A faith-based book for military personnel has given opponents of Gen. David Petraeus more fuel for protests though the author claims to have been the one who made the mistake.
"In the process of securing … comments for recommending the book I believe there was a basic misunderstanding on my part that the comments were publishable," Army Chaplain (Lt. Col.) William McCoy wrote in an Aug. 19 email to Military.com, the nation's largest military and veteran membership organization.
The author was referring to endorsements for his book, Under Orders: A Spiritual Handbook for Military Personnel, by Petraeus and Maj. Gen. Mark Hertling, who said the book "should be in every rucksack for those times when soldiers need spiritual energy" and called it "inspirational," respectively.
The endorsements, McCoy explained, "were intended for me personally rather than for the general public."
Despite the author's claims, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, a watchdog group, is calling for an investigation.
"General Petraeus has, by his own hand, become a quintessential poster child of this fundamentalist Christian religious predation, via his unadulterated and shocking public endorsement of a book touting both Christian supremacy and exceptionalism," MRFF founder Michael Weinstein expressed in a statement to Military.com.
"MRFF is now officially putting both Army chaplain Lt. Col. Bill McCoy and General Petraeus on notice not to destroy any of the written or electronic records of their communications about this [issue]," added the former Air Force judge advocate general and White House counsel during the Reagan administration.
According to the MRFF, Petraeus's endorsement of the book was brought to its attention when Weinstein noticed a half-page ad for the 2008 edition of the 3-year-old book in the Air Force Times. Though Weinstein was initially reading the Aug. 11 issue of the publication to probe an interview with Air Force Chief of Chaplains Maj. Gen. Cecil Richardson, the title of McCoy's book caught his eye and prompted him to find out what the book was about.
"[A]nd this is what we found – a pro-Christian, anti-atheist book heartily endorsed by none other than Gen. David Petraeus, a slap in the face from the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq to the 21 percent of the men and women fighting there who define themselves as atheists or having no religious preference," wrote Chris Rodda, a freelance writer and researcher for the MRFF, in a recent article.
Though Rodda said she "actually found much of the book to be pretty good" and that it promotes "a brand of Christianity that I wish we saw more of in both the military and civilian spheres," she found Petraeus' endorsement to be improper.
"And, of course, the fact that this book not only promotes a specific religion, but denigrates those service members who choose to have no religion, makes Petraeus' endorsement all the more exceptionable," she added.
Petraeus spokesman Col. Steven Boylan, however, said the general was likely unaware of the public use of his endorsement as he has been in Iraq since the beginning of February 2007 – before the second publication of the 2005 book. Petraeus's endorsement has been on the book since its 2007 publication, while Hertling's plug first appeared on the original 2005 edition.
"[U]nless someone notes it, we would not be aware of it," Boylan wrote in an Aug. 19 email to Military.com. "We don't get the stateside papers in Baghdad and I doubt very much that Gen. Petraeus goes to Amazon.com much, if at all."
But even if Petraeus was aware of the publication of his endorsement, the Rev. Billy Baugham, a retired Army chaplain and executive director of the International Conference of Evangelical Chaplain Endorsers (ICECE), says Petraeus has a right to plug the book.
Past generals, such as George C. Marshall and George Patton, made the case for religion in the ranks, he argued.
"So the ICECE would support what General Petraeus has done," Baugham told Military.com.
On his blog, McCoy said the blurb will be removed from future editions of the book, which is listed as a Best Seller in its category by the Army and Air Force Exchange System.
McCoy was recently awarded a "Golden Pen Award" for the book at the US Army's Command and General Staff College for a major publication by a faculty member.