|DOWN ON YOUR KNEES, SOLDIER
by Michael Freund (Jerusalem Post)
|George Washington did it. Stonewall Jackson did it. So did Norman Schwarzkopf, Horatio Nelson and Robert E. Lee.
As different as they may have been from one another, these great military figures all shared one thing in common: before embarking on a fateful battle, they made sure to arm themselves with some much-needed perspective. Simply put, each of
Though we do not ordinarily associate spiritual sensitivity with men of war, the fact is that some of the most prominent
generals of the modern era were not ashamed of invoking Divine mercy in their hour of need. And neither, I think, should we.
Take, for example, George S. Patton, the flamboyant World War II general better known as "Old Blood and Guts". Thanks to
the 1970 Hollywood rendition of his life, which won 8 Academy Awards, Patton's name has become synonymous in the
public's mind more with ruthless discipline and robust cursing than with acknowledging G-d's role in the affairs of men.
Though a hardened soldier, Patton was in fact a staunch advocate of prayer, deeming it a central component of any successful military strategy. "I am a strong believer in prayer. There are three ways that men get what they want: by planning, by
working, and by praying", he once said.
Indeed in early December 1944, as Hitler was preparing to launch a desperate assault against Allied troops which later came
to be known as the Battle of the Bulge, Patton interrupted his war-planning to place a call to James O'Neill, chief chaplain of
the US Third Army.
"This is General Patton; do you have a good prayer for weather?" he told the astonished chaplain. "We must do something
about those rains if we are to win the war."
At Patton's request, a special prayer was written asking not only for better weather, but also for victory over America's foes. "Grant us fair weather for Battle," it read. "Graciously hearken to us as soldiers who call upon Thee that, armed with Thy
power, we may advance from victory to victory, and crush the oppression and wickedness of our enemies, and establish Thy
justice among men and nations. Amen."
At Patton's instruction, the army printed up some 250,000 pocket-sized cards containing the prayer and distributed one to each American soldier under his command. Several days later, Patton led his troops in a surprise counter-attack against the German forces, relieving a contingent of trapped soldiers, staving off an Allied defeat and setting the stage for the demise of Hitler's nefarious regime.
To any outside observer, it was evident that Patton's boldness at the helm was responsible for the unexpected victory. But
Patton himself saw things somewhat differently.
In January 1945, after routing the Germans, he summoned Chaplain O'Neill to Luxembourg, where he told him, "Well, Padre,
our prayers worked. I knew they would." He then awarded O'Neill the Bronze Star, undoubtedly marking the first time in
history that a soldier had received a medal for composing a prayer.
Nearly six decades later, the safety of the free world is again in danger. Between Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, ongoing Palestinian and al-Qaeda terrorism, and the threat posed by a nuclear-armed North Korea, the people of Israel and the United States have plenty to be concerned about. Without meaning to sound melodramatic, it seems fair to say that the fate of
Western civilization might very well hang in the balance.
As General Patton demonstrated, it is precisely at times such as these that we must mobilize all the forces at our disposal, marshalling not only our military might, but our spiritual strength too. Though not everyone is capable of donning a uniform
and joining the fray, what each of us can and must do is enlist as a spiritual warrior, brandishing our most powerful weapon
of all: our faith.
If Islamic fundamentalists are intent on waging a "holy war", then what could be more appropriate than confronting them with
our own sacred fervor? It is time for Jews and Christians, Israelis and Americans alike, to pray - to pray for the safety of our soldiers, to plead for our enemies' downfall and tolong for their rapid defeat.
Let the cynics and the skeptics say what they wish, but prayer is neither a sign of weakness nor an indicator of despair. Just
the opposite. It is a telling reminder of our certainty in the justness of our cause, of our profound belief that there is good and
evil in this world, and that the only way to safeguard the former is to root out the latter, come what may.
On Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, when our very lives are on the line, we fall down on our knees in prayer as we re-enact the special Temple service which was conducted by the High Priest in Jerusalem nearly two millennia ago.
On the eve of war with Iraq, dropping to our knees might not seem like the most "manly" thing to do. But by placing our trust
in G-d like the great generals before us, we can reinforce our sense of purpose and mission. And that, more than anything else,
is the surest guarantee of victory.
|The writer served as Deputy Director of Communications & Policy Planning in the Prime Minister's Office from 1966-1999.|