There should be a definite line between a person’s personal belief in a higher power and what the military believes a person should believe in right? Should there be a specific religion used in military training to teach young officers and leaders in matters regarding ethical decisions and internal conflicts that are no doubt associated with war? I don’t believe there should be, but this is happening and has been happening for more than 20 years. I have served in the both the Marine Corps and the United States Army for 21 ½ years and during this time have attended numerous schools of leadership. These leadership schools used religious quotes and biblical examples to raise discussions in ethical behavior as it applies to leading Soldiers in combat. Until I read an article titled “Air Force yanks nuke ethics course.” By Markeshia Ricks did I really begin to reflect back on these days in class and I realized that there had been many times religion had made its way into the course curriculum. So how is it that certain religious texts or fundamentals make it into the everyday lives of service members and what is being done about it? These are the key questions I hope to answer in this paper.
Soldiers deployed in combat struggle with many internal conflicts and these conflicts center on religion. I remember vividly praying before going out on combat patrols that “our faith (Christian) would prove to stronger than our enemies (Islam) and our fight for justice and what was right would help us kill them.” In 2009 an email circulated through the Air Force command and staff officers at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada inviting them to attend a Bible study class in which the topic of discussion referred to Jews as “whiners”. Not that this could get any worse but the email was sent from a staff Captain at the behest of the base Chaplain. In another instance 5,000 service members stationed at RAF Lakenheath, the largest Air Force base in England received a presentation titled “Purpose Driven Airmen” which incorporated the teachings of mega church leader Rick Warren and creationism as a means of suicide prevention
This training was sent out from a commander’s official email. The problem with
doing this is that any email from an “official” government account implies that
the service branch condones the training or information. Many commanders in the
zealous to promote spiritual fitness as much as they promote physical fitness
unintentionally push one religion (usually their own) over others when getting
information out to the troops. It is vital that commanders remain neutral when
speaking about religious activities being put on by the base or unit chaplain,
as well as allow the Soldier’s the opportunity to attend services even though
they may conflict with patrols or operations. This was one of the hardest
things I had to do as a First Sergeant in Afghanistan. I had 166 Soldiers in
four platoons; each of these platoons would be responsible for patrolling every
day for about eight hours. The patrols took place in a 24 hour, but no matter
what time a platoon went it was imperative that each Soldier had the
opportunity to attend a religious service they wanted to. He time for
fellowship and worship is a very important activity in the day or week of a
combat Soldier, because it allows them the opportunity to release stress and
decompress after some trying times in the field.
Understanding that the possibility of American Soldiers turning the war in Afghanistan and Iraq into a war of “bad Muslims” and the righteous “Christians of America’ and whose God is stronger definitely holds its possibilities. So how is the military trying to change this perception? In his policy memorandum dated September 1, but sent Tuesday to all major commands, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton A. Schwartz said, "Leaders ... must balance Constitutional protections for an individuals free exercise of religion or other personal beliefs and its prohibition against governmental establishment of religion."
So how did the Air Force respond to the fact that religion had made its way
into a training curriculum for Nuclear Missile Officer’s “The Air Force
suspended the mandatory Nuclear Ethics and Nuclear Warfare training immediately
following the publication of Truthout's report. David Smith, a spokesman for
the Air Education and Training Command told Truthout last month the ethics
training "has been taken out of the curriculum and is being
reviewed." And in an even more knee jerk reaction it “pulled all of its
training materials "that address morals, ethics, core values and related
character development issues" pending a "comprehensive review,"
Smith told the Air Force Times. That decision was made after a Reserve Officers
Training Corps (ROTC) instructor, who read Truthout's report, sent the Military
Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), a civil rights organization,
copies of ROTC leadership training materials, which also contained
Christian-themed citations from the Bible. The PowerPoint slides in that
presentation the unnamed instructor sent MRFF are used in all colleges and
universities that have an ROTC program. (Leopold, 2011)
This is not to say that religion has no place in war I am sure everyone has heard the adage” there is no atheist in war” in a movie or a book. What does the church say a just war is? In the Just War in the Catechism of the Catholic Church it is described that All citizens and all governments are obliged to work for the avoidance of war. Despite this admonition of the Church, it sometimes becomes necessary to use force to obtain the end of justice. This is the right, and the duty, of those who have responsibilities for others, such as civil leaders and police forces. While individuals may renounce all violence those who must preserve justice may not do so, though it should be the last resort, "once all peace efforts have failed." [Cf. Vatican II, Gaudium et spes 79, 4] As with all moral acts the use of force to obtain justice must comply with three conditions to be morally good. First, the act must be good in itself. The use of force to obtain justice is morally licit in itself. Second, it must be done with a good intention, which as noted earlier must be to correct vice, to restore justice or to restrain evil, and not to inflict evil for its own sake. Thirdly, it must be appropriate in the circumstances. An act which may otherwise be good and well-motivated can be sinful by reason of imprudent judgment and execution.”
(What is Just War?, 2011)
I am a Soldier and my obligation is to fight for those who can’t fight against injustice, I may have to use violence to right a wrong, and I may have to kill. But this must be done in a manner which is ethical and moral. The determination of whether war is right or wrong is not ours to make, only those actions we choose take while engaged in combat are.
Leopold, J. (2011, September 14). Top Air Force Official Issues Religious Neutrality Policy in Wake of Truthout's "Jesus Loves Nukes" Exposé. Retrieved September 23, 2011, from Truthout: http://www.truth-out.org/aftermath-jesus-loves-nukes-scandal/1316010154
Ricks, M. (2011, 09 01). Air Force Yanks nuke Ethics Course. Air Force Times , p. 45.
What is Just War? (2011, September 1). Retrieved September 23, 2011, from Global Catholic Network: http://www.ewtn.com/expert/answers/just_war.htm