Air Force Forced To Drops Ethics From Nuclear Weapons Ethics Training

CFIThe 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.


  1. Luis Dias

    Ethics and religion may not be cleanly separated, but it is surely worth a try.

  2. Briggs


    To try what is impossible is foolish.

  3. Chatwin

    When you’ve got a Chaplain arguing for nuclear war, I’d say they’ve been successfully separated.

  4. mt

    So does signing the pledge at the end of the course render the content of the course unnecessary? And maybe more importantly, does the President have to take this course?

  5. Gary

    And just what gives the Center for Inquiry legitimacy to make this condemnation?

  6. Bruce

    I waver on this. Over the last 65 years there are many instances where an absence of ethics could have saved many lives on the US side (not total lives). Hanoi, for example, could have been nuked in 1965 and that would have saved 50,000 US soldiers from death — if it didn’t provoke a war with the USSR or China.

  7. If only the weak understanding of the ordinary man did not stubbornly resist the plain evidence of logic and truth! If only it would, in its feeble condition, submit itself to the restorative medicine of sound teaching, until divine assistance, procured by devout faith, effected a cure! In that case, men of sound judgement and adequate powers of exposition would not need to engage in lengthy discussion in order to refute mistakes and fanciful conjectures. But as things are, the intelligent are infected by a gross mental disorder which makes them defend the irrational workings of their minds as if they were logic and truth itself, even when the evidence has been put before them as plainly as is humanly possible. Either they are too blind to see what is put before their face, or they are too perversely obstinate to admit what they see. The result is that we are forced very often to give an extended exposition of the obvious, as if we were not presenting it for people to look at, but for them to touch and handle with their eyes shut.
    Augustine, “City of God”, Book II, ch. 1

    I wonder how long it will take CFI to figure out that missileers aren’t the only ones who receive Just War / Law of Armed Conflict (which is based on Just War Theory) training…

  8. gcb

    So, the CfI would rather have soldiers/sailors/airmen/marines who blindly follow orders, rather than being able to judge for themselves if an order is legal and moral? “I was just following orders” was disproved as a defense in the Nuremberg trials more than 60 years ago, so military personnel are expected to be able to make these judgments for themselves. It’s not like the schools are doing a particularly good job of teaching ethics and morality.

  9. Michael De Dora


    Hello, this is Michael De Dora, director of CFI’s Office of Public Policy. Thank you for passing along a link to this entry. I would like to correct two points in your essay.

    First, you wrote:

    “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 fact, the documents were released through requests by the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, under the Freedom of Information Act. They were then passed on to us.

    Second, you wrote:

    “The Center for Inquiry … has condemned—condemned!—the United States Air Force for teaching Just War theory in its Nuclear War Ethics course. … Teaching Just War theory is ‘unconstitutional’ they insist.”

    We did not outright condemn the teaching of just war theory, or call it unconstitutional. Rather, we condemned the exclusive use of religious doctrine to teach officers in mandatory training that war is just. While we understand that religious people often use their religious beliefs to make ethical decisions, this does not excuse a breach of the Constitution. If soldiers justify their actions with religion, so be it. But the military should not do the same. Mandatory military training should be wholly secular and applicable to soldiers and officers of all backgrounds.

    I hope this helps.

  10. JH

    Nuclear Ethics and Nuclear Warfare course

    I’d like to know what’s taught in the class. Nuclear ethics? I enjoyed studying Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, but as far as I am concerned, the only acceptable code of conduct is to say no to nuclear warfare. And any effort to justify it, perhaps, is more pragmatic than moral.

    Luis, To try what is impossible is foolish.

    This sounds as if you are saying that the only thing standing between people and unethical behavior is their religious belief.

  11. brad tittle

    @Michael De Dora — Did you provide the Air Force with a list of secular philosophers discussing Just War reasoning?

    @JH — Pandora? The box is open. Either accept the consequences or say good bye. Morality is based in survival. MAD may be insane, but maintaining the appearance of being insane is as important to our survival as anything else.

