Christianity is largely composed of paradoxes; the Christian attitude towards the military profession is no exception to this rule. Christianity seeks peace, but praises those who are called to protect their homeland.
The Bible speaks favorably of soldiers and uses military metaphors frequently. Christ praised the Roman centurion for his faith. St. Paul spoke of putting on the “armor of God” to withstand the assaults of the devil. (Ephesians 6:11). The Church accordingly praises worthy Christian men at arms; Christian soldiers such as St. George and St. Martin of Tours have been canonized. In the medieval era, the Church praised holy wars and crusades in defense of Christendom.
But the Bible also demands peace; Christ Himself is the Prince of Peace, who exhorted His apostles to put up their swords when He was taken in the Garden of Gethsemane. During the medieval era, the Church instituted the Truce of God to prevent Christian knights from killing one another. Pope Benedict XV became famous for his efforts to encourage peace during World War I.
The profession of soldier is an honorable profession. Men were created by God with the charge to cherish and protect what they love. The military is the perfect profession for the fulfillment of this desire; men, through soldierhood, are given the opportunity and blessing to serve a cause higher than themselves.
In America, many fall into two harmful extremes when it comes to the military profession. The first is to treat all soldiers as heroes, to view all soldiers as selfless protectors of the free world who continuously put themselves in harm’s way for the good of the world and for humanity. The second is to see soldiers as deluded fools or monsters who willingly place themselves in the service of an American empire which rains down oppression on humanity. Both of these extremes are wrong.
The idea that American soldiers are stormtroopers in the service of an evil empire is lunacy. America, for all its failings, still (generally) shows much more moral sense than the rest of the world. American soldiers, as a whole, are masters of their field and consummate professionals. American soldiers are trained incredibly well, and tasked with extremely delicate situations which they perform to the best of their ability.
However, hero-worship of soldiers is ingrained the American psyche. The idea that “every soldier is a hero” is false - members of the military are not infallible. Some individuals use the service as an opportunity to engage in cruelty or violence. War crimes are not mere chimeras, and must not be swept under the rug.
Men and women in uniform should not be deified solely on account of their profession. Nor should they be condemned as villains for the stupidity of their commanding officers. Soldiers are engaged in a noble profession – and should be treated accordingly. But when they fail, they must be treated as other fallen men.