Sky Pilot

Jonathon Delacour’s recent comments on the morality of war, in general, and the relationship between war and religion reminded me of some of my own experiences and feelings while in Vietnam.

Despite feeling the battalion chaplain was a great fellow, I wanted nothing to do with his sermons before and after our combat missions, much less prayers over a slain comrade. Perhaps that was because I had already begun to feel that this war was immoral, but I suspect it was more that I felt deep down that it was “un-Christian” to be killing your fellow man.

As a platoon leader I couldn’t totally avoid the chaplain’s sermons, but I always put as much distance between them and myself as possible, even if it meant taking on an extra duty. I had a duty to be there, but I couldn’t personally reconcile those duties with my own spiritual beliefs.

It wasn’t that I was unaware of Christianity’s history, but I had personally chosen to view the Crusades, and songs like Onward Christian Soldiers, as a perversion of Christ’s message. To me, Christ represented the ultimate “Love,” and there was no connection between “Love” and killing your fellow man. In that sense, I guess I tended to agree with AKMA, not Jonathon.

When I returned from Vietnam, one of my favorite songs was Eric Burdon and the Animal’s “Sky Pilot,” a popular song which pointed out the chaplain’s religious hypocrisy. The bluesy tone of the song was certainly appealing but it was lines like

But he’ll stay behind
And he’ll meditate
But it won’t stop the bleeding
Or ease the hate.

As the young men move out
Into the battle zone
He feels good –
With God you’re never alone

that really appealed to me. This contrast between those forced to fight and those who stayed behind and felt “good” appealed to me on many levels.

Perhaps it’s the INTP in me, but I could never quite get past the inconsistency of the young men bleeding and learning to hate while the minister prayed for them. The two were simply irreconcilable, as suggested by:

In the morning they return
With tears in their eyes
The stench of death
Drifts up to the skies.

A young soldier so ill
Looks at the Sky Pilot
Remembers the words
“Thou shalt not kill”.

Of course, the song ends with the refrain “How high can you fly?/You never,never,never reach the sky,” suggesting that it’s the chaplain that’s wrong and lacks true faith, but I never felt that way.

I simply felt that, for me, there was no way to reconcile my attempts to kill VC with my own beliefs. I had suspended my spiritual beliefs in order to stay alive and to fulfill my duties as a platoon leader. I doubt I could have done any other and stayed alive or stayed sane.

I would worrry about my eternal soul in another time and in another place.