  12. The idea that ethics is a subject that should be separated completely from its religious base, & taught in a manner which excludes any religious link, is absurd. Augustine & Thomas Aquinas were superb philosophers who taught in a world-view which was understood at the time – that all is wrapped up & supported in a world inseparable from God. Sun-Tzu was a Taoist – should he be banned from the curriculum? Should only atheists be included as mentors, since they express a faith that there is no god? Who should be picked as exemplars, & why? And who is it who holds himself up as one who can decide?

    The First Amendment construct about separation of church & state is a fallacy in the way that it is presently portrayed. Read the Federalist Papers, particularly 10, 39, 51, & 70. The Constitution prevents the government from interfering with religious views, among others, & it provides a means to resolve disputes between its ‘factions’. The Federal Congress cannot establish a state religion (though some states could, up until 1833 when it was abandoned by Massachusetts), though it cannot ‘prohibit the free exercise’ of religious views.

    If the curriculum is proselytising, that is one thing. If it is being taught in effort for its students to understand the ethics of their responsibility in a world that is recognizable, then fine.

    And how is it that suddenly we now have 30 students land in protest on the steps of the MRFF complaining about a course that has been taught for 25 years?

  13. JT

    Michael De Dora said:
    ” Mandatory military training should be wholly secular and applicable to soldiers and officers of all backgrounds.”

    However, it must take into account the religious convictions of the soldiers being trained. Consider what Krisna is reported in the Bhagavad Gita to have said to Arjuna, who did not want to slay his cousins:

    it is said of the indestructible, infinite soul
    that it is eternal.
    Therefore, fight, Bharata!

    “‘Whoever believes this the killer
    and whoever thinks this the killed,
    they both do not understand;
    this does not kill and is not killed.
    Neither is it born nor does it die at any time,
    nor having been, will this again not be.
    Unborn, eternal, perpetual this ancient being
    is not killed with the killing of the body.

    “‘Whoever knows this, the indestructible,
    the eternal, the unborn, the imperishable,
    how does this person, Partha, cause the killing of anyone?
    Whom does one kill?
    As a person abandoning worn-out clothes takes new ones,
    so abandoning worn-out bodies the soul enters new ones.
    Weapons do not cut this nor does fire burn this,
    and waters cannot wet this nor can wind dry it.
    Not pierced this, not burned this, not wetted nor dried,
    eternal, all-pervading, stable,
    immovable is this everlasting.
    Unmanifest this, it is said.

    “‘Therefore knowing this you should not mourn.
    And if you think this is eternally born or eternally dying,
    even then, you mighty armed, you should not mourn this.
    Death is certain for the born,
    and birth is certain for the dead.
    Therefore you should not mourn over the inevitable.

    “‘Beings have unmanifest beginnings,
    manifest middles, Bharata, unmanifest ends again.
    What complaint is there?
    Marvelously someone sees this,
    and marvelously another thus tells,
    and marvelously another hears this,
    but even having heard no one knows this.
    This embodied soul is eternally inviolable
    in the body of all, Bharata.
    Therefore you should not mourn for any being.

    “‘So looking at your duty you should not waver,
    for there is no greater duty than battle for the kshatriya.
    And by good fortune gaining the open door of heaven,
    happy kshatriyas, Partha, encounter such a battle.
    Now if you will not undertake this combat duty,
    then having avoided your duty and glory, you will incur evil.
    And also people will relate your perpetual dishonor,
    and for the esteemed, dishonor is worse than dying.
    The great warriors will think
    you withdraw from battle out of fear,
    and having been thought much of
    among those you will be held lightly.
    And enemies will say of you many words not to be spoken,
    deriding your strength.
    What is more painful than that?

    “‘Either killed you will attain heaven,
    or conquering you will enjoy the earth.
    Therefore stand up, Kaunteya, resolved to the battle.
    Making pleasure and pain the same,
    gain and loss, victory and defeat,
    then engage in battle.
    Thus you will not incur evil.”

    What would Krisna’s advice to a missle commander be?

