Chaplain Defends Just War in Air Force ICBM Training

Dr. Michael Milton is President of the Reformed Theological Seminary.  He is also US Army Chaplain (Maj) Michael Milton, an instructor at the US Army Chaplain Center & School at Fort Jackson, SC.

Chaplain Milton recently responded to the criticism of the Air Force’s “ICBM training course” that was allegedly “pulled” over Christian content, including in its reference to Just War.  (More recent information indicates the course wasn’t actually part of ICBM training.)

The Chaplain focuses, as others have, on the Just War inclusion in the brief, which was not the point of the course.  The course was not designed to teach Just War; it simply mentioned it as one response to criticisms of war and ultimately the use of nuclear weapons.  Still, the Chaplain had some interesting things to say.

Attorney Mikey Weinstein, who heads Military Religious Freedom Foundation, called on the United States Air Force to shut down a course on ethics that teaches the “Christian Just War Theory…” [Weinstein] declared that he would file “an immediate class action lawsuit” unless they relented. The reason? The ethics course, taught by chaplains to officers engaged in strategic operations to defend America, contained–hide the kids–Bible verses. Well, naturally.

(Weinstein has attempted to portray the incident as a capitulation to a threatened lawsuit.  The Air Force indicated it pulled the course in response to the Truthout article, which mentions no such threat.  Weinstein may be revising history or coat-tailing again.)

The natural response to Weinstein’s embittered complaints is simply to avoid teaching principles of Just War.

So if we scrap Just War because it contains biblical revelation, then what ethic will we use? Who will decide?…Shall we appeal to some new ethical system that we can all agree upon? Will this new ethic guide us in the same way as thousands of years of wisdom and application of philosophical and biblical reflection and consensus has guided us?

Finally, Chaplain Milton calls the outcry what it is.

This foolishness has gone far enough…It is time for right-headed thinking to overwhelm the absurd claims of apparently spotlight-hungry leftist lawyers with the truth that built an entire civilization—and the truth that protects our families. Yes, London burns. Markets teeter. Wars rage. And the time-tested institutions of our nation are under assault. This new cultural war against our own military — indeed, against our own security — is most certainly not just.


  • Funny how the parts of the story like the fact that the over thirty Air Force officers who came to MRFF for help getting this training stopped were all Christians, either Catholic or Protestant, and that part of the outrage was over the use of a quote by a former Nazi and SS officer Werhner Von Braun promoting the Bible have now been dropped from the story.

  • Correction to my last comment, in case when JD goes hunting for something to say our story is inconsistent and someone else from MRFF has said this: The exact breakdown on this one is that 29 of the 31 Air Force officers who came to MRFF for help with this were Christians, so there were 2 heathens among them.

  • This doesn’t appear to be a ‘cultural war’ at all, whatever that is, merely an inquiry as to why religion is being used as one more reason to defend one’s country.

    There are other ethical systems we can agree on, and they’re not new. Our Constitution is sufficient and should be the guide. Maybe chaplains should not be teaching ethics courses to officers engaged in strategic operations to defend America.

  • Morality and Ethics are often given religious bases because of What God likes and dislikes. One such moral judgement is the traditional Christian bias against Homosexuality

    Christians consider Homosexuality a “sin” even though modern medical, psychiatric and psycological studies confirm that Homosexuality is a natural in-born state no different than Heterosexuality. Homosexuality is not contagoious, may not be acquired or conditioned and may not be “cured” by prayer or reliogious ceremony.

    Secular ethics often spring from philisophical roots and deal with realities of consequences for immoral behavior whereas religious ethics pretty much deal with punishments doled out by an angry God.

  • @Richard

    Well said! So my next question is: is the ethics course that we’re talking about a religious ethics course, or simply an ethics course?

    Additionally, secular ethics are not merely philosophical; they endure practical application via the criminal justice system and are always undergoing scrutiny via the appellant system. The Constitution survives and continues to be relevant via the CJ system. The religious ethical system, on the other hand, tolerates slavery and other inhumane acts.

