AF suspends ‘Jesus loves nukes’ training

Amid criticism, the Air Force has halted mandatory religious training for missile officers designed to help them deal with the implications of their jobs.

We were just talking a few days ago about how the top commander of the Air Force’s Global Strike Command had called for his airmen to “change their culture,” and here’s another example: Air Force missileers may no longer get decades-old, Bible-centric ethics training, designed to help them resolve moral or religious doubts about the use of nuclear weapons, our own Bryant Jordan reports. The training, known colloquially among the blue-suited as “Jesus loves nukes,” has been in place for 20 years, Jordan writes, and it sounds like a version of what Malcolm McDowell underwent in “A Clockwork Orange:”

Wrote Jordan:

The training slides include quotations from the Bible, portraits of Christian saints, prophets, and famous American generals known for their faith, including George Washington, Union Army Gen. Joshua Chamberlain, and Confederate Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. Every new missile officer had to take the training at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, regardless of their own religious beliefs or lack of them, according to [Air Education and Training Command spokesman Dave] Smith.

AETC halted the ethics training last week after an article on the training was posted at Former Air Force Capt. Damon Bosetti — described as a missile officer who took the training in 2006 — said he and others referred to the religious section of the ethics training as the “Jesus loves nukes speech.”

The website also published the training slides [pdf], which it acquired from the watchdog group Military Religious Freedom Foundation, an organization that has filed numerous lawsuits against the Air Force for allegedly infringing on the rights of religious minorities and non-believers and promoting evangelical Christian beliefs.

The upshot of the slide deck is that a moral, ethical, religious person can resolve the implications of being the officer strapped in the chair who has to push the button for real and call “missile away!” And as Truthout reports: “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.”

One might hope the oath these officers had already sworn to uphold the Constitution and follow lawful orders would cover this, but the Air Force evidently wanted to make extra super-sure its deterrent mission was that much more credible; ideally, copies of these forms were then faxed to the governments of Russia, China, North Korea and Iran. Are nuclear bomber crews or the crews of Navy ballistic missile submarines also required to sign separate agreements that they’ll pickle their weapons if the clock hits midnight?

This is the latest dustup between the Air Force and critics who say the service improperly pushes Christian values and messages onto airmen:

[Military Religious Freedom Foundation president Mikey] Weinstein said more than 30 Air Force officers, most of them practicing Protestants and Roman Catholics, contacted his group in July to ask if he could help get rid of the Christian-themed nuclear missile ethics training. The Air Force released the slides under a Freedom of Information Act request.

“If this repugnant nuclear missile training is not constitutionally violative of both the ‘no religious test’ mandate of the Constitution and the First Amendment’s ‘No Establishment’ clause, then those bedrock legal principles simply do not exist,” Weinstein said.

True — but this is a tough one. It’s probably a good idea for service members with strategic responsibilities to work through the full range of issues involved with their potential use well before they go on deterrence duty, precisely so there is no hesitation if the real order ever comes down. Maybe service officials can develop two tracks for missile officers — the religious “Jesus loves nukes” and one nonreligious brief, given not by a chaplain but by a senior officer who can make the secular case for nukes.

What do you think?