  14. “If someone has a gun and is trying to kill you, it would be reasonable to shoot back with your own gun.” –Dalai Lama

  15. Sander van der Wal

    The ten commandments give people plenty opportunity to fight, as long as nobody dies, and property is not taken. But what about turning the other cheek? As long as you can turn the other cheek, you are not allowed to fight. So being a christian and being in a war is logically impossible.

    It is quite possible to base ethics on a non-religious (meta-physical) theory. It is hard to base ethics on a falsifiable (physical) theory.

  16. bob

    If you mess with me, I will kill you.

    Why do I need an ethics course to justify this? Logic does just fine. I think we spend too much time justifying actions when all we have to do act in our own interests. It worked for our ancestors, so why change things, now? If we are attacked we don’t need an ethics professor to approve our natural reaction.

    Of course, individuals have to act in their own interests within the context of whatever laws society imposes. Internationally, I don’t know of any universally enforceable law against war. If we are dumb enough to sign up to some world court’s rules, then we would be in a different situation. But, why would we do that? It makes no sense for any country to surrender sovereignty.

    A problem arises when a culture, religion, or country avows something is against their interests, when the rest of the world does not agree. For example, Western culture clashes with tribal Islamic cultures, and therefore many Muslims conclude killing Westerners is a legitimate thing. Understanding or justifying the Muslim mentality in that case is impossible.

  17. gcb

    @Michael De Dora – I assume you will also be asking the army to remove the words “So help me God” from the end of the oath of service?

  18. Here’s the problem: It’s hard to rationally understand death and destruction, if you’re the whimsical sort who thinks, “Well, here lies Grandpa, dead as a doornail, to the untrained (non-religious) eye. Luckily for me, I know he’s in a better place and having a grand old time.”

    This kind of thinking led Christian soldiers, during the Crusades, to line up the enemy, convert them to Christianity at swordpoint, then run them through. You see, when you’re enlightened as to what REALLY happens after a person dies, you’re not really “killing” the other fellow; you’re actually giving them an early start at an eternity of good living.

    Even given that death is final, FINAL, some people must be killed. We live in a crazy world, where despots with mental disorders hold sway. I say kill ’em all, and pretend there is a God to sort them out. And, thanks, Darkwater, for realizing that you’ve delivered the ultimate insult when you say atheists “…express a faith that there is no god…”

  19. @Sander – the admonition to turn the other cheek is limited; it does not call on one to surrender. It is a way to show a sense of mild defiance in the face of an oppressor. Both Augustine & Aquinas address this with the ‘reasonable chance of success’ principle.

    Defense is certainly acceptable; see Luke 22:35-38 – Jesus advises the apostles to provide a means of defense for themselves (a couple of swords) now that he is about to be crucified (basically – you know what they will do to *me*, so you can only imagine what they will do to *you*). Some feel that the reply of Jesus (“that’s enough”) to the news that they had already acquired a couple of swords was an expression of mild exasperation (to fit into their idea of peace at all costs, & thus dismiss the words altogether), but that doesn’t track with my limited understanding of NT Greek, or the statement itself (why would Jesus say it if he didn’t mean it?).

    Your set-up of your postulate may sound cute, but it involves a straw man, & is thus fallacious.

    Ethics explored as a metaphysical conjecture alone is useless. Your conjecture is incorrect, thus so is your conclusion.

  20. T.C.

    from Human Person Junior, Jr.

    “This kind of thinking led Christian soldiers, during the Crusades, to line up the enemy, convert them to Christianity at swordpoint, then run them through.”

    Check your history and the Koran for the religion that converts at swordpoint and stop making up BS, you useful idiot you.

    “Kill the unbelievers where-ever you find them…” (Koran, sura 9:5)

    “Thou shall not kill.” (Exodus 20:2-17)

  21. @ T.C. —

    Useful idiot for whom? To Islamists? I abhor all religion, and I detest Islam the most.

    Useful idiot for whom? DemonicRats? Libtards? I abhor progressivism, liberalism and statism in all its incarnations, and hereby name Obama & Co. the worst political figures in the world. (There are people who commit worse acts, but they don’t sit in the Oval Office.)

