Conflict and Compromise: American Military Chaplains and the Vietnam War Public Deposited

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  • March 20, 2019
  • Whitt, Jacqueline Earline
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of History
  • Military chaplains, serving alongside American servicemen and women, have lived and worked at the cultural and institutional intersections of religion and war. Understanding how chaplains experienced the Vietnam War—as military officers and as clergy—illuminates both the sympathies and tensions between faith and war. This dissertation examines chaplains’ experiences and reflections of the Vietnam War in order to track that war’s effects on chaplains personally and on the institutional chaplaincy. Chaplains acted as “cultural mediators or links between religious and military cultures in situations that demanded explanation and reconciliation. Chaplains’ experiences highlighted the stress fracturing the nation as Vietnam came to represent a failure of both American foreign policy and a certain vision of American identity. This dissertation examines the impact of the Vietnam War on chaplains as individuals and on the institutional chaplaincy. The dissertation uses four types of primary sources: Chaplain Corps official records; first person accounts of Vietnam-era chaplains; oral interviews with chaplains; and publications of the mainstream media, the popular religious press, and denominational organizations. These materials uncover not only the structural and organizational workings of the chaplaincy, but also the cultural patterns and ideas that influenced chaplains and those around them. The dissertation is organized into three parts. The first part examines the religious, cultural, and international contexts of the early Cold War in order to contextualize the Vietnam War. The second part deals with the combat period of the Vietnam War, roughly 1962-1973; its three chapters examine chaplains’ official functions, chaplains’ experiences, and chaplains’ relationship to homefront communities. The third part of the dissertation deals with post-Vietnam responses and changes among chaplains and within the institutional chaplaincy. Chaplains remain at the forefront of discussions about the relationship between religion and war, and the reverberations from Vietnam are intense. Several contemporary situations reveal uncertainty about the chaplain’s role in the modern United States military. Many of these questions are rooted in the tensions of chaplains’ experiences in the Vietnam War. Understanding the chaplaincy during this period provides important insights into the history of both religion and the military in late twentieth century America.
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  • In Copyright
  • Kohn, Richard H.
  • Open access

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