In Talking with Seventh-day Adventist ministers I have frequently heard remarks about how "wicked" the armed forces are. I must agree. "The whole world lieth in wickedness." 1 John 5:19. To impress upon our youth that the Army is bad, full of immorality and other vices, even though said in caution and with the best of intentions, may not be wise. Although caution is good, yet why unduly disturb young men concerning the weary months before them? Why not endeavor to fortify our young men by encouraging more faithful Bible study and prayer? We should be apostles of courage rather than prophets of doom.
First let me say that it is far from my purpose to minimize the sin and corruption that exists in the armed camps. Conditions are very bad. But, dear brethren, it is my experience after being seven years in the United States Army that the armed forces of a country usually represent a cross section of life in that country, and that men are not intrinsically worse after they have donned the uniform than they were before. If more wickedness is found in the armed forces, it may be because men have more time on their hands and more opportunity to en gage in the sins they already practiced before entering. Changing clothes does not change one's heart. Let me illustrate:
I have before me a record of one hundred American soldiers who at the time were general prisoners serving from one to six months in an army stockade in Europe. These records were taken by me at random from the records of many hundreds of young men who entered those prison gates during the period I was chaplain of the stockade, a period covering more than a year. Of the hundred taken at random seventy-two testified that their drinking habits had increased since they had entered the service of their country, and especially after 1 being assigned overseas. Twenty per cent drank but moderately, and alcohol was not connected with their present crime. The remainder, only 8 per cent, were nondrinkers.
They had not learned to imbibe at home and were not drinking now. In many cases men who drank claimed no memory of the misdemeanor they had been charged with, because they were carrying more than they should at the time they committed the deed. Many admitted they were ruining their career by drink. A number were repeaters, who upon discharge fell again, and so were returned to the stockade. With but one or two exceptions, no one reported that he had begun drinking since coming into the Army. In practically every case I 'found the prisoner admitting that his bad habits had their beginning in the home or in civilian life before entering the Army.
Here are a few sample interviews:
Prisoner No. I.
"What is the nature of your offense?"
Answer: "Breaking restriction."
"Is this your first court-martial?"
Answer: "No, the third."
"Are you a hard drinker?"
"Why do you not stop?"
Answer: "Seems that I cannot. Have tried several times. It is really ruining my career in the Army, and I know it."
Prisoner No. II.
"How many times have you been placed under arrest?"
Answer: "I have had four summary courts-martial."
"Do you realize such conduct means you will be dishonorably discharged as of no value to the service?"
Answer: "I am afraid that is true."
"Why do you persist in getting into trouble, soldier?"
Answer: "Drink is the cause of my trouble."
With but one or two exceptions, one fact stands out clearly in these records. Even though men were drinking more in the armed forces than in civilian life, and even though the amount of drink had been further increased overseas, yet the habit of drinking was acquired early in life, usually before leaving home. As young men at home they had not abstained. In the armed forces,
where temptations were greater, the habit increased. When they were once overseas, alcohol had still further tightened its grip upon them. Already weakened in the control of their appetites as youths, they had further lost that control as grown men, until now they had surrendered the mastery of themselves entirely. Alcohol had caused their downfall, but it was a habit not acquired in the armed forces.
While these conditions are bad, and while, if the tendency is to live on a low level of morality, there is every opportunity to do so, yet in contrast with this picture is the fact that many young men actually find God and accept salvation while in the armed forces.
The purpose of these statements is certainly not to defend an organization, but rather to emphasize an old truth the place of reform is in the home. It is in the home that men are made. It has been my observation that men coming from Christian homes seldom stray far from the bounds placed about them in their youth. The world itself is now a lazar house of sin. The human heart unregenerated is desperately wicked, anywhere, and under all conditions. In some circumstances sin may be more open and men more frank, but it is hardly wise to look upon one section of unregenerated men as being worse than other groups. Mankind today is sick, and all need a physician, but there is more hope for a sick man's cure when he knows he is sick, is free to acknowledge it, and wants help, than for the man who lacks that experience. As ministering brethren we may render the best help to youth by recognizing life's realities and the human tendency downward, but using well our opportunities to uplift by pointing men heavenward.