It’s ‘Oh, no! no!’ not ‘Ho! Ho! Ho!’ at Fort Belvoir, in Fairfax County, Virginia, near Washington, D.C. Instead of spreading holiday cheer, as a secular figure beloved by children and adults alike, he’s spreading dissention in the ranks. And the commanders there haven’t responded to complaints from more than 60 individuals, brought to their attention by the Military Religious Freedom Foundation.
“This image of Santa in a military uniform with the words ‘God Bless America’ imply that the military is a Christian religious organization, which is false and degrading to all soldiers,” one Army officer who served in Afghanistan wrote in an email to MRFF. “Although I was raised a Christian, was baptized, and underwent confirmation at a Methodist church, I was disgusted to see this nonsecular image at the commissary.”
“We never attack Santa Claus, we know that Santa Claus is a secular figure,” MRFF Founder and President Mikey Weinstein told Crooks and Liars, “But there's four things that are different with this one,” he said.
It’s not just Santa that normally gets a pass from them. “We never attack Christmas ornaments or Christmas trees, unless they have pictures of Auschwitz on them,” Weinstein said, in an aside. But, “In this case, there are four distinct things that make this completely different. Santa Claus is wearing a military uniform, what looks an awful lot like a US Army uniform on a huge US military army base.”
It's not just any base, as it happens, “My youngest son was born at Fort Belvoir there when I was an active duty officer stationed at the White House,” Weinstein noted. “The next thing is the sign in front of where Santa is standing, ‘God Bless America.’ That's wonderful. It's great. People say it all the time. But it's another piece of indicia that moves it into the religious realm.” What’s innocent in everyday civilian life isn’t when it’s promoted by the military’s command structure. “Thirdly, if you look on his uniform, where normally it might say ‘U.S. Air Force,’ or ‘U.S. Army’ or ‘U.S. Marine Corps,’ ‘U.S. Navy,’ it says ‘Christmas Force.’” Weinstein said, incredulously. “‘Christmas force.’ I can’t make this shit up. It’s right there.”
Those first three are all clearly visible, for anyone to see. But the last problem is experiential. “Almost all the complainants—like the lead one that came to us on this— have been through mandatory situations where they've been forced to engage in blessing for Jesus Christ. It’s always one faith, always it's Christianity. Whether it's a change of command, or an annual military event military, a training event, a retirement ceremony, an assumption of command ceremony. And that's the fourth thing.” The experience of exclusion, that’s antithetical to military’s mission of being unified in defense of all Americans and all their rights.
There was a similar problem with an incident Weinstein pointed to: “At Joint Base Lewis-McChord [near Tacoma, Washington], where they put out a calendar that recognizes National Maple Syrup Day, Bacon Day, but they fuck up Chanukah by three weeks,” he said.
Being tied to the lunar calendar, the timing of Chanukah varies every year, this year starting on December 22. But the calendar at Lewis-McChord marked it down on December 2. It also recognized, “Eat a red apple day!” (Dec 1), “Santa's List Day” (Dec 4), “Christmas Card Day” (Dec 9), “National Chocolate Covered Anything Day” (Dec 16), “National Maple Syrup Day” (Dec 17), “Make Cut Out Snowflakes Day” (Dec 27), and “Bacon Day” (Dec 30).
All that attention to days you might never have heard of only serves to underscore the casual indifference in getting Chanukah so egregiously wrong. Just one more example of a pattern seen over and over again. When I asked how many time this year, “Hundreds of them,” Weinsten said. The vast majority settled quickly and quietly—but the messages were already sent.
Instead of bringing people together, “It becomes this time of year the antithetical element that destroys what keeps the military, powerful and strong, which is unit cohesion, good order, morale and discipline—like what Trump just did by pardoning those three war criminals, particularly Chief Petty Officer Gallagher and the Navy SEALs,” Weinstein said. “Rather than trying to bring people together it divides. And having Santa in the military uniform with the ‘God Bless America’ sign in front of him, and the uniform saying ‘Christmas Force,’ for all those people – and there's so many, many….because this happens every year, it is a the time of year that makes people feel marginalized, dehumanized, kicked to the curb, thrown under the bus.”
Which, needless to say, is not what Santa is supposed to be all about. Much less, the Constitution that the military is sworn to defend.