Thursday, May 26, 2005

“New Testament”: It’s a mighty name for a 70-ton battle tank.

The biblical words are neatly printed on the main gun of an M1A1 Abrams tank rolling along somewhere near Haditha, Iraq. To the Marines of the 4th Tank Battalion, “New Testament” is a fierce beacon and impervious to insurgent mortar fire.

But some critics grumble that an official photo of the tank accompanies a Marine Corps press release about the company’s mission with a caption that reads, “The ‘New Testament’ … prepares to lead the way during a recent mission.” The name of the tank is not mentioned in the story.

The Marine Corps declined to comment yesterday. Not so the pundits.

“When our own military seems to be advertizing an explicitly Christian identity in Iraq, then it’s time [President Bush] took action. Whoever in the marines allowed this tank to be defaced in this way needs to be removed from his post. It’s an outrage — to both the New Testament and to our mission in Iraq,” Andrew Sullivan, senior editor at the New Republic, wrote Tuesday at his own Web site (

Filmmaker Michael Moore cited the story, posting the photo online ( with the Marine directive, “This image has been cleared for release.”

“What bothers me is that no one put a stop to this display of ignorance and disrespect before it was included on the official website for the Marine Corps,” noted an entry at the Web log Evangelical Outpost (

Others called the outrage an overreaction.

“Sometimes all you have left is faith on the battlefield,” said the Rev. Charles Nalls, a former military officer and vicar of the Parish of Christ the King in the District.

“On the one hand, given the volatility in the region, perhaps there might have been a better name. But this is not obscene or vile. There’s a long history of soldiers, sailors and airmen naming weapons of war, or using helmet art. This is probably nothing more than that. They wanted a name and that was the one they chose,” he said.

Names have proved a challenge in the war on terror. In 2001, Islamic groups faulted the Defense Department for giving the U.S. military response to September 11 the name Operation Infinite Justice. The Defense Department instead opted for Operation Enduring Freedom.

An uproar was created in 2003 when photos of bombs humorously addressed to Saddam Hussein, some with expletives, were published and broadcast.

A Marine spokesman could not cite regulations governing the names of battlefield vehicles. Naming policies apparently vary.

Classes of U.S. Navy ships are named after rivers, cities, towns, American battles and presidents, according to the U.S. Naval Historical Society. Aerospace vehicles must “characterize the mission” and not violate commercial trademarks, the Defense Department said. The Army has a similar policy.

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