Religious Rifles: Flashback to 1857

The news that Western military forces have been using rifle sights inscribed with references to biblical verses has garnered column inches and news coverage around the world this week. The lucrative contract with the Pentagon has seen Trijicon provide more than 300,000 rifle sights to the Marine Corps and Army with thousands more sold to the British, Australian and New Zealand defence forces.

The references, discreetly included as part of each sight’s identification number, include such biblical words of wisdom such as this from Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians…

For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ

Or this from John 8:12…

When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life


"WTF!!! Exodus 30:23? And I will take away my hand, and thou shalt see my back parts: but my face thou canst not see?!?!?"

Trijicon’s website talks about their commitment to excellence…

Trijicon’s™ self-luminous aiming systems have been battle-tested by those who protect and defend us around the globe — rightfully earning the reputation as having the most sophisticated and dependable optics on the planet.

And they are fairly sure of the sort of readership they are dealing with…

Whether you’re doing a night sweep through enemy territory, or defending an established position against multiple moving targets, you’ll want to equip yourself with the brand that’s now standard issue with many government agencies and military outfits the world over.

It’s not a civilian one is it? No…

How many times have you lost your target because it was too dark? Or misidentified a friend for a foe? Never again, thanks to Trijicon.

These seem like top rifle sights don’t they?

And, if you watch a fair and balanced news network such as Fox you’ll see reasonable minded commentators such as Steve Doocy pointing out, “if anybody’s making this a religious thing, they started it”.

Here he is courtesy of TPM…

So what’s the big deal about? The practice of putting Bible references on the sights was begun nearly 30 years ago by Trijicon’s founder, Glyn Bindon. After he was killed in a plane crash in 2003, his son Stephen has simply continued the practice.

Well, as most commentators have already pointed out, carrying weapons which carry Christian “messages” into a conflict against a Muslim foe means you run the risk of your enemy using the religious nature of the conflict as a recruiting tool. Now, I’m sure a number of combatants on both sides already see both the situations in Iraq and Afghanistan as religious conflicts but giving what can be read as a surreptitious Christian blessing to weapons can only make things worse.

What did shock me was a line buried in this report from the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette.

Photos posted on a Defense Department Web site show Iraqi forces training with rifles equipped with the inscribed sights.


And if you shout "Allah Akbar" it fires backwards

And that reminded me of another religious rifle and its tragic consequences.

The Indian Rebellion of 1857 (often referred to as the Indian Mutiny) had many complex causes. But, when a complex situation builds to a head sometimes it can take something simple, and the indifference or ignorance of those in charge, for it to explode.

The final spark that lit that explosion was the issuing of the new Enfield Pattern 1853 Rifle-Musket to Indian troops. The rifle cartridges were a twist of greased paper which contained both bullet and powder. In order to load the rifle the soldier would be required to bite the end off the cartridge, pour the powder down the barrel and then ram the cartridge down after it. The rifle training handbook also noted…

Whenever the grease around the bullet appears to be melted away… the sides of the bullet should be wetted in the mouth before putting it into the barrel; the saliva will serve the purpose of grease for the time being

The problem with the instructions was the cartridges were greased with either pig or beef fat, and the idea of putting either in their mouths was abhorrent to the predominantly Hindu and Muslim soldiers. Rumours quickly spread that the British were trying to “break their caste” and convert them to Christianity. The talk was helped by the overt evangelism of many of the British hierarchy at the time.

The upper echelons of the Indian administration bungled their response woefully, at first denying what they referred to as “unfounded rumours” and then lining troops up and ordering them to use the cartridge on pain of immediate dismissal from the ranks. Troops rebelled in barracks across the country and the resulting atrocities on both sides shaped the course of Indian and British Imperial history forever.

Captured "mutineers" were often tied across cannon and blown apart

So the initial response to the rifle sight story from U.S. Central Command spokesman, Air Force Maj. John Redfield, had a horribly familiar ring…

This situation is not unlike the situation with U.S. currency. Are we going to stop using money because the bills have ‘In God We Trust’ on them? As long as the sights meet the combat needs of troops, they’ll continue to be used

However, Trijicon have since bowed to pressure from a number of sources including Army Gen. David Petraeus, Central Command’s top officer. Stephen Bindon said yesterday…

Trijicon has proudly served the U.S. military for more than two decades, and our decision to offer to voluntarily remove these references is both prudent and appropriate

They are distributing modification kits to defense forces fee of charge to enable the inscriptions to be removed.

Whether the damage has already been done is yet to be seen.

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