Air Force cites New Testament, ex-Nazi, to train officers on ethics of launching nuclear weapons

Last week, Jason Leopold reported in Truthout:

The United States Air Force has been training young missile officers about the morals and ethics of launching nuclear weapons by citing passages from the New Testament and commentary from a former member of the Nazi Party, according to newly released documents.

The mandatory Nuclear Ethics and Nuclear Warfare session, which includes a discussion on St. Augustine’s “Christian Just War Theory,” is led by Air Force chaplains and takes place during a missile officer’s first week in training at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

St. Augustine’s “Qualifications for Just War,” according to the way it is cited in a 43-page PowerPoint presentation, 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).”

The Air Force documents were released under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and provided to Truthout by the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), a civil rights organization. MRFF President Mikey Weinstein said more than 30 Air Force officers, a majority of whom describe themselves as practicing Protestants and Roman Catholics, have contacted his group over the past week in hopes of enlisting him to work with the Air Force to have the Christian-themed teachings removed from the nuclear weapons ethics training session. [Full disclosure: Weinstein is a member of Truthout’s Board of Advisers.]

Included with the PowerPoint presentation are more than 500 pages of other documents pertaining to a missile officer’s first week of training, which takes place before they are sent to one of three Air Force bases to guard the country’s Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) arsenal and, if called upon to do so by the president, launch their nuclear-armed Minuteman IIIs.

One of the most disturbing slides quotes Wernher Von Braun, a former member of the Nazi Party and SS officer. Von Braun, regarded as the father of the US space program, is not being cited as a scientific expert, rather he’s specifically being referenced as a moral authority, which is remarkable considering that the Nazi scientist used Jews imprisoned in concentration camps and captured French anti-Nazi partisans and civilians to help build the V-2 rocket, a weapon responsible for the death of thousands of British civilians.

“We knew that we had created a new means of warfare and the question as to what nation, to what victorious nation we were willing to entrust this brainchild of ours was a moral decision [emphasis in document] more than anything else,” Von Braun said upon surrendering to American forces in May 1945. “We wanted to see the world spared another conflict such as Germany had just been through and we felt that only by surrendering such a weapon to people who are guided by the Bible could such an assurance to the world be best secured.” [emphasis in document]

The Washington Post reported on Tuesday:

The Air Force has suspended a training course for nuclear missile launch officers that used Bible passages and religious imagery to teach them about the ethics of war.

The course had apparently been taught by chaplains at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California for more than 20 years, but officials pulled the plug after an article from the liberal Web site Truthout.org appeared online last week.

The group obtained a PowerPoint presentation used in the course that referenced religious figures including Abraham, John the Baptist and Saint Augustine. The presentation also said that there are “many examples of believers engaged in wars in the Old Testament” and “no pacifistic sentiment in mainstream Jewish history.”

David Smith, a spokesman for the Air Force’s Air Education and Training Command, said that the program had initially been designed to “help folks understand why we’re doing what we’re doing. In the missile launch industry, it takes a certain mindset to be able to walk in the door and say, yes, I can do that.”

But he added: “Senior leadership looked at [the material for the course] and said, no, we could do better than this.”

The reversal marks a victory for the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, a watchdog group that provided the documents to Truthout and that has waged a series of battles, legal and otherwise, to preserve the separation of church and state in the services.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Facebooktwitterrss
Facebooktwittermail