The Air Force, in response to an exclusive report published by Truthout earlier this week, has withdrawn materials used in a training session that relied upon Bible passages and a quote from an ex-Nazi SS officer to teach missile officers about the morals and ethics of launching nuclear weapons.
The Nuclear Ethics and Nuclear Warfare training “has been taken out of the curriculum and is being reviewed,” said David Smith, chief of public affairs of Air Education and Training Command at Randolph Air Force Base in Texas. “The commander reviewed it and decided we needed to have a good hard look at it and make sure it reflected views of modern society.”
Smith said the ethics training has been in place for “20-plus years” and given to about 150 officers a year. The decision to suspend the ethics course was made on Wednesday after Truthout's report was published. He added that it will now be “given thorough scrutiny” and “folks will be appointed to look at what we have and determine its utility and if they think its useful to continue having an ethics course they will develop a new course.”
The course was led by Air Force chaplains and took place during a missile officer's first week in training at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. Officers who train to be missileers were required to attend the ethics course, which included a PowerPoint presentation on St. Augustine's “Christian Just War Theory” as well as numerous examples of characters from the New and Old Testament the training materials asserted engaged in warfighting in a “righteous way.”
St. Augustine's “Qualifications for Just War,” according to the way the Air Force characterized it in the 43 PowerPoint slides used in the ethics training, are: “to avenge or to avert evil; to protect the innocent and restore moral social order (just cause)” and “to restore moral order; not expand power, not for pride or revenge (just intent).”
One of the PowerPoint slides also contained a passage from the Book of Revelation that claims Jesus Christ, as the “mighty warrior,” believed some wars to be just.
At the conclusion of the ethics training session, missile officers were asked to sign a legal document stating they will not hesitate to launch the nuclear-armed Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBM) “if lawfully ordered to do so by the President of the United States or his lawful successor.”
The use of religious imagery in the slides and the numerous references to the New and Old Testament would appear to constitute a violation of the First Amendment establishing a wall of separation between church and state and Clause 3, Article 6 of the Constitution, which specifically prohibits a “religious test.”
The PowerPoint was included with more than 500 pages of other documents pertaining to a missile officer's first week in training that was released by the Air Force under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and provided to Truthout by the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), a civil rights organization.
Another PowerPoint slide quoted Wernher Von Braun, a former member of the Nazi Party and SS officer who is regarded as the father of the US space program. Von Braun was not cited in the PowerPoint as a scientific expert, rather, he was specifically being referenced as a moral authority, which is remarkable considering that the Nazi scientist used Jews imprisoned in concentration camps, captured French anti-Nazi partisans, civilians, and others to help build the V-2, a weapon responsible for the death of thousands of British civilians.
MRFF President Mikey Weinstein said more than 30 missile officers contacted his organization over the past week to complain about the Christian imagery and biblical passages in the ethics training. He said the decision by the Air Force to pull the ethics course material is a “great victory for the constitution.” [Full disclosure: Weinstein is a member of Truthout's Board of Advisers.]
“We are not going to commend the Air Force for doing something they should have done a quarter-century ago,” Weinstein said. “It's an outrage and a deliberate attempt to torture and distort our constitution when the US Air Force mandatorily teaches its nuclear missile launch officers that fundamentalist Christian theology is inextricably intertwined with the 'correct' decision to launch nukes.”