Religion on the Battlefield

Religion on the Battlefield

Ron E. Hassner

Cornell University Press, Ithaca, New York, 2016, 232 pages

Book Review published on: August 25, 2017

Religion on the Battlefield examines how religion shapes the battlefield and acts as a force multiplier, both enabling and constraining operations. Author Ron Hassner deliberately stays away from the topic of religion and its role in the cause of conflicts, limiting his research to how it can affect military decision making.

Hassner starts by laying out four common biases: religion as a cause of war, overemphasis on religious identities as primary drivers, the emphasis of these identities as opposed to practices, and how Islam has recently become associated with global terrorism. He goes on to elaborate on each of these biases, presenting a more detailed examination of each and correcting them.

Rather than discussing religious ideas, most of the book’s emphasis is on the examination of religious practices and how they affect military decision makers. His examination is broken down into four “sacred” areas: time, space, authority, and rituals. Hassner devotes a separate chapter to each, defining the areas in the beginning of their respective chapters and providing multiple examples of how each positively and negatively affect military operations. The author ends each chapter with some conclusions for the reader to consider.

The final chapter in the book examines religion on the battlefield in Iraq (2003-2009). Here the author discusses the dilemma of military chaplains as advisors and liaisons, and he questions at what point they might cross the line in developing religious intelligence, enabling combat operations and potentially losing their noncombatant status. This is a very thought-provoking chapter.

The book is well written from start to finish and uses well-known historical examples. It is organized in a logical sequence, and the author has done a good job of clearly describing the thesis and objectives to the reader. Each chapter is well laid out and ends with some conclusions for consideration. I found it refreshing to read, as it was not another book on religion as a cause of conflict; it was instead about how religious practices commonly affect military operations. I recommend this book for all levels of military planners.

Book Review written by: Lt. Col. George Hodge, U.S. Army, Retired, Lansing, Kansas