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In regard to recent articles regarding atheists in the military (“Atheists in military seek equal treatment” and “Nonbelievers get sponsored at service academies,” Aug. 25), I would like to submit some thoughts regarding my experience with atheists in the ranks and my experiences with chaplains who serve the aggregate.

To begin, in more than 13 years of active-duty service, I have met many atheists. While I am not an atheist, I have always respected and admired the thoughts and beliefs of my atheist friends. As a scientist (physician), I completely understand the perspective of folks who cannot believe in something that cannot be proven (existence of higher being). Similarly, I find no offense when “nonbelievers” cite the many shortcomings and hypocrisies of organized religion as a reason to “stay away.”

However, I disagree with comments depicting widespread attempts at proselytization by chaplains. I work with chaplains frequently. Every one of the chaplains I know has submitted on numerous occasions that he or she is there not to convert but to serve as a “sounding board.” Further, in 13 years and three deployments, I have never seen any unfair treatment of vocal atheists; in fact, many of my fellow Catholic friends embraced atheist criticisms of our male clergy as ammunition to calculate some way to correct their nefarious ways.

All in all, I hope that atheists acknowledge how much we “believers” respect their beliefs, admire them without conditions and hope to move forward with team spirit.

Dr. (Lt. Col.) Daniel Bigley

Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences

Bethesda, Md.

Recession reflections abound

Jaime O’Neill (“These hard times haven’t spawned great art,” column, Sept. 16) says this recession lacks the iconography of the Great Depression; that our artists, writers, photographers and moviemakers aren’t reflecting the country’s economic hardship; and asks, in essence, “Where is our Dorothea Lange?”

There are millions of photographs and other works of art depicting today’s recession by those who were not supported by the U.S. government to produce them. Lange was among many paid photographers for the Farm Security Administration in the middle of our country’s worst economic time. Where is the government’s regard for artists now? In a basket under the chopping block.

O’Neill references the Depression-era works of Woody Guthrie and John Steinbeck as if these men were among many doing the same thing. O’Neill’s version of history and art is delusional. Hollywood didn’t show Fay Wray standing in a bread line before running “King Kong” out of the goodness of its heart. Those fat cats paid Wray to pull on heartstrings and purse strings alike. Forty years after Lange shot “Migrant Mother,” its original and 31 other photos she produced were found in a trash bin in San Jose, Calif. How’s that for iconic?

The Internet currently hosts — and satellite television has broadcasted — countless images, stories and other artistic depictions of Americans’ struggles and hardships. During the Great Depression, how much a person saw and heard was limited by that era’s technological ability to capture and deliver it. It’s easy to hold up one image as representative of an era when there are only thousands from which to choose. Today there are millions.

O’Neill is wrong to say there is unwillingness among American artists to tell our tale. There is only O’Neill’s unwillingness to see what has been here all along.

Diana Hartman

Böblingen, Germany


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