Sunday, September 11, 2011

WWJD: Does Jesus Love Nukes?

Following the publication of Truthout’s controversial report, the Air Force suspended its war ethics training for new nuclear missile launch officers after concerns by the Military Religious Freedom Foundation were raised by 31 missile launch officers. The mandatory briefing had been taught by military chaplains at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California for nearly 20 years. The issue at stake here is whether the US Air Force is violating the First Amendment’s establishment clause by citing the Old and New Testament as moral support for warfare in ethics training.

According to David Smith, the Air Force Education Training Command spokesman, the briefing was intended to be within an academic setting which would facilitate discussion. Nevertheless, as presented in a PowerPoint presentation war, exclusively represented through Christian doctrine, is good and righteous. As cited in the PowerPoint slides, St. Augustine’s “Qualifications for Just War” are to “avenge or to avert evil; to protect the innocent and restore moral social order.” Another section of the presentation states that in “Revelation 19:11 Jesus is the mighty warrior,” implying that Jesus himself is a proponent of warfare. These quotations from the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament not only are Sparknotes versions of the original texts, but they also impose Christian doctrine on officers in training to be a “disciple of Christ,” a blatant establishment of religion through the federal government.

The Air Force, understandably, wants assurance that officers will be willing to launch nuclear weapons at command, despite the officer’s moral reservations. This raises the fundamental question of whether or not a nuclear weapons officer can ever be ready to fulfill the duties of his or her position, knowing that their action will kill thousands of non-combatants. Though I cannot speak for all the officers present in the ethics debriefing, I know that this training could never prepare me for a job that I would never want to do. One has to ask oneself the question, at that moment, do you believe in the mission?

Through the ethics training, the Air Force was attempting to have officers premeditate their decision. However, by presenting religious iconography which augments the concept of St. Augustine’s “Christian Just War Theory,” in addition to quoted scripture within the training slides, officers were mandatorily subject to an establishment of Christian theology as inexorably linked with the decision to partake in nuclear warfare. Moreover, the Air Force education training assumes that all officers need Christian justification for their service. Directly following the PowerPoint presentation, missile officers in-training, signed a legal document which stated that they will not hesitate to launch the nuclear-armed Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBM) if commanded by the President of the United States. Since the officers signed the legal document after exposure to Christian theology, as interpreted by an Air Force chaplain, arguably, this document violates the no religious test mandate of the Constitution which states, “no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to….public Trust under the United States” (Article VI, Section 3). Yet, the boundaries of the military are not necessarily clear due to bureaucratic institutions so is this training a violation of the 1st Amendment since it is funded by federal tax dollars? Despite one’s answer to this question, I am sure that all can agree that religious teaching within the military creates a dangerous precedent which may enervate the establishment clause in general.

1 comment:

Harry R. said...

While I agree with Kathryn that the use of biblical passages in the training of our armed forces is inappropriate and may violate the establishment clause, I do not agree that these actions violate the Constitutional ban on religious tests. One could be Jewish, Muslim, or a member of any religion and still hear the presentation and sign the document. Even so, this does not mean that these religious symbols should not be removed. This lesson could be taught without the use of religious imagery so as to not threaten the establishment clause.