Commentary by Alex Grabtree
The Salvation Army is a one hundred year old Christian based "army" of enlisted folks fighting poverty. The Bush Administration has proposed expanding the efforts of the faith based organizations to fight poverty. The Salvation Army should be well prepared to take full advantage of this blurring of the separation of church and state. If the government is prepared to bring faith based organizations further into the fight against poverty, we have to ask how they will do in non-traditional roles typically reserved for the federal government, like fighting a war?
Those of us in Cleveland are in a unique position to see how a faith based army will react in a real war with the announcement in February that the Salvation Army will not allow the temporary labor organizations onto their property. The leading temp. service in the Downtown area is Minute Men. They send an army of low skilled workers out to job sites everyday and they have a good name for a combatant. For Minute Men and the other temporary labor organizations, this talk of a ban by the Salvation Army is a declaration of war. One member of the Minute Men staff mentioned to one reporter something to the effect of, how could they say those harsh things about us after we gave them the land for the playground behind one of their shelters?
So the gauntlet was thrown down and battle lines were drawn for a real live war between the Salvation Army and the Minute Men Army. This would truly be a Civil War, since the troops would need to pick sides. Currently the troops sleep at the Salvation Army at night and work for the temp. agencies during the day. The Sal Army, as they are affectionately known, does a great job with casualties because of that mobile canteen they own and they have a well tooled bureaucracy in place, but they have very little experience with offense and frontal attacks. Minute Men are always ready for a fight and reportedly have very organized connections in the underground economy. They have a good defense (they have been protecting their reputation for years), but they are really untested in making war.
The Salvation Army usually pursues a war of attrition by sending every decision that needs to be made up to the Generals in New York and then the strategy or battle plan comes back down the chain of command. This process usually takes months. Pentagon experts contacted for this article said that this strategy might have worked in World War I, but it has no place in modern warfare in an era of pinpoint accurate bombing and computer guidance systems. It was discovered that even on the first day of the war, they were pursuing peace negotiations with Minute Men. This adopting of the French strategy of making war was quite unexpected, but prevented any loss of life.
It seems that on the day the Sal Army announced the ban they received telephone calls from the Generals at Minute Men, and by the end of the day had backed away from the ban. They talked tough publicly, but had signed a non-aggression pact with Minute Men Services. They agreed to allow Minute Men staff to call the shelter and have the shelter staff announce that a van was coming over to pick up guys to be exploited by the temp. services. The war was over before even one person died or was fired.
The laborers who stay at the shelter operated by the Salvation Army were not important enough to go to war for, and certainly not important enough to die to protect. How do they expect to take on our national defense if they cannot even beat an untested corporation dependent on troops that feel a deep seated hate toward their superiors? For an Army, these guys are pushovers.
Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine, Issue #46 -2001