The Center for Inquiry, that group of ex-CSICOP members turned rogue skeptics, has condemned—condemned!—the United States Air Force for teaching Just War theory in its Nuclear War Ethics course.
This irritated the easily irritable because Just War theory was promulgated by, among others, St. Augustine, who, the folks at the Center for Inquiry feel, was unfortunately Christian. And Christianity and matters military don’t mix, say the CFI. Teaching Just War theory is “unconstitutional” they insist.
Therefore, the members of CFI agitated and complained to the military to remove Christian ethics from its course on Nuclear War Ethics or else…or else what? Or else there would be trouble, boy. We could not have the largely Christian members of the Air Force learn when war was just and when it was not unjust according to the leading philosophers of that faith. St. Augustine and other thinkers’ thoughts should not and cannot be exposed to our military minds else the Republic is doomed.
After completion of this course, airmen must sign a pledge that promises at least that, “I will perform duties involving the operation of nuclear-armed ICBMs and will launch them if lawfully ordered to do so by the President of the United States or his lawful successor.”
An ignorant person might have thought that to require a man to sign that deadly serious pledge, we might like to first ensure that he was provided an education that covered the full scope of philosophy and broad range of history on the topic of Just War. Especially since many, or even most, of the these men are Christian, or will fight next to other Christians, or will fight against enemies who are of other religions.
But, no, says the CFI. Of these philosophies, the military must remain mute. To show that they are not quiet on these subjects, the CFI pestered the AF into releasing the power point slides written by Chaplain Captain Shin Soh.
In his lecture, Captain Soh discusses topics such as “Can a person of faith fight in a war?” and “Can war by just?” He summarized Augustine’s idea of Just Cause, “to avenge or avert evil; to protect the innocent and restore moral order” but not to “expand power” nor for “pride or revenge.” One must also fight under a “Legitimate Authority”, have a “reasonable prospect for success” and only as a “last resort.”
All topics the ordinary citizen might think it useful for our nuclear weapons holders to know. But then the citizens at CFI are anything but ordinary. Just imagining that training like this is being dispensed is enough to, in their words, raise a “public outcry.”
Captain Soh, in his role as a Chaplin and presumably knowledgeable about Biblical history, includes examples of what he conceived were instances of just wars, such as when Abraham “organized an army to rescue Lot.” He points out that, in the New Testament, some soldiers were characterized as “devout and God fearing.” Frightening stuff, say the CFI.
Our man Soh then details the horror of nuclear war and how it differs from other known forms of killing. Hiroshima is pictured, as are many of the Japanese citizens who died in that attack. Soh wonders, was this attack justified? Some say no, many say yes; Soh says why.
Not for the last time Soh pushes home the terrible burden faced by missile commanders. He asks his students to consider, “Are we morally safer in other career fields, leaving the key turning to someone else?”
The CFI would see to it that Soh does not ask this question of future students. They say that “the use of religious dogma confuses the officer’s ethical obligations with religious commitments.”
Somehow—and it remains an interesting question just how—the CFI has forgotten that religious people use their religion as an ethical basis. For these people, it is difficult or impossible to separate ethics from religion. This is also true for non-religious people, since, given the history of the West, the morals they know were largely formed by religious principles. And this is true even if you don’t like it.
Ethics and religion cannot be cleanly separated and it is the rankest, more rigid dogma to insist that it is “unconstitutional” to include any basis of religion in course of ethics. Especially a course on how and when and why to kill people in large numbers efficiently and quickly.