It's not exactly front-page news, but the US Air Force has dropped an ethics course that's required for officers whose fingers will be on the nuclear trigger, due to a lawsuit brought by
The Air Force has suspended a course that was taught by chaplains for more than 20 years because the material included Bible passages.
The course, called “Christian Just War Theory” was taught by chaplains at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., and used Scripture from both the Old and New Testaments to show missile launch officers that it can be moral to go to war.
But the watchdog group, Military Religious Freedom Foundation, said the course violated the constitutional separation of church and state and filed a complaint last Wednesday on behalf of 31 missile launch officers – both instructors and students.
David Smith, the spokesman for the Air Force’s Air Education and Training Command, said the main purpose of the class was to help missile launch officers understand that “what they are embarking on is very difficult and you have to have a certain amount of ethics about what you are doing to do that job.”
He said the class was suspended the same day the complaint was filed.
The class is currently under review by Air Force officials who will determine whether or not to revise the material or end the class.
Apparently one the the big bugaboos was that the officers' class time was being wasted being taught how God ordered Israel to carry out genocide on the Canaanites.
There are several factors to consider here:
1) There are no just wars. All wars include killing nonbelligerent civilians, destroying public infrastructure, damaging the economy, and--even for the winning side--running a public deficit. At best, a war can have a just cause and a just conclusion. But in between there's a whole lot of just plain savagery.
2) These were nuclear officers, who therefore represent a special subset of soldiers. Nuclear weapons, by their very nature, are so horrible that they are only used as a last resort. Therefore a nuclear officer has to be, at the same time, both reluctant to resort to the nuclear option, yet decisive in exercising it the second it is truly required. He has to have settled in his own mind under what circumstances he would be willing to pull the trigger.
3) As unjust as war is in its nature, and as horrible as nuclear weapons are in their use, we are all better off if those in charge of wars--and especially the nuclear weapons that may be used in those wars--have strict moral guidelines to keep them from inflicting the full level of harm of which they are capable. Denying nuclear officers this training could only make the world a more dangerous place to be.
On the other hand, one unexpected consequence of banning chaplains from indoctrinating nuclear officers to kill can be seen in the case of the Navy, which apparently doesn't have such a course for its nuclear officers--just a questionnaire:
The question that changed Michael Izbicki’s life appeared on a psychological exam he took not long after graduating in 2008 near the top of his class at the United States Naval Academy: If given the order, would he launch a missile carrying a nuclear warhead?Without an official chaplain to tell them that God approves of them launching a warhead that is guaranteed to kill thousands of civilians--men, women, and children--more nuclear officers can be expected to read the Bible for themselves--and come to a different conclusion.
Ensign Izbicki said he would not — and his reply set in motion a two-year personal journey and legal battle that ended on Tuesday, when the Navy confirmed that he had been discharged from the service as a conscientious objector.