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Saturday, August 20, 2011

Military Missionary Messages

The U.S. military has gotten itself into some trouble recently concerning favoring Christianity over other religions; though this has come up more times over the last few years anyway with other events as well, from what I remember. Both a video educating soldiers about the ethics of using nuclear weapons and a ROTC training video explaining military virtues have overtly Christian tones to them. It’s not that the military shouldn’t teach soldiers about why they should use restraint in relation to nuclear weapons. Just war theory in any form, Christian or otherwise, is a good start, though it seems like there is more favoring of the use of nuclear weapons, which doesn’t bode well if people take that advice to heart. The more explicitly Christian nature of the ROTC training as described by an anonymous instructor, who was troubled by them, is a larger concern to me in terms of church and state separation. The government’s explicit endorsement of Christianity in this and the context of nuclear weapon usage as relates to just war theory are both problems of government secularism that apparently persisted for as long as 20 years.

Nuclear weapons are the most dangerous weapon any military possesses, since with improper use, they cause more harm than good, and in the worst case scenario, would raze the world to the ground on the oft referenced principle of mutually assured destruction. What that means is that if China (for example) launches a nuclear missile at the U.S., we have nuclear capacity to launch responses that would guarantee that both sides of the conflict would suffer losses of a nuclear scale. This is part of general military ethics in terms of the use of weapons of mass destruction, but a slide show recently pulled by the military due to objections from members of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation seemed to focus solely on Christian just war theory instead of considering the original Roman context it arose from and no doubt influenced theologians such as Augustine of Hippo. This shows a problematic endorsement of religion by a government entity that is explicitly forbidden from proselytizing. The existence of military chaplains might be argued to counter this claim, but they are merely there to counsel members of their religion on various psychological or ethical issues, not to spread their religions as they might feel they are called to do. In terms of teaching so called “nuclear ethics” the military is responsible not only to present a variety of views on justifications of nuclear force, but also contrasting views that either advocate disarmament on some level or a stronger level of restraint than is usually put forward by many just war theorists. One of the first things done is to determine whether the cause of the war itself is just and determining that can be somewhat vague even with the standards still being adjusted to this day. Many might say a war is just when it advances the cause of justice and this can defend the practices of interventionism in foreign policy and associated threats of nuclear force to pacify one’s enemies. This particular form of pacifism is a majority position, since it doesn’t pacify by anything more than a mutual truce or threat of attack. Pacifism as restraint or forms of non resistance have always been a minority in history, mostly because, as many would observe, those who try to pacify without the use of military force are commonly the first to lose their lives and thus do not remain in history for very long. But even if people commonly disagree with just war pacifism or nonresistance/nonviolence ethics in terms of military engagements, these positions should be presented alongside the more popular and oft defended practices in politics of the use of military force where there may be no need.

In ROTC training, short for Reserve Officer’s Training Corps, aspiring students can take classes through the military for college credit and other future benefits. It’s commonly a way for students who want to enlist in the military in the future, but also want to get a college education so as to bolster their background after they leave their tour of duty. But even in a context with young, impressionable minds still learning about the world, the military apparently was trying to inject Christian overtones into their courses. This lies primarily with the Air Force, though it may be possible that other branches of the military are using similar slide shows as the one found that references 7 of the 10 Commandments and Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.  The intent was to showcase the virtues of the Air Force, but I wonder why there is insistence here as with the briefings for officers launching nuclear missiles to preach exclusively Christian messages about why you can launch nuclear missiles or be a good ethical soldier. The preceding standards in Roman philosophy for just war theory and equivalent virtues found in the 10 Commandments that exist in systems that far predate Christianity make favoring Christianity not only unfair, but unnecessary. Presenting a variety of perspectives can be done and not grant undue merit to one system over another. Christianity’s defense of use of nuclear missiles could be balanced by other Christian perspectives on why use of nuclear weapons is un-Christian and other religions and philosophies that support or decry nuclear force. In this way, the adolescents and young adults aspiring to aid their country would not only get a presentation of virtues they should aspire to in their military practice and everyday lives, but also begin to understand that there are shared beliefs and ideals across the world. When you start to not separate and bisect everything into static categories, you begin to appreciate things all the more. In a military context, this could be a stronger motivator to use military force not as an end in itself, but a means to the end of peace, as it has been commonly advocated through history many times, though certainly 
not always so explicitly.

Apparently with both the slide show advising officers authorized to launch nuclear missiles and the ROTC training, the air force either purposefully ignored the other perspectives that would’ve supported their ideas or just weren’t aware of them to begin with. Either way, it’s troubling to me and many others, since the military is an aspect of our country we should be proud of in some sense, and yet there is such blatant ignorance of the diversity of positions and shared ideas across the world. It doesn’t make me want to “support our troops” or the wars they fight in if they are educated in this myopic fashion that not only favors Christianity, but endorses it through a government entity, which poses serious First Amendment establishment clause violations. I’m not surprised, but I think we should still press on to broaden the perspectives of the military officials who sponsor and officiate these things. Simply put, get out of the last 2 generations and try to take on things in a post WW2 paradigm. Until next time, Namaste and aloha.

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