    Any honest person (myself included) would say that Christians are the best people on Earth. By “best,” I mean most charitable, less prone to violence, less likely to be racist, more upright in their daily lives and just generally kinder and gentler to their fellow humans.

    Even so, the chance of the Holy Bible being true are very close to zero.

    If you assume that I’m pro-Islam, you’ve jumped to an erroneous and unsupported conclusion. If the information I posted about swordpoint conversions is inaccurate, I sincerely apologize. However I stand by my conviction that Christian (and other) tenets regarding life after death can be harmful, in the way I mentioned as well as others. Example: A person might put up with rough treatment, “knowing” that God will eventually deal with his tormentors. I say we punish the tormentors right here, right now, today.

    Of course, if Christianity were true, it wouldn’t matter how inconvenient are its propositions. And if Christianity is false, it matters not how socially useful its tenets and/or adherents might be.

    By the way, I love Christians and Jews, and, if they’re conservative and standing for office, I vote for them. I think they’re misguided in their religious beliefs, but that’s no cause for hatred, toward them or toward me.

    Again, I ask, useful idiot for whom? Your attack ad hominem was unwarranted. I await your apology.

  22. T.C.

    Why “useful idiot?”

    Because I asked myself why you picked on “Crusaders” who fought against the cult of Islam, a cult which over-ran Christian nations by explicitly instructing it’s followers to convert unbelievers through the use of murder, torture. maiming, rape and slavery?

    I used the term “useful idiot” because you were characterized by the reflexive anti-Christian tone in your sentence – just like any good International, (or in another place and time National) Socialist. I think it indicates how well you have been programmed, even though you state your abhorrence to “progressivism, liberalism and statism…”

    My assessment has nothing to do with a belief in God, or Christianity. What it does have to do with is just on how deeply the disinformation worked itself into your subconscious and how well you apply it to deflect the truth. This is demonstrated by your use of this (true?) story about “Crusaders” while ignoring the far more numerous atrocities committed by cultist they were fighting.

    It is a dysfunctional pattern all to familiar in Western society – one of the reasons I have gave up on the media and go to blogs on the internet.

    But guess what?

    Silly comments about “Crusaders” making forced conversions at sword point still leak through into the blogsphere, even on this blog dedicated to the dry truth of statistical analysis. And your remarks added nothing useful to the discussion of ethics and the deployment of nuclear weapons, although they called into question the motivations of U.S. military personal who are responsible for these weapons. Your remarks also discredited the memories of Crusaders who died fighting to protect a belief system that evolved into your right to bleat about the GIGO flow through your mind on this blog.

    And you complain about an unjustified ad hominem attack? Based upon your careless and thoughtless remark? I suggest you try something else.. Perhaps a real argument with a logical retort to my comments?

  23. At T.C.:

    You wrote: “Because I asked myself why you picked on “Crusaders” who fought against the cult of Islam…”

    You don’t like to think of the Crusaders as part of a cult, but they were. All religions are cults, at the very least in the early stages of their development. Islam is dreadful, the most inconvenient religion around, but it’s no more a cult than any other religion. Its results are terrible, but if Islam were true, its results wouldn’t matter. If it were true, its God would be the real deal, and the tortures and murders and terror would take a back seat to its truth. Same with any cult. There is a formula: cult + money = religion. A wonderful example would be Mormonism, which fit every definition of the word “cult” for many decades.

    You wrote: “I used the term “useful idiot” because you were characterized by the reflexive anti-Christian tone…”

    Characterized by whom? Oh, that’s right, characterized by you, the arbiter of such matters.

    You wrote: “Silly comments about “Crusaders” making forced conversions at sword point still leak through…”

    The comment wasn’t silly. It was inaccurate (at least you said it was inaccurate, and I don’t contest your assertion). The concept beneath that comment works every which way, no matter who’s the stabber or the stabbee.

    I accept your conflicted explanations and your weak attempts to justify your hot-headed response from earlier as the closest thing to an apology of which you are capable.

    I accept your near apology with near grace. Go and “sin” no more.

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