Atheists in Foxholes visit No Atheists in Foxholes Display
MAAF San Diego Atheists in Foxholes Visit ‘No Atheists in Foxholes’ Display at Marine Corps Base Museum, By guest contributor MAAF member Doug Wright
Located at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego, California, the MCRD Command Museum houses an impressive and remarkable collection of memorabilia, static displays and Marine Corps history with the quiet dignity it deserves. In the midst of this impressive historical display is a photo depicting religious services in a combat zone, with a caption reads “No Atheists in Foxholes”.
Excuse me docent… there seems to be an error in this exhibit.
The ‘no atheists in foxholes’ quote is attributed to various chaplains and journalists since the 1940s. At its core, this quote suggests that when the battle starts everyone is a believer in the face of possible death. The sentiment is widely echoed throughout the U.S. Armed Forces and the quote is fairly popular to this day.
Many believers feel it is inappropriate to make fear the sole arbiter of faith. A temporarily frightened atheist is no more Christian than a temporarily angry Christian suddenly an atheist. Believers and nonbelievers alike have stronger conviction than that.
The quote is as wrong as it is famous. Humanists and other nontheists have served (and continue to serve) in the U.S. Military longer and in far greater numbers than the average American would believe. Organizations like the Military Association of Atheists & Freethinkers stand as a testament to this fact. Secular patriots have answered the call, stood the watch, faced down the enemy and laid down their lives for their brothers- and sisters-in-arms, their nation and in defense of the Constitution. Is their service any different, or any less, than the service of the devout service members that they stood shoulder-to-shoulder with? I would argue that displays like this on military bases send a clear message that some believe so.
So MAAF San Diego decided to get together and send a message of their own. Hopefully this visit will remind Museum directors of the veterans they disrespect by this exclusive display. MAAF has reached out to the Museum to ask for a change to the display, but they have not responded. Stories of atheists in foxholes throughout the 20th century would be easy enough to collect from testimonials on the MAAF site.
Navy Lieutenant Commander (Retired) Tom McBride, a WWII Corsair fighter pilot, is one such atheist who deserves recognition not exclusion. He is an author and activist and did not miss this opportunity to show his support. In 2006, Tom began writing about his experiences and has published two books; one with author Kelle Metz. It was an honor and a pleasure to have the opportunity to briefly talk with him and have him relate his experiences with us. His site has more stories from this great American hero and secular patriot.
If you are reading this, Tom…thank you for both your military service to our country, your secular service to humanity and your support of MAAF. We look forward to meeting you again.
Author Doug Wright is a long-time MAAF member, organizer of MAAF San Diego, and a Navy Chief Petty Officer with 18 years’ military service. This article is written from personal experience and is not official policy of any government agency.