  • @gwen hughes
    This course was mandatory training for all officers in ICBM training, and was nicknamed the “Jesus loves nukes speech” by some officers who have sat through it over the years. Since the training of officers who might someday have to actually launch weapons of mass destruction would obviously raise moral and ethical questions (I hope for all officers), the proper thing to do would be to let the officers know that if they are having religious conflicts while in this training, that chaplains are available if they’d like to speak to one, and also have a secular counselor available for those who are having moral conflicts but aren’t religious. The solution is as simple as that.

  • @Chris Rodda

    Thank you Chris. I agree, it is a simple fix. Any thoughts about why Chaplain Milton goes nuclear in defense of his position?

  • @gwen hughes

    why religion is being used as one more reason to defend one’s country.

    It’s not, though the MRFF would have you believe otherwise.

    secular ethics…endure practical application via the criminal justice system

    That’s not categorically true. This conversation will likely devolve into situation ethics if it is carried further.

    Any thoughts about why Chaplain Milton goes nuclear in defense of his position?

    See the replies to Rodda further down in this comment. Ultimately, however, Milton focuses on the “attack” on the principles of Just War, which is a foundational concept of ethics and war. It is not a concept that should be abandoned without thought.

    @Chris Rodda

    parts…like…were all Christians

    It’s not funny, it makes sense. Most people realize the faith of those who complained is irrelevant.

    former Nazi and SS officer Werhner Von Braun promoting the Bible have now been dropped from the story

    Also not funny. Most people realize your one-sided caricature of von Braun is sensationalist and opportunistic.

    The solution is as simple as that.

    Your “solution” first needs a problem. Adults are quite capable of hearing a wide variety of ethical issues on the use of nuclear weapons — including those they may not have, but their family or those they associate with might — without converting to Judaism over the reference to the Maccabees.

    Your “simple” solution has two flaws. First, it requires students to preemptively express an ethical “conflict.” The course, as taught, does not presuppose such a conflict, but offers a broad perspective in case someone does, or someone hasn’t yet thought of one of the perspectives.

    Your “simple” solution is also unconstitutional, as it would require the military to separate officers based on theological ideology. A member of Weinstein’s MRFF just suggested a “religious test” for service as an ICBM officer. Nice.

  • @JD Hi JD! Thanks for your post. Of course I had to take a minute to wiki ‘situation ethics’…

    This might be the time to just ask you what your point of view is. I apologize if I appear dense, but your opinion has trickled down STS through your initial post about the Chaplain, and then through responses to other posts…What do you think is going on? And how should you and all of your fellow USAFs be accomodated?

    Thanks, as always GH

  • I can’t speak for JD but I would surmise that the answer would be much more to the obedient Christian side of the equation.

    There are actually no “Christian Ethics.” Only doctrine that guides Christians through life. Ethical questions are decided religiously, giving quite an edge to the Christian leader. For example Jesus objected to the stoning of women for adultery but today’s Christian leaders, oblivious to science as were their predecessors, are still in favor of stoning Homosexuals.

  • JD :

    Your “simple” solution is also unconstitutional, as it would require the military to separate officers based on theological ideology. A member of Weinstein’s MRFF just suggested a “religious test” for service as an ICBM officer. Nice.

    Wow, JD, so you’re saying that in any military training where they say that chaplains are available to those who want to talk to them the military is violating the Constitution by imposing a religious test? Then, according to your criteria, we have a hell of a lot more unconstitutional training programs than I even realized. Thank you for brining this to my attention! MRFF will get right on it. If even you think this is unconstitutional, it must be REALLY unconstitutional!

  • @Chris Rodda
    That misreading is understandable.

    The course was not optional. You would suggest not only changing the way the Air Force addresses issues of ethics, but also making the methodology voluntary. Physically possible, but highly unlikely.

  • @JD
    I didn’t misread anything. You said that simply letting the officers know in a training presentation that chaplains were available if they wanted to talk to them would separate the officers theologically, and that this would create an unconstitutional religious test. Lots of mandatory presentations in the military say that chaplains are available, so, according to your own statement, all of these presentations are unconstitutional. That means that you would find far more military presentations to have constitutional problems than MRFF does.

  • @gwen hughes

    The ethics course used in the missile training program was Christian based and implied a religious basis for the deployment of missiles and the possibility of taking lives in the process. This course strengthened the growing belief that when Jesus returns it will be as a warrior mounted on a magnificent and invulnerable white steed and brandishing a double edged sword. Ostensibly Jesus the Warrior will then lead Dominionist masses in the conquest of all remaining world populations who have not converted to Christianity.

    I think we are all on board with killing being OK in the pursuit of freedom and defense of homeland. But most of us don’t buy killing for religious belief. This course seems to make killing OK by sanctioning proposed targets based on religious quotient and justifying deployment based on religious ethics.

  • @Richard Thank you for post.

    I don’t support killing because of a religious belief either. So, to take a stab at defining the controversy, people who are for the ethics course are saying that it does not sanction killing on religious grounds; and people who are against the ethics course are saying, yes, it does. I also get the impression that people who publicly object are in the minority; I suspect there are also many who object but say nothing.

    And I’m getting the sense that there exists no independent review board that can offer a ruling either way. No Ombudsman, no arbitrator…but people who object to the course’s material must go to MRFF and try to get an injunction or begin a lawsuit.

    So. What did I get wrong? Let me know.

    Thank you Richard. GH

  • Gwen, in a conventional sense if one justifies war because of being attacked or to interdict dictator driven warfare against other countries an ethics course about employing deadly force would be rather a simple process. But when religion creeps into the justification, it falls apart. There have been many cases in which both secular and religious goals were encountered. Often the religious aspect has been a hidden factor. That’s why I believe all justifications for war and deployment of weapons with immense destructive power should be of a secular nature based on the action and not the motivation.

  • @Richard. Thank you for your post

    I agree wholeheartedly with your response, especially the last sentence. I would think it could only benefit a country to be able to say that its motivation was not religious, but only self-defense.

    Let’s hope the USAF can show a clean slate when it comes to how it motivates troops. It is, after all, a secular agency; and if it finds itself to be overly religious, it should in all fairness to incoming cadets let its predilection be known and be public.

  • @gwen hughes
    We must also be careful not to misjudge military personnel who are simply devout in their religious beliefs. I know many who belong to MRFF and are fighting for religious freedom in the armed forces who are serious practitioners of Christianity. The case, I am sure, is similar in the military.

    We must be careful to look for clear signs of dominionism and how it is displayed. Often the Dominionist gets a little cocky and identifies him/herself. There are signs that we have come to understand and by identifying them and pointing them out we have successfully kept dominionists on their toes.

  • @Richard
    Your error is in this part of your statement:

    all justifications for war…should be of a secular nature based

    Nothing in the subject course at Vandenberg had anything to do with a “justification” of war or nuclear weapons.

    In fact, this wasn’t even technically ICBM “training.” It occurred during what might be described as inprocessing, before the actual training began.

    At worst, it was a means to address a list of wide-ranging possible ethical issues, some of which were religious — both Christian and Jewish.

    You have either failed to understand what the course was about, or you are misrepresenting it.

  • @JD
    Thank you for your response.

    I think the main issue for me was the casual use of Christian Doctrine commingled with secular ethics, whether as a part of the actual course or a preamble to it. The fact remains that in some context there was an effort to establish a “Religious Just War” scenario as part of the training. It would be disingenuous to dismiss even an introductory comment equating religion to just war.

    I think it would be quite clear by now that apart from real justifications for war such as invasion, subversion, et al, there remains only political, racial and religious conflict.

    As can easily be deduced, America’s military action in the Mid East is religion based. It is a modern Christian crusade against Islam taking place in Iraq and Afghanistan using a response to the 9/11 attack by 19 Saudi Arabians as a justification. We know it is a crusade because our American President at the time, George Bush, told us it was.

    But even without that slip of the tongue the actions of many of our top military and civilian leaders and their professions of Christian superiority and revenge would have told us.

    It’s no secret that war time military training incorporates standard racial, religious, political and sexual reasons to fight. You have to get your troops worked up in order for them to kill someone. Perceived enemies have been demonized since the cave man days. We have fought against “Krauts,” “Bosche,” Japs,” “Gooks,” “Slopes,” “Chinks,” “Spaghetti Benders,” “Beaners” and others. Now we are engaged in fighting the “Rag Heads” and “Camel Jockeys.”