went up when Pope Urban II announced the First Crusade at the Council of Clermont in 1095.
This transformation may trace its origins to Dolly Parton’s post-9/11 album “For God and Country,” which featured such songs as “When Johnny Comes Marching Home,” “Ballad of the Green Beret,” and “Tie a Yellow Ribbon” sandwiched between “The Lord is My Shepherd” and “The Glory Forever.” But this typically Southern amalgam has, in the years since, taken on a dimension of that Old Time Crusading. Billy Vaughn, whose son Aaron was among the two dozen Seals killed in Afghanistan Saturday, described his son’s worldview to Matt Lauer this way:
Aaron knows that the war with Islamic fundamentalism, radicalism, has gone on for hundreds of years, if not thousands. And it can be traced through history. And he felt, and so did the other members of his team felt that the very existence of the Republic is at stake. And because of that Aaron was willing to give his life. And what I have to say is that Seal Team Six, I just know those men felt the same way and they see it clearly. They see it black and white. And so many of us don’t.
For God and Country